Health Buzz: Bad Flu Season and Other Health News

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Vaccine Problem Made It a Bad Year for the Flu

This year's flu season was the worst in four years because the vaccine wasn't a good match for circulating strains of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said yesterday. The overall effectiveness of this season's vaccine was about 44 percent, health officials said, and it's been higher during many previous seasons. (An optimal vaccine would be about 70 percent effective.) "In the last 20 seasons, 16 have had good matches, and there have been four that were less than optimal matches," said Dan Jernigan, deputy director of the CDC's Influenza Division, during a teleconference. The flu season reached its peak in February, when doctor visits for flulike illness accounted for about 5.9 percent of all visits, according to the New York Times. The number of doctor visits for the flu was higher than normal for 13 consecutive weeks during flu season, and college health centers also reported a spike in on-campus illnesses.

Despite the vaccine's poor match to this year's flu, health officials noted that it's still worth being vaccinated, because doing so may keep you from getting as sick as you would otherwise, and may shorten the duration of your illness if you do get sick.

Californians May Get Help With Unpaid Medical Bills

Thousands of Californians whose health coverage was cancelled by insurers--in a process known as rescission--will be given the opportunity to win back their policies and obtain reimbursement for outstanding medical bills, according to the Los Angeles Times. State officials said they would submit for reconsideration to an independent arbiter the health policies of people whose coverage was dropped in the past four years by any of California's five major health insurance companies. The action is meant to address the problem of insurers cancelling policies for people who have gotten sick and submitted medical bills. Policies that were improperly canceled will be reinstated, the Times reports.

Bad Bosses, Work Conflicts Linked to Sleep Problems

Problems at work may cause you to have trouble sleeping at night, according to a new University of Michigan study. Conflicts with your boss or co-workers are more likely to give you poor sleep quality than job insecurity, long hours, or night shifts. Researchers also found that work-family conflicts and having children younger than 3 were predictors of sleep problems. The results, presented yesterday at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America, were based on two surveys of about 2,300 adults.

U.S. News offers tips for getting a better night's sleep and advice on how to recognize a sleep disorder.

Concern Over Hospital Infections Spreads on Capitol Hill

Healthcare-associated infections claim roughly 99,000 lives a year nationwide. And the problem has not escaped lawmakers' attention, U.S. News's Lindsay Lyon reports. Infections acquired in hospitals, clinics, and doctor's offices were the subject of a lengthy hearing held Wednesday by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the chief investigative committee in the House of Representatives. Congressmen and testifying experts discussed whether federal health officials are doing enough to protect patients from what many call a "preventable epidemic." Not nearly, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office, released at the hearing, that was largely critical of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for not exercising leadership to reduce such infections. (The federal government isn't the only administration that needs to act. States are independently arriving at the same conclusion, as Pennsylvania indicated last week.)

This Is Your Brain on Exercise

Physical exertion has a much bigger influence on the brain than previously thought, U.S. News's Katherine Hobson reports. This week, a survey of existing research published by the Cochrane Library concluded that the same aerobic exercise that is good for your heart also improves cognitive function-- specifically, motor function, auditory attention, and memory-- in healthy older adults.