Biggest Health Stories of '05

Today's blog is looking back at some of the big health stories of 2005. There have been so many stories, but I decided to narrow it down to five. I'm including some quick info about each story, but it's not enough to just inform — we need to educate.


— Since December 2003, the avian flu has been confirmed in South Korea, Japan, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China, North Korea, Malaysia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Turkey, Romania, and Croatia.

— In 1997, an outbreak in Hong Kong infected 18 people, six of whom died. Hong Kong's entire poultry population was destroyed to prevent further outbreak.

— The human cases of the avian flu have occurred in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

— As of November 29, 2005, the World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed 68 deaths in 133 cases since December 2003.

— There is no vaccine at this time for this flu. Research is underway to develop one. Two antiviral drugs, Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and Zanamivir (Relenza) have shown limited success in treating avian flu.

— Estimates of potential human deaths from an avian flu pandemic vary widely. A conservative estimate from WHO puts the predicted number of deaths from 2 million to 7.4 million. Other estimates predict from 30 million to 384 million deaths worldwide, with roughly 1.7 million in the U.S.


— An estimated 22.1 percent of Americans age 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.

— Approximately 1 in 5 adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.

— Four of the 10 leading causes of disability in the U.S. and other developed countries are mental disorders.

— Leading mental disorders include major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Many people suffer from more than one mental disorder at a given time.

— Major depressive disorder affects about 5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.

— Approximately 13.3 percent of people 18 and older have an anxiety disorder.

**POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION (remember Tom Criuse and Brooke Shields’ publicized feud?)

— Postpartum depression occurs within days to weeks after the birth of a child.

— Symptoms include feelings of sadness, despair, hopelessness, and discouragement.

— Postpartum depressions can include transient "blues" and be severe, incapacitating and psychotic.

— Symptoms include decreased energy, fatigue, feeling "slowed down."

— Symptoms include restlessness, irritability, or excessive crying.

— 10 - 20% of new moms have postpartum depression.

— Studies link depression to low estrogen levels.

— A mom's estrogen level drops after childbirth.

— Postpartum depression can often be treated.

— Treatments include oral or estrogen patches.

— Postpartum depression can last up to a year.

— Moms with the disorder are unable to function.

— The disorder interrupts mother-child bonding.

— The disorder causes a severe sense of guilt and sadness.


— Vioxx is anti-inflammatory drug manufactured by Merck.

— Merck is the No. 3 U.S. drug maker.

— Vioxx used to relieve acute pain and arthritis without causing stomach bleeding or ulcers.

— Its active ingredient is Rofecoxib.

— Vioxx was approved by the FDA on May 21, 1999.

— Vioxx is part of a class of drugs called cox-2 inhibitors.

— They block the cox-2 enzyme that has been linked with inflammation.

— IMS Health: Cox-2 inhibitors had 2003 prescription sales of $5.3 billion in the U.S.

— Vioxx was voluntarily withdrawn from the market in September 2004.

— Study showed it could double the risk of heart attack or stroke if taken for longer than 18 months.

— FDA approved Vioxx as safe and effective four times before Merck withdrew it.

— Vioxx accounted for $2.5 billion in annual sales before it was withdrawn.

— More than 4,200 state and federal lawsuits have been filed.

— Analysis estimate Merck's potential liability could reach $18 billion.

— Merck set aside $675 million for litigation costs.


— Appx. 127 mil. American adults considered overweight or obese.

— Appx. 9 mil. American adults considered severely obese.

— Percentage of obese adults for 2002-04 stood at 22.7% nationally.

— States with highest percentage of obese adults: Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia, Louisiana and Tennessee.

— States with the lowest: Colorado, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont and Montana.

— Adults with a body mass index of 30 or more are considered obese.

— During the past 20 years there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States.

— In 1991, four states had obesity prevalence rates of 15-19 percent and no states had rates at or above 20 percent.

— In 2004, 7 states had obesity prevalence rates of 15-19 percent; 33 states had rates of 20-24 percent; and 9 states had rates more than 25 percent (no data for one state).


— Doctors in France said they had performed the world's first partial face transplant.

— The operation was done on a woman disfigured by a dog bite.

— The 38-year-old woman had a nose, lips and chin grafted onto her face from a brain-dead donor.

— A complete face transplant involves applying a sheet of skin in one operation.

— The main worry for both a full-face transplant and a partial effort is organ rejection.

— Complications also include infections that turn the new face black and require a second transplant.

— In the U.S., the Cleveland Clinic is among those planning to attempt a face transplant.

— The surgeon, Dr. Dubernard is a graduate of Harvard medical school.

— In 1976, he performed Europe's first pancreas transplant.

— In 1998, he received worldwide acclaim for being the first surgeon to transplant a hand.

— Dubernard carried out the first double forearm transplant in 2000.

— He has been a lawmaker in the national assembly, France's lower house, since 1986.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit