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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
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6. MRSA Infection: A Growing Problem

Dangerous, drug-resistant staph infections are a huge problem for hospitals. That problem is getting worse. But the big news this year is that the infections are spreading outside the hospital.

The bad bug is called MRSA -- methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, named for an important antibiotic that usually kills staph germs.

It doesn't kill this one. Neither do other traditional antibiotics. And now MRSA is the most common skin infection seen in city emergency rooms.

Researchers call this bug community-acquired MRSA. The good news is that there are still antibiotics that work against it. And many patients get over the infection simply by having their boils or abscesses cut open and drained by a doctor -- don't try this at home.

The bad news is that many MRSA infections are tough to treat. Some scientists think MRSA infections may get nastier as the bad bug evolves into a worse bug. Already -- in rare cases -- MRSA can be a flesh-eating infection.

Scientists are hard at work on an MRSA vaccine. But that's years away. Meanwhile, MRSA infections are popping up all over -- as seen in a CDC report of MRSA infections from tattoos.

7. Plan B Morning-After Pill Goes Over the Counter

When a woman's first-choice method of birth control, there's themorning-after pill.

There are two morning-after pills -- Plan B and Preven. To prevent pregnancy, these emergency contraceptives must be used soon after intercourse.

That's less of a problem, thanks to this year's FDA approval of over-the-counter sales of Plan B.

The approval has some strings attached. Only stores staffed by a health professional can sell Plan B without a prescription. And women under age 18 still need a doctor's prescription.

Plan B cannot cause an abortion. If taken too late, women who become pregnant after taking Plan B have normal pregnancies.

When taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse, Plan B prevents pregnancy about 99% of the time.

Plan B is even more effective when taken within 24 hours of intercourse. Obviously, over-the-counter availability makes this more likely for more women who choose not to become pregnant.

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