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EXPERTS EXPECT MODERATE FLU SEASON THIS YEAR

Though experts are predicting a moderate flu season, people at high risk should get flu shots before Thanksgiving.

This fall and winter's predominant flu likely will be influenza B, the illness' milder version, says Dr. W. Paul Glezen, an epidemiologist at the Influenza Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.Influenza tends to run in cycles with A-strain flu dominating one year and B-strain the next, he explained. This year it's the B-strain's turn.

The most likely flu victims are the elderly, people with impaired defense systems, diabetics, people with kidney ailments and anemia, physicians, nurses and nursing home employees. All should get inoculated before flu season begins in December.

The vaccine is about 85 percent effective and doesn't cause illness, Glezen said. Vaccinated people who get the flu will have a less severe case.

Flu strikes suddenly and causes fever, muscle pain, weakness, sore throat and a dry, hacking cough. Victims need bed rest and liquids.

- Group B Strep. A new diagnostic test that detects Group B Streptococcus - an organism that annually kills or cripples 4,000 infants - is now being used in hospital delivery rooms.

Called STREP B OIA, the test detects the presence of the streptococcus in 30 minutes. Physicians who are delivering babies then can administer antibiotics to prevent infected women from passing it to their children.

Group B Strep infections are the leading cause of blood infections and meningitis in newborn American infants. The risk of transmitting the bacterium is highest in premature babies.

Approximately 12,000 women infect their infants annually, says Dr. George Larsen of George Washington University in Washington. Of that number, 2,000 infections are fatal and 2,000 cause crippling injuries.

The test was developed by BioStar Inc. of Boulder, Colo.

- Cotton-tipped swabs. Don't use cotton-tipped swabs to clean children's ears, says Dr. Michael Macknin, a pediatrician at Ohio State University School of Medicine.

The swabs are ineffective and sometimes causes earwax impaction and buildup.

Macknin bases his conclusions on a study of swab use on 651 children at the Cleveland (Ohio) Clinic. He and a group of colleagues found 7 percent of the children suffered partial ear blockages after swabs were used and 3 percent had total blockages.

"Cotton-tipped swabs most likely act like a battering ram, jamming the wax in farther," he said.

Earwax is a secretion that acts as a buffer against foreign bodies.

In most people, earwax disappears by itself by flowing out of the ear canal, he added.

- Don Kirkman,

Scripps Howard News Service