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Health Highlights: Sept. 6, 2006

U.S. Will Have More Than 100 Million Flu Vaccine Doses Antibiotics Overused to Treat Children's Sore Throats Children's Asthma Attacks Surge at Start of School Year FDA Wants to Regulate New Diagnostic Tests Obesity Harder on Women: Report Hypertension Drug Lowers Diabetes Risk

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

U.S. Will Have More Than 100 Million Flu Vaccine Doses

More than 100 million doses of influenza vaccine should be available in the United States for the upcoming flu season. About 75 million doses should be distributed by the end of October, with most of the remaining doses distributed in November, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.

The previous largest amount of flu vaccine distributed in the United States was 83.1 million doses in 2003. There were 81.2 million doses distributed last year.

The best time for vaccination is in October or November, before the flu season typically begins, the CDC said. However, it's still worth getting vaccinated in December or later because, in most years, the flu season doesn't peak until February or after.

Each year in the United States, influenza infects between 5 percent and 20 percent of the population. About 36,000 people die and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized due to influenza complications.


Antibiotics Overused to Treat Children's Sore Throats

Antibiotics are overused in American children with sore throats, says a survey released Wednesday by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The survey found that about 14 percent of children visited a health professional at least once a year for serious sore throat. More than two-thirds of them were prescribed antibiotics, but about 20 percent of those children didn't receive a throat swab to confirm a bacterial infection.

Antibiotics can cure sore throats caused by bacteria, but not those caused by viruses. Overuse of antibiotics can lead to bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.

The survey also found that:

  • About 30 percent of children under age 5 were prescribed antibiotics without having their throats swabbed, along with 18 percent of those ages 5 to 12, and 24 percent of those ages 13 to 17.
  • Hispanic children who were prescribed antibiotics were less likely (72 percent) to have their throats swabbed than white non-Hispanic children (81 percent).
  • Children who were prescribed antibiotics and covered by private insurance were more likely to have a throat swab (81 percent) than children covered by Medicaid or other public insurance (71 percent).


Children's Asthma Attacks Surge at Start of School Year

The number of severe asthma attacks among children skyrockets at the start of the school year, according to studies done by U.S. and Canadian researchers.

They found that more than six times as many asthmatic children are admitted to the hospital in early fall than in the summer, Gannett News Service reported.

"Researchers speculate that it has to do with kids getting together in small indoor spaces again and passing around viruses. Getting a respiratory virus such as the flu or a cold can trigger an asthma attack," said Norman Edelman of the American Lung Association.

There are many other possible factors, including indoor air pollution, mold growing on ceiling tiles, fur shed by pet rodents in classrooms, or fumes from cleaners used by school janitors.

"Then there's the problem of the diesel-powered school bus sitting out front (of the school) with its motor running," Edelman told Gannett News Service.

In addition, many parents of children with asthma fail to provide teachers and school officials with the medication and information needed to prevent a serious asthma attack.

Edelman recommended that parents consult with their child's doctor and write up an asthma action plan to inform school staff about the child's asthma symptoms, daily medications, and limits on physical activity, Gannett reported.


FDA Wants to Regulate New Diagnostic Tests

Draft guidelines for regulating a new category of complex diagnostic tests were released Tuesday by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration.

Theses tests, called multivariate index assays, measure multiple genes, proteins or other pieces of clinical information from patients. An algorithm or software program is used the analyze the data, The New York Times reported.

The FDA said requiring approval for such tests before they're marketed may better ensure that the tests are valid. But some experts caution that increased regulation and associated costs may discourage development of new diagnostic tests.

"We don't want to see innovation and access inhibited," Kathy Hudson, director of the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University, told the Times. "On the other hand, it's really important to make sure that patients and providers have accurate and reliable tests. It's a fine balance."

The FDA's draft guidelines are currently open for public comment.


Obesity Harder on Women: Report

Obesity causes more physical and social harm to women than men, an expert told delegates Wednesday at the International Obesity Congress in Australia.

Berit Heitmann, a nutritional and medical research advisor to the Danish government, said research shows that being "obese and female is as bad as it gets," Agence France Presse reported.

Obese women suffer more social stigma than obese men, Heitmann said. "Obese women are deprived of friendships, intimate relationships, social interactions, education, income and respect," she said.

Heitmann also said obese women suffer more health problems -- such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease -- than obese men, AFP reported.

However, obese men and women have similar death rates. This may be because women tend to collect fat on the backside, while men collect it more on the stomach, where it is more dangerous to health, she said.

In related news, a study by the Royal National Institute of the Blind in England found that obese people have double the risk of vision loss. This is because obesity increases the risk of diabetes, cataracts, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration, BBC News reported.


Hypertension Drug Lowers Diabetes Risk

The hypertension drug Norvasc, made by Pfizer inc., reduced the risk of diabetes in people with high blood pressure, according to a study presented Wednesday at the World Congress of Cardiology in Spain.

The study found that Norvasc reduced the risk of developing diabetes by 34 percent, compared with beta blockers, a class of drugs widely used to treat hypertension and abnormal heart rhythm, MarketWatch reported.

Among 14,120 patients who did not have diabetes at the start of the study, 8 percent of those who took Norvasc and a drug called Coversyl developed diabetes by the end of the study, compared with 11.4 percent of the patients who took the beta blocker atenolol.

The study authors said the finding is important because diabetes significantly increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, MarketWatch reported.

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