The top health stories of 2009, from the Harvard Health Letter

Each year, editors of the Harvard Health Letter, in consultation with the doctors on its editorial board, choose the top 10 health stories of the year. Here are four of the items on the list for 2009:

H1N1 flu: Most of the news about this year's H1N1 "swine flu" pandemic has been reassuring. While the H1N1 virus spreads easily and makes people sick, so far it's rarely life-threatening. A major reason for the calm has been the measured public health response. Plenty of information has been made available, and health officials gave us simple, concrete things to do to protect ourselves. A vaccine was developed and put into production, although shortages are a serious concern. We have months of flu season ahead of us and much could go wrong, but early indications show that this pandemic will stay manageable.

Health care reform: The final version was still taking shape as the Harvard Health Letter went to press, and the outcome is still in doubt, but some basic elements of health care reform looked to be in place: a mandate requiring individuals to buy health insurance, tighter regulation of health insurers, and the creation of computerized "exchanges" where people and small employers can shop for affordable policies. But chances are that legislation, if it does become law, won't do nearly enough to control costs.

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