Health Highlights: Dec. 11 2003

U.S. Government Buys More Flu Vaccine FDA Plans Mercury Warning on Tuna Drunkeness Gene Identified in Worms Psoriasis Group Debunks Bogus 'Cures' British Warn Against Anti-Depressant Use Among Children

HealthDay News

HealthDay News

Published on December 11, 2003

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

U.S. Government Buys More Flu Vaccine

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson announced Thursday that the government has purchased 100,000 additional doses of adult flu vaccine to help stem a widening early outbreak of the virus, HealthDay reports.

The announcement came as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that flu has hit every state, and activity was "widespread" in 24 states, many of which are in the West. Health officials expect that activity to increase, but are stopping short of calling it an epidemic.

The doses, purchased from Aventis Pasteur, are expected to arrive at state health departments by the end of this week, Thompson said. "Each state's supply will be based upon its population," he added.

The government has also purchased 150,000 doses of the child vaccine. That, however, will not be available until January, Thompson said at a news conference held by the CDC.


FDA Plans Mercury Warning on Tuna

In apparent contradiction to earlier reports, the U.S. government is planning to warn pregnant women that they should avoid eating tuna and other seafood that could contain harmful levels of mercury, the Washington Post reports.

The newspaper cites a draft advisory from the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection agency, warning that women of childbearing age should limit intake of tuna, other fish, and shellfish to 12 ounces a week. The agencies say people should also avoid eating the same type of fish or shellfish more than once weekly.

Previously, the FDA has warned pregnant women to avoid other types of mercury-laden fish -- including shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. But these types of fish are much less popular than tuna, which is second only to shrimp among widely eaten seafoods in the United States.

Mercury can damage the brains and nervous systems of fetuses and young children, leading to learning disabilities and mental retardation, the Post reports.


Drunkeness Gene Identified in Worms

Yes, it's possible to get a worm drunk. And in the process of doing so, scientists have discovered a gene that causes the condition, the Associated Press reports.

Since alcoholism appears to affect all specifies in similar ways, the discovery could ultimately help fight alcoholism in people, say the scientists at the University of California, San Francisco.

In Friday's edition of the journal Cell, the researchers say the natural job of the gene is to slow brain activity. Alcohol causes this gene to overact, slowing brain activity even more.

If the gene could be disabled or regulated, it could ultimately help many of the 14 million Americans who abuse alcohol. But the scientists say there is much more research to do before their findings can be applied to people.


Psoriasis Group Debunks Bogus 'Cures'

There is no "cure" for psoriasis.

That's the simple message of the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF), which is urging the 5 million Americans who have the skin disease to beware of bogus Internet claims to the contrary.

The group warns of a recent surge in Web sites and email ads promising to end the disease. Psoriasis -- symptomatic of an overactive immune system -- is characterized by extra cells that build up on the skin's surface. These cells form painful, scaly lesions that can itch, crack and bleed.

Psoriasis most often appears on the joints, limbs and scalp, but it can occur anywhere on the body. While there are literally hundreds of medications that can help alleviate symptoms, there is no cure, the group says.

For more information, visit the NPF Web site at


British Warn Against Anti-Depressant Use Among Children

Children under 18 should avoid most anti-depressants known as SSRI's because they may cause more harm than good, British drug regulators say.

Officials representing the British equivalent of the Food and Drug Administration say the drugs' effectiveness in treating childhood depression hasn't been sufficiently demonstrated. In addition, some of the medications have been linked with suicidal thoughts and self-harm among children and adolescents, according to an account of the British report by The New York Times.

The British Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency examined seven drugs: Prozac, from Eli Lilly; Paxil, from GlaxoSmithKline; Zoloft, from Pfizer; Effexor, from Wyeth; Celexa and Lexapro, from Forest Laboratories, and Luvox, from Solvay. Only Prozac was exempted from the agency's warning, the Times reports.

The FDA is investigating a purported link between SSRI's (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and suicidal tendencies among children and adolescents, the newspaper says.

There aren't reliable estimates of how many American children use anti-depressants, but the British agency estimates about 40,000 Britons under 18 use them, with about half taking Prozac, the Times reports.

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