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Today's Health Highlights: Dec. 22, 2001

Flu Vaccine in Plentiful Supply Ebola Virus Spreads to Congo Measles Virtually Eliminated from Western Hemisphere Red-Meat Diet Spikes Risk of Stomach, Esophageal Cancers Researchers: We've Solved the 'French Paradox'

Saturday, December 22, 2001 (HealthDayNews) --

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

Flu Vaccine in Plentiful Supply

There's plenty of flu vaccine to go around, reports CNN, with about 10 million doses remaining in drug-company stockpiles.

Only half of Americans considered high risk have received this year's vaccination, however. This may be because this year's flu outbreaks have been slow in coming, with reports of flu activity in 25 states, according to Dr. Keiji Fukuda, an influenza expert with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "If people can continue to vaccinate, we still stand a really excellent chance of preventing hospitalizations and death from influenza," he said.

Concerns that patients and doctors would confuse flu symptoms with anthrax have not materialized. About 57 million doses of the vaccine, sold for about $5 to $6 per dose, have been distributed by three companies.

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Ebola Virus Spreads to Congo

Despite efforts to contain the disease, the deadly Ebola virus has spread from Gabon to the neighboring Congo Republic, the Associated Press reports.

According to the World Health Organization, 11 cases of the deadly virus have been reported in a remote border region of Congo (local health officials reported 10 cases). Sixteen cases have been reported in Gabon. A total of 15 victims have died, though it's not clear how many were in Gabon and how many in the Congo Republic.

Authorities have blocked off a 125-mile region in the Congo Republic and are limiting movements in and out. The first death from this outbreak of Ebola was recorded December 2 in the village of Ekata in Gabon, located a mere five miles from the Congo border.

Ebola is one of the deadliest viruses known to man and kills an estimated 50 to 90 percent of its victims.

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Measles Virtually Eliminated from Western Hemisphere

Measles has been virtually eliminated from the Western Hemisphere, reports the Associated Press. There were only 469 cases this year in the 41 nations from Canada to Argentina, a 99.5 percent plunge from the 250,000 cases in 1990. Ninety-five of this year's cases were in the United States; none were fatal.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention believes these gains are the results of a worldwide effort to vaccinate children. The vaccine was introduced in 1963 and caused a sharp reduction in the number of cases of the disease. A survey completed by the CDC in 2000 said that 91 percent of American children had been vaccinated. The few remaining cases were mostly due to "heavy travel to the United States from endemic nations," Dr. Ciro de Quadros, vaccines chief for the Washington-based Pan American group, told AP.

Measles, which is one of the world's most contagious diseases, kills more than 800,000 children worldwide, more than half of them in central Africa.

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Red-Meat Diet Spikes Risk of Stomach, Esophageal Cancers

If your diet is consistently high in red meat or dairy products, you're 3.5 times more likely to develop cancer of the esophagus and twice as likely to develop stomach cancer, according to ABC News, citing a new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Researchers from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) studied about 700 Nebraska residents, and found that about a third of those who ate a lot of red meat or milk products contracted either stomach cancer or esophageal cancer, today's ABC News report said.

NCI researchers stressed it isn't necessary to give up red meat or milk products entirely, but to cut down on portion sizes and to eat these foods less often, the ABC report said. They also urged Americans to consume more fruits and vegetables.

Study participants who ate more poultry, tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes and cereals were up to 60 percent less likely to develop either type of cancer. Some 13,000 people developed stomach cancer in 2000, the report said, citing the American Cancer Society's most recent statistic. That same year, about 12,000 people contracted esophageal cancer.

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Researchers: We've Solved the 'French Paradox'

Why can French people eat lots of cheese, buttery sauces and other fattening foods and still suffer fewer cases of heart disease than Americans?

Researchers at the William Harvey Research Institute in London have a colorful answer: It's due to a pigment found in red wine, the Associated Press (AP) reported today, citing a study published in the journal, Nature.

Called polyphenols, these pigments inhibit hardening of the arteries by limiting production of a peptide called "Endothelin 1." The peptide is thought to constrict blood vessels and cause fatty deposits to clog a person's arteries.

White wines contain little or no polyphenols, the AP reported. Ironically, red grape juice is noticeably less potent in reducing the dangerous peptide than red wine. The researchers said that an unknown factor in wine making must change the properties of the helpful pigment.

The researchers believe the pigment must come from the skins of grapes used for red wines; in the case of white wines, the skins are removed before the fermentation process begins, the AP report said.

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