Health Highlights: Nov. 22, 2007

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

Britain Would Vaccinate All Against Pandemic Flu

U.K. health officials on Thursday announced they are planning to stockpile enough pandemic flu vaccine to protect the entire population, the Associated Press reported.

A flu pandemic was "one of the most severe risks" facing Britain, Health Secretary Alan Johnson told lawmakers. He said he had signed an agreement that would assure the delivery of enough vaccine to protect every citizen.

Experts can only formulate a vaccine once the strain of the pandemic virus had been identified, however. Health officials said it remains impossible to predict when a pandemic might strike or how widespread it might be.

    • Britain Would Vaccinate All Against Pandemic Flu
    • Common Gene May Protect Against Cancer
    • Actor Dennis Quaid's Twins Reported Hospitalized After Medical Error
    • More Americans Physically Active, Report Finds
    • Children's Products Recalled for Choking Hazard, Lead Levels

According to an unnamed department of health spokeswoman, the last global flu epidemic occurred in 1968 and killed over one million people worldwide. She told the AP that "we don't believe an influenza [pandemic] is imminent."


Common Gene May Protect Against Cancer

Two variants of the B-MYB gene, which is carried by up to half of the world's people, may shield humans against cancer, the BBC reported Wednesday.

Scientists compared variants of B-MYB found in more than 400 patients with either colon cancer, a brain tumor called neuroblastoma, or chronic myeloid leukemia, to variants found in 230 people without cancer.

Reporting in the journal Oncogene, the team found that patients with malignancies were half as likely to carry the protective B-MYB gene variants as people without cancer.

"People who carry these gene variants might well be protected against cancer," researcher Dr. Arturo Sala of the Institute of Child Health told the BBC. Up to 50 percent of people in Africa appear to carry the protective variant, and perhaps slightly fewer in North America and Europe.

"Discovering exactly how it might protect against [cancer] could allow researchers to explore new avenues of cancer prevention," Henry Scowcroft, senior scientific information officer at Cancer Research UK, told the BBC.


Actor Dennis Quaid's Twins Reported Hospitalized After Medical Error

Two-week-old twins born to actor Dennis Quaid and his wife, Kimberley, are recovering from a massive overdose of blood thinner they received at Los Angeles' Cedar-Sinai Medical Center, according to news reports.

The infants, who are being cared for in the hospital's neonatal care unit, each received vials of the anticoagulant drug heparin that was 1,000 times stronger than had been prescribed, the Associated Press reported.

The babies reportedly received doses containing 10,000 units per millimeter of heparin versus vials with a recommended concentration of 10 units per millimeter.

According to the AP, Cedar-Sinai's chief medical officer, Michael L. Langberg, said three patients received the erroneous doses in what he called a "preventable error." Cedars-Sinai has apologized to the patients' families but cannot release their names due to confidentiality issues.

However, celebrity Web site named the Quaid twins, Thomas Boone and Zoe Grace, as two of the patients involved.

According to the hospital statement, tests to asses blood-clotting function came out normal for one of the patients, but, in the other two patients, doctors used a drug that reverses heparin's effects.

Further testing on the those two patients "indicated no adverse effects from the higher concentration of heparin," Langberg said.

The twins were born to Quaid, 53, and his wife Nov. 8 to a surrogate mother. In a statement, the actor's publicist, Carla Tripicchio, said the couple "appreciate everyone's thoughts and prayers and hope they can maintain their privacy during this difficult time," according to the AP.


More Americans Physically Active, Report Finds

There is good, and moving, news for most Americans preparing to tuck into one of the big holiday meals of the year.

Between 2001 to 2005, the number of Americans who got regular physical activity increased from 48 percent to 49.7 percent among men, and from 43 percent to 46.7 percent among women, according to government research released Wednesday.

The largest increase in regular physical activity occurred among non-Hispanic black women (from 31.4 percent to 36.1 percent) and non-Hispanic black men (from 40.3 percent to 45.3 percent). Rates of physical activity increased from 46 percent to 49.6 percent among white women and from 50.6 percent to 52.3 percent among white men.

Among Hispanic women, rates of physical activity increased from 36.3 percent to 40.5 percent, and from 41.2 percent to 46.6 percent among women of other races. In 2005, 41.9 percent of Hispanic men got regular physical activity.

The findings are from an analysis of data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and are published in this week's issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The CDC points out that regular physical activity can reduce the risk of a number of health problems, including obesity, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and certain cancers.


Children's Products Recalled for Choking Hazard, Lead Levels

Numerous recalls of made-in-China children's products that pose a choking hazard or have dangerous levels of lead were announced Wednesday by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

One recall includes about 205,000 Rachel Rose and Distinctly Basics assorted children's jewelry distributed by Family Dollar Stores of Charlotte, N.C. The jewelry contains high levels of lead. The jewelry was sold nationwide from January 2003 through August 2007. The jewelry should immediately be taken away from children. For more information, contact Family Dollar at 800-547-0359.

Other recalls include:

  • About 84,000 children's pencil pouches distributed by Raymond Geddes & Co. of Baltimore, Md. The paint on the pencil pouches' zipper pull contains excessive levels of lead. The "Stuff Keepers" and "Bear Pencil Pouches" were sold nationwide from September 1997 through October 2007 for between 50 cents and $2. The pouches should be taken away from children and returned to the place of purchase for a full refund.
  • About 43,000 Sparkle City charm bracelets and tack pin sets that contain high levels of lead. The charm bracelets and tack pin sets were distributed by Buy-Rite Designs Inc. of Freehold, N.J. and sold at Big Lots stores nationwide from August 2005 through April 2007 for about $1. For more information, contact Buy-Rite at 888-777-7952.
  • About 38,000 Boppy pillow slipcovers imported by The Boppy Company of Golden, Colo. The zipper pull on the slipcovers can break and pose a choking hazard to young children. In addition, paint on the zippers may contain excess levels of lead. The slipcovers were sold nationwide at discount department stores from July 2006 through September 2007. Contact the The Boppy Company (888-713-3916) for a free replacement.
  • About 8,000 flashing pacifiers or 2-in-1 flashing pacifiers with whistle necklaces imported by Sailing (U.S.) International Corp. of Hackensack, N.J. The nipple of the pacifiers can detach from the base and pose a choking hazard to young children. The pacifiers were sold nationwide in June 2007 for about $5 per dozen. Consumers should discard the pacifiers or return them to the place of purchase for a refund. For more information, contact Sailing (U.S.) International Corp. at 800-643-6134.