Health Officials Say Flu Shot Is Providing Little Protection for the Elderly

Vaccinations among people 65 and older are reducing chances of getting the harshest flu strain by only 9 percent. Overall, the vaccine’s effectiveness is 56 percent, which means those who got a shot have a 56 percent lower chance of winding up with the flu. That is nearly as good as in other flu seasons, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. But experts, while uncertain why this year’s vaccine was so much less effective for senior citizens, say the early findings highlight the need for better vaccines. Officials still recommend the shots, and said older people who get sick despite being vaccinated may have milder symptoms. “Year in and year out, the vaccine is the best protection we have,” said a CDC flu expert. The Associated Press

Charges filed against owner of peanut company blamed for deadly salmonella outbreak. In a 76-count indictment, the federal government charged Stewart Parnell of the now-closed Peanut Corporation of America with criminal fraud and conspiracy. Prosecutors cited his alleged role in a scheme to ship peanut products known to be contaminated to customers across the country. A company plant in Georgia was found to be the source of a salmonella outbreak in 2009 that sickened more than 700 people and killed nine, making it one of the deadliest in U.S. history. Also indicted were  two other PCA employees and a broker associated with the company. A fifth person pleaded guilty to mail and wire fraud. The New York Times, The Washington Post

Health officials scramble to contain tuberculosis outbreak on downtown Los Angeles’ skid row. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dispatched scientists to the city to help local officials determine why the disease is spreading and how to stop it.  Health officials tallied 78 cases, including 11 deaths, involving a particular strain of the highly contagious disease in the past five years. Authorities identified about 4,650 people who probably were exposed and are trying to track them down for testing and treatment. Authorities worry the outbreak could spread further if action isn’t taken. Homeless people are especially at risk of getting TB because of factors such as poor hygiene and nutrition and limited access to healthcare. Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal

Lawsuits mount over alleged environmental damage and public health threat from coal ash sites. While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency slowly considers how to regulate disposal of the waste, which comes from producing electricity, residents from communities around the country are pursuing legal challenges against coal-ash ponds, landfills and pits. More than two dozen such challenges have surfaced in the past year. Most of the litigation alleges that unlined or partly lined dumps have leaked boron, uranium, chromium, thalium and other metals, tainting water sources and harming property and health. “What we need is federal rules,” said a lawyer representing residents in one case. “Until then, we’ll use whatever tools we’ve got.” The Center for Public Integrity

Oil and gas drilling sites are among the nation’s most dangerous workplaces. Pressure to meet production deadlines while holding down costs sometimes leads to safety compromises. Another problem is that the industry is experiencing a demographic shift. Older workers are retiring, and there are few veterans left to train the new, undisciplined roughnecks attracted to the booming industry. The trend is called “The Great Crew Change” by a social anthropologist studying oil and gas workers. Two-thirds of the people who died in Texas oil and gas fields over the past decade had less than a year of experience, according to one analysis. Nationally, 110 oil and gas extraction workers died in 2011, a rate of 22 for every 100,000 workers. EnergyWire

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

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