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Health Highlights: Feb. 16, 2011

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

Faster Production Method Produces Effective Flu Vaccine: Study

A flu vaccine created using a new, faster process is as effective as existing vaccines, according to a new study.

Instead of the current method of growing a flu virus in chicken eggs, this new approach uses cultures of animal cells and could shave weeks off the approximately six months now required to produce a vaccine, The New York Times reported.

A clinical trial of 7,250 healthy adults found that the new vaccine was more than 70 percent effective in preventing seasonal flu, a rate similar to egg-based vaccines. The findings were published Tuesday in The Lancet.

Faster production of a flu vaccine could lead to a more reliable supply of seasonal flu shots and quicker responses to flu pandemics, the Times reported. The new vaccine could become available in the United States within the next few years.


Narcolepsy/Swine Flu Vaccine Link May Be Due to Genetics: WHO

Cases of narcolepsy that occurred among some people who received the H1N1 swine flu vaccine appear to be linked to a gene that increases the risk for the rare disorder that causes people to suddenly fall asleep, says the World Health Organization.

Twelve countries reported cases of narcolepsy among children and teens who received the Pandemrix swine flu vaccine. Sweden and Finland had the most documented cases, the Washington Post reported.

Of the 22 of 60 Finnish patients tested so far, all have a gene that increases the risk of narcolepsy.

The WHO said Finnish government scientists "consider it most likely that the Pandemrix vaccine increased the risk of narcolepsy in a joint effect in those genetically disposed with some other, still unknown, genetic and/or environmental factor," the Post reported.


Cracked Syringes Prompt Recall of Antipsychotic Drug

About 70,000 pre-filled syringes containing the antipsychotic drug Invega Sustenna have been recalled because some may have cracks that could compromise the drug's sterility, says Janssen Inc., a unit of Johnson & Johnson.

In a letter to health-care providers and pharmacists, the company said the voluntary recall affects lots of its 234-milligram strength injections. The syringe's label completely covers the crack, making it undetectable, the Associated Press reported.

The letter, posted on Janssen's Web site, also said there have been no reports of adverse effects or infection, and no reports of leakage associated with cracked syringes. No other strengths of the drug are included in the recall.

Janssen said the recall affects most available inventory of the 234-mg. strength drug, but expects to resume shipping the product in early March. The drug should reach normal levels of availability in April, the AP reported.


Obama's Proposed Budget Cuts Would Spare Medicare, Medicaid

While lowering the Department of Health and Human Services budget for the first time in 30 years, President Barack Obama's proposed federal budget leaves Medicare and Medicaid funding largely untouched.

According to The New York Times, the HHS budget would drop by 2 percent under the proposed budget, to $892 billion. However, the president is not pushing for any decrease in fees paid by Medicare to doctors -- something many physicians had feared. According to the Times, Obama said those expenses would be offset by cutting down on Medicare/Medicaid fraud and reducing spending on prescription drugs, among other things.

Other proposed changes include:

  • cutting a $318 million program to train doctors at children's hospitals,
  • more money for food inspections and research into cancer and infectious disease, as well as into developing new drugs,
  • cuts to funding to states and cities to help them prepare for health emergencies,
  • nearly $32 billion for the National Institutes of Health in 2012, up $745 million from 2010,
  • increasing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's budget by over a billion dollars, to $4.36 billion, with more than half the increase coming from monies collected from industry fees.

According to the Times, some Republican members of Congress have said they will block additional fees on industry, and would prefer to cut, not increase, funding for food inspections.

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Posted: February 2011