Health Highlights: Nov. 10, 2011

By on November 10, 2011

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

Childhood Vaccinations Hit Record Number in 2010

Childhood vaccination levels worldwide reached record levels in 2010. But 19.3 million children still did not receive some or all of the recommended immunizations, leaving them vulnerable to vaccine-preventable disease and death, according to a new study.

This immunization shortfall is most common in low-income countries and puts children at risk for vaccine-preventable disease and death, according to the report in the Nov. 11 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last year, about 109.4 million infants (85 percent of those born worldwide) received at least 3 doses of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP) vaccine, the highest number ever reported.

Rates of other routinely recommended childhood vaccines were 90 percent for Bacille Calmette-Guerin vaccine, 86 percent for the third dose of poliovirus vaccine and 85 percent for measles-containing vaccine, the report said.


Shingles Vaccine Shortage Influences Immunizations

U.S. health officials have refrained from recommending the shingles vaccine Zostavax for adults ages 50-59 to ensure an adequate supply of vaccine for those 60 and older.

Use of the vaccine, which protects against the herpes zoster virus, was approved in 2006 for adults 60 and older and in March 2011 for adults ages 50 to 59. In June 2011, the Advisory Committee on Immunizations Practices (ACIP) reaffirmed its 2006 recommendation that adults 60 and older should get the vaccine, but decided not to expand its recommendation to include adults ages 50-59.

There have been supply problems for Zostavax and the ACIP said it wanted to make sure there was enough vaccine for adults 60 and older, who are at greater risk of shingles, according to a report in the Nov. 11 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Changes in production processes are expected to increase the supply of Zostavax in coming years and the ACIP may reconsider recommending the vaccine for adults ages 50-59 once a stable supply of the vaccine is assured.


No Paid Maternity Leave for Half of U.S. Working Women

Nearly half of American working women who give birth don’t have paid leave to care for their newborn children, according to a Census Bureau analysis released Thursday.

From 2006 to 2008, 50.8 percent of first-time mothers said they used some type of paid leave, including maternity, sick and vacation time. That percentage is unchanged from 2001-05 but is up from 37.3 percent in 1981-85, the Associated Press reported.

Less-educated mothers were nearly four times less likely to have paid leave than those with at least a college education.

Only 18 percent of new mothers with less than a high school education had paid leave in 2006-08, compared with 66 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education. Those percentages changed from 26 percent and 61 percent, respectively, earlier in the past decade, the AP reported.

First-time mothers older than 25 were much more likely to have paid leave than those younger than 22 (61 vs. 24 percent), and Hispanics were generally less likely (46.6 percent) than other groups to receive paid leave.

“This isn’t good news for women at the bottom, and the irony is that the people with the most children are now the least likely to have the supports they need,” said Kathleen Gerson, a professor of sociology at New York University, told the AP.

Unlike many other nations, the U.S. does not have a federal policy on paid parental leave.


FDA Targets Illegal Tobacco Sales to Minors

Most of the warning letters recently sent to more than 1,200 tobacco retailers are about illegal sales of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products to minors, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Thursday.

FDA inspections of tobacco retailers found that most are in compliance with the law, but some still sell tobacco products to youngsters. Retailers who continue to violate the law could face fines.

“It should worry every parent that 20 percent of U.S. high school students smoke cigarettes,” FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg said in an agency news release.

“For many young people, that first cigarette or use of smokeless tobacco will lead to a lifetime of addiction, and for many, serious disease. More than 80 percent of adult smokers begin smoking before 18 years of age. Retailers are vital partners in the FDA’s efforts to prevent tobacco use among kids,” she said.


U.S. Agency Restores Web Database on Doctor Discipline

A database of disciplinary actions taken against U.S. doctors was restored to a federal health agency’s website Wednesday, two months after it was removed in response to doctors’ complaints.

But a new restriction says anyone who uses information in the National Practitioner Data Bank cannot link it with court files or other publicly available information that would identify individual doctors, The New York Times reported.

The new rule means that the data can still be used for research without violating legal requirements on confidentiality, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The move angered journalists. The data should be posted without restrictions with the agency continuing its policy of refusing to confirm or deny any particular doctor’s identity, said Charles Orenstein, president of the Association of Health Care Journalists and a reporter for the nonprofit investigative news organization ProPublica, the Times reported.

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