Health Highlights: Jan. 4, 2008

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

FDA Set to Clear Milk and Meat From Cloned Cows: Report

As early as next week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to sanction the use of cloned cattle to produce milk and meat for human consumption, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

The FDA has wrestled with the idea for more than six years, having asked cattle producers not to sell food products from cloned cows until the agency ruled on the issue, the newspaper said.

Cloned cattle cost about $15,000 to $20,000 per copy. Most of these animals would be used for breeding, and it would be some three to five years before any products from cloned cows would be widely available, the Journal said.

Some breeders have already experimented with cloning cattle, including ViaGen Inc., the largest cloning company in the United States.

The expected FDA action may energize opponents in Congress and elsewhere who feel there isn't enough evidence to prove that products from cloned cattle are safe. Cloned animals tend to have more health problems, especially at birth.

The food industry appears divided over whether to support products from cloned animals or their offspring, the newspaper said.

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Oklahoma City Mayor Wants Citizens to Shed Pounds

The mayor of Oklahoma City has given citizens a hefty challenge for the new year: Lose a collective 1 million pounds.

Prompted in part by the city's reputation as one of America's fattest, Mayor Mick Cornett -- himself struggling to lose weight -- is pointing residents to the city's new Web site, designed to help fellow Oklahomans track how much they've lost, the Associated Press reported.

"You're not really going to take on obesity unless you acknowledge that we eat too much and don't eat the right foods," he told residents. Proof of the pudding may be that Oklahoma's official state meal is pecan pie, the AP noted.

The city Web site, www.thiscityisgoingonadiet.com, includes a body mass index calculator, healthy recipes, and links to fitness centers citywide.

Oklahoma City was 15th in last year's survey of America's fattest metro areas, conducted by Men's Fitness magazine, the wire service said.

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Cervical Cancer Vaccine Is Painful Shot

The vaccine aimed at preventing cervical cancer in girls is gaining a reputation as one of the most painful childhood inoculations, the Associated Press reports, citing instances of burning pain and even fainting among recipients.

Health officials don't doubt the importance of vaccinating girls with Gardasil, designed to thwart the sexually transmitted virus that's responsible for most cases of cervical cancer. The shot is approved for females ages 9 to 26.

Officials at the shot's maker, Merck & Co., concede that the virus-like particles that comprise the vaccine are the likely culprits for the pain, the wire service said.

The pain is usually short-lived, girls interviewed by the AP said. But some recipients reported pain during sleep and while driving.

From 2005 until last July, there have been about 230 reports of girls vaccine-associated fainting. It's not been established that Gardasil's sting is the reason, the AP said.

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Universal Flu Shot Showing Promise

A single flu vaccine that doesn't have to be re-tailored every year to reflect the latest dangerous variants of the influenza virus is showing promising results in human trials, BBC News reported Friday.

The vaccine, manufactured by Acambis, is believed to protect against all strains of influenza A, the network said. Influenza A strains are responsible for causing epidemics, and the new shot could offer lifetime protection against them.

The vaccine could be stockpiled in the event of a long-predicted epidemic triggered by a mutated bird flu virus that's more easily passed between people than current forms of bird flu.

In initial clinical testing, nine of 10 recipients of the ACAM-FLU-A vaccine developed flu antibodies, BBC News reported. Acambis scientists are working to perfect the vaccine before larger trials proceed, the network said.

Experts cautioned that it would be years before the new vaccine could be made available for widespread use.

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State Efforts to Expand Medicaid Enrollment Quashed

The Bush Administration is imposing new restrictions on the ability of U.S. states to expand the rolls of Medicaid to include families with more modest incomes, The New York Times reported Friday.

The restrictions are similar to those imposed by the administration after some states tried to broaden enrollment for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) last summer, the newspaper said.

Previously, states had been largely uninhibited in setting their own Medicaid eligibility criteria. But officials in Louisiana, Ohio, and Oklahoma discovered "the administration's intent" during negotiations with the federal government in recent weeks, the Times said.

Washington's leverage with the states stems from the fact that it pays a large share of the bill for Medicaid and SCHIP, assuming states comply with federal rules. SCHIP was created to help children whose families had incomes too large for Medicaid but who couldn't afford private insurance.

As an example of the administration's recent actions, last month, it rejected Ohio's bid to cover 35,000 more children under Medicaid, the newspaper said. Ohio currently offers Medicaid to children with family annual incomes up to $41,000 for a family of four -- twice the poverty level. The state was denied in its bid to raise the criteria to $62,000 per year.

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Hospitalizations for Reflux Disease Up 103% in 7 Years

Hospitalizations for treating GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and related disorders jumped 103 percent between 1998 and 2005, the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality announced Thursday in its latest News and Numbers publication.

GERD occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, triggering bouts of extreme chronic heartburn. Left untreated, it can cause bleeding of the esophagus, trouble swallowing, and a precancerous condition called Barrett's esophagus, the agency said.

The AHRQ survey also found:

  • Admissions for severe GERD-related symptoms, including anemia, vomiting, and weight loss, rose 39 percent over the seven-year span.
  • Hospitalizations for less serious symptoms, including hoarseness, chronic cough, bloating, or belching, rose 43 percent over the period.
  • Hospitalizations for GERD in children ages 2 to 17 soared 84 percent during the seven years, and rose 42 percent for infants under age 2 during the same time span.

Posted: January 2008


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