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Health Highlights: Nov. 25, 2009

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

Santa Volunteers Seek Swine Flu Shots

A group of volunteer Santas wants the same swine flu vaccination priority as health care workers and teachers.

The 200 members of "Santa America" visit sick and traumatized children during the holiday season and need to be protected against kids who may be carrying the H1N1 virus, group leader Ernest Berger told National Public Radio, according to Agence France Presse.

The group's Web site lists precautions that the volunteer Santas can take.

"As wonderful as it is, be cautious of children burying their faces in your beard for a hug. If this happens, use sanitizer in your beard," says the Web site, AFP reported.

Among the other instructions:

  • "Avoid touching your face, nose, eyes, or mouth. Do not touch children's faces. If you do, immediately sanitize your hands."
  • "Santa should be taking needed vitamins and other doctor approved boosters to keep his immune system at peak performance."


Coma Patient Was Lonely and Frustrated

A Belgian man who was conscious during the 23 years he appeared to be in a coma says he felt lonely and frustrated during those decades.

Rom Houben typed out the message with the help of a speech therapist who moved his finger letter by letter along a touch-screen keyboard, the Associated Press reported.

Houben was diagnosed as being in a vegetative state after an auto accident in the 1980s. Recently, an expert using a specialized type of brain scan determined that Houben was conscious but paralyzed.

"It was especially frustrating when my family needed me. I could not share in their sorrow. We could not give each other support," Houben wrote during an interview with AP Television News at the 't Weyerke institute in eastern Belgium. "Just imagine. You hear, see, feel and think but no one can see that. You undergo things. You cannot participate in life."

Speech therapist Linda Wouters said Houben uses gentle pressure to guide her hand to place his finger on the correct letters on the keyboard.

But one expert who saw a video of Houben's hand being moved on the keyboard expressed doubts.

"That's called 'facilitated communication,'" Arthur Caplan, a bioethics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, told the AP. "That is ouija board stuff. It's been discredited time and time again. When people look at it, it's usually the person doing the pointing who's doing the messages, not the person they claim they are helping."


U.S. Nursing Homes Face Seasonal Flu Vaccine Shortage

In an effort to remedy a shortage of seasonal flu vaccine in nursing homes, U.S. health officials are trying to shift vaccine supplies away from chain pharmacies and supermarkets.

Seniors are highly vulnerable to seasonal flu, and a shortage of flu shots could lead to a wave of deaths in nursing homes this winter, The New York Times reported.

Exact figures aren't available, but the vaccine shortage in nursing homes is "a very big problem," said Janice Zalen, director of special programs for the American Health Care Association, which represents 11,000 nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

"It's a problem, and it's all over the country," agreed Dr. Carol Friedman, head of adult immunization at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Times reported.

People 65 and older account for more than 90 percent of the 36,000 Americans who die of seasonal flu in an average year. Flu outbreaks in nursing homes are particularly deadly.


Infant Deaths Spur Recall of 2.1 Million Stork Craft Cribs

Reports of four infant suffocations have led to the North American recall of about 2.1 million Stork Craft drop-side cribs. The recall covers cribs sold since 1993 and includes nearly 150,000 with the Fisher-Price logo.

The cribs have a side that moves up and down to allow parents to lift children from the cribs more easily. Hardware on the cribs can break, deform or get lost after years of use. In addition, owners may make mistakes while assembling the cribs. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said it received 110 reports of drop-sides detaching from the cribs, the Associated Press reported.

When the drop-side detaches, it creates a space between the drop-side and crib mattress where a child can become trapped.

The CPSC said the cribs were distributed between January 1993 and October 2009 and sold at major retailers and online for between $100 and $400, the AP reported.

Parents with the cribs should stop using them until they receive a free repair kit from Stork Craft Manufacturing, which is based in Canada. The kit converts the drop-side into a fixed side.

To order the free repair kit, phone Stork Craft 877-274-0277 or go to the company's Web site.

Earlier this year, Stork Craft recalled about 500,000 cribs because of problems with the metal brackets that support the mattress, the AP reported. Some of the same models in the earlier recall are also part of the new recall, CPSC said.


Swine Flu Batch Pulled in Canada

Health workers in Canada have been told to stop using a batch of H1N1 swine flu vaccine that may trigger life-threatening allergies.

GlaxoSmithKline PLC issued the advice because people receiving shots from the vaccine batch suffered more allergic reactions than normal, the Associated Press reported.

The batch was distributed across Canada and contains 172,000 doses of the vaccine, company spokeswoman Gwenan White said Tuesday. She didn't say how many doses had been administered before the company told health workers on Nov. 18 to stop using the batch.

White said GlaxoSmithKline and Canadian health authorities are investigating the matter, the AP reported.

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Posted: November 2009