Environmental Nutrition Newsletter
Premium Health News Service
2:30 AM PDT, April 3, 2013
WHY YOU STILL NEED PERTUSSIS VACCINATION
You might have assumed that you no longer need to be vaccinated for diseases that normally strike in childhood, including pertussis, or whooping cough. Yet a recent study published in the December 2012 journal Clinical Infectious Diseases underscores the need for older adults to also get vaccinated, as rates of this disease have risen in all age groups.
When researchers in Australia looked at a database of pertussis records, they found that the incidence of this disease was about 30 percent higher in women--and older adults who are infected are more likely to need hospitalization.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the actual number of adults over age 65 with pertussis may be much higher than we realize, because many cases go unreported. As of February 2012, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices began recommending the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) vaccine for all adults age 65 and older. -- Harvard Women's Health Watch
GENERICS AS SAFE AS BRAND-NAME DRUGS
The December 2012 recall of generic atorvastatin pills manufactured by Ranbaxy, an FDA-licensed company in India, reignited concerns about the safety of generic medications. Although there were no reported injuries from small glass particles that found their way into the product, people taking the medication were understandably worried that the tablets might be dangerous.
The incident underscored the fact that Americans are generally skeptical of generic medications, often viewing them as inferior to brand-name products.
John Fanikos, a pharmacist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Mass., would like to put concerns to rest.
"I am quite comfortable in taking generics myself and in dispensing them for patients in my hospital," he says.
Two separate issues
When it comes to the safety of generics, there are two issues to consider: are they comparable to name-brand drugs, and are they manufactured according to the same standards?
In the United States, a generic must have the same active ingredients and perform the same way in the body as the name-brand drug. Multiple studies have shown that generics perform as well as their name-brand equivalents.
The drug-manufacturing process, however, has room for error. As a result, Fanikos says recalls are common for both name-brand and generic products.
"Generally, the problems are harmless. Perhaps they haven't filled the container with the right amount, or the color is off, or the size of the pill is wrong," Fanikos says. "Sometimes a failure in the manufacturing process causes contamination of the product, and that's what happened at Ranbaxy."
According to FDA protocol, as soon as Ranbaxy realized they had a problem, they halted the manufacturing process and recalled the drug before anyone was injured by taking it.
Filling a need
The popularity of generics is attributed to their cost, which can be dramatically lower than that of the brand-name drug. Lipitor, for example, costs pharmacies $3.80 per pill, while generic atorvastatin costs them 13 cents.
Value aside, generic drugs are necessary to meet demand for the billions of pills consumed worldwide every year.
"Without these companies, we'd have a drug shortage," Fanikos says.
The FDA monitors multiple manufacturers in the U.S. and abroad and oversees the manufacturing processes in these factories. Some major pharmaceutical companies--Pfizer, Sandoz, Novartis, and Abbott among them--sell their own brand-name products as generics under different names and at a lower price.
Will recalls continue to occur? Fanikos says the answer is certainly "yes."
"There are always going to be small problems that arise, because manufacturing is not a perfect process. But with the infrastructure the FDA has put in place, and manufacturer quality controls, issues are caught relatively quickly. In the overall scope of manufacturing billions of pills every year, the number of problems is infinitesimally small," he says. -- Harvard Heart Letter
ECG? THERE'S AN APP FOR THAT!
People with heart disease will soon be able to provide vital information about their heart rhythm to their health care provider without making a visit to the doctor's office.
In December, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a mobile electrocardiogram (ECG) device that attaches to the back of an iPhone 4 or 5. To record an ECG, the user simply presses the fingers of both hands onto the electrode pads.
The information is analyzed by an app, then transmitted digitally for storage on the company's website, where it can be accessed by a doctor. -- Harvard Heart Letter
HIGH-TECH WAYS TO BETTER SHOE FIT
Relieving pain in your knees, hips, and back may begin with your feet.
If you're looking to update your athletic shoes before going for a walk or run in the warmer weather, you may be tempted to try out some high-tech machines in specialty shoe stores that boast a better fit. Do they really work?
"Yes, but technology is only as valuable as the person interpreting the data," says David Nolan, a physical therapist with the Orthopaedics Sports Performance Center Running Program at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
The right support in your shoes can stave off foot problems that lead to knee, hip, and back problems and raise the risk of falls and fractures. New high-tech machines in shoe stores can point out where you need that support.
The machines fall into two categories: foot scanners and gait analyzers. Scanners are usually computerized mats you stand on that map the pressure points on the soles of your feet. This map can help determine your arch type and whether you need special arch supports called orthotics.
Gait analyzers record the characteristics and support needs of your feet in motion. The machines range from computerized mats to treadmills with video cameras. It takes a trained salesperson "with an understanding of shoe construction and the mechanics of mobility to get the fit right," says Nolan. "Many people in the shoe industry have some training to successfully assess most people."
Better walking or running shoes can help you reach the recommended weekly goal of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity--such as brisk walking--without foot pain or the risk of foot problems. -- Harvard Health Letter
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