Health Highlights: Aug. 5, 2005
Scientists Working on 'Cure All' Flu Vaccine Higher Levels of Arsenic Found in U.S. Rice More Tests Needed on Pig-borne Disease: Health Officials Baby Born to Brain-dead Woman Doing Well 1st Federal Vioxx Trial to Start Nov. 28
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
Scientists Working on 'Cure All' Flu Vaccine
A British biotech firm says it's working on an influenza vaccine that could give lifelong protection against all types of flu, avoiding the need for an annual shot.
Cambridge-based Acambis said it hopes to target a non-mutating protein found in all strains of flu. Current vaccines work by immunizing the body to two proteins that tend to mutate from year to year, which means new vaccines must be developed just to keep up with the new strains, according to BBC News.
The company cautions that its work is in the initial stages of animal testing and it may be many years before a universal vaccine is tested in people.
The new vaccine would target a non-mutating protein named M2. The inoculation would also include other technology that its developers said they couldn't disclose for commercial reasons, the BBC said.
"This technology has special importance as a potential means of protecting human populations against pandemic influenza strains," Acambis' chief scientific officer, Dr. Thomas Monath, told the network. "The need to develop a new vaccine each time a different influenza strain emerges often results in long delays before a population can be protected."
Some experts have long warned that the deadly bird flu strain that's sweeping Asian fowl could cause a human pandemic if it were to mutate into a form that could easily pass from one person to another, rendering existing human vaccines ineffective.
Higher Levels of Arsenic Found in U.S. Rice
Rice grown in the United States has levels of arsenic up to five times higher than rice grown in Europe, India, and Bangladesh, Scottish researchers say.
Scientists at the University of Aberdeen found that U.S.-grown rice had an average of 0.26 micrograms of arsenic per gram of rice, versus Indian basmati rice that had 0.05 micrograms per gram, according to USA Today.
While these are tiny amounts, the newspaper noted, arsenic levels are monitored because long-term exposure has been associated with some cancers.
Arsenic is found naturally in soil. The researchers, reporting in the August edition of Environmental Science and Technology, said they can't explain why levels in the United States are as high as they are, USA Today said.
What makes the results even more surprising, the newspaper said, is that Bangladesh has significant arsenic contamination of its soil and irrigation water.
A U.S. rice producers group criticized the study's findings. The Aberdeen sample wasn't large enough to be scientifically valid, spokesman David Coia of the U.S. Rice Foundation told the newspaper. "There's been no incident (in which) arsenic and rice have led to any reported human health problem," he added.
More Tests Needed on Pig-borne Disease: Health Officials
China needs to conduct more tests on the pig-borne disease that's killed 38 people and made hundreds sick in Sichuan province, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Friday.
Chinese officials have been providing regular updates to the WHO but more tests are needed to, "eliminate other possible scenarios," Roy Wadia, a WHO spokesman in Beijing, told the Associated Press.
"Doing tests of different sorts is something we would recommend ... in any outbreak situation, especially in one of this scale," Wadia said.
The outbreak is being blamed on Streptococcus suis bacteria. Since June, more than 200 people have become ill in Sichuan province. Most of those affected are farmers who butchered or handled sick pigs.
Experts on the bacteria say it's unusual for it to cause sickness and sudden death in so many people and recommend that the strain of Streptococcus suis causing this outbreak be sent to another lab for testing, the AP reported.
Baby Born to Brain-dead Woman Making Progress
A baby girl born Tuesday to a brain-dead woman is doing well, say Virginia Hospital Center officials.
Susan Anne Catherine Torres was about 13 weeks premature and weighed 1 pound 13 ounces and was about 13. 5 inches long when she was delivered by Caesarean section.
"She' still vigorous, so that's a good sign," hospital spokeswoman Kristen Peifer told the Washington Post.
The baby is being monitored in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit. It's expected she'll remain hospitalized for about three months and be released around what would have been her normal due date, the Post reported.
The girl's mother, Susan Torres, was brain-dead since early May but kept on life support for three months in order to give her unborn baby time to develop. The mother died the day after the baby was delivered after she was removed from life support.
1st Federal Vioxx Trial to Start Nov. 28
U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon has set Nov. 28 as the start of the first federal trial over the withdrawn painkiller Vioxx, the focus of thousands of wrongful death and injury lawsuits against drugmaker Merck & Co.
The trial will take place New Orleans.
In this case, the lawsuit contends that the drug caused the May 2001 fatal heart attack of 53-year-old Richard Irvin Jr. of Florida, who died a month after he began taking Vioxx for back pain. His wife, Evelyn Irvin Plunkett, said her husband was in good health when he started taking Vioxx.
"This is clearly a case we can show that Vioxx caused this man's heart attack," Andy Birchfield, Plunkett's lawyer, told the Associated Press.
The first state trial involving Vioxx is already being held in state district court in Angleton, Texas. The case concerns a 59-year-old man who died in his sleep as the result of an irregular heartbeat.
Some analysts predict that if verdicts go against Merck, the company's liability from Vioxx could be as high as $18 billion, the AP reported.
Vioxx was taken off the market last September after a study found that the drug doubled users' risks of heart attack and stroke. The lawsuits against Merck contend that the company hid those risks.