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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

3. Shingles VaccineShingles Vaccine Cuts Agony of Aging

Until this year, a person who lived to be 85 had a 50-50 chance of getting shingles.

Shingles is the benign name for an extremely painful condition. It's caused by reactivation of a virus called VZV -- better known as chickenpox virus. One in five people who have had chickenpox will get shingles.

Chickenpox goes away, but VZV does not. It's a herpes virus that hides out at the base of the nerves, waiting for the immune system to weaken with age or immune-suppressing drugs. When this happens, a person gets painful skin blisters -- or worse.

A third of shingles cases become the excruciating condition called postherpetic neuralgia or PHN. When shingles affects the eye, it's called ophthalmic zoster. Ophthalmic zoster may cause blindness as well as unrelenting pain.

This year, the FDA approved a shingles vaccine. The CDC now recommends routine shingles vaccination for everyone age 60 and older.

In shingles vaccine clinical trials, vaccination prevented shingles in more than half of recipients. And those who did get shingles got far milder cases. Perhaps most importantly, the shingles vaccine cuts PHN by two-thirds.

4. Food Safety Under Fire

Is the U.S. food-safety system faltering?

This year we've seen warnings of dangerous bacteria in foods that are supposed to be good for you. The list includes E. coli in spinach, E. coliin lettuce, salmonella in tomatoes, botulism in carrot juice, and, at this writing, still unidentified vegetables contaminated with E. coliin Taco Bell restaurants in the Northeast.

There are some things you can do to . These include keeping foods refrigerated, looking for signs of deterioration in bagged produce, buying foods with the latest possible "sell-by" date, and tossing out foods that are no longer fresh.

But some public health advocates say the outbreaks underscore problems at the FDA. Indeed, a May 2006 Harris poll found that 70% of Americans have a negative opinion of the agency.

However, a December 2006 Gallup poll shows that while Americans are paying more attention to food warnings and nutritional recommendations than five years ago, most trust the federal governmentmost trust the federal government to ensure U.S. food safety.

5. Stents: Safe as We Thought?

Before this year, there seemed no end to the popularity of drug-coated stents. Patients even demanded that their cardiologists use them to prop open their clogged arteries.

Now, as 2006 draws to a close, an FDA advisory panel warns that drug-coated stents carry their own risk of fatal heart attack.

Drug-coated stents are the latest thing in the evolving treatment of blocked arteries. But the stent story shows that solving one problem creates another.

First, there were bypass operations. These open surgeries take a blood vessel from another part of the body and use it to bypass blockage in a heart artery.

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