Health Highlights: Jan. 23, 2015

Health Highlights: Jan. 23, 2015

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Experimental Ebola Vaccine Sent to West Africa for Testing

The first shipment of an experimental Ebola vaccine is being sent to Liberia for field testing, but experts say it may be difficult to determine how effective it is because the number of Ebola cases in West Africa is falling.

An airplane carrying about 300 initial doses of the vaccine made by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) is expected to arrive in Liberia on Friday, and a clinical trial of the vaccine could begin within a few weeks, BBC News reported.

Researchers plan to give the vaccine to 10,000 volunteers and another 10,000 will receive a placebo. Another 10,000 people will get a different experimental vaccine.

The GSK-NIH vaccine was previously tested on 200 healthy people in the U.S., U,K., Mali and Switzerland and was found to be safe. However, tests in countries affected by Ebola are the only way to determine if the vaccine provides sufficient protection against the deadly virus, BBC News reported.

But it may be difficult to assess the true effectiveness of the vaccine with the number of Ebola cases declining, according to an expert.

“Because case numbers are starting to come down it will become harder and harder to show if the vaccine is having any impact,” Professor Jonathan Ball, a virus expert at Nottingham University in the U.K., told BBC News.

“Ultimately we may be in position in a few months time where we don’t know whether this vaccine is effective in humans,” he added. “But it is important to get answers if we can — if not for this outbreak, for future outbreaks. We need to be prepared.”

Clinical trials of other experimental Ebola vaccines are planned in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in the coming months, while the trial of an experimental drug called Zmapp might begin in the next few weeks, BBC News reported.


Steady Growth in Health Insurance Sign-Ups

The push to get 9.1 million Americans to sign up for private insurance under the health care law is well on its way, according to federal government data.

At least 400,000 people signed up last week, bringing the total enrolment in the 37 states served by to more than 7.1 million, the Health and Human Services Department says.

The number of people signed up nationwide is likely much higher because the federal government’s figures don’t include major states such as California and New York that are operating their own health insurance markets, the Associated Press reported.

Among the states served by, Florida leads the way with more than 1.2 million people enrolled, followed by Texas with nearly 920,000 people enrolled.

The Obama administration expects a rush as the Feb. 15 sign-up deadline approaches, the AP reported.


New Standards Would Make Poultry Safer for Consumers

New voluntary standards to make chicken and turkey safer to eat were released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The measures including better screening of poultry flocks and better sanitation are meant to reduce the number of illnesses caused by salmonella and campylobacter, the Associated Press reported.

The standards could lead to 50,000 fewer illnesses a year caused by raw poultry, according to the USDA.

While the measures are voluntary, officials said they are designed to pressure poultry producers to take action to reduce contamination, the AP reported.

Poultry producers would be asked to reduce rates of salmonella in raw chicken parts from about 24 percent now to less than 16 percent, and to reduce campylobacter rates from about 22 percent to 8 percent. Rates of the pathogens would also be reduced in ground chicken and turkey.

The proposed standards would be more effective if they weren’t voluntary, said Caroline Smith DeWaal of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “USDA can’t close a facility that fails to meet these standards,” she told the AP.

Each year, about one million Americans are sickened by salmonella, and nearly 20 percent of those illnesses are associated with chicken and turkey.