Health Highlights: March 4, 2008
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:
Many Americans Have Trouble Paying For Drugs: Survey
Many Americans say that they have trouble paying for drugs or that they skip prescriptions or cut pills because of the costs, according to a survey released Tuesday by USA Today, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health.
The national telephone survey of 1,695 found that 40 percent of Americans (and half of those who regularly take at least one medication) reported at least one of three cost-related concerns in their family: 16 percent said they have a "serious" problem paying for prescription drugs; 29 percent said they haven't filled a prescription in the past two years because of the cost; and 23 percent said they've cut pills in half or skipped doses in order to make medications last longer.
These types of issues were most common among people who lack drug coverage (52 percent), have low incomes (54 percent), and those who take at least four drugs regularly (59 percent).
Almost 80 percent of respondents said the cost of prescription drugs is unreasonable, 70 percent said drug companies are too concerned with profits and not concerned enough about helping people, and 64 percent said there's not enough government regulation of drug prices. Almost 60 percent said insurers should only pay for new drugs if they're proven to be not just safe, but also more effective than existing drugs.
The survey also found that about half of respondents said they take a prescription drug daily, and 20 percent said they take at least four prescription drugs regularly.
Herbal Supplement Firm Settles False Advertising Suit
An herbal supplement company that once advertised that its product could combat colds has agreed to pay $23.3 million to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging false advertising, CNN reported Tuesday.
Airborne Health Inc. and two other defendants have admitted no wrongdoing but have agreed to settle the suit filed in U.S. District Court in California, CNN said. The network quoted the non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CPSI) as saying the company would issue refunds to consumers who bought the Airborne products, and the firm would also take out ads in major publications instructing users on how they could get their money back.
"There's no credible evidence that what's in Airborne can prevent colds or protect you from a germy environment," said a senior nutritionist for CPSI, which is among those that sued Airborne for deceptive advertising.
Airborne was first sued in March 2006, following a report by ABC News that the company's clinical trials were conducted by laypeople, not by scientific or medical experts. CPSI joined the suit later that year.
Airborne changed its ads after the suit was filed, dropping claims that the product cured colds but touting new claims that it helped the body's immune system, CNN said.
A hearing to consider the settlement is set for June 16.
Oregon Holding Health Insurance Lottery
Health insurance is the prize in an Oregon lottery for people who aren't poor enough for Medicaid but can't afford private insurance. Since registration opened in January, more than 80,000 people have signed up for the lottery, which begins drawing names this week, the Associated Press reported.
There will be only a few thousand winners, who'll be eligible for a standard benefit program offered by the state. For little or no cost, enrollees will get coverage for the most basic health services, medications, hospital and vision services and some dental services.
It could take a few months for all the winners to be chosen in series of lottery draws, the AP reported.
The large response to the lottery underscores the health insurance problem in Oregon, say advocates for the uninsured. About 600,000 people in the state don't have health insurance, according to the Oregon Department of Human Services.
Protein Discovery May Help Lead to HIV Vaccine
A new finding about the key role a protein called FOX03a plays in fighting HIV infection may help in the development of a vaccine against the virus, say American and Canadian researchers.
They found that FOX03a can be manipulated to limit the deterioration of T-cells and central memory cells, both of which are targeted by HIV and play a critical role in fighting the spread of infection, CBC News reported.
The study, published online in the journal Nature Medicine, included HIV-infected men.
"This is the first study to examine, in people rather than animals, what shields the body's immune system from infection and to pinpoint the fundamental role of FOX03a in defending the body," study co-author Elias Haddad, a researcher at the University of Montreal, said in a prepared statement.
Haddad and colleagues said findings could help in the creation of a vaccine against HIV, and may also prove useful in combating other viral diseases that weaken the immune system, such as arthritis, hepatitis C and cancer, CBC News reported.
Spirometry Screening for COPD Not Recommended for All Adults
Spirometry should not be used to screen for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in adults with no symptoms, says a new recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.
Spirometry is the most common method of screening for COPD, a lung disease in which the airways are damaged, making it hard to breathe. In spirometry, patients breathe into a tube attached to a spirometer machine that calculates the amount of air the lungs can hold and the rate that air can be inhaled and exhaled.
But the task force concluded that the benefits of spirometry screening in adults with no COPD symptoms were small. About 400 adults, ages 60 to 69, would have to be screened in order to identify one patient who may later develop COPD symptoms severe enough to require immediate medical care.
The task force also said spirometry can substantially over-diagnose people over the age of 70 who have never smoked (a major COPD risk factor) and can produce some false-positives in younger adults.
The recommendation was published online in the Annals of Internal Medicine and will be published in the April 1 print issue of the journal.
Hepatitis Outbreak May Be 'Tip of Iceberg' at U.S. Clinics
The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Julie Gerberding, said a hepatitis C outbreak traced to a Nevada endoscopy clinic may be "the tip of an iceberg" of safety issues at clinics across the country, the Associated Press reported.
Last Friday, Las Vegas officials closed down the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada after it was determined that six patients contracted hepatitis C due to unsafe practices, such as the re-use of syringes and vials. State health officials are now trying to contact about 40,000 patients who received anesthesia by injection at the clinic to tell them they should get tested for hepatitis C, hepatitis B and HIV.
Gerberding met Monday with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to discuss the issue. During a media conference call after their meeting, Reid and Gerberding strongly condemned practices at the clinic, the AP reported.
"This is the largest number of patients that have ever been contacted for a blood exposure in a health-care setting. But unfortunately we have seen other large-scale situations where similar practices have led to patient exposures," Gerberding said during the conference call.
"Our concern is that this could represent the tip of an iceberg and we need to be much more aggressive about alerting clinicians about how improper this practice is," she said, "but also continuing to invest in our ability to detect these needles in a haystack at the state level so we recognize when there has been a bad practice and patients can be alerted and tested."
Scientists ID Proteins Linked to Stomach Expansion While Eating
A potential new method of treating obesity by preventing the stomach from expanding while a person eats has been identified by researchers at University College London in Great Britain.
The scientists pinpointed two cell proteins -- P2Y1 and P2Y11 -- that relax the stomach so it can enlarge to make room for food, BBC News reported. It may be possible to develop a drug that blocks this stomach relaxation, thus reducing a person's ability and desire to eat too much, the researchers said.
The study is published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.
The "resting" internal volume of the stomach is 75 milliliters, but relaxation of its muscular wall can increase the volume to 2 or more liters, BBC News reported.
Currently, two surgical procedures -- stomach stapling and gastric banding -- are used to reduce the stomach's maximum volume in order to treat obesity.
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