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Health Highlights: Jan. 20, 2011

FDA Reports Post-Flu Vaccine Seizures in Young Children Woman Regains Speech After Larynx Transplant Remove Barriers to Breast-feeding: U.S. Surgeon General Colorado Considers Default Organ Donation Wal-Mart to Offer Healthier Foods Drug Extends Lives of Patients With Advanced Melanoma Follow-Up to House Repeal of Health Care Law Uncertain

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

FDA Reports Post-Flu Vaccine Seizures in Young Children

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday said it was investigating an apparent increase in fever-related seizures in young children after they got a flu shot.

The agency said there have been 36 reported seizures this flu season in children ages 6 months through 2 years. All the seizures happened within a day after the youngsters got a vaccine called Fluzone, which is made specifically for younger children, the Associated Press reported.

Ten of the children were hospitalized, but all recovered. The flu shot manufacturer said there's no obvious link between the vaccine and the seizures, and they may have been coincidental, the AP said.


Woman Regains Speech After Larynx Transplant

A 52-year-old California woman can speak again after undergoing the world's second successful larynx transplant, say her doctors.

Brenda Charett Jensen's transplant last October was led by doctors at the University of California, Davis Medical Center and included experts from England and Sweden, the Associated Press reported.

During the procedure, surgeons gave her a new voice box, windpipe and thyroid gland that came from a donor who died in an accident. The operation lasted 18 hours over two days.

Jensen began speaking two weeks after the transplant and her ability to speak has become easier since then. Her vocal cords were damaged more than a decade ago after she repeatedly yanked out her breathing tube while under sedation in the hospital, the AP reported.


Remove Barriers to Breast-feeding: U.S. Surgeon General

A number of steps to remove obstacles to breast-feeding were released Thursday in U.S. Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin's "Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding."

"Many barriers exist for mothers who want to breast-feed. They shouldn't have to go it alone. Whether you're a clinician, a family member, a friend, or an employer, you can play an important part in helping mothers who want to breast-feed," Benjamin said in U.S. Department of Health and Human Services news release.

She said lack of support at home, lack of information from health care providers, lack of time and privacy, and an inability to connect with other breast-feeding mothers are among the barriers facing women who want to breast-feed.

The "Call to Action" outlines a number of ways that families, communities, employers and health care workers can improve support for breast-feeding:

  • Expansion and improvement of community programs that provide mother-to-mother support and peer counseling.
  • Hospitals should become more baby-friendly and health care systems should ensure that maternity care practices provide education and counseling on breast-feeding.
  • Clinicians should be trained to properly care for breast-feeding mothers and their babies and should promote breast-feeding to their pregnant patients and make sure mothers receive the best advice on how to breastfeed.
  • Families should provide breast-feeding mothers with support and encouragement.
  • Employers should expand programs that allow nursing mothers to have their babies nearby so they can feed them during the day, and should also provide women with break time and private space to express breast milk.


Colorado Considers Default Organ Donation

A proposal to make people organ donors by default is being considered by Colorado lawmakers and, if passed, would be the first "presumed consent" system in the country.

Under the bill, driver's license and ID card renewal applications would state that applicants are presumed to be organ donors unless they initial a statement that says they wish to opt out, the Associated Press reported.

Similar proposals in at least three states -- Delaware, Illinois and New York -- were defeated because lawmakers were concerned that organ donation programs would appear coercive if residents have to say no.

But advocates believe the Colorado bill may be better received because nearly two-thirds of state residents with driver's licenses or state-issued ID are listed as organ donors. That rate is higher than any other state, the AP reported.

"Presumed consent" is common in Europe and is believed to have significantly increased organ donation rates.


Wal-Mart to Offer Healthier Foods

Joining a growing trend, Wal-Mart will announce Thursday that it plans to reduce levels of salt, trans fats and sugar in its Great Value food products.

Under the five-year plan, the nation's largest retailer will also lower prices on fruits and vegetables and press its major food suppliers to produce healthier products, The New York Times reported.

The introduction of the changes over five years is meant to give Wal-Mart time to deal with any potential technical problems and to give consumers time to adjust to the foods' new taste, said Leslie Dach, the company's executive vice president for corporate affairs.

Many other companies have already announced efforts to make foods healthier, The Times reported.


Drug Extends Lives of Patients With Advanced Melanoma

An experimental drug helped extend the lives of patients with advanced melanoma, according to study results released Wednesday by drug maker Roche.

Previous trials showed that the drug, which targets a mutation in the B-RAF gene, shrank tumors for an average of six months. The new findings are the first to show that the drug also prolongs survival, The New York Times reported.

The mutation in the B-RAF gene is present in about half of the 68,000 Americans who develop melanoma every year. The mutation signals cells to grow uncontrollably. The new drug blocks a malfunctioning protein the gene produces in cancer cells but does not affect normally functioning genes in noncancerous cells.

The new findings pave the way for Roche to seek approval to market the drug, The Times reported.


Follow-Up to House Repeal of Health Care Law Uncertain

The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to repeal President Barack Obama's health care reform law, but what happens now is uncertain.

Many experts believe the vote is as far as the Republicans can go in their attempt to abolish the law. That's because the Democrats who control the Senate say they will block any repeal efforts and President Obama has vowed to use his veto power should a bill to repeal come to his desk for his signature.

It would likely require 60 Senate votes to overturn the law and the Republicans have only 47 Senate votes.

However, House Republicans have said they can find ways to withhold money required to carry out the law, which would provide health coverage to more than 30 million uninsured people, the Associated Press reported.

Democrats note that the law is already giving millions of Americans benefits, such as lower prescription prices for Medicare recipients with high drug costs and extended coverage for young adults on their parents' insurance plan.

The outcome of the Republicans' repeal effort depends on the type of replacement legislation they offer, according to Rep. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y), the AP reported. If the public supports it, Democrats in the Senate may give it serious consideration, he suggested.

That's easier said than done, according to Democrats.

On Thursday, the House is expected to vote to instruct committees to draft health care legislation that includes Republican priorities such as stricter language barring taxpayer funding for abortions and limits on medical malpractice awards, the AP reported.

A previous Republican bill offered as an alternative to the new law would have provided insurance coverage to only a fraction of the Americans reached by the Democrat's legislation.

But Republicans contend that a modest, step-by-step approach to health reform may be more sustainable in the long run than the current large-scale effort, the AP reported.

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