Health Highlights: Jan. 1, 2009

New Immunization Recommendations for Children Unveiled New Year's Resolution: Restock That Medicine Cabinet Drug Makers Agree to Voluntary Ban on Doctor 'Freebies' Firm Says FDA OKs Its Generic Version of Nicotine Gum Smoking Ban Cut City's Heart Attack Hospital Admissions

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

New Immunization Recommendations for Children Unveiled

Updated immunization recommendations for flu shots for children have been unveiled by three leading U.S. health groups.

The revised 2009 schedule calls for routine annual flu shots for children aged 6 months through 18 years. The previous recommendation applied to children from 6 months to 59 months of age. The new recommendation increases the number of eligible children by approximately 30 million.

"Vaccination is the best protection against influenza," Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease, said in a news release issued Wednesday. "This important update to the childhood immunization schedule helps us extend protection from influenza and its complications to all children between the ages of 6 months and 18 years, not just those at highest risk of complications from influenza."

The other health groups announcing the new vaccination schedule were the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Recommendations for inoculation against rotavirus -- a disease that causes diarrhea in young children -- include changes for the maximum ages for vaccination. The first dose should be given by 15 weeks of age. The latest age any dose may be given is 15 months. If the vaccine Rotarix is administered at ages 2 and 4 months, a dose at 6 months is not needed, the news release said.

The revised schedule also clarifies vaccination against human papillomavirus, the leading cause of cervical cancer in women. Routine dosing intervals should be used for series catch-up -- i.e., the second and third doses should be administered two and six months after the first dose. The third dose should be given at least 24 weeks after the first dose, the release said.

You can read the full immunization schedule at


New Year's Resolution: Restock That Medicine Cabinet

To get the new year off to a safe and healthy start, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) suggests cleaning out and then restocking your medicine cabinet.

"You should do this once a year, at least," said Dr. Nick Jouriles, president of the ACEP. "A year's worth of showers and baths create heat and humidity that can cause some drugs to lose potency. It's good to get rid of them and replace them if they need to be replaced."

If a pill loses potency, you may not be getting the necessary dosage of medication. Holding on to several old prescriptions can also increase the risk of taking the wrong pill, Jouriles said in a news release.

Actually, a bathroom medicine cabinet isn't always the best place to keep medications, whether prescription or over-the-counter. Instead, keep them in a linen closet or a dark area, especially away from children, the release said.

According to ACEP, here are some essentials for your medicine cabinet:

  • Up-to-date prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
  • Adhesive bandages of assorted sizes for minor cuts and scrapes.
  • Gauze pads for larger cuts and scrapes. And adhesive tape to keep gauze in place.
  • Alcohol wipes and hydrogen peroxide to disinfect wounds. Antibiotic ointment to disinfect and protect wounds from infection.
  • A thermometer -- but not a mercury-based thermometer.
  • Antihistamine -- for allergic reactions.
  • Hydrocortisone cream to relieve irritation from rashes.
  • Acetaminophen, ibuprofen and aspirin, but aspirin should not be taken by children or teens under age 19.

For more health and safety information, visit


Drug Companies Agree to Voluntary Ban on Doctor 'Freebies'

The pharmaceutical industry has agreed to a voluntary moratorium on giving doctors branded items that advertise some of the country's most prescribed drugs, The New York Times reported.

Starting Jan. 1, doctors will see supplies of trinkets such as Viagra pens, Zoloft soap dispensers and Lipitor mugs cut off in a move that proponents of the moratorium say is a step toward eliminating influencing doctors' prescribing habits. But skeptics say the move is only a superficial measure, doing little to curb the far larger amounts of money that big drug companies spend to try to influence physicians.

About 40 drug makers, including Eli Lilly & Company, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer have signed on to the code, the Times reported.

Drawn up by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the new code bars companies from giving doctors branded pens, staplers, flash drives, paperweights, calculators and the like, the Times said. The new guidelines reiterate the group's 2002 code, which prohibited firms from giving physicians expensive gifts such as tickets to sporting events or resort stays, and asked drug companies that finance medical courses, conferences or scholarships to let independent experts choose study materials and scholarship recipients.

In a statement, Diane Bieri, executive vice president of the manufacturers' group, said the updated guidelines were not an admission that gifts could influence doctors, but were meant to emphasize the educational nature of the industry-doctor relationship, the newspaper said.

According to the Times, big firms last year gave away almost $16 billion in free drug samples to doctors and spent an estimated $6 billion more on sales visits and other promotions.


Firm Says FDA Approves Its Generic Version of Nicotine Gum

Watson Pharmaceuticals Inc. said Wednesday that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had approved its generic version of the nicotine gum Nicorette, and it will begin selling the mint-flavored gum in early January.

The FDA approved the firm's over-the-counter nicotine polacrilex gum in 2 milligram and 4 milligram strengths. Nicorette, made by British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline PLC, is sold by Johnson & Johnson Healthcare. The agency approved Nicorette gum, available in six flavors, in February 1996, the Associated Press reported.

Watson said the market for over-the-counter nicotine gum was more than $300 million in the year ended September 2008. Perrigo Co. also makes a generic version of fruit-flavored Nicorette, AP said.


Smoking Ban Cut City's Heart Attack Hospital Admissions

A comprehensive municipal smoking ban in effect in Pueblo, Colo., cut that city's heart attack hospital admissions rate by 41 percent over a three-year period, according to a study released Wednesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Before the ordinance took effect July 1, 2003, the study said, there were 399 hospital admissions for heart attacks in Pueblo in the 18 months before the law, compared to 237 heart attack hospitalizations from 18 months to three years after implementation, the CDC reported in its publication Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

"These findings provide support for considering smoke-free policies an important component of interventions to prevent heart disease morbidity and mortality," the report said.

The study also said evidence indicates that secondhand smoke exposure produces rapid adverse effects on heart function, blood, and vascular systems that boost the risk of a cardiac event. Eliminating smoking in indoor spaces is the only way to fully protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke exposure, the study concluded.

The findings echo previous analyses that found "secondhand smoke exposure decreases substantially among nonsmoking employees of restaurants and bars and among nonsmoking adults in the general public after implementation of smoke-free laws," the study said.

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