College students, roll up those sleeves for flu vaccination

With flu season nearly upon us and the nation's annual vaccination ritual in full swing, a study in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine points to an oft-overlooked group who should be vaccinated: college and university students.

The benefits of vaccinations are well documented among the very old and the very young, but what about college-age students?

Medical researchers from the University of Minnesota, backed by grants from vaccine makers Aventis Pasteur and AstraZeneca's MedImmune, surveyed four groups with a total of 12,975 students during four consecutive flu seasons ending in 2005-06.

Thirty percent of the participants had been vaccinated, and they contracted substantially fewer illnesses with flulike symptoms. The researchers concluded that for this group, vaccination was associated with significant reductions in visits to health-care providers for flulike illness and less antibiotic use.

And the flu shots also reduced the number of missed class days and impairment in school performance.

- Josh Goldstein

Pregnancy diet may protect kids from cancer for decades

A new study suggests that what a woman eats while pregnant can protect her children from cancer perhaps half a century later.

Researchers from Boston University gave pregnant rats varying doses of a nutrient called choline, which is found in eggs, soy and cauliflower. When the pups were born, the scientists exposed the daughters to carcinogenic chemicals. The conclusion: Those whose mothers got the extra choline were less likely to succumb to the most aggressive and deadly forms of breast cancer.

The researchers, who published their study in the recent issue of the FASEB journal, attribute their result to the way choline can alter the various proteins and other biological substances that surround and package a fetus' DNA. Those so-called epigenetic changes can influence which genes are activated and which remain dormant decades later.

"Our study provides additional support for the notion that choline is an important nutrient that has to be considered when dietary guidelines are developed," said Krzysztof Blusztajn, the senior author on the study. It also gives people yet another issue to blame on their mothers.

- Faye Flam

Survey shows doctors less supportive of breast-feeding

Research indicates that breast-feeding is better than formula for the health of all concerned. Babies get fewer infectious diseases, and mothers have lower rates of breast and ovarian cancer. Yet doctors now seem to be less enthusiastic about breast-feeding, new research indicates.

In a survey of 669 pediatricians, just 58 percent agreed that "benefits of breast-feeding outweigh the difficulties or inconvenience mothers may encounter," down from 68.2 percent in a similar survey in 1995.

Furthermore, 62.2 percent of pediatricians agreed that "almost any mother can be successful at breast-feeding if she keeps trying" - down from 69.2 percent in the earlier survey. Both declines were statistically significant. The authors of the survey, published this month in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, recommended better education of doctors.

- Tom Avril

Vaccinated adults safeguard infants from whooping cough

Want to prevent whooping cough in a young infant?

Perhaps the best way is to get a booster vaccination for yourself and other family members.

Whooping cough is an infectious disease that affects infants and young children. A vaccination is effective, and usually given to infants at two to four months of age.

But researchers at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh, Scotland, have found that infectious adults, who often are undiagnosed, are the main source of infection for infants who have not yet been immunized.

About a million adolescents and adults a year in the United States get whooping cough. Several countries, including the United States and Australia, have introduced booster doses for adolescents and adults.

In a recent article in the British Medical Journal, the researchers say mortality remains high for young infants developing whooping cough, and the best solution is to prevent infection.

- Sandy Bauers