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Health scares, setbacks and successes

Vigorous debates over several top issues

Flu vaccine
In October, Chiron Corp. said it would not deliver about 50 million doses of flu vaccine to the United States.
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(CNN) -- Progress and setbacks marked the year in health, with several vaccines and drugs showing promise while officials pulled other products from the market.

Several scares, particularly regarding influenza and mad cow outbreaks, also made news in 2004, while debate revolved around stem cell research and the desirability of "low-carb" diets.

Flu scare in the U.S. and a worldwide warning

Long lines formed for flu vaccinations in the United States after Chiron Corp. announced in October that it could not deliver about 50 million doses of the flu vaccine. Chiron made the announcement after British authorities closed its manufacturing plant because of bacterial contamination. In December, the World Health Organization warned that bird flu could trigger an international pandemic that could kill up to 7 million people. (Special Report: Cold and flu)

Stem cell research

New fronts opened in the debate over stem cell research, which became a hot-button issue in the U.S. presidential campaign. The deaths of former President Ronald Reagan and actor Christopher Reeve, in particular, revived arguments over the benefits of embryonic stem cell research. (Reeve dies; Reagan's son urges more research)

Popular pain reliever pulled from the market

In September, the popular pain reliever Vioxx was pulled from the market after studies showed that it doubled the risk of heart attack or stroke if taken for longer than 18 months. That prompted calls for further studies into the risk of all so-called cox-2 inhibitor drugs, which are used to treat the chronic pain of arthritis without causing stomach discomfort. (CNN/Money: Merck withdraws Vioxx)

FDA warns on children and antidepressants

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in October mandated that all antidepressants must carry a "black box" warning, the government's strongest safety alert. The drugs have been linked to increased suicidal thoughts -- especially among children and teenagers taking them. The new warning language advises that doctors closely monitor young patients to manage the risk of suicide. (Health Library: Antidepressants)

'Low carb' becomes life for millions

Millions of people put a high priority on "low carbs" popularized by the Atkins and the South Beach diets, shunning carbohydrates for protein and generating a glut of low-carb products. A backlash against the diets had risen by the end of the year, with surveys showing more than half of Americans who tried the diets had given them up. (Special Report: Low-carb craze)

Mad cow scares

Three times in 2004, preliminary tests showed the possibility of mad cow disease in animals in the United States. The tests caused shudders in the beef industry, which was recovering from the first U.S. case of the disease in December 2003. Follow-up tests on all three animals, however, were negative. (Health Library: Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease)

New drugs for HIV/AIDS and Alzheimer's

A research institute in India, which has the world's second-largest population living with HIV/AIDS after South Africa, announced in November that it would begin human trials of a new AIDS vaccine in January 2005. And two drugs that focus on beta-amyloid, a protein suspected of accumulating into clogs in Alzheimer's disease patients' brains, showed promise, researchers said. (Special Report: AIDS)

Supreme Court takes up medical marijuana -- again

Debating whether the federal government can prosecute patients who smoke pot on doctors' orders, the U.S. Supreme Court questioned whether state medical marijuana laws might be abused by people who aren't really sick. The justices refused three years ago to protect distributors of medical marijuana from federal charges. They will rule on the current case before next summer. (On the scene)

FDA bans dietary supplements containing ephedra

The Food and Drug Administration banned dietary supplements containing ephedra because of health concerns about the product, and health officials warned consumers not to take products containing the stimulant. The decision was the first time the government had banned an over-the-counter nutritional supplement. Unlike drugs, dietary supplements do not have to be proven safe before going on the market, but federal authorities can act to take them off the shelves if they are shown to be unsafe. (Full story)

Chinese say they've developed SARS vaccine

Chinese state media announced in December that researchers had developed a Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) vaccine that has passed the first stage of human trials, raising hopes it could prevent a major recurrence of the virus. SARS infected more than 8,000 people in nearly 30 countries and killed nearly 800 people following an outbreak that first emerged in southern China in 2002. Later in December, researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health said they would conduct human trials on a SARS vaccine. (Full story; Health Library: SARS)

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