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Health

Study: Latest flu vaccine ineffective on major strain

By Wire services
Published January 15, 2004

A small study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that this season's influenza vaccine failed to protect against the Fujian strain that has caused most cases.

Depending on the way the data was analyzed, the vaccine protected from less than 1 percent to 14 percent of participants in the study, the New York Times reported, quoting a scientist briefed on the study who did not want to be identified.

CDC officials said Wednesday they hoped continuing studies to be completed in the spring would show the vaccine offered more protection than this study indicated.

The officials had warned there was a mismatch between the vaccine and the Fujian strain of influenza virus that was causing most illness this season. But they said the vaccine should offer some protection to many people.

The study was published in today's issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

But the scientist briefed on the findings cautioned against drawing conclusions from this study because of serious flaws. The findings might be countered by reports of other comprehensive studies later on, the scientist said.

This study was the first the centers had conducted in the middle of a flu epidemic. It involved a questionnaire sent to 3,100 health workers at the Denver Children's Hospital, asking if and when they had been vaccinated and if they developed an illness that might have been influenza.

The study was carried out during the five weeks when influenza hit hardest in Denver, from late October through late November. Colorado, like other areas of the United States, experienced the influenza season earlier than usual.

Because just 61 percent of health workers responded and because many other infectious agents can cause flulike symptoms, experts said the study had limitations.

An additional weakness is that epidemiologists did not take specimens from the respondents for laboratory tests to determine what proportion of the reported illness was due to the influenza virus.

Researchers find gene linked to alcoholism

ST. LOUIS - Researchers at Washington University and five other centers have identified a gene that is associated with alcoholism in some families.

The scientists, including Danielle Dick and Allison Goate of Washington University, are part of a 15-year research project known as the Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism. A report published today in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, shows that one version of the gene GABRG3 predisposes people to alcoholism. It is the first study to link the gene to dependence on alcohol.

Earlier studies of twins indicates at least a third of the susceptibility to alcoholism is because of genetic factors, said William True of St. Louis University. True conducted some of the twin studies.

The study takes previous genetic research a step further, and will direct other researchers to take a look at how this particular gene reacts to alcohol and how it influences the propensity to alcoholism, True said.

The researchers collected DNA samples from 2,282 people from 282 families affected by alcoholism and identified several regions of chromosomes that were shared between alcoholics in the families. For this study, Dick and her colleagues focused on a region of chromosome 15 that contains several genes involved in the movement of a brain chemical called Gamma-amino butyric acid, or GABA, between neurons.

In other experiments, the chemical seemed to modulate the effects alcohol has on the brain, Dick said. When scientists stimulated GABA receptors in the brains of mice and then fed them alcohol, the mice were more uncoordinated and drank more than mice who only drank alcohol. Shutting down the activity of the GABA receptors had the opposite effect.

[Last modified January 15, 2004, 01:31:05]

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