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Health Headlines - August 12

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Internet Drug Purchases Can be Dangerous: Study

The dangers of buying drugs from online pharmacies are highlighted in a British study published in the current issue of The Lancet medical journal.

The study cites the case of a 64-year woman who went blind after four years of taking drugs she bought on the Internet, Britain's Independent newspaper reported. The woman self-diagnosed herself with chronic fatigue syndrome and, on the advice of a neighbor, bought oral steroids from an online pharmacy in Thailand.

As she suffered vision loss, doctors found cataracts in both eyes and signs of glaucoma, both side effects of steroid use. The study authors warned doctors to be alert for patients who may have bought drugs online, the Independent reported.

"Some of the drug therapies can be counterfeit and contain a concoction of compounds that bear little resemblance to the drug names on the bottle," the study authors noted.

"Even if the patient receives the actual drug, there are many problems with this unchecked availability, including interactions with coexisting treatment, side effects, and the lack of careful medical monitoring," they wrote.

FDA Adds Raw Clams to Pacific Northwest Shellfish Warning

Raw clams from the Pacific Northwest were added Friday to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's list of raw shellfish from the region that should be avoided because they may harbor disease-causing bacteria.

The agency issued its first warning July 31 that people shouldn't eat raw oysters from the region, saying the shellfish could harbor Vibro parahaemolyticus (VP), which could cause gastrointestinal problems among healthy consumers and more serious illnesses like blood infection (septicemia) in the elderly and others with weaker immune systems.

VP is a natural bacteria that's most prevalent during summer, the agency said. The FDA attributed its warnings to an "unusual increase" in the number of recent cases of gastrointestinal illness attributed to Pacific Northwest shellfish. The region's shellfish are distributed nationwide.

"To date, there have been 72 laboratory-confirmed, and an additional 105 probable, VP illness[es] reported from Washington State, Oregon and New York linked to contaminated oysters and clams," the FDA statement said.

Anyone who wants to eat clams or oysters harvested in the Pacific Northwest and similar shellfish from unknown origin should thoroughly cook them first, the FDA warned in Friday's updated statement.

Officials in Washington State are continuing to identify and close affected oyster beds, and shellfish from beds identified as contaminated have been recalled, the agency said.

HIV Spreading Rapidly Among Gay and Bisexual Men in Asia

Stigma, intolerance, and government inaction are fueling the rapid spread of HIV -- the virus that causes AIDS -- among gay and bisexual men in Asia, says a report released Friday.

The survey of nearly two dozen countries found that HIV rates among men who have sex with men could be as high as 28 percent in Bangkok, Thailand; 16 percent in Andhra Pradesh, India; and 14 percent in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Agence France Presse reported.

"...These data represent an alarming trend, since male-male sexual activity in the region is diverse, often completely hidden, and beyond the reach of current prevention efforts," the report's authors noted.

The report was written by a Bangkok-based group called TREAT Asia, an initiative of the U.S. AIDS campaign organization amFAR, AFP reported.

"Governments in the region and international donors need to support appropriate prevention, care and treatment efforts for MSM (men who have sex with men) populations, or face a spiraling epidemic that could be far worse than any seen in gay communities in the West," said Keven Frost, director of TREAT Asia.

Coke and Pepsi in India are Safe, Companies Say

Some states in India have banned Coca-Cola products due to alleged high levels of pesticides, but the soft drink company says the beverages produced in India are as safe as others made elsewhere in the world.

"No detectable levels of pesticides (were found) in Indian soft drinks when measured against the EU (European Union) criteria in an independent lab study," said a statement released Friday by Coca-Cola.

Last week, the privately-funded New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment said it found unacceptable pesticide levels in 11 drinks made in India by Coca-Cola and Pepsi, Agence France Presse reported.

The levels were 24 times higher than limits set by the Bureau of Indian Standards. However, those limits are not yet law.

Pepsi products have also been banned by some states in India. In statements released earlier, Pepsi said that its products made in India are safe.

Coca-Cola and Pepsi have been given six weeks by India's Supreme Court to reveal the ingredients of their soft drinks, AFP reported.

Smoke Alarms Fail to Alert Older Adults

Older adults are less likely than other people to hear conventional smoke alarms, especially when they're asleep, concludes a study by the U.S. Fire Protection Research Foundation.

In clinical testing, the high-pitched signal typically used on U.S. smoke alarms did a poor job of alerting people ages 65 and older. The study also found that a male voice alarm is not suitable for older adults.

The high frequency alarm typically used in smoke alarms should be replaced by a signal that is more likely to awaken people of all ages, the study authors found. The foundation said it's trying to determine which kind of signal would be most effective.

Older adults are more than twice as likely to die in a home fire as the average person, the foundation said. On average, some 800 older adults die in home fires each year in the United States, the report noted.

Kaiser Fined $2 Million for Kidney Transplant Problems

U.S. health maintenance organization Kaiser Permanente has been hit with a $2 million fine and will shell out $3 million to an organ donor program as compensation for its mismanagement of a kidney transplant center, California officials said.

It's the most severe penalty ever ordered by the state's five-year-old Department of Managed Care, the Associated Press reported. Kaiser is the largest HMO in the United States.

In 2004, Kaiser told about 1,500 kidney transplant patients in Northern California to transfer from University of California hospitals to the HMO's new San Francisco transplant center.

Kaiser did not talk with regulators about the transfer of the patients, which led to delays in some patients' transplants. The new center did 56 kidney transplants in 2005, and about twice that number of patients died while waiting for a transplant, the wire service said.

In May 2006, Kaiser suspended its Northern California transplant program in response to increasing pressure from regulators and a series of patient lawsuits, the AP reported.

A spokesperson for the state's managed care department said Kaiser's administrative oversight of the patient transfers was inadequate and the staff was too small to accomplish the task.
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