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Health Highlights: May 20, 2013

Great Britain in Throes of Measles Outbreak Victim of Flesh-Eating Bacteria Demonstrates New Bionic Hands

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

Great Britain in Throes of Measles Outbreak

Great Britain is struggling with an unprecedented measles outbreak that health officials blame on a controversial and now-discredited study that linked the measles vaccine to autism.

The United Kingdom has recorded more than 1,200 cases of the potentially fatal disease so far this year, after a record number of nearly 2,000 cases last year. Britain once reported only several dozen cases every year, but now has the unwanted distinction of ranking second in Europe, behind only Romania, the Associated Press reported.

"This is the legacy of the Wakefield scare," said Dr. David Elliman, a spokesman for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, referring to a paper published in 1998 by Andrew Wakefield and colleagues that has been widely rejected by scientists and retracted by the journal that originally published it.

Wakefield's study suggested a link between autism and the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine -- called the MMR. Britain's top medical board banned Wakefield from practicing medicine in the country, ruling that he and two of his colleagues showed a "callous disregard" for the children in the study, the AP reported.

Following publication of the study, rates of MMR immunization fell drastically across Great Britain as many worried parents chose not to have their children vaccinated. Rates plunged from more than 90 percent to 54 percent, the AP reported.

Now, almost 15 years after the MMR/autism controversy began, there's "this group of older children who have never been immunized who are a large pool of infections," Elliman said. The majority of those now getting sick -- including many older children and teens -- have never been vaccinated, the AP reported.

The outbreak has been centered in Wales. Immunization drives are under way there and in other parts of the country with a goal of immunizing 1 million children aged 10 to 16, the AP said.

Since the introduction of the measles vaccine in the 1960s, worldwide deaths from the disease have plunged about 70 percent. However, it's still one of the leading causes of death in children under 5, and it kills more than 150,000 people every year, mostly in developing countries, the AP reported.

In Britain, about 90 percent of children under 5 have been vaccinated against the rash-causing disease, which is very contagious. But for children now aged 10 to 16, the vaccination rate is below 50 percent in some parts of the country, the AP said.

In the United States, most states require children to be vaccinated against measles before starting school. Last year, there were 55 reported cases of measles in the United States, where the vaccination rate is above 90 percent, the news service reported.


Victim of Flesh-Eating Bacteria Demonstrates Bionic Hands

Aimee Copeland, the young woman who lost her hands, a leg and a foot to necrotizing fasciitis (the "flesh-eating" bacteria) last year, is now using high-tech bionic hands to do everyday chores, CNN reported Monday.

Copeland, a University of West Georgia graduate student, contracted the bacterial infection after she suffered a gash to her leg in a zip-lining accident on May 1, 2012. Doctors were forced to perform multiple amputations to save her life.

Demonstrating the new bionic hands for media, Copeland told CNN she is most looking forward to cleaning her house on her own again, and cooking.

"I really want to be able to get back in the kitchen and start cooking some delicious vegetarian meals for myself," she said. The new hand "mimics so well a natural hand that it really just reminds me of before the accident, how I would have done things," Copeland added. "I never thought I would actually be able to hold a knife and cut something. That's just incredible."

The bionic hands do carry a hefty price tag, costing over $120,000 each. Copeland is set to receive a prosthetic leg later this year, CNN said, and she is working to complete her Master's degree by the end of the year.

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