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Health Highlights: Sept. 17, 2009

U.S. Will Share 10 Percent of Swine Flu Vaccine With Other Nations Scald Burns Increasing Among Older Americans Brain Infection Warning Added To Safety Info About MS Drug Many Common Products Contain Toxic Chemicals: Group Woman's Tooth Used To Restore Vision Senate Introduces $856 Billion Health Care Bill

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

U.S. Will Share 10 Percent of Swine Flu Vaccine With Other Nations

The United States will share 10 percent of its stock of H1N1 swine flu vaccine with other countries worldwide, President Barack Obama announced Thursday.

According to the Associated Press, the White House said the vaccine will be made available to the global fight against swine flu via the World Health Organization. The United States is coordinating with Australia, Brazil, France, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, which are also sharing vaccines.

Speaking at United Nations headquarters in New York City, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, said that, "as vaccine supplies emerge, they will be made available to the WHO on a rolling basis to assist countries that will not otherwise have direct access to the vaccine."

The aim, she said, is to help minimize global economic and social disruptions caused by H1N1. "We invite and encourage other nations to join in this urgent global health effort, donating vaccine, money and/or technical assistance in an international effort to save lives around the world," Rice said.

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Scald Burns Increasing Among Older Americans

From 2001 to 2006, 52,000 seniors in the United States were treated in hospital emergency departments for nonfatal scald burns caused by hot liquid or steam, says a new study.

The number of such injuries could increase dramatically as the population ages, say the researchers. They noted that many more older Americans are living alone and there's been a substantial rise in the incidence of all types of injuries among this population.

Scald burns among people 65 and older could be substantially reduced through preventive measures such as not leaving food unattended on the stove and by keeping the hot water heater set to less than 120 degrees, the researchers said.

The study was published Thursday in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Brain Infection Warning Added To Safety Info About MS Drug

A warning about cases of rare brain infection has been included in updated safety information about the multiple sclerosis drug Tysabri, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The agency's update says the risk of developing progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) "appears to increase with the number of Tysabri infusions received." The average number of infusions received by patients before they were diagnosed with PML was 25, Dow Jones reported.

"There is minimal experience in patients who have received more than 35 infusions of Tysabri," according to the FDA update. Patients receive the drug through an intravenous infusion about once a month.

The FDA emphasized that the overall rate of PML among patients taking Tysabri remains below the one-in-1,000 rate noted on the label, Dow Jones reported.

Concerns about PML prompted the FDA to pull Tysabri from the market for 18 months in 2005. Since the drug was allowed back on the market, there have been 13 confirmed cases of PML.

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Many Common Products Contain Toxic Chemicals: Group

Lead and toxic chemicals were found in a wide range of common household items such as women's plastic handbags, chew toys for cats, and some tennis balls for dogs, says the Michigan-based nonprofit group The Ecology Center.

The group said Wednesday that it's expanded its online database (healthystuff.org) to include 15,000 test results on more than 5,000 common products, The New York Times reported.

The database was expanded in response to increased public demand for information about the potential health risks posed by a wide range of products, said Jeff Gearhart, the center's research director.

He said the announcement about the database expansion was meant to help boost efforts in Congress to introduce tighter regulation of toxic chemicals used in many household items, The Times reported.

"Current laws that regulate individual products are stopgap measures," Gearhart said. "Ultimately we need to move to a system that doesn't regulate the end product but regulates the chemicals themselves."

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Woman's Tooth Used To Restore Vision

One woman's eye tooth really lives up to its name.

Doctors in Florida used 60-year-old Sharron Thornton's eye tooth to help restore the vision she lost in 2000 when her cornea was damaged by a reaction to a drug she was taking, USA Today reported. Her eye surface was too dry for a corneal transplant, a standard treatment.

Instead, doctors at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine removed Thornton's eye tooth and part of her jaw and created a hole in the tooth in order to fit an optical cylinder lens. The tooth acts as a base for the lens.

On the Labor Day weekend, doctors surgically implanted the tooth lens prosthesis into the eye. It was the first time the surgery was performed in the United States, USA Today reported.

"Sharon was able to see 20/60 this morning. She was seeing only shadows a couple of weeks ago," ophthalmologist and surgeon Victor Perez said Wednesday when details of the surgery were announced.

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Senate Introduces $856 Billion Health Care Bill

Under a new bill introduced Wednesday, all Americans would have to buy health care insurance or pay a fine, and insurance companies would be forbidden to charge higher premiums to people with serious health problems.

The $856 billion, 10-year version of health system reform was introduced by Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. There don't appear to be any Republican backers, which means the bill faces a rough ride through Congress, the Associated Press reported.

"The Finance Committee has carefully worked through the details of health care reform to ensure this package works for patients, for health care providers and for our economy," Baucus said.

Under a new purchasing exchange, people could shop for and compare insurance plans. The bill would also expand Medicaid and place caps on patients' yearly health costs, the AP reported.

The bill doesn't include a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers, once one of the key goals of President Barack Obama's proposed health care reform package.

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