Consumer Health Digest #10-12

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
March 25, 2010

Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., with help from William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H. 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.

Serious new acupuncture infection risks described. Microbiologists at the University of Hong Kong are concerned that the threat of infections associated with acupuncture may be much greater than previously thought. In a British Medical Journal editorial, the researchers warned that bacterial infections, hepatitis B and C viruses, and possibly even HIV may be transmitted through the use of contaminated equipment and lack of adequate skin disinfection. They expressed particular concern about mycobacteria that can grow rapidly where needles are inserted and lead to large pustules, abscesses, and ulcers after several weeks to months. Two outbreaks involving more than 70 patients were reported in 2006, and a case of methicillin resistant Staph aureus (MRSA)was reported last year. [Acupuncture transmitted infections. British Medical Journal 340:c1268, 2010]

Blood pressure device claims challenged. Device Watch has posted a detailed report on the CardioVision, an automated blood pressure cuff intended to measure the stiffness of the walls of the brachial artery at the elbow. [Barrett S. Be wary of CardioVision assessment. Device Watch, March 25, 2010] Marketers claim that the device is useful for assessing heart attack risk and monitoring the effect of cholesterol-lowering and other risk-factor changes. The report concludes:

Arterial stiffness measurements can identify some people who are at risk for cardiovascular disease. However, they are not as reliable or cost-effective as standard blood pressure and cholesterol screenings. Some practitioners use CardioVision as a gimmick to sell inappropriate chelation therapy. Some use it as a simple way to boost their income, and some may be submitting inappropriate procedure codes on insurance claims.

Cancer news reports may be overly optimistic. Researchers who surveyed 13 prominent newspapers and magazines have concluded that (a) stories about cancer often discuss aggressive treatment and survival but rarely discuss treatment failure, adverse events, end-of-life care, or death; (b) these portrayals may give patients an inappropriately optimistic view of cancer treatment, outcome, and prognosis; and (c) insufficient attention is paid to how palliative and hospice care compare with "heroic" attempts at cures. [Fishman J and others. Cancer and the media: How does the news report on treatment and outcomes? Archives of Internal Medicine 170:515-518, 2010] An accompanying editorial offers one reason for this imbalance:

Hopeful stories . . . . increasingly come directly from the medical literature, which has a well-oiled machine for getting its most promising "breakthrough" research into the nation's premier newspapers and news magazines. The leading medical journals routinely issue press releases well in advance of publication to give reporters adequate time to accurately report stories. Some hold briefings that can be accessed via the Internet. But instead of improving coverage, this public relations machinery has fed a proliferation of news services that provide short synopses of the latest clinical trials. . . by reporters no longer given the time and resources to put the latest research in a larger context.

[Goozner M. Covering cancer: Comment on "Cancer and the Media." Archives of Internal Medicine 170:518-520, 2010]

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This page was revised on March 26, 2010.