Consumer Health Digest #07-39

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
October 9, 2007

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.

"Chronic Lyme disease" concept questioned. The New England Journal of Medicine has published a review article that criticizes the "imprecisely defined condition" referred to as chronic Lyme disease." This term is used by a small number of practitioners (often self-designated as "Lyme-literate physicians") to describe patients whom they claim have persistent Borrelia burgdorferi infection, which they suggest requires long-term antibiotic treatment and may even be incurable. Once the spurious diagnosis of chronic Lyme disease is made, patients are commonly treated for months to years with multiple antimicrobial agents, some of which are inactive against B. burgdorferi in laboratory tests. The authors conclude:

Chronic Lyme disease is the latest in a series of syndromes that have been postulated in an attempt to attribute medically unexplained symptoms to particular infections. Other examples that have now lost credibility are "chronic candida syndrome" and "chronic Epstein-Barr virus infection." The assumption that chronic, subjective symptoms are caused by persistent infection with B. burgdorferi is not supported by carefully conducted laboratory studies or by controlled treatment trials. Chronic Lyme disease, which is equated with chronic B. burgdorferi infection, is a misnomer, and the use of prolonged, dangerous, and expensive antibiotic treatments for it is not warranted. [Feder H and others. A critical appraisal of "chronic lyme disease." New England Journal of Medicine 357:1422-1430, 2007]

For additional information about Lyme disease, see Quackwatch.

FTC expands attack on Trudeau book infomercial.The FTC has charged the marketers of Kevin Trudeau’s book, The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About, with misrepresenting the book’s contents in their infomercial. [FTC charges marketers of “Weight-Loss Cure” book with misrepresenting book’s contents. FTC news release, Oct 5, 2007] The ad claims that the weight-loss plan outlined in the book is easy to do, can be done at home, and ultimately allows readers to eat whatever they want. However, the plan is complex and grueling and requires severe dieting, daily injections of a prescription drug that consumers cannot easily obtain, and lifelong dietary restrictions. The FTC has already filed similar charges against Trudeau. [FTC: Marketer Kevin Trudeau violated prior court order: Charges him with misrepresenting contents of book. FTC news release, Sept 14, 2007] The new complaint targets Direct Marketing Concepts, Inc., ITV Direct, Inc., and the two individuals who jointly control the two companies, Donald Barrett and Robert Maihos. In 2004, the Commission sued the same four defendants for making deceptive advertising claims for two dietary supplements and billing consumers’ credit cards without authorization. Trudeau and ITV Direct are accusing the FTC of trying to suppress their free speech. However, although the First Amendment protects the contents of books, ads for books are commercial speech that is not legally permitted to misrepresent what the book says.

NHS homeopathic coverage shrinking. Spurred in part by letters from prominent scientists, the United Kingdom's National Health Service is reducing coverage of homeopathic treatment. During the past two years, more than half of the NHS regional administrative agencies have eliminated or sharply reduced coverage. Loss of government funding is a serious blow to the UK's four homeopathic hospitals, at least one of which appears likely to close next year. [Barrett S. Another UK health service agency ends homeopathy funding. Homeowatch, Oct 12, 2007]

"Ghost hunter" convicted. Susan Crites, founder and president of the now-defunct West Virginia Society of Ghost Hunters, has been convicted of three misdemeanor charges of practicing medicine and five of counseling without a license. One former client who testified at the trial said that Crites offered pain therapy for what was later diagnosed as ovarian cancer. There was also testimony that Crites falsely represented herself as a medical doctor and a psychiatrist. No complaints were made about Crites's "ghost-hunting" activities. Sentencing is scheduled for December 10th. [Hough L. Ghost hunter found guilty The Journal (Martinsburg, WV) Sept 24, 2007] Crites claims innocence and has said she will appeal.

FTC debunks cell-phone scare message. The FTC has again stated that despite the claims made in e-mails circulating on the Internet, consumers should not be concerned that their cell phone numbers will be released to telemarketers in the near future, and that it is not necessary to register cell phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry to be protected from most telemarketing calls to cell phones. Federal Communications Commission regulations prohibit telemarketers from using automated dialers to call cell phone numbers. No cell phone directory is imminent. Because automated dialers are standard in the industry, most telemarketers would barred from calling consumers on their cell phones without their consent even if a directory were issued. [The truth about cell phones and the Do Not Call Registry. FTC news release, Oct 12, 2007]

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