Dr. Manny's Top Health News of 2006

This has been an incredible year in the world of health, and I've been honored to explore the universe of health and medicine this year with all my FOX friends, both viewers and readers (and I hope you are both).

As 2006 winds to a close, I thought I'd take the time to look back and reflect on some of the top stories that made the news this year.

We've learned a lot about health and hygiene and food and nutrition and taking care of our bodies through these stories, and I hope all my friends out there will find themselves in better health next year as a result of our journey together.

So without further ado, I present to you my personal picks for the Top 10 Health Stories in 2006 (in no particular order):

1. Norovirus. The "24 hour flu" known as norovirus made the headlines repeatedly in 2006. In April, an outbreak of norovirus at a retirement center in Vancouver, Wash., left two people dead and sickened more than 40 residents and workers.

Norovirus Outbreak Kills 2 in Washington

Almost 230 people aboard a cruise ship came down with the illness during a weeklong voyage on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship in July.

227 Fall Ill Aboard Caribbean Cruise Ship

In November, norovirus sickened nearly 700 passengers on a Carnival cruise, and in December another Royal Caribbean cruise experienced an outbreak of the virus, which affected 108 passengers.

Cruise Ship Docks for Cleaning After Hundreds Sickened

Cruise Ship Hit With 2nd Virus Outbreak

Tainted oysters were also linked to a norovirus outbreak in Oregon.

Tainted Oysters Sicken 8 in Oregon

These multiple outbreaks of norovirus reminded us of the value of good hygiene and that even something as elementary as washing your hands regularly can help ward off a virus.

For those of you worried about getting sick on the high seas, we offered Nine Tips for a Healthy, Safe Cruise to help you enjoy your next cruise.

2. E. Coli. Food safety was an issue throughout the year. Hundreds were sickened in September due to tainted spinach from California, and lettuce was recalled in October due to concerns about e. coli contamination. Lettuce also was blamed for an e. coli outbreak at several Taco Bell restaurants in the Northeast in December.

Spinach E. Coli Source May Remain Unclear

Salinas Valley Lettuce Recalled Over E. Coli Concerns

Lettuce Blamed for Taco Bell E. Coli Outbreak

FOX News online readers learned the Facts about E. Coli and Tips for Keeping Your Produce Safe.

3. Vitamin D. Is the "sunshine vitamin" a miracle cure? We recently learned about a possible link between this essential vitamin and a reduced risk for multiple sclerosis.

In October we found that Vitamin D may slow breast cancer, and in September researchers said Vitamin D may reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer and help fight kidney cancer in women.

Last year Vitamin D was reported to possibly help prevent PMS and lower the risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

Vitamin D is an easy choice for Vitamin of the Year!

5. Trans fats. Trans fats, or trans fatty acids, typically are found in partially hydrogenated oils. Trans fats can increase your risk for heart disease by raising your LDL cholesterol level, the "bad" cholesterol. Trans fats have been increasingly linked to chronic health problems.

A study last month showed that even small amounts of trans fats can harm the heart.

In response to health concerns about the use of these oils, Wendy's announced in June that it's restaurants would begin frying french fries and breaded chicken items with non-hydrogenated oil.

Other fast-food restaurants soon followed Wendy's lead: In October, KFC announced it would be trans fat free by April 2007 and in November, Taco Bell said it would cut trans fats in its U.S. restaurants and Arby's also announced it would cut trans fats.

New York City even announced a ban on trans fats on all foods served at restaurants in the city to take effect July 2008.

6. Bird Flu. From poultry in South Korea to swans in Poland to chickens in Thailand to cats in Austria, H5N1 bird flu outbreaks were seen throughout the world in 2006.

While bird flu outbreaks have not been seen very much recently, this does not mean the problem is over. In fact, this bird flu "quiet" worries experts.

Keep track of news about this important health issue at FOXNews.com's Bird Flu Tracker.

7. Stem Cell Research. Groundbreaking research is finding ways to extract stem cells from adults and newborns, avoiding the need for the more ethically risky embryonic stem cells.

Umbilical cord blood can now be collected and "banked," providing parents with the possibility of retrieving the stem cell-rich blood later if it is needed to help cure leukemia or other types of cancer.

In Adult Stem Cells Give Hope for Healing , we learned of a company that collects and stores adult stem cells. These cells have the potential to repair damaged heart tissue, heal wounds and aid in the treatment of diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

8. HPV Vaccine In May, the FDA endorsed and in June approved for use a new drug from Merck called Gardasil, which is effective in preventing the strains of human papilloma virus that can cause cervical cancer, the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women worldwide.

The importance of this vaccine can not be overstated; it may save the lives of future generations of women.

For more information, check out Twelve Things You Should Know About the Cervical Cancer Vaccine.

9. Shingles Vaccine. Vaccinations and immunizations once were almost exclusively childhood procedures, but that may no longer be true as a new breed of adult vaccines emerges. A new vaccine called Zostavax, approved by the FDA in May, is aimed at preventing the roughly 1 million new cases of shingles diagnosed each year in the United States.

Shingles also is called herpes zoster and is caused by the reactivation in adults of the chickenpox virus.

The itching and burning sensations of shingles are quite painful and can sometimes persist for months or years. In October, the FDA voted to recommend routine vaccinations against shingles for older adults.

10. Health Blogs. The growth of weblogs or "blogs" has changed the way we look at the journey of good health. The Internet increased our access to great medical information; now blogs have increased our access to great voices and insights from the entire spectrum of the medical and health community.

We're not alone anymore; we share our experiences along the journey and learn from others as they do the same. Doctors are blogging about their specialties, and patients are blogging about their path to recovery. We're all sharing our experiences in our search for nutritious food, our diets and our exercise regimens.

We shared some of our favorite health blogs in 10 Health Web Sites Worth a Click and look forward to introducing you to more health and medical blogs in 2007.

Dr. Manny Alvarez is the managing editor of health news at FOXNews.com, and is a regular medical contributor on the FOX News Channel. He is chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. Additionally, Alvarez is Adjunct Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at New York University School of Medicine in New York City.