Health Highlights: Nov. 24, 2009

By on November 24, 2009

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

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.

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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.

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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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Global HIV Infection Rate Stable: Report

Over the last two years, the number of people worldwide infected with HIV has remained at about 33 million, according to a report released Tuesday by the World Health Organization and UNAIDS, the United Nations Joint Program on HIV/AIDS. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

The document said about 33.4 million people currently have HIV, compared with 33.2 million in 2007, the Associated Press reported. The disease appears stable in most regions of the world, except for Africa. In 2008, 72 percent of the 2.7 million new HIV cases worldwide were in sub-Saharan Africa.

The experts who prepared the report also said the global HIV epidemic probably peaked in 1996.

The findings should change the funding priorities of international donors, according to some experts. HIV causes about 4 percent of deaths worldwide but receives about 23 cents of every public health dollar, the AP reported.

“We shouldn’t let this single disease continue to distort overall global funding, especially when bigger killers like pneumonia and diarrhea in developing countries are far easier and cheaper to treat,” Philip Stevens of International Policy Network, a London-based think tank, told the news service.

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Law Offers Genetic Testing Protections

A new law that took effect Saturday protects Americans from being forced by employers or health insurers to undergo genetic testing.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act prohibits employers from requesting genetic testing or using someone’s genetic background when making decisions about hiring, firing or promotions, The New York Times reported.

In addition, health insurers and group plans can’t require or use a customer’s genetic information — such as a family history of a certain disease — to deny coverage or set premiums or deductibles.

The law also forbids the common group health plan practice of giving lower premiums or one-time payments to workers who provide their family medical histories when filling out health risk questionnaires.

“The message to employees is they should now be able to get whatever genetic counseling or testing they need and be less fearful about doing so,” Peggy Mastroianni, associate legal counsel for the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, told The Times.

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