In Brief

In Brief

December 09, 2005


FluMist study finds few big problems

A government study has found no fatalities or unexpected side effects among 2.5 million people who took FluMist in the two influenza seasons since the nasal-spray vaccine was licensed, according to this week's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Since June 2003, doctors have reported 460 problems including flu-like illnesses, allergic reactions, ear, nose and throat symptoms and fatigue. The vaccine, made by MedImmune Vaccine Inc. of Gaithersburg, is intended for healthy people ages 5 to 49.

Serious problems were few, and were no more common than problems among those taking traditional, injected flu vaccine. The FluMist reports included seven cases of anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction; two reports of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a neurologic illness; one report of Bell Palsy, which causes temporary facial paralysis; and eight asthma flare-ups among those who had asthma before.

Several errors were also reported in vaccine administration, including wrong dosages, improper handling and the vaccination of a pregnant woman. These "underscore the need for the clinician to follow the package insert indications regarding vaccine administration and patient eligibility," the researchers concluded.



Atkins diet and seizure control

A modified version of the Atkins diet is nearly as effective at controlling seizures as the highly restrictive ketogenic diet, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

Doctors who tried out the low-carbohydrate, high-fat Atkins regimen on 20 young patients called the results "encouraging and intriguing" but called for more research.

Both diets mimic some of the effects of starvation by producing ketones, a chemical byproduct of fat that can inhibit seizures. Children who remain seizure-free for two years on the ketogenic diet often can resume normal eating without new seizures.

But the ketonic diet is highly restrictive, requires an initial hospital stay and measurement of food quantities. Dr. Eric Kossoff, a pediatric neurologist at the Children's Center, told the American Epilepsy Society this week that a slightly modified Atkins diet may be easier to follow.

It also appears to have fewer side effects than the ketonic diet, which can include kidney stones, constipation and slow growth. Still, Kossoff said, parents should not try any change in diet without consulting their doctor.



Monkeys exhibit toy preferences

Just like human boys and girls, male monkeys like to play with toy cars while female monkeys prefer dolls, researchers reported this week. The intriguing discovery is one of many signs of deep-rooted behavioral differences between the sexes that scientists are exploring with the latest tools of genetics and neuroscience.

Those differences apparently date far back in evolutionary history, to the time before humans and monkeys separated from their common ancestor some 25 million years ago, according to Gerianne Alexander, a psychologist at Texas A&M University, who led the monkey experiment.

Alexander's team put a variety of toys in front of 44 male and 44 female vervets, a breed of small African monkeys, and measured the amount of time they spent with each object.

Like little boys, some male monkeys moved a toy car along the ground. Like little girls, female monkeys closely inspected a doll's bottom. Males also played with balls while females fancied cooking pots. Both were equally interested in neutral objects such as a picture book and a stuffed dog.

"Vervet monkeys, like human beings, show sex differences in toy preferences," Alexander wrote in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior. "Sex-related object preference appeared early in human evolution."



FDA strengthens Paxil warning

The Food and Drug Administration yesterday strengthened its warning that the antidepressant Paxil may be associated with birth defects. It asked manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline PLC to reclassify the drug, which goes by the generic name paroxetine, as a "Category D" drug for pregnant women.

That means studies in pregnant women have shown a risk to the fetus. However, the FDA said, the benefits of the drug may outweigh the risk. It advised against prescribing Paxil to pregnant women in their first trimester unless there is no other option.


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