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Health Highlights: Oct. 18, 2006

Memory Loss a Concern for Many Older Americans Bird-Flu Vaccine Trial Results a 'Milestone' U.S. Considering Approving Food From Cloned Animals Many U.S. Hispanics Lack Health Insurance Study Says Teflon Chemical No Threat to Workers

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

Memory Loss a Concern for Many Older Americans

Many Americans -- 73 percent -- are concerned about memory loss but 30 percent of those people have not discussed the issue with anyone, including their doctors, according to a survey released Wednesday by the MetLife Mature Market Institute.

Of those who did share their concerns, most confided in a spouse and only 24 percent had talked with their doctor.

The survey of 2,562 people, average age 69.9 years, who took part in the National Memory Screening Day in late 2005 found that far more women (74 percent) had concerns about their memory than men (29 percent).

Factors that persuaded the respondents to have a memory screening included: forgetfulness (50 percent); a desire to obtain a baseline score (56 percent); and having a relative with Alzheimer's disease (21 percent).

About 4.5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease and that number is predicted to increase to between 11.3 million and 16 million by 2050.


Bird-Flu Vaccine Trial Results a 'Milestone'

An H5N1 bird-flu vaccine created using a virus isolated in Vietnam in 2004 is able to neutralize antibodies from H5N1 viruses found in other countries, according to preliminary findings of tests in humans.

The results were released Wednesday by Sanofi Pasteur, the company that developed the vaccine. The findings suggest that vaccines based on older H5N1 strains may prove effective against newer strains of the virus, the Associated Press reported.

Previous tests in ferrets and mice indicated that this kind of vaccine cross-protection might be possible, but this is the first such evidence from human trials, said Dr. Klaus Stohr, the World Health Organization's leading official on pandemic influenza viruses.

"This is a milestone for vaccine development," he said.

Stohr said the findings suggest that stockpiling vaccines makes sense and that people could be inoculated with a pre-pandemic vaccine and then receive a booster shot once a pandemic strain emerges.

More than a dozen companies worldwide are using the Vietnamese 2004 H5N1 strain in their efforts to develop vaccines to fight a possible global H5N1 bird-flu pandemic, the AP reported.

Even if an H5N1 vaccine protects against other H5N1 strains, it doesn't guarantee protection against a pandemic caused by other types of influenza viruses, warned one expert.

"We don't know if the next pandemic will be started by H5," Dr. Angus Nicoll, director of influenza coordination at the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, told the AP.


U.S. Considering Approving Food From Cloned Animals

The U.S. government appears to be moving closer to approving the sale of milk and meat from cloned animals, but critics say consumers have little appetite for such food.

A draft of Food and Drug Administration plans to regulate cloned animals and products derived from them should be released by the end of the year, the Associated Press reported.

In a statement, the FDA said it has "studies that show that the meat and milk from cattle clones and their offspring are as safe as that from conventionally bred animals."

Cloning allows breeders to do what they've always done -- select the best animals for breeding, says the biotech industry.

But the Consumer Federation of America says years of surveys suggest that consumers oppose animal cloning and won't buy cloned meat or milk even if the federal government says such food is safe, the AP reported.

And the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Food Safety said labels on food should inform consumers whether it came from cloned animals. The Biotechnology Industry Organization doesn't think that's necessary.


Many U.S. Hispanics Lack Health Insurance

More than one-third of Hispanics under age 65 in the United States don't have health insurance, including nearly two-thirds of those who aren't U.S. citizens and about a quarter of those who are citizens, says a report released Tuesday by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The report, based on a 2004 survey, looked at private and public health insurance among Hispanics overall and in three subgroups -- Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans, and "other Hispanics," which includes people of Cuban, Dominican, South or Central American, or Spanish birth or descent.

The report found that:

  • 67 percent of non-citizen Mexican-Americans and about 50.5 percent of other non-citizen Hispanics are uninsured.
  • 16 percent of Puerto Ricans living in the United States are uninsured. Virtually all Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.
  • About 12 percent of all non-citizen Hispanics have public health insurance, compared to about 30 percent of all Hispanics who are U.S. citizens.
  • Non-citizen Mexican-Americans are nearly three times less likely to have public-only health insurance than Mexican-Americans who are U.S. citizens - about 11.5 percent vs. 30 percent. Among other Hispanics, about 26 percent of citizens have public-only health insurance, compared to about 12 percent of non-citizens.


Study Says Teflon Chemical No Threat to Workers

A suspected carcinogen -- perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) -- used to make Teflon coatings doesn't harm humans, according to a long-term mortality study of 6,000 workers released this week by U.S. chemical maker DuPont Co.

The study found that people who worked at the company's Washington Works plant in West Virginia from 1948 to 2002 had lower death rates than the general population of West Virginia and the United States, Bloomberg news reported. The plant makes PFOA.

This study "supports a conclusion that there are no human health effects known to be caused by PFOA," Dr. Sol Sax, chief medical officer at DuPont, said in a prepared statement. "If health effects were associated with PFOA exposure, they almost certainly would be more prevalent among employees who are occupationally exposed to the compound."

Critics dismissed that conclusion.

"The notion that you are less likely to die if you work around PFOA is really misleading," Richard Wiles, senior vice president at Environmental Working Group, told Bloomberg. "Workers are generally more healthy than the population at large, so they (DuPont) aren't telling us anything we don't already know."

Last year, DuPont agreed to pay $107.6 million to settle claims that PFOA from the Washington Works plant tainted the drinking water of 60,000 people. The company also said it would pay as much as $235 million if DuPont-funded studies concluded that PFOA caused health problems.

Based on findings in animal studies, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency advisory board has said that PFOA is a likely human carcinogen. The agency is still evaluating the effect that PFOA has on human health, Bloomberg reported.

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