Today’s Headlines: Flu Shot, Vitamin Supplements and Cervical Cancer

The flu shot protects seniors during flu season. While it might seem obvious to say that the flu vaccine protects against the flu, the strain each year is slightly different and the effectiveness can vary as a result. A team reviewed studies published in the past about effectiveness in older adults and looked to see how well it worked. “During regional or widespread seasonal flu outbreaks, elderly people who had received the flu vaccine were 28 percent to 58 percent less likely than others to test positive for a flu infection. The protective effect was strongest when the vaccine matched the circulating strain of the virus that year, but was somewhat effective even when mismatched. ” This information is important because the elderly are often hardest hit by the flu and make up 90% of those who die from the virus every year. “In the U.S., seniors get the vaccine more than any other age group. But about 30 percent still do not get the shot, likely due to poor health or an inability to get to a clinic for a shot.” (Fox)

B12 and folate supplements may not stop dementia. There are many purported benefits of vitamin supplements and past research had indicated that B12 and folate supplements might help stave off Alzheimer’s disease. This is because without these vitamins, a chemical called homocysteine that’s been linked to stroke and dementia can be high in the blood. “But in one of the largest studies to date, there was no difference in memory test scores between those who had taken the supplements for two years and those who were given a placebo. All those taking part in the trial had high blood levels of homocysteine, which did drop more in those taking the supplements. But on four different tests of memory and thinking skills taken at the start and end of the study, there was no beneficial effect of the supplements on performance. The researchers did note that the supplements might slightly slow the rate of decline but concluded the small difference they detected could just have been down to chance.” The researchers point out that a healthy and balanced diet should provide plenty of B12 and folate without supplementation. (BBC)

Low HPV vaccination rates predict high cervical cancer rates. The HPV vaccine has been shown to reliably prevent infection with the HPV virus. That infection in the cervix of women can lead to cervical cancer, a devastating and deadly disease that kills about 4000 women every year. Countries like Australia that have started comprehensive vaccination programs among children have already seen dramatic drops in precancerous lesions found in women. Now the U.S. has data of its own. “States that have the lowest vaccination rates for human papillomavirus (HPV) also have the highest rates of cervical cancer and deaths from the disease. In states like Florida, Mississippi, and Arkansas, the opposite was true. In Arkansas, the cervical cancer rate is 10 per 100,000 women and vaccination rate is 41%.” The opposite was also true. “Northeastern states including Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont had high vaccination rates and some of the lowest rates of cervical cancer. About 6 per 100,000 women develop cervical cancer each year in Massachusetts, and 69% of teen girls have been vaccinated for HPV.” (TIME)