Over The Counter Genetic Test Unreliable Says Government

If you have thought about using on of the genetic test kits that only require you to spit in a cup and mail it in, the government wants you to think twice. In an undercover investigation the Government Accounting Office found them unreliable and of little use.

While all the tests have been available on the internet, Navigenics, deCode, Krome Inc., Pathway and 23andMe all came under GAO scrutiny when Pathway proposed selling their tests at Walgreen’s in May.

In the investigation 5 persons sent samples to 4 companies, when compared to their personal and family medical histories, the tests were wrong 68% of the time. In one instance a man, who uses a pacemaker for atrial fibrillation, was told that he was at low risk for the condition.

The report stated that the tests were, “misleading and of little or no practical use to consumers”.

The GAO has sent all five companies a letter informing them of their intent to bring them under FDA regulation. None of the firms had sought approval by the FDA earlier.

The companies have defended their product saying consumers have the right to know their own genome in order to make informed health decisions.


Health Insurance Premiums Up As Insurers Hoarding Cash

An independent study from Consumers Union is revealing that a number of health insurers are stockpiling billions of dollars but continue to raise premiums by double digits each year.

The study primarily investigated popular Blue Cross Blue Shield non-profit insurers, who cover roughly one in three Americans with a private insurance plan. While the law varies from state to state as to how much money an insurer must set aside to maintain minimal solvency, seven out of ten of the insurers carried three times the minimal amount. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona is holding seven times the minimal solvency amount, but raised its rates 14% to 19% for policy holders in 2007 and 13% to 15% in 2008. While Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona was one of the more egregious offenders, other insurers carried similar amounts of cash reserves and rate increases.

While insurers were quick to defend their reserves as necessary, Consumers Union believes that the law should require a maximum minimal insolvency amount in addition to the minimum. Considering the strength of the insurers’ current financial situations, Consumers Union suggested a refund to consumers, a fund to stabilize future rate increases, or charitable health care endeavors.


New Form of Child Abuse On the Rise: Drugs and Alcohol

Research published in the Journal of Pediatrics indicates the cases of adults dosing their children with common drugs is on the rise in the United States. The drugs include over-the-counter non-prescription varieties, as well as illegal drugs such as alcohol, cocaine and marijuana.

Dr. Shan Yin, of Denver’s Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center, helped to lead and author the study. The research covered over 21.4 million calls to the National Poison Data System from the year 2000 to 2008. Selecting cases classified as “malicious” in the database, Yin discovered 1,439 cases where a parent had drugged their child with malicious intent. 172 of the children received serious injury and 18 children died.

Yin was unable to fully articulate reasons for the cases as the records do not reflect motivation. He believes that standard causes for child abuse may be the reason. Yin says child abuse covers a wide spectrum, from people who are not deliberately intent on harming their child to adults who might be amused by a child’s intoxication in a sick and disturbing way.

Yin, a medical toxicologist, advised that child abuse standards should include drug abuses, as they currently cover emotional, physical and sexual harm only.


HHS rules in PCIP Abortion Issue

Trying to head off a potentially explosive mid-term election battle that has control of both houses of Congress up for grabs, Wednesday, the Health and Human Services spokeswomen Jenny Backus, has issued a release concerning abortion coverage under the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan. In the statement, “abortions will not be covered in the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) except in the cases of rape or incest, or where the life of the woman would be endangered.”

The Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan which got under way earlier in July, is a plan established to cover uninsured Americans unable to find coverage under a private carrier due to an existing medical problem. Coverage is set to begin August first with premiums, though varying from state to state, to be roughly on par with those paid by healthy Americans.

Abortion foes had been using the abortion issue as a way to chip away at the new Health Care legislation narrowly passed earlier this year and set to take effect in 2014. Hailing this a victory for anti-abortion advocates, Michigan Congressman Bart Stupak remarked, “They have made it very clear abortions are not going to be covered.”

Abortion advocates such as NARAL president Nancy Keenan attacked the decision as inexplicable and wrongheaded, and added further that it puts women’s lives in jeopardy.


The FDA Approves the Sale of Avandia

Earlier this week it was announced that a medical advisory panel recommended that the diabetes drug, Avandia, be pulled from the shelves or be strictly regulated due to its history of increasing the risk of heart attacks.

The FDA cracked down on the drug’s maker, GlaxoSmithKline, due to the fact that they failed to report heart failure as a negative side effect. Though it was recommended that the product be pulled from the shelves, the FDA did not adhere to the recommendation. The panel voted yesterday to keep the drug on the shelves; however, they will be required to have a stricter warning label. The vote was 20-12 to keep Glaxo’s drug on the market.

“Following today’s recommendations, we will, of course, continue to work with the FDA in the best interest of diabetes patients who face this chronic and serious disease,” said Ellen Strahlman, Glaxo’s chief medical officer. “Patients taking Avandia should speak with their physician about their treatment and any questions they may have regarding the safety of the medicine.”

While the FDA generally follows the recommendations from the medical advisory panel, they are not required to do so. This was the case with Avandia as the panel felt that the benefits outweighed the risks.


Medicare Scams Bust Lagrest in US History

Dozens of people were charged after law enforcement conducted the largest Medicare fraud bust in United States history. Arrests were made in Detroit, New York City, Miami, Houston and Baton Rouge.

Those charged are alleged to have tried to carry out scams that total $251 million. Doctors and nurses were among the 94 people that were arrested in the busts this week. Even though this was a huge bust, it represents just a dent in the estimated $60 to $90 billion in Medicare fraud that is committed each year.

