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Health Highlights: July 12, 2004

Bacterial Pneumonia Vaccine May Thwart Viral Forms Many Preschoolers Lack Required Immunizations Tabloid HQ Declared Free of Anthrax New Sunscreen Thwarts Jellyfish, Too Is U.S. Exporting Dirty Air? New Software Helps Docs Find Lung Growths

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

Bacterial Pneumonia Vaccine May Thwart Viral Forms

A vaccine devised to combat bacterial pneumonia also appears to stem viral forms of the disease, indicating that the two types of infection may somehow be linked, researchers report in this week's online version of the journal Nature Medicine.

Tests on more than 37,000 South African children found that the bacterial vaccine also prevented 31 percent of viral pneumonia cases, according to an Associated Press account of the report.

The study indicated that forms of pneumonia once thought to be exclusively viral can actually be caused by a combination of bacteria and viruses, a spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the wire service.

The vaccine is made by Wyeth Vaccines, which also sponsored the research along with the World Health Organization. The same vaccine also appeared to protect against other bacterial illnesses including meningitis, blood infections, and ear infections, the AP reported.

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Many Preschoolers Lack Required Immunizations

Almost one quarter of preschool children have not received the required immunizations, putting both themselves and other children at risk for various preventable illnesses, HealthDay reported.

Vaccination rates were about the same regardless of whether the children were in day care, according to a new study appearing in the August issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"The children who are not up to date are at risk for development of those infections which vaccines can prevent," said Dr. Joseph Bocchini, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on infectious diseases. "And because they are in a group with other children, they can not only become infected themselves but they can pass it on to other children."

Legislation and regulations requiring school-aged children in kindergarten and first grade to have their vaccinations before enrolling have resulted in rates that exceed 95 percent in that age group. As a result, related disease rates, too, are low.

Similar rules are in place for child-care facilities, which have an estimated 3.5 million preschool-aged children enrolled nationwide, but it has been unclear how effective these regulations have been.

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Tabloid HQ Declared Free of Anthrax

Almost three years after being hit by a deadly anthrax attack, the former headquarters building of a supermarket tabloid in Florida was declared free of the deadly spores on Monday.

The cleanup crew finished decontaminating the American Media Inc. building in Boca Raton at 7:30 a.m., said Karen Cavanagh, chief operating officer of BioONE and Sabre Technical Services.

The cleanup, which started Sunday, followed months of planning and rancor over the fate of the building, the Associated Press reported.

Chlorine dioxide, a chemical used to disinfect drinking water and treat fruits and vegetables, was pumped into the building to kill the anthrax spores, which had spread throughout its 65,000 square feet.

The cleanup was led by BioONE, a company co-established by former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

The arrival of anthrax in the mail at the building in October 2001 was the first in a series of still-unsolved attacks that killed five people. AMI publishes The National Enquirer and The Sun.

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New Sunscreen Thwarts Jellyfish, Too

It's a beach lover's dream come true -- a sunscreen that protects not only against sunburn but against the sting of jellyfish, too.

Stanford University Medical School researchers tested the new product, called SafeSea, on two dozen volunteers. Their verdict: It's "relatively effective" against jellyfish stings, according to the Dallas Morning News.

The cream, which is just arriving in U.S. stores, was developed by Israeli researchers who noticed that clownfish don't get stung by jellyfish. They isolated the chemical that seemed to protect the fish and incorporated the substance into a sunscreen solution, the newspaper said.

"It's not like a barrier that would protect your skin, the way a scuba suit does. It's more like the jellyfish detects the chemical on you, and it doesn't sting you," said Alexa Kimball, an assistant professor of dermatology at Stanford who directed the study, which was partly funded by the manufacturer, Nidaria Technology. The research appeared in the journal Wilderness and Environmental Medicine.

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Is U.S. Exporting Dirty Air?

A British scientist says he's testing his theory that the United States may be responsible for rising cases of lung disease in the U.K. by exporting airborne pollution from the U.S. east coast, BBC News Online reported Monday.

Dr. Alastair Lewis from York University is leading a team of some 50 scientists who theorize that U.S. car and factory exhaust has created a steady plume of sooty particles that may be making the 5,000-mile drift to Western Europe, the network report said. His team will test the air in stages as it travels from the eastern United States across the Atlantic.

"Although we know that some of this pollution was produced locally in the U.K., we still don't know what the contribution was from other countries," Lewis told the BBC. "It's perfectly plausible that [the United States is] exporting air pollution to us. The predominant wind is from the southwest."

The scientists believe fossil fuel pollutants may be reacting with nitrogen in the air to form the unhealthy air mass. There's no word on when Lewis expects to report results.

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New Software Helps Docs Find Lung Growths

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved new software designed to help radiologists detect solid lung nodules from computed tomography (CT) scans.

The ImageChecker CT CAD software highlights areas of the image that appear to be solid nodules, which can be cancerous. The software, the first of its kind for use with CT chest exams, is manufactured by R2 Technology Inc., of Sunnyvale, Calif.

In a statement, the FDA said approval was granted based on the review of 15 independent radiologists, who were able to detect significantly more solid lung nodules among 90 CT images analyzed with the software than without it.

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