Consumer Health Digest #19-19

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
May 12, 2019

Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H., with help from Stephen Barrett, M.D. 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. Its primary focus is on health, but occasionally it includes non-health scams and practical tips.

Consuming human placenta products discouraged. Health Canada is warning mothers and others who may be consuming placenta preparations that:

[Human placenta products for consumption not authorized in Canada, may pose serious risks. Health Canada press release, Nov 27, 2018] After reviewing the relevant scientific literature, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) also warned that the practice has no proven benefit and is potentially dangerous. [New SOGC Committee Opinion discourages the practice of placentophagy. SGOC press release. April 30, 2019] Various celebrity influencers have misled their social media followers by touting supposed benefits. [Kappler M. Health Canada says you probably shouldn't eat your placenta. Huffington Post Canada. Nov 28, 2019] In 2016, a severe bacterial infection in an infant was was linked to its mother's consumption of her own placenta that had been made into pills after she had given birth. [Buser G. and others. Late-onset infant group B Streptococcus infection associated with maternal consumption of capsules containing dehydrated placenta—Oregon, 2016. MMWR 66:677-678, 2017]

Medical records of anti-vaccine physician subpoenaed. The San Francisco City Attorney has issued a subpoena for anonymized medical records of Kenneth Paul Stoller, M.D., a vocal opponent of vaccines. The City Attorney's Office is investigating whether Stoller violated state nuisance laws by providing medical exemptions for patients who didn't qualify for them. (The laws define nuisance as anything that is injurious to health.) [Herrera issues subpoena to anti-vaccine doctor. City Attorney of San Francisco Press Release. May 8, 2019] In an interview for an anti-vaccine website, Stoller said he bases his medical exemption decisions on two 30-minute visits and a 23andMe genetic test. However, 23andMe's Web site states that its tests are "not intended to tell you anything about your current state of health, or to be used to make medical decisions, including whether or not you should take a medication, how much of a medication you should take, or determine any treatment."

Senate Bill 277, which took effect in 2016, requires students attending any public or private school in California to be vaccinated unless they qualify for a valid medical exemption. The valid reasons include allergy to vaccine components and certain types of cancer chemotherapy. The law eliminated religious and philosophical exemptions for childhood vaccination, but since it took effect, the number of medical exemptions issued in California has increased dramatically. Senate Bill 276, which was introduced in 2019, is intended to curb improper medical exemptions by requiring the State Public Health Officer or a designee to approve or deny them. The bill, which has passed the Senate Health Committee faces aggressive opposition by anti-vaccine activists despite overwhelming scientific evidence that vaccines are beneficial.

Warning issued against "free" DNA testing for cancer. The Maryland Attorney General has warned consumers to be suspicious of companies that purport to offer "free" DNA testing of saliva to check for cancer. Scammers offer the testing over the phone and at health fairs, assisted living homes, and senior events to trick people into giving away their Medicare information and Social Security numbers for the purpose of committing identity theft and fraud. In other states, scammers have claimed to be affiliated with a local Medicaid insurer. [Attorney General Frosh warns Marylanders about DNA testing scam targeting Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. Maryland Attorney General press release. May 8, 2019]

Evidence found lacking for Rapid Prompting Method as autism spectrum aid. A systematic review of the literature has found no experimental studies indicating that the Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) enhances motor, speech, language, and communication or decreases problem behaviors in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). [Schlosser RW. and others. Rapid Prompting Method and autism spectrum disorder. Systematic review exposes lack of evidence. Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, April 2019] RPM's developer, Soma Mukhopadhyay, is the Executive Director of Education at Helping Autism for Learning and Outreach (HALO). Mukhopadhyay describes RPM as an instructional, therapeutic, and communication technique in which a facilitator (a) holds and moves a letter board while the child makes selections, (b) repositions the board between selections, and (c) provides verbal and gestural prompts for pointing to letters to spell out words. It is similar to the discredited technique of facilitated communication (FC) in which a facilitator supports the hand or arm of a severely didsabled person who spells out a message using a keyboard or other device containing a list of letters, numbers, or words. Critics of RPM and FC believe that the messages produced with either technique are generated by the facilitators.

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This page was posted on May 12, 2019.