The city of Miami was a prime target because it is considered to be ground zero for Medicare fraud. Authorities say around $3 billions dollars worth of fraud originates in the city each year. There were 33 people from Miami indicted on fraud charges. They accounted for around about $140 million in various scams that they tried to pull off.

Undercover agents were paid for use of their Medicare numbers. In most cases they were paid $50 to $100 per visit.

Authorities are worried about the growing number of violent criminals that are getting into scamming the Medicare system. These criminals see the Medicare fraud as more lucrative than dealing drugs with less severe punishment if they are caught.


Over 1000 Exposed to Dengue Fever In Florida

The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday that more than 1000 people in Key West, Florida had been exposed to Dengue Fever. No infections had been reported since 1934.

Dengue Fever is common outside the US, up to one million cases are reported annually. Characterized by high fever, muscle aches, fatigue, and headache, it kills more than 25,000 people a year.

In a statement The CDC’s, Dr. Harold Margolis, expressed concern that if dengue proliferates in Key West, it could spread to other cities where the mosquito that carries the disease is common.

A tourist that had traveled to Key West was reported to have come down with Dengue after returning to New York in September of 2009, followed by 27 more cases being confirmed by the first day of 2010. Since April of this year, 14 additional cases were reported.

Tourists are being cautioned to take measures against mosquito bite. If bitten by a carrier mosquito in The Keys, there is a chance a second bite after returning home could spread the disease through local mosquitoes.

The Monroe County Health Department medical director, says risk is minimal, the use of a insect repellant containing DEET is recommended.


Forty-eight cases of Salmonella have been reportedly linked to Subway

Forty-eight cases of Salmonella have been reportedly linked to Subway restaurants in eighteen Illinois counties, including the Chicago area Will County.

People were reportedly sick with Salmonella between May 11th and May 25th and had ranged from three years of age to eighty-eight. Out of the forty-eight sick, seventeen of them had tested positive for the strain Salmonella Hvitingfoss and were hospitalized due to the illness. All the people who were reportedly sick are safe and in recovery, according to the State of Illinois Public Health Dept.

Even though the outbreak may come as a surprise for Subway fans, this isn’t Subway’s first problem with the bacteria. In 2008, the chain sold contaminated meats for up to five months in Great Britain which led to 120 cases of salmonella and one death.

Since the Outbreak in May, there has been no official ruling as to what specific Subway product was contaminated with the bacteria. The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control are working with Subway to try to figure out what had caused the forty eight people to be suddenly sick with Salmonella.

The disease had been reported in the following Illinois Counties:
Bureau, Cass, Champaigne, Christian, Coles, Fulton, Lasalle, Macon,
Marshall, Moultrie, Ogle, Peoria, Sangamon, Schuyler, Shelby, Tazewell, Warren, and Will counties.

Symptoms of the bacteria include vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and fever. Symptoms usually occur between 6 and 72 hours after exposure and can last three to seven days in most patients. To avoid contracting the bacteria through person to person contact, it is recommended that people carefully wash their hands after using the bathroom.


Radiation shows promise for prostate cancer patients

Results from a recent study show that patients with prostate cancer, that has spread beyond the prostate, have reportedly higher survival rates when radiation is used alongside traditional hormonal therapy.

These findings were announced on Sunday during the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

It is estimated that at the time of diagnosis, nearly 20% of patients have a cancer that has already spread to other areas of the prostate; however, only half of them will opt for radiation as a form of treatment because it has been linked to urinary problems in prostate cancer patients. Patients currently are given a hormone therapy that blocks testosterone, the main culprit in the cancer’s growth.

In this clinical trial, 1,200 participants either received the just the hormone therapy, or a combination of hormones and radiation. During the seven year long study, the patients who received the radiation in conjunction with the hormones, lived six months longer, on average. At the conclusion, doctor’s reported that 74% of patients who received radiation were still alive, versus only 66% of the hormone only group. The incidence of side effects was also remarkably low, with only 2% of patients reporting serious problems during treatment.

Doctor’s now feel that radiation may be a valuable tool, along with hormones, in fighting a form of cancer that is many times considered incurable. It is estimated that 1 in 6 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. In the United States, prostate cancer claims the lives of approximately 27,360 patients annually.


New breakthrough in treating ovarian cancer

A new drug developed by a subsidiary of Roche pharmaceuticals, Genentech, has significantly increased survival time in patients with untreated ovarian cancer. Genentech, located outside San Francisco, has announced plans to apply to the FDA to use the drug for treatment of ovarian cancer as well as cancers of the colon and prostate.

The drug called Avastin, has been developed to target a specific protein called vascular endothelial growth factor. The protein is present in the body as a response to invading viruses of abnormal cells. Drugs that target the specific proteins that respond to this type of illness have been proven effective in reducing the duration of the illness as well as reducing the negative side effects other drugs previously used for this cancer treatment. This gives the patient a better quality of life as well as a more comfortable recovery period.

Dr. Robert A. Burger, of Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, has done a study of over 1,800 women with ovarian cancer. One third were given Avastin, one third, a placebo, and the other third, no treatment. Results have shown that the patients given Avastin remained in remission an average of five months longer than either control group. They also suffered less side effects, in general, than the group who received traditional cancer treatments for ovarian cancer. The Avastin patients did have some minor side effects as pain and gastrointestinal upset, but were far better than the control group received other chemotherapy.

This is an interesting, hopeful breakthrough for patients suffering from this devastating illness.