Our weekly roundup of the latest news in the world of health.
A new vaccine reduces the risk of malaria in young children by about half, researchers announced this week. No vaccine is available now against the deadly disease. In other world health news, China said it has vaccinated 9 million people against polio. The campaign was launched to fight an outbreak in one region. Annual cancer screenings drew more criticism this week. An expert task force said Pap tests are needed only every three years. These tests are used to screen women for cervical cancer. And new research found that women were more likely to have a false alarm from test results if they got mammograms every year. Abnormal test results that did not turn out to be breast cancer were less common when the tests occurred every two years. Other researchers said this week that hospital stays for heart failure fell by nearly one-third in the last decade.
This Issue: Study: Malaria Vaccine Cuts Infections in Half Task Force Supports Fewer Pap Tests, Not HPV Test Study: More False Alarms with Annual Mammogram Heart-Failure Hospital Stays Fall Sharply China Vaccinates 9 Million in Polio Outbreak
In the News:
Study: Malaria Vaccine Cuts Infections in Half
A new vaccine reduced the risk of malaria in young children by half, researchers said this week. A successful vaccine could help to tame a major killer in the developing world. Malaria kills 1 million people a year, the Associated Press (AP) said. Nearly 9 out of 10 are in Africa. Most of those are children and pregnant women, AP said. The study involved more than 15,000 children in 7 African nations. About 6,000 were ages 5 to 17 months when vaccinated. They received 3 doses each. In the next year, they had only half as many cases of malaria as a group that received a non-malaria vaccine. The New England Journal of Medicine published the study results online. Results are not available yet for another group of children. They got the vaccine at age 6 to 12 weeks. Malaria is caused by a parasite. No vaccine has ever worked well before against a parasite, AP said. GlaxoSmithKline made the new vaccine. The company paid for the study, along with the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative. This program is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Task Force Supports Fewer Pap Tests, Not HPV Test
Women only need a Pap test every 3 years, and not before age 21, a group of experts said this week. The advice came from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. This group advises the government on preventive care. The Pap test is used to screen women for cervical cancer. But this cancer is rare before age 21. Earlier tests could lead to more tests and procedures that could cause harm, the task force said. And it said that tests every 3 years are enough because the cancer grows slowly. Women with no unusual risks can stop getting Pap tests after age 65, the task force said. The group did not support screening with the human papilloma virus (HPV) test. This virus causes nearly all cervical cancer. But the immune system most often fights off the infection. Once the infection is gone, so is the cancer risk. The task force said there's not enough evidence that this test would do more good than harm. The American Cancer Society does support the HPV test. It says the test can be used along with the Pap test in women over 30. The journal Annals of Internal Medicine published the task force report this week. The Associated Press wrote about it.
Study: More False Alarms with Annual Mammogram
More than half of women who get a mammogram each year for 10 years will need extra tests for something that's not breast cancer. That's the conclusion of a new study published this week. The study also found that getting the test every 2 years is enough. U.S. government guidelines say women should get a mammogram every 2 years, starting at age 50. But some groups have disagreed, supporting tests each year starting at 40. The new study looked at records for nearly 170,000 women. All of them had their first mammogram between ages 40 and 59. Among women who had a mammogram each year for 10 years, 61% had at least one "false positive." This is an abnormal result that turns out not to be cancer. The risk of a false positive was 42% for women who had the test every 2 years. About 25% of 4 breast cancers were late stage when diagnosed. This was true whether women were tested every year or every 2 years. The journal Annals of Internal Medicine published the study. The New York Times News Service wrote about it.
Heart-Failure Hospital Stays Fall Sharply
U.S. hospital stays for heart failure fell 30% in the last 10 years, a study published this week has found. But the death rate for these patients fell only slightly. Among those discharged in 2008, about 30% died within a year. That compares with 32% after similar hospital stays in 1998. The study was based on data for Medicare patients. The decline saved money for Medicare. Without it, hospital stays for heart failure would have cost $4.1 billion more in 2008, the study found. Many factors could have caused the improvement, experts told the Associated Press. Prevention and treatments are better, they said. More people also may be getting treatment in emergency rooms and clinics. They might not have to stay in the hospital. The nation's new health care reform law requires hospitals to work harder to keep people with heart failure healthier after discharge. Starting next year, Medicare payments will be cut to hospitals where patients keep getting sick again and returning for a new hospital stay. The Journal of the American Medical Association published the study.
China Vaccinates 9 Million in Polio Outbreak
China has vaccinated more than 9 million people to combat a polio outbreak. The health agency in Xinjiang, where the outbreak occurred, described the campaign this week on its website. In the last few months, the disease has paralyzed 17 people in Xinjiang. One person died. These were the first cases of polio in China in 11 years. The World Health Organization said the disease had spread from Pakistan, which borders on Xinjiang. Pakistan is one of 4 countries in the world where polio is regularly found. The others are India, Afghanistan and Nigeria. The Xinjiang Health Bureau website said children and adults up to age 39 were vaccinated last month. This totals more than 9.3 million people, the bureau said. The Associated Press wrote about the campaign.
Used with the permission of the copyright owner. All rights reserved. The above summaries are not intended to provide advice on personal medical matters, nor are they intended to be a substitute for consultation with a physician.