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The Top 10 Health Stories of 2006

Vaccines, Unsafe Food, Inhaled Insulin: WebMD Picks the Most Important Medical News of the Year
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Editor's Note: In October 2007 the drug company Pfizer said it was halting sales of the inhaled insulin drug Exubera because of financial reasons.

Dec. 18, 2006 -- The first-ever cancer vaccine tops WebMD's list of the top 10 health stories of 2006.

That's not the year's only advance. 2006 saw an experimental gene therapy cure two people of late-stage cancer. There's now a vaccine for shingles, one of the most feared diseases of the elderly. And early in the year, the FDA approved the first -- but certainly not the last -- noninjection insulin.

The year also saw new uses of older technologies. The Plan B morning-after pill can now be sold without a prescription. HIV tests will now become routine.

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And with New York City's ban on trans fats, war on this man-made heart toxin shifts into high gear.

Not all the news is good news:

  • MRSAMRSA infection -- caused by a drug-resistant staph bug -- is spreading in urban communities across America.
  • Drug-coated stents, still an advance for people with clogged arteries, turn out to have their own, deadly risks.
  • Outbreaks of E. coli, salmonella, and botulism have been traced to common food products, suggesting to some that the U.S. food-safety system may be faltering.

1. HPV -- A Cancer Vaccine

The biggest health story of the year is a huge milestone for women's health: FDA approval of Gardasil, the first cancer vaccine.

The vaccine protects against infections with the two strains of HPV -- human papillomavirus -- that cause cervical cancer. It also protects against two HPV strains that cause genital warts.

The FDA's June 2006 action was based on the strong recommendation of its advisory panel. In October, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) provisionally put the HPV vaccine on the childhood vaccination schedule (the final decision, originally scheduled for November, was still under review by the Department of Health and Human Services in mid-December).

HPV is a sexually transmitted infection, which means it affects males as well as females. So far, however, the vaccine is approved only for girls and women aged 9 to 26.

The vaccine doesn't stop HPV from causing cancer or genital warts in a person who's already infected.

That's why the HPV vaccine ideally should be given to girls before they become sexually active. Routine vaccination is recommended for girls aged 11-12. Girls as young as age 9 may get the HPV vaccine at their family doctor's discretion.

However, women who are sexually active should still get the vaccine. And the vaccine doesn't protect against all strains of HPV, so regular cervical-cancer screening -- and HPV tests -- still are needed.

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