Health Highlights: June 21, 2010

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

Senate Acts to Stop Medicare Cuts

The U.S. Senate voted late Friday to give doctors another reprieve in a scheduled 21 percent cut in Medicare payments, but the action did not come soon enough to stop the rate reduction altogether.

The House of Representatives cannot act on the measure until it returns next week. That delay, according to the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, prompted the agency to announce shortly after the vote that it would start processing June claims at the lower rate.

The Medicare agency had been holding claims for June, anticipating congressional action. Doctors' groups had aggressively urged a repeal of the payment cut, saying it would force doctors, nurse practitioners, physical therapists and others to stop taking Medicare patients.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told The New York Times that action was needed to avert near chaos in the absence of medical care to seniors.

After a week of partisan back-and-forth over funding of the measure, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told the Times that "we've done it without adding to the deficit, and I think that is something both sides can feel good about."

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FDA Warns Consumers About 'Generic Tamiflu'

The active ingredient in fake Tamiflu sold over the Internet is a penicillin-related antibiotic called cloxacillin that can be dangerous to people who are allergic to penicillin, warns the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

To date, the agency has not received any reports of people suffering adverse reactions due to the fake "Generic Tamiflu." There is no FDA-approved generic version of Tamiflu, the flu-fighting antiviral medication.

The FDA bought the bogus product without a prescription from a Web site that claimed to be an online drugstore. The fake Tamiflu arrived in an envelope postmarked from India. That particular Web site is no longer operational but other sites may still be selling "Generic Tamiflu," the FDA said.

"A rogue Internet Web site marketing drug products may look like a professional and legitimate Web site, but may actually be an illegal operation," FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg said in an agency news release. "Medicines purchased from Web sites operating outside the law put consumers at increased risk due to a higher potential that the products will be counterfeit, impure, contaminated, or have too little or too much of the active ingredient."

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Marie Callender's Brand Frozen Meals Recalled

A salmonella outbreak in 14 states has triggered a U.S.-wide recall of all Marie Callender's brand cheesy chicken and rice frozen meals.

ConAgra Foods announced the recall Thursday after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the company about a possible link between the products and 29 illnesses, the Associated Press reported.

Eight of the people who became ill said they'd eaten the frozen meal in April or May. The most recent illness was reported May 22.

The recall includes all meals (regardless of production date) labeled "Marie Callender's Cheesy Chicken and Rice White Meat Chicken and Broccoli over Rice Topped with Rich Cheddar Sauce," the AP reported.

Symptoms of salmonella infection include diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever within eight to 72 hours of consuming a contaminated product.

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Marlboro Lights Marketing Under Investigation: Report

U.S. officials are investigating the marketing of Marlboro Lights, sold by the Philip Morris USA unit of the Altria Group.

In a few days, a new federal law takes effect that bans tobacco products from carrying the words "light" or any other language that might suggest they're safer than other tobacco products, The New York Times reported.

The Food and Drug Administration wants Altria to explain notes that have been placed on the last packs of Marlboro Lights. The notes say "Your Marlboro Lights package is changing, but your cigarette stays the same," and, "In the future, ask for Marlboro in the gold pack."

In a letter sent Thursday to Altria, the FDA said the company has until July 30 to provide all documents related to the company's market research on consumer perceptions about the new gold package for Marlboro Lights and the health risks of the cigarettes the Times reported.

The notes on the last packages of Marlboro Lights "may perpetuate the mistaken beliefs associated with your 'light' cigarettes when marketed as Marlboro in the gold pack," the FDA said in the letter.

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FDA Fines Red Cross $16 Million for Blood Screening

The American Red Cross has been fined for shoddy screening of donated blood.

The organization was hit with a $16 million fine because it failed to take precautions to ensure the safety of blood donations, said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Associated Press reported.

The fine included nearly $10 million for mismanagement of blood products and more than $6 million for faulty manufacturing practices. The violations occurred in the past few years, the news service said.

Depsite the problems at the Red Cross, the U.S. blood supply appears to be safe, according to the FDA, the AP reported.

Since 2003, the FDA has cited the Red Cross a dozen times and fined it more than $21 million, the news service said.

Posted: June 2010


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