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Health Highlights: Oct. 16, 2003

CDC Panel Urges Annual Flu Shot for Babies Grandparents as Caregivers Growing in Number: Census 120 Sickened on Cruise Ship Medicare Costs to Jump Next Year Microwaving Broccoli Nixes Health Benefits: Study Report: Pilot in NYC Ferry Crash Cites Medication Error

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

CDC Panel Urges Annual Flu Shot for Babies

Beginning next fall, all healthy children between 6 months and 23 months of age should get an annual influenza shot.

That's the latest recommendation from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's advisory committee on immunizations, which voted Wednesday to endorse the annual shot for that age group. The committee's action, which must be approved by the CDC and the Secretary of Health and Human Services, is a change from its previous recommendation that doctors give infants over 6 months of age the shots when feasible.

The current inactivated influenza vaccine is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use among children younger than 6 months of age, the CDC says in a prepared statement.

Under the proposal, two doses of inactivated influenza vaccine administered more than one month apart are recommended for previously unvaccinated children less than nine years old, starting in the fall of 2004, the committee says. If possible, the second dose should be administered before December. All subsequent annual flu vaccines would require only one dose of vaccine.

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Growing Number of Grandparents Are Caregivers: Census

More grandparents than ever are raising their grandchildren, and a significant portion of them are living in poverty, according to a Census Bureau report released Thursday.

The report, culled from 2000 census data, says 2.4 million grandparents are primary caregivers to their grandchildren and about a third of them live in a home without the child's parents. In many cases, it's because one or both parents are in jail or on drugs, the Associated Press reports.

In addition, the report found, about 19 percent of grandparent caregivers lived below the poverty line in 1999, compared to 14 percent of all families living with children.

Grandparents acted as caregivers most often in American Indian and black families; about 56 percent and 52 percent, respectively. The grandparent-as-caregiver rates were 43 percent among whites, 35 percent for Hispanics, and 20 percent for Asians.

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120 Sickened on Cruise Ship

Another cruise has gone sour: A stomach virus outbreak sickened 120 passengers and crew members aboard a Carnival Cruise excursion to Mexico that ended Thursday.

The cruise line reports passengers began showing up in the ship Holiday's infirmary two days into a five-day cruise to Playa Del Carmen and Cozumel, with symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea. By Wednesday, 79 of 1,670 passengers and 41 of 660 crew members had become ill, cruise line spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz told the Associated Press. The ship docked in New Orleans on Thursday.

Dave Forney, chief of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's vessel sanitation program, said noroviruses -- a common and contagious family of viruses that cause sudden nausea, vomiting and diarrhea -- cause an estimated 23 million illnesses a year, lasting up to 48 hours.

There have been 23 outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness aboard 19 ships so far this year, Forney said. Eleven were confirmed to be the norovirus. Last year, more than 1,000 passengers aboard ships from Holland America Line's Amsterdam, Carnival Cruise Lines' Fascination and the Disney Magic became ill during cruises.

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Medicare Costs to Jump Next Year

Premiums for the 40 million Americans enrolled in Medicare will jump by 13.5 percent next year, the third-largest increase in the program's 36-year history, the government announced Thursday.

The hike of $7.90 per month for Medicare Part B brings the total premium to $66.60. By law, the premium must cover 25 percent of the overall costs for seniors' health care, the Associated Press reports.

The largest-ever premium rise of 38.5 percent came in 1988, followed by a jump of 15.1 percent in 1993.

For Medicare Part A, which pays for inpatient hospital, skilled nursing facility, and some home health care, the deductible paid by the beneficiary will be $876 in 2004, an increase of $36 from this year, the government said. The change only affects those in the original fee-for-service program.

Meanwhile, federal lawmakers working on a compromise prescription drug benefit for Medicare recipients are seriously considering requiring wealthier seniors to pay more than other beneficiaries, the AP reports. If this principle were enacted, it would represent a dramatic shift in the program, which has always had a fixed premium for all participants, regardless of income.

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Microwaving Broccoli Nixes Health Benefits: Study

Getting the necessary nutrients from vegetables may be even harder than you thought.

New research shows that different ways of preparing, storing and processing vegetables can affect how good they are for you, HealthDay reports.

Broccoli, for instance, can lose as much as 97 percent of some antioxidants, or cancer-fighting compounds, when it is zapped in the microwave.

Vegetables that are blanched before freezing (a common processing technique) can lose up to one third of their antioxidants. Frozen storage can also cause losses, albeit much smaller ones.

Two studies detailing these findings appear in the November issue of the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.

Antioxidants are plentiful in vegetables and work to eliminate free radicals, which can damage cell DNA and contribute to various diseases. That's why eating fiber, fruits, and vegetables, all of which contain antioxidants, can help prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease.

As it turns out, though, that protective effect is most pronounced when the vegetable is in its natural state.

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Report: Pilot in NYC Ferry Crash Cites Medication Error

The pilot of the Staten Island ferry that crashed into a pier Wednesday killing at least 10 people and injuring more than 40 others has told authorities he accidentally shifted the boat into full throttle after blacking out, the New York Post reports.

Pilot Richard Jeffrey Smith has told investigators he failed to take his medication for high blood pressure, and as a result lost consciousness just before the accident, the newspaper reports.

When Smith came to, according to the newspaper account, he said he accidentally shifted the throttle on the 300-foot vessel, the Andrew J. Barberi, sending the boat into the wooden pilings adjoining the pier. Some passengers were crushed, while others had limbs amputated.

Smith quickly fled the scene, raced home, and tried to kill himself by slashing his wrists and shooting himself in the chest twice with a pellet gun, the newspaper says. He was reported in critical condition Thursday at a Staten Island hospital.

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