Thursday, February 19, 2009

Health Headlines - February 19

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.


HIV/AIDS Deadliest Infectious Disease in China

HIV/AIDS is now the leading infectious disease-related cause of death in China, according to the state news agency Xinhua .

Between January and September 2008, AIDS killed 6,897 people. Since China reported its the first AIDS death in 1985, 34,864 people have died of the disease, caused by HIV infection. Previously the third deadliest infectious disease in the country, HIV/AIDS is now followed by tuberculosis, rabies, hepatitis and infant tetanus, according to a Xinhua reported cited by the Associated Press.

The Chinese news agency said Ministry of Health figures show that the number of confirmed HIV infections increased from 135,630 in 2005 to 264,302 from January to September 2008.

The actual number of HIV-infected people in China may actually be about 700,000, according to government and outside estimates, the AP reported. The discrepancy between official and estimated numbers is due in part to people's reluctance to be tested for HIV. The government estimates that 85,000 of those 700,000 people have full-blown AIDS.


Food Banks Throwing Out Thousands of Pounds of Recalled Food

U.S. food banks are throwing out thousands of pounds of food products recalled in the nationwide salmonella outbreak linked to Peanut Corp. of America.

The discarded products include peanut butter, cereals, cookies, nut mixes and granola bars, items which are vital to food banks because of their long shelf life and durability, the Associated Press reported.

The Houston Food Bank has thrown out 3,000 pounds of recalled products. The Cleveland Food Clinic has tossed out 1,000 pounds of food and has put another several thousands pounds of food on snacks on hold until the recall list is finalized. More than 1,300 pounds of food has been discarded or quarantined at the Food Finders Food Bank Inc. in Lafayette, Ind.

"At a time when food banks are struggling, everything inevitably has an impact," Karen Ponza, spokeswoman for the Cleveland Food Clinic, told the AP.

So far, more than 1,900 products have been recalled due to the salmonella outbreak, which has sickened nearly 600 people and caused nine deaths.

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