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Health Highlights: Feb. 19, 2009

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

China Probing New Kidney Stone Illness in Babies

Chinese parents are blaming a growing number of cases of kidney stones in babies on dairy products made by Dumex Baby Food Co., a subsidiary of France's Groupe Danone SA, the Associated Press reported.

But the company says its products are safe and health officials said tests showed the products do not contain the industrial chemical melamine, which was found in tainted formula that caused kidney problems in hundreds of thousands of children and killed at least six babies last year.

China's Health Ministry has launched an investigation and told all local health bureaus to start monitoring kidney problems in children and to look at their eating habits and living environment, the China Daily newspaper said Thursday, the AP reported.

It's not known how many children have become sick, when they became ill, or what pushed the Health Ministry to launch an investigation into the latest outbreak.

"We're trying to find out why the number of kidney ailments among babies has risen drastically," Ma Yangchen of the ministry's press office, was quoted in the China Daily, according to AP.


FDA Experts Suggest Change for Next Season's Flu Vaccine

A panel of experts advising the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recommended changing one of the three strains of flu included in this season's influenza vaccine for next season's version, the Dow Jones news service reported Wednesday.

Each annual vaccine typically has two strains of influenza A and one strain of influenza B that are most likely to strike during the upcoming season. But the decision about which strains to include is made months in advance.

The FDA panel said next season's vaccine should include the same strains of influenza A as this season's shot, but that a newer "B" strain be included in the upcoming vaccine, Dow Jones said.

In a typical season, one or two of the three strains included in the annual vaccine are changed from the prior season, although all three changed in the 2008-2009 flu shot from the year-earlier vaccine, the news service said.

The strains used in the vaccine are grown in chicken eggs. The process of creating the next season's vaccine typically starts in January or February. It takes about eight months to create the 130 million doses needed, Dow Jones said.


FDA Cuts Inspections of Labs Testing Medical Devices

Enforcement of federal quality regulations at labs that develop medical devices has been scaled back by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to a Project on Government Oversight report.

The independent watchdog group found that FDA inspections of "good laboratory practices" at facilities that do early testing of medical devices such as pacemakers, stents and imaging machines declined from 33 in 2005, to seven in 2007, to one in 2008, the Associated Press reported. No FDA inspections are planned for this year.

"The decision ... to not enforce [lab standards] is stunning in its contempt for the protection of patients," the group said in its report.

By focusing its enforcement on clinical trials that involve people, and not on early medical device testing in labs, the FDA says it can make better use of scarce resources and still protect the public, the AP reported.

Critics disagree. "This decision ... may result in an irreversible cascade of adverse consequences to the protection of the public," the Society of Quality Assurance said in a letter to Congress.

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Posted: February 2009