Consumer Health Digest #06-41

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
October 11, 2006

Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., and cosponsored by NCAHF and Quackwatch. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.

Congressional candidate tied to improper human experiments. Victoria Wells Wulson, M.D., who is running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, has been linked to unethical human experiments in which live malaria parasites were injected into humans as a treatment for HIV infections. The experiments were conducted in Africa by Henry Heimlich, M.D. (popularizer of the "Heimlich Maneuver" for treating choking). In 2004, Heimlich engaged Wulsin to review his work on "malariotherapy" and write a business plan for promoting it. Wulsin concluded that "the preponderance of evidence indicates that neither malaria nor Immunotherapy will cure HIV/AIDS" and that the Heimlich Institute had been too secretive about its work. Despite claims by Heimlich that that no active work on malariotherapy was being done, Wulsin’s report shows that it was. When it became clear that the report would be made public by others, she released it but added an executive summary in which she claimed that her involvement with the Heimlich Institute was "strictly limited" to a research review. However, the original report indicates that she had access to experimental data, knew that something was radically wrong, and was aware of ethical violations that she should have reported to appropriate governmental authorities. The report also indicates that an "American sponsor" was collaborating with Heimlich, but Wulsin has refused to reveal the sponsor's name. During the past two years, Heimlich has also been widely criticized for claiming that his maneuver is effective as a first response to drowning. Quackwatch has posted a report that links to voluminous information posted by Heimlich's critics.

Mercola gets second warning letter. The FDA has ordered Joseph Mercola, DO and his Optimal Wellness Center to stop making illegal claims for four products. The order was based on product labels collected during an inspection at his facility and on claims made on the Optimum Wellness Center Web site. The objectionable claims include:

In 2005, the agency warned Mercola about claims for chlorella, coconut oil, and another product. is one of the Internet's largest and busiest health information sites. Mercola states that his site has over 50,000 pages and is visited by "millions of people each day," and that his twice-a-week electronic newsletter has over 850,000 subscribers. Many of his articles make unsubstantiated claims and clash with those of leading medical and public health organizations. For example, he opposes immunization and fluoridation, claims that amalgam fillings are toxic, and makes many unsubstantiated recommendations for dietary supplements. Much of his support comes from chiropractors who promote his newsletter from their Web sites.

Workers' Comp costs reduced in California. The Workers Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau (WCIRB) of California has reported that since a reform bill (SB228) took effect, the utilization of chiropractic services for workers' compensation has dropped 77% and the use of physical therapy services had dropped 61%. SB228, which took effect on January 1, 2004, limits employees to no more than 24 chiropractic and 24 physical therapy visits per industrial injury. The bill—part of a 6-bill package intended to curb runaway costs—was passed in the wake of reports that the costs of treating back strains and sprains for injured workers with physical medicine services, such as manipulations, exercise, hot and cold packs and massage were greater when the care was directed by chiropractors than when managed by physicians. However, it is not clear the extent to which the decreases are attributable to the SB 228 limitations rather than other reform provisions such as new utilization guidelines and the creation of medical utilization networks. [2006 Legislative Cost Monitoring Report. San Francisco: WCIRBCalifornia, released Sept 27, 2006]

"Personal belief" vaccination exemptions lead to higher pertussis rates. A study of immunization requirements has concluded that states that permit "personal belief" exemptions and/or easily grant exemptions are associated with higher rates of exemptions and whooping cough infections. All states allow medical exemptions, 48 permit exemptions based on religious objections, but 19 also allow exemptions based on philosophical or other personal beliefs. Some states make it easy for parents to claim an exemption by simply signing a prewritten statement on the school immunization form. Others make it harder by requiring a signature from a local health official, a personally written letter, notarization, or annual renewal. The study compared the ease of getting exemptions, the rates of nonmedical exemptions at school, and data on disease incidence for people aged 18 years or younger. [Omer SB. Nonmedical exemptions to school immunization requirements: Secular trends and association of state policies with pertussis incidence. JAMA 296:1757-1763, 2006]

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This page was posted on October 11, 2006.