Health Highlights: Nov. 19, 2009

By on November 19, 2009

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

Vicks Nasal Spray Recalled Due to Bacteria

Proctor & Gamble Co. is recalling about 120,000 bottles of its Vicks Sinex nasal spray due to bacteria the company found in some samples during testing, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

According to P & G spokesman Tom Millikin, the voluntary recall is a precaution after small amounts of the B. cepacia bacteria were found in the non-prescription spray in a routine check at a plant in Germany. The recall involves three lots of the spray sent to the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Regulatory agencies in all three countries have been informed, the company asid.

No illnesses linked to the contamination have yet been reported, Millikin said, but the bacteria could harm people with chronic lung ailments or weak immune systems.

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Flu Worries Shouldn’t Affect Travel Plans: CDC

The threat of the H1N1 flu shouldn’t prevent people from traveling this holiday season, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which on Thursday launched a public education campaign about staying healthy while traveling.

“The holidays are one of the busiest travel times of the year,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a news release. “People are in close contact – whether they’re on a plane, train, ship or just visiting with loved ones. This campaign provides practical advice to help travelers prepare for their trips and stay healthy during their holiday travel.”

The agency offers the following advice:

  • Travel only when you feel well.
  • Get vaccinated for flu (both seasonal flu and H1N1 flu if you’re in a priority group).
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a sleeve or tissue.

“We know that flu – and specifically H1N1 this year – is a big concern for people, but flu shouldn’t ruin the holidays,” Schuchat said. “By practicing a little prevention, people can enjoy their holidays and stay well at the same time.”

The CDC’s campaign will run through the holiday season and use a variety of media, including posters at major airports, border crossings and ports of entry.

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Senate Introduces Health Reform Bill

The 10-year, $849-billion Senate health reform bill unveiled Wednesday night would require most Americans to have health insurance, provide subsidies to help low-income earners afford coverage, force insurance companies to accept all applicants, increase payroll taxes for the wealthy, and place a new tax on patients who have elective cosmetic surgery.

The bill — which the Congressional Budget Office estimates suggest would reduce deficits by $127 over a decade — would not require employers to offer coverage to workers. However, medium and large companies would have to pay a fee if the government had to subsidize their employees’ insurance, the Associated Press reported.

The bill, which also proposes cuts in future Medicare spending, was hailed by Democrats and President Barack Obama.

“From Day One, our goal has been to enact legislation that offers stability and security to those who have insurance and affordable coverage to those who don’t, and that lowers costs for families, businesses and governments across the country,” said Obama, who added that the Senate bill “meets those principles.”

But Republicans oppose the bill and vowed a tough fight.

“Higher premiums, tax increases and Medicare cuts to pay for more government. The American people know that is not reform,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

The bill needs 60 votes to move beyond a must-pass procedural requirement before it can be debated. That vote could take place this weekend, the AP reported.

The House recently passed a more expensive and liberal version of the health-care bill.

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FDA Sends Warning Letters to Drug Web Sites

Warnings about the illegal sale of unapproved or misbranded drugs have been sent to 22 operators of Web sites, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Thursday.

The agency said the action was part of a coordinated, week-long 26-nation effort meant to target illegal actions involving medical products, United Press International reported.

The 136 Web sites targeted by the FDA appeared to be involved in the illegal sale of unapproved or misbranded drugs to American consumers. None of the Web sites were for pharmacies in the United States or Canada.

Along with the warning letters to the Web sites, the FDA also notified Internet service providers and domain registrars that the Web sites were selling products in violation of U.S. law, UPI reported.

“Many U.S. consumers are being misled in the hopes of saving money by purchasing prescription drugs over the Internet from illegal pharmacies. Unfortunately, these drugs are often counterfeit, contaminated or unapproved products, or contain an inconsistent amount of the active ingredient. Taking these drugs can pose a danger to consumers,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg said in a news release.

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Poll Shows Americans Support Malpractice Award Limits

A new survey finds that many Americans want Congress to put limits on medical malpractice lawsuit awards, which are a major factor in rising medical costs.

The Associated Press poll of 1,502 adults found that 54 percent support making it more difficult for people to sue doctors and hospitals for making mistakes, 32 percent are opposed, and the remainder are undecided or don’t know.

Support for limits on malpractice lawsuits was expressed by 61 percent of Republican respondents, 47 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of independents.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, limits on malpractice awards could reduce the federal deficit by $54 billion over 10 years. That’s because there’d be a decrease in the number of tests ordered by doctors caring for Medicare and Medicaid patients to protect themselves from lawsuits, the AP reported.

The survey found that 59 percent of respondents said they believe at least half of tests ordered by doctors are unnecessary and are prompted by fear of lawsuits.

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Movie Theater Popcorn High In Calories and Fat: Study

A medium popcorn and soda combo at a Regal movie theater has the same amount of calories as three McDonald’s Quarter Pounders with 12 pats of butter, a new study shows.

The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest found that the movie theater combo has 1,160 calories and three days (60 grams) worth of fat. A small popcorn has 670 calories — equivalent to a Pizza Hut Personal Pepperoni Pan Pizza, CBS News reported.

Regal is the largest movie chain in the United States. Similar fat and calorie levels were found at AMC, the nation’s second largest movie chain. The study appears in the December issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter.

“It’s hard enough for Americans to maintain a healthy weight even when limiting their eating to breakfast, lunch and dinner,” said CSPI senior nutritionist Jayne Hurley, CBS News reported. “Who realizes that they might be taking in a meal’s worth of calories during a movie? Splitting a medium popcorn with two other people sounds like a reasonable thing to do, but who would think they’re getting an entire day’s worth of saturated fat?”

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Study Suggests Racial Bias in Kidney/Pancreas Transplants

Doctor bias may keep black and Hispanic American patients from receiving kidney/pancreas transplants, suggests a new study.

In an effort to reduce racial and economic disparities, the federal government increased Medicare coverage for people requiring a simultaneous kidney/pancreas transplant. But this study found that blacks were 27 percent less likely than whites to be recommended for this type of transplant, and Hispanics were 25 percent less likely to be recommended, United Press International reported.

“So, the situation for African-Americans and Hispanics actually got worse instead of better,” study leader Dr. Keith Melancon, of Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, said in a news release. “I don’t think the medical community has been aggressive enough about kidney/pancreas transplant, especially in African-Americans who are assumed to have type 2 diabetes.”

The study was published in the American Journal of Transplantation.

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