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Health Highlights: April 22, 2013

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

Questions Remain About Bird Flu Outbreak in China: WHO

It's still unclear how the H7N9 bird flu virus spreads and how dangerous it could become, a World Health Organization team said Monday.

The researchers are in China to study the virus responsible for an outbreak that has killed 20 people and infected more than 100 others, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The team has found no evidence of sustained person-to-person transmission of the H7N9 virus. Such transmission could make it more contagious and more dangerous. But the researchers are still examining the possibility of limited transmission of the virus through people, given the fact that there are small clusters of infections.

"The same question has been looked at by the [local] investigators as well as by ourselves, and I think that we don't know the answer," Keiji Fukuda, the WHO's assistant director general for health security and environment, said at a news conference Monday, WSJ reported.

The situation "remains complex and difficult," he added.

"It is virtually impossible to predict how many more cases" could occur, Fukuda said. He also noted that "it is important to recognize that if the infection spreads a little bit, it doesn't mean that things are out of control."


Recall of Drug Products Made by Fla. Compounding Pharmacy

Possible bacterial contamination has led a Florida compounding pharmacy to recall all of its sterile non-expired drug products sold in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration says.

The agency said hospitals and other health-care providers who received sterile products, including all injectables, from Balanced Solutions Compounding Pharmacy should immediately quarantine the products and follow the company's recall instructions, the Washington Post reported.

The company posted the recall on its website but did not specify how many products are affected. Patients who received any sterile drug products made and distributed by the company should contact their health-care providers, the FDA said.

The agency is not aware of any illnesses caused by the recalled products.

Compounding pharmacies custom mix medication for individual patients. Balanced Solutions is one of 30 compounding pharmacies inspected by the FDA between February and April in the wake of a deadly fungal meningitis outbreak last year. The outbreak, which caused 53 deaths, was linked to tainted steroid shots made by the New England Compounding Center, the Post reported.


NYC Proposal: Raise Minimum Age for Cigarette Purchases to 21

A new proposal would forbid young people in New York City from buying cigarettes until they are age 21. The current minimum age is 18.

It was not clear whether the proposal would make it illegal for people under 21 to possess cigarettes. The proposal was advanced by Dr. Thomas Farley, the city's health commissioner, and Christine Quinn, the City Council speaker, The New York Times reported.

The move is the latest in the city's anti-smoking campaign that began soon after Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office in 2001. Bans on smoking in restaurants and bars were recently expanded to cover parks, beaches, plazas and other public places.

Smoking among young people in New York City has been declining, surveys suggest. Some experts say this is because many young people have been influenced by public health campaigns and never took up the habit, the Times reported.


Creator of First Live-Virus Polio Vaccine Dies

The American scientist who created the first live-virus polio vaccine died recently at age 96.

Dr. Hilary Koprowski used an ordinary kitchen blender to mix the ingredients -- including rat brain and a cultivated virus -- to create the vaccine. He then took a drink of his concoction to test it and later said that it tasted like cod liver oil, The New York Times reported.

While the vaccine was given to patients in other countries and yielded good results, it was never approved for use in the United States. But by demonstrating that a live-virus polio vaccine could be safe and effective, Koprowski opened the door to the live-virus oral vaccine that was developed by Albert Sabin and introduced in the 1960s.

Koprowski, who died April 11, was considered one of the leading biomedical researchers in the world. Along with the first live-virus polio vaccine, his notable accomplishments included developing a safer, less painful and more effective rabies vaccine that is still widely used, the Times reported.

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Posted: April 2013