Health Highlights: Sept. 14, 2009

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

Swine Flu Shots May Come Earlier; New Flu Drug Shows Promise

Americans worried about the advance of H1N1 swine flu this fall got two doses of welcome news this past weekend: A potentially faster-than-expected roll-out for a vaccine, and good trial results on a new intravenous drug to fight influenza, the Associated Press reported.

Speaking on ABC's This Week on Sunday, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the first batches of an H1N1 vaccine could be available by the first week of October -- earlier than the mid-October delivery the federal government announced back in August.

"We're on track to have an ample supply rolling out by the middle of October. But we may have some early vaccine as early as the first full week in October," Sebelius said. "We'll get it to states as fast as it comes off the production lines," she added.

Supply of the vaccine should get an added boost from studies released last week that suggest that only one dose might be needed to confer protection against H1N1.

In related news, a trial in China of peramivir, an antiviral drug delivered intravenously, has found that the drug eased seasonal (regular) flu within less than five days, similar to the efficacy of the oral anti-flu drug Tamiflu, the AP reported.

The finding is important because very ill, hospitalized flu patients often cannot take medicines in pill form. "You can get it into the blood, into the lungs, where infection is occurring," Dr. Nancy Cox, chief of influenza at the U.S. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, told the AP.

The drug is being developed by BioCryst Pharmaceuticals, Inc., of Birmingham, Ala., along with the Japanese drug company Shinogi & Co.


Drug-Resistant Bacteria Found at 5 Washington Beaches

Drug-resistant bacteria were detected in sand and water at five public beaches along Washington coast and the state's beaches may not be the only ones with this type of contamination, according to scientists.

Previously, the dangerous methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) was rarely seen outside of hospitals but is increasingly being found in community locations such as gyms, schools and locker rooms, the Associated Press reported.

This new finding suggests that beaches may be another location where people pick up MRSA, which can cause serious skin infections as well as pneumonia and other life-threatening problems.

"We don't know about the risk" for a people at the beach, Marilyn Roberts, a microbiologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, told the AP. "But the fact that we found these organisms (at the beaches) suggests that the level is much higher than we had thought."

For this study, Roberts and colleagues tested 10 coastal beaches in Washington and found staph bacteria at nine of them, including five with MRSA. The findings were presented on the weekend at an American Society for Microbiology conference.


World's Oldest Person Dies at 115 in Los Angeles

Gertrude Baines, the world's oldest person at 115 years of age, died Friday in a Los Angeles hospital, the Associated Press reported.

Her physician, Dr. Charles Witt, said Baines probably died of a heart attack but an autopsy will be conducted to confirm the cause of death.

Baines was born in Shellman, Ga., in 1894 and received a letter from President Obama when she turned 115 on April 6, the wire service said. She held the title of world's oldest person after 115-year-old Maria de Jesus of Portugal died in January.

The newest oldest person is now 114-year-old Kama Chinen, of Japan, according to Dr. L. Stephen Coles of the Gerontology Research Group at UCLA Medical Center, which assesses claims of extreme old age.


Battery Warning Issued on Implanted Defibrillators

The batteries in about 6,300 Medtronic implanted defibrillators may fail before their scheduled depletion time, but not without warning users well in advance, the company said on Friday.

Medtronic spokesman Chris Garland told Dow Jones that the defect affects "Concerto" cardiac resynchronization therapy defibrillators, as well as "Virtuoso" defibrillators.

Medtronic already guarantees users a 90-day advance warning from such devices, letting patients know that the battery is running down. And although the battery in the devices in question may have a shorter life than was expected, patients will still receive this advance warning, and they should not change their regular check-up/device monitoring schedule.

"There's no safety concern at all, there's been no reports of injury," said Garland, who noted that Medtronic had sent doctors notification of the matter earlier this week.

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