Written by HealthDay News

Updated on March 14, 2007

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

About a Third of U.S. Children Live with Smokers

About a third of American children age 18 or younger live with an adult smoker and are at increased risk for respiratory and other health problems, says the latest News and Numbers report released Wednesday by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The report, which looked at 2004 data, found that:

  • White children (34 percent) and black children (31 percent) were more likely than Hispanic children (24 percent) to live with an adult smoker.
  • Children in lower-income homes were nearly twice as likely to live with an adult who smokes than children in higher-income homes -- 40 percent vs. 22 percent.
  • Adult education levels affected children's risk of living with a smoker. About 40 percent of children in homes in which no adult had 13 or more years of education were exposed to secondhand smoke, compared with 25 percent of children in homes with an adult who had 13 or more years of education.
  • About 36 percent of children in the Midwest and 33 percent of children in the South lived with at least one adult smoker, compared with 28 percent of children in the Northeast and 25 percent of children in the West.
  • Children with asthma were as likely as children without asthma to live in homes with smokers.

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FDA Releases Flu Pandemic Preparedness Plan

A pandemic influenza preparedness strategic plan released Wednesday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration outlines steps that have been taken and additional measures the agency is taking to protect public health if there is a pandemic.

The plan coordinates with, and complements, plans developed by other national agencies. The FDA Task Force on Pandemic Influenza Preparedness was established in November 2005.

Its assigned goals were to:

  • Develop a comprehensive action plan to accelerate the development, production, and regulatory review of vaccines, antiviral drugs, diagnostics, personal protective equipment and other devices to be used to fight a pandemic.
  • Develop a comprehensive food and feed security strategy.
  • Protect the safety and security of regulated medical products.
  • Enhance emergency preparedness and response capabilities.
  • Take action to halt production, shipment, trade, and use of fraudulent or counterfeit products.

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Texas Lawmakers Overturn Governor's HPV Vaccine Order

The Texas House of Representatives on Wednesday voted 118 to 23 to overturn Governor Rick Perry's executive order that all sixth-grade girls receive a vaccine against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer.

In the Texas Senate, a similar bill sponsored by half the members is still under consideration by a committee, Bloomberg news reported.

The Governor's order made Texas the first state to mandate the Gardasil vaccine to protect girls and young women against HPV, the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States.

On March 11, New Mexico's House of Representatives passed a bill mandating the vaccine and it's expected that Governor Bill Richardson will sign it into law by the end of the week, Bloomberg reported. In Virginia, Governor Tim Kaine said he plans to sign a similar bill.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last year approved Gardasil for use in girls and women ages 9 to 26.

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Exercise Cuts Nicotine Cravings

As little as five minutes of moderate exercise, such as walking, can significantly reduce smokers' nicotine cravings and may help them quit smoking, says a British study in the journal Addiction.

The authors of this study reviewed the findings of 12 previous papers that examined the association between exercise and nicotine cravings, the Associated Press reported.

"If we found that same (strong) effects in a drug, it would immediately be sold as an aid to help people quit smoking," said lead author Dr. Adrian Taylor, a professor of exercise and health psychology at the University of Exeter.

While nearly anything that helps distract smokers from their need for a nicotine fix is believed to help, it has long been suspected that exercise may be particularly effective, the AP reported. This may be because exercise triggers production of the mood-enhancing hormone dopamine, which helps reduce smokers' nicotine dependence, Taylor suggested.

"What's surprising is the strength of the effect," Dr. Robert West, professor of health psychology at University College London, told the AP. "They found that the acute effects of exercise were as effective as a nicotine patch."

West was not involved in the study.

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TB Vaccines Losing Effectiveness: Study

Current tuberculosis vaccines may be losing their effectiveness, says an international study to be published online this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers found that the bacterium -- bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) -- that has been used for nearly 90 years to make all the world's TB vaccines may have evolved to the point where it's no longer able to combat the disease, the Toronto Star reported.

The scientists created a current genetic map of BCG and found that it has few of the proteins that typically produce an immune response to TB in humans, the Star reported.

The effectiveness of TB vaccines has been questioned for decades and this study shows the urgent need to develop a new vaccine, said one of the researchers.

Currently, BCG vaccines are given to more than two million infants a week in parts of the world where TB is endemic, the Star reported.

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Indonesia Wants Agreement Before Sharing Bird Flu Samples

Indonesia's health minister said Wednesday that the country will not share bird flu virus samples with the World Health Organization unless it has a legally binding agreement that the samples won't be used to create expensive vaccines that are unaffordable for developing nations, the Associated Press reported.

A letter of guarantee received late last month from WHO Director General Margaret Chan is not sufficient, said Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari.

"That's just an agreement in principle ... we need one that is legally binding," Supari told reporters.

Leaders from Asia-Pacific nations are scheduled to meet later this month in Jakarta, Indonesia, to discuss changes they want made to the WHO's 50-year-old virus-sharing system, the AP reported.

Under that system, influenza samples are distributed freely to nations around the world. Revisions need to be made to the system so it's "fair for developing countries, poor countries, affected countries," Supari said.

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