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Health Highlights: Oct. 16, 2006

Flu Shots for Young Children in U.S. Delayed Many Americans Have Trouble Paying Medical Bills: Survey Many Doctors Unfamiliar with Heart Attack Treatment Guidelines Electrical Stimulation May Help Brain Injury Patients Bird Flu Virus May Have Infected Victim's Brain American AIDS Activist Dies

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

Flu Shots for Young Children in U.S. Delayed

A manufacturer's shipping delay means American children ages six months to 3 years old won't be able to get their flu shots until November and December, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced Monday.

The delay was announced by Sanofi Pasteur, the only maker of injectable flu vaccine (FluZone) approved for children ages 3 and younger. There will be an adequate amount of the vaccine, but pediatricians will have to wait until November or December to receive the bulk of their supply, the AAP said.

Through pediatricians, the AAP is distributing letters to parents explaining the delay and urging them to bring their young children back later in the year for their flu shots. The flu season doesn't peak until late December through March, so children still benefit even if they get the flu shot later than normal, the AAP said.

Experts say that flu shots are especially important for children ages 6 months to five years, people 50 and older, nursing homes residents, and people with certain chronic medical conditions. All these groups are at high risk of complications from the flu, the Associated Press reported.

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Many Americans Have Trouble Paying Medical Bills: Survey

A new survey found that 25 percent of Americans said that they or a household family member had trouble paying medical bills during the past year. That's the highest percentage in a series of polls since 1997.

Of the respondents who reported problems, 69 percent had health insurance.

The Health Care in America Survey of 1,201 adults was conducted between Sept. 7 and 12, 2006. Key findings include:

  • 28 percent of respondents said that in the past year they or a family member have put off medical treatment because of the cost. Of those who delayed treatment, 70 percent said they needed care for a serious medical condition.
  • Among those with health insurance, 60 percent are worried about not being able to afford coverage over the next few years -- 27 percent said they are very worried.
  • 54 percent of those without health insurance said they don't have it because they can't afford it.
  • 80 percent said they're dissatisfied with the overall cost of healthcare to the nation. Cost came out ahead of quality when they were asked about their own healthcare.

The survey was conducted jointly by the Kaiser Family Foundation, ABC News, and USA Today.

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Many Doctors Unfamiliar with Heart Attack Treatment Guidelines

Many U.S. emergency room doctors and cardiologists aren't familiar with heart attack treatment guidelines, suggests a Cleveland Clinic-led study.

The findings are based on an Internet survey of 1,014 cardiologists and emergency room doctors conducted in late 2005. The researchers found that 61 percent of the respondents believed there was room for improvement in the treatment of heart attack patients and 24 percent said they weren't familiar with the current American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology heart attack treatment guidelines.

The survey also found that 84 percent of respondents were familiar with the recommended treatment of heart attack patients within three hours of the start of symptoms, but 20 percent said that patients who don't undergo a procedure to unblock a coronary artery within 90 minutes of arriving at hospital "rarely" or "never" receive the recommended therapy.

One-fifth of the respondents said the guidelines were impractical.

The findings were presented Monday at a meeting of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

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Electrical Stimulation May Help Brain Injury Patients

Targeted electrical brain stimulation may benefit head-trauma patients in a permanent state of semiconsciousness, say U.S. researchers who used deep brain stimulation (DBS) to improve the condition of a 38-year-old man who'd been in a minimally conscious state for six years.

The researchers implanted electrodes into the man's thalamus, the part of the brain that's believed to help integrate the functions of other brain areas, the Washington Post reported. The team was led by neuroscientists from the Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York City, the Cleveland Clinic, and the JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute in N.J.

After six months of electrical stimulation sessions, the man showed significant improvement in his ability to move, communicate and function.

"These findings provide the first evidence that DBS can promote significant late functional recovery from severe traumatic brain injury," the researchers noted in a presentation Sunday at a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Atlanta.

DBS has previously been shown to be effective in treating some patients with epilepsy, depression, Parkinson's disease, severe pain, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

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Bird Flu Virus May Have Infected Victim's Brain

Health officials in Indonesia are concerned that the H5N1 bird flu virus may have infected a 67-year-old woman's brain before she died of avian influenza on Sunday, Bloomberg news reported.

The woman from West Java province tested positive for H5N1 on Oct. 11, four days after she'd been hospitalized with flu-like symptoms. The woman's condition deteriorated after she developed an acute inflammation of the brain (encephalitis).

"Our concern is that the condition (encephalitis) was caused by a bird flu infection in her brain," Hadi Yusuf, one of the woman's doctors at Hasan Sadikin Hospital in the city of Bandung, told Bloomberg.

People infected with the H5N1 virus rarely experience neurological symptoms, noted virologist Menno de Jong.

Since 2003, the virus has infected 255 people in 10 countries, killing 59 percent (150) of them, Bloomberg reported.

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American AIDS Activist Dies

Prominent American AIDS activist Jeff Getty -- who in 1995 received the first bone-marrow transplant from another species (a baboon) -- died of heart failure in California on Oct. 9. He was 49 years old.

The 1995 procedure at San Francisco General Hospital was done in the hope that the baboon's natural AIDS resistance would take hold in Getty. The baboon's bone marrow cells quickly vanished from Getty's system and the attempt proved unsuccessful, the Associated Press reported.

The experimental transplant, which was done before the advent of the antiviral drug combination therapy that keeps many HIV/AID patients alive today, ignited intense debate over the medical and moral implications of cross-species transplants.

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