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Health Highlights: Jan. 27, 2007

Increased Stroke Risk Found in New Macular Degeneration Drug Japan Begins Poultry Slaughter After Another Outbreak of Avian Flu Most Diabetics Don't Exercise: Study U.S. Donates Protective Gear to Help Indonesia Fight Bird Flu Connecticut Woman World's Oldest Person FDA Panel Approves Combination Vaccine for Children

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

Increased Stroke Risk Found in New Macular Degeneration Drug

A recently-approved drug to treat macular degeneration in the elderly may increase a person's risk of getting a stroke.

According to the New York Times, a high dose of pharmaceutical company Genentech's new eye drug Lucentis caused a stroke to occur in 1.2 percent of patients in a clinical trial compared to only .3 percent of those patients given a lower dose.

Genentech sent a letter to retina specialists this past week reporting the findings, the Times reports, although a company spokesperson said that the significantly different statistical finding probably would not change the information on the drug's label, because it already contains a warning about possible clotting or stroke risk.

The importance of Lucentis (ranibizumab) is that clinical trials have demonstrated it is the first drug that actually causes vision improvement in people suffering from macular degeneration, rather than just slowing degeneration of eyesight, the newspaper reports.

Macular degeneration, which leads to blindness, especially in the elderly, is caused by the degeneration of part of the retina, leading to blurry vision or vision that excludes the ability to see peripherally.

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Japan Begins Poultry Slaughter After Another Outbreak of Avian Flu

Unlike many other Asian countries, Japan had until recently escaped massive outbreaks of avian flu among its poultry population.

But that has changed. The Associated Press reports that a second outbreak has been detected on a poultry farm in southern Japan in the country's major chicken-producing region. Scientitsts determined that the first outbreak, which killed 4,000 chickens, was caused by the deadly H5N1 strain of the flu, the one that health experts are carefully monitoring for mutations that could cause a pandemic among humans.

The latest outbreak was in a group of 3,000 chickens, and the wire service reports that the Japanese government has begun slaughtering tens of thousands of the birds on the infected farms and on neighboring farms as well. Only one non fatal human case of avian flu has been reported in Japan, according to the A.P.

Since avian flu was first identified, 163 humans have died, but health officials say that all of them contracted the disease from contact with birds and not from other humans.

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Most Diabetics Don't Exercise: Study

Even though physical activity plays an important role in controlling the disease, fewer than 40 percent of people with type 2 diabetes exercise, says a U.S. study that surveyed more than 22,000 diabetes patients.

The study also found that the diabetes patients most in need of exercise are the least likely to be active, the Associated Press reported.

The findings appear in the February issue of the journal Diabetes Care. The study results are disappointing, said lead researcher Dr. Elaine Morrato, an expert in public health and epidemiology and assistant professor at the University of Colorado in Denver.

"It is difficult to be optimistic about addressing the twin epidemics of obesity and diabetes without success in increasing physical activity in the population," she and her colleagues concluded. "The results of this study provide very pessimistic data."

People with type 2 diabetes who don't exercise face complications such as high blood pressure and nerve damage, the AP reported. The American Diabetes Association recommends at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, five times a week.

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U.S. Donates Protective Gear to Help Indonesia Fight Bird Flu

The U.S. government this week delivered more than 100,000 sets of protective equipment to Indonesia as part of a $24 million program to help that country fight the deadly H5N1 bird-flu virus.

The gear, which includes protective suits, goggles and gloves, will be given to people who come into direct contact with poultry or with people infected by the H5N1 virus, Agence France Presse reported.

In total, the United States will donate 200,000 sets of protective equipment and 2,000 decontamination kits to be used at infected farms, homes, hospitals, and clinics.

After a period of inactivity, Indonesia has experienced a recent resurgence of bird flu. So far this year, six people have been killed by the virus. Since 2005, 63 people in Indonesia have died of bird flu, the highest death toll of any country, AFP reported.

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Connecticut Woman World's Oldest Person

A 114-year-old woman in East Hartford, Conn., is now the world's oldest person.

Emma Faust Tillman, who was born in 1892, claimed the honor after 115-year-old Emiliano Mercado del Toro of Puerto Rico died Wednesday, the Connecticut Post reported.

Tillman, who lives at Riverside Health and Rehabilitation Center, never smoked, never drank, and never needed glasses. She was one of 23 children born to former slaves in North Carolina. The family moved to Glastonbury, Conn., in 1900.

In 1909, Tillman graduated as the only black student in her high school. She had a number of jobs through her life, including cook, maid, party caterer and caretaker for the children of several wealthy families, the Post reported.

She lived alone in a Hartford apartment for years before she moved to Riverside when she was 110 years old. Longevity runs in her family. She had siblings who lived to 108, 105, and 102.

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FDA Panel Approves Combination Vaccine for Children

Pentacel, a combination vaccine for five childhood diseases that would reduce the number of shots given to infants, received the approval of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Thursday.

The vaccine, which protects against diphtheria, tetanus, polio, whooping cough and invasive Hib disease, is made by Sanofi-Aventis SA.

The 13 to 2 vote in favor of the vaccine was based on studies that showed that four doses of Pentacel protected children from these diseases. Currently, U.S. health officials recommend 23 separate shots for infants. Pentacel would reduce that to 16 shots -- about two fewer at every checkup, Bloomberg News reported.

The advisory committee said that Pentacel appeared to work at least as well as individual vaccines designed to protect against the five diseases. They also said that reducing the number of shots may help improve immunization rates.

It's expected that the FDA will decide by March 9 whether to act on the advisory committees' recommendation and approve Pentacel, Bloomberg reported. While the FDA isn't required to follow its committees' advice, it usually does so.

Currently, the only five-component childhood vaccine available in the U.S. is Pediarix, made by GlaxoSmithKline. It's similar to Pentacel, but protects against hepatitis B instead Hib.

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