Health Buzz: An Exercise Pill and Other Health News

Flu vaccine problems for seniors, HIV screening in women, and cheaper dental care.

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A Pill a Day to Keep Exercise Away?

Might taking a pill someday allow you to forgo exercise—but still reap the benefits? A new study in mice suggests that two drugs might mimic the effects of a good workout. The medicines aided cells' ability to burn fat and retain muscle mass, and they helped prolong exercise endurance, the Wall Street Journal reports. One of the medications is currently being studied for use in humans for other purposes, but the research in mice has led to hope that the drug eventually might also be employed as a defense against diabetes, obesity, and muscular dystrophy. The other drug has been withdrawn from study in humans because of toxic side effects, the WSJ reports. And because of concern about potential use of the drugs by competitive athletes to improve their performance, researchers have come up with tests to detect the medicines in urine and blood.

Earlier this week, Katherine Hobson weighed the need for 275 minutes per week of exercise in her On Fitness blog.

Flu Vaccine May Not Give Seniors Protection Against Pneumonia

Getting vaccinated against influenza may not protect older people from pneumonia, suggests a study published in the August 2 issue of the Lancet. Older, frail people are more likely to get the flu even if they've gotten the vaccine—and once they get sick, they're more susceptible to complications like pneumonia. Among some healthy seniors, the vaccine reduces the risk of flu, study author Michael L. Jackson told HealthDay. But "when you look at the total population of seniors, which includes people over 75 and people that have chronic health diseases—lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, and things like that—we don't know if the vaccine is effective," he said. "People with these chronic diseases are more susceptible to getting the flu, and they are more likely to develop pneumonia if they do get influenza." Despite the discouraging findings, Jackson says that seniors should still get the flu vaccine.

This year's flu season was the worst in four years because the vaccine was a poor match for circulating strains of the virus. But health officials noted that it was still worth getting vaccinated, because doing so may keep you from getting as sick as you otherwise would and may shorten the duration of your illness if you catch the flu. U.S. News's Nancy Shute explained why children should be vaccinated.

Routine HIV Testing Recommended for Women

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended this week that all women ages 19 to 64 get tested for HIV because one quarter of those who carry the virus don't know they have it, Deborah Kotz reports. Sexually active teens and older women engaging in sex with a new partner should also get tested, according to ACOG. "We recommend that every woman get screened at least once and have repeat testing based on her risk factors, like multiple sex partners, injection drug use, or engaging in sex with a new partner," says gynecologist Denise Jamieson, chair of ACOG's Committee on Gynecologic Practice. Until now, HIV testing has been considered routine only for women at increased risk and for pregnant women. In the latter case, timely diagnosis of HIV can prevent the virus's transmission to the fetus.

Since 2006, the CDC has recommended that everyone ages 13 to 64 be screened for HIV at least once. In June, U.S. News offered a caution about rapid HIV tests after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an increase in false positives on certain oral fluid tests.

How to Stretch Your Dollars in Dental Care

With the economy uncertain and prices high, it's easy to put off routine dental appointments, Michelle Andrews reports. But instead of avoiding your dentist entirely, do yourself a favor and keep up with your regular preventive care. Ultimately, you'll save yourself pain and expense if you prevent dental problems from occurring in the first place, experts say. Get your teeth cleaned regularly, usually every six months (people with gum disease may need more frequent attention). And keep up on your X-rays as well; a full set typically needs to be done only once every three to five years, but you should get less comprehensive "bitewing" X-rays more frequently, on whatever schedule your dentist recommends.