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Health Highlights: June 16, 2009

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

FDA Targets Bogus Treatments for H1N1 Swine Flu

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has sent more than 50 warning letters to Web sites selling illegal products that claim to diagnose, prevent, mitigate, treat or cure the H1N1 swine flu virus. As a result, more than 66 percent of the Web sites have removed the offending claims or products, the agency said.

The unapproved, uncleared or unauthorized products targeted by the FDA include:

  • An electronic instrument that claimed to strengthen the immune system and prevent H1N1 virus-related symptoms.
  • A shampoo that claimed to protect against the virus.
  • A supplement that claimed to cure H1N1 infection within 4 to 8 hours.
  • A dietary supplement that claimed to protect infants and children from contracting the H1N1 flu virus.

"Unapproved, uncleared or unauthorized products that claim to diagnose, mitigate, prevent, treat or cure the 2009 H1N1 flu are illegal and a potentially significant threat to the public health," the FDA said in a news release.

In addition to the warning letters, the agency identified the offending Web sites and products on the FDA Web site.

The agency "will consider further civil or criminal enforcement action against those Web sites that fail to resolve the violations cited in warning letters," the FDA said. "Actions could include seizure, injunction and criminal prosecution."


Experts Challenge Benefits of Moderate Alcohol Consumption

Some experts are questioning the common belief that moderate alcohol consumption contributes to good health, The New York Times reports.

Research has shown an association between moderate drinking and lower risk of death, but the skeptics point out that no study has ever proved a causal relationship between the two. They suggest that rather than making people healthy, moderate drinking is something typically done by healthy people.

"The moderate drinkers tend to do everything right -- they exercise, they don't smoke, they eat right and they drink moderately," Kaye Middleton Fillmore, a retired sociologist from the University of California, San Francisco, told the Times. "It's very hard to disentangle all of that, and that's a real problem."

"The bottom line is there has not been a single study done on moderate alcohol consumption and mortality outcomes that is a 'gold standard' kind of study -- the kind of randomized controlled clinical trial that we would be required to have in order to approve a new pharmaceutical agent in this country," Dr. Tim Naimi, an epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Times.

Critics also expressed concerns about academic centers that accept money from the alcohol beverage industry to pay for studies, train students and publicize their findings.


Obama Calls U.S. Health-Care System a 'Time Bomb'

The United States' health-care system is "a ticking time bomb" that could seriously damage the nation financially unless major changes are made, President Barack Obama said Monday in a speech to the American Medical Association.

He compared America's situation to that of big U.S. automakers, the Associated Press reported.

"A big part of what led General Motors and Chrysler into trouble were the huge costs they racked up providing health care for their workers -- costs that made them less profitable and less competitive with automakers around the world," Obama said.

"If we do not fix our health-care system, America may go the way of GM -- paying more, getting less and going broke," he warned delegates at the AMA's annual meeting.

The president said the current health-care system leaves too many people uninsured and forces doctors into "excessive defensive medicine" due to worries about malpractice suits. This leads to a high number of unnecessary medical tests or procedures, the AP reported.

The speech was part of Obama's efforts to overhaul the U.S. health-care system. Broader insurance coverage and targeted spending cuts are among the proposals being pushed by the president.


Proper Training, Guidelines Lacking at Many VA Clinics: Report

Surprise inspections at 42 Veterans Affairs clinics across the United States revealed that fewer than half had proper training and guidelines for colonoscopies and other endoscopic procedures, says a report by the VA inspector general.

The findings suggest that problems with colonoscopies and other minimally invasive procedures may not be limited to three facilities implicated earlier this year, the Associated Press reported.

In February, the VA started advising 10,000 patients who underwent procedures at clinics in Miami, and Murfreesboro, Tenn., and August, Ga., to get blood tests for HIV and hepatitis.

The surprise inspections conducted in May found that just 18 (43 percent) of the 42 clinics were able to prove that they'd properly trained their staffs and that they had standard operating guidelines in place for the procedures, the AP reported.

The VA inspector general's report is to be released Tuesday at a hearing before a House Veterans Affairs subcommittee.


Weight Loss Surgery Increases Fracture Risk: Study

Weight loss surgery such as gastric bypass or banding may double a person's risk of fractures, according to U.S. researchers who reviewed data from nearly 100 patients.

The Mayo Clinic team found that about 20 percent of patients suffered fractures within seven years of their weight loss surgery, twice the normal rate for their age group, BBC News reported.

Most of the fractures occurred in the hands and feet, but the patients also suffered fractures of the hip, spine and upper arm. The study will be presented at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society.

Lead author Dr. Elizabeth Haglind said more research is needed to confirm the findings and to understand more about the specific risk factors and mechanisms involved, BBC News reported.

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Posted: June 2009