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Terrorists, bird flu and the power of human restraint

Our roundup of the health news headlines on Tuesday 20 December.

Sickly red icons blister on across the Daily Mail’s map of Britain after a winter norovirus outbreak closed 11 more hospital wards today. But that’s nothing next to what could happen if an engineered strain of airborne bird flu escapes from a Dutch university laboratory, according to the Independent.

The scientists involved want to publish their methods and help other labs reach crucial vaccines or cures, but a senior scientific advisor to the US government said the mutant H5N1 – which spread easily between ferrets who are the closest model for human flu behaviour – would be a deadly weapon in terrorist hands.

Meanwhile, a couple have won funding for IVF treatment after a legal challenge against Portsmouth PCT, the Telegraph reports. The trust had ruled that Donna and Dean Marshall did not count as ‘childless’ because the latter had a child who lived 200 miles away with his ex-wife. The case highlights tightening provision of IVF as NHS bodies seek to cut costs despite national guidance that all women aged 23 to 39 years should get three cycles of treatment after three years of infertility.

The paper (but not its website) also reports a couples’ plea for other parents to resist ‘vaccination panic’ and ensure kids get the jab whooping cough after their own daughter died three weeks before she was old enough to receive it.

More positively (or not, depending on your belief in the power of human restraint), scientists in Rome have linked dieting to a healthy brain after finding that mice consuming 70% of their normal calorie allowance had better memory and mental function and were less likely to develop long-term conditions. As the Telegraph reports, a team at Rome’s Catholic University of the Sacred Heart say under-eating activates the hormone CREB1, which plays an important, if still mysterious, role in cognition and memory. How easily anyone can be convinced refrain from such worldly pleasures is a question for the Church itself to consider.

And the Guardian reported that ‘arch-Thatcherite’ Lord Tebbit is campaigning with other peers to ring-fence legal aid for children pursuing medical negligence claims (or rather for the lawyers acting on their behalf).