Health Highlights: May 3, 2010

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Faulty Genes Cause Paget's Disease: Study

Faults in three genes cause the majority of cases of a painful bone condition called Paget's disease, researchers say.

They analyzed the DNA of 1,250 patients with Paget's and found that they had more faults than normal in three genes believed to regulate bone repair. Together, these gene faults account for 70% of cases of the disease, said the researchers, BBC News reported.

The study appears in the journal Nature Genetics.

The finding, which may explain why family history is a major risk factor for the condition, could lead to a screening test for Paget's disease.

"This is important since we know that if treatment is left too late, then irreversible damage to the bones can occur," said project leader Professor Stuart Ralston, of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, BBC News reported. "If we were able to intervene at an early stage with preventative therapy, guided by genetic profiling, this would be a major advance."


Risky Eyelash Treatment Easy to Get Without Prescription

People who buy Latisse, a treatment used to grow eyelashes, without a prescription may be putting themselves at risk, according to health experts.

Even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says a doctor's prescription is needed to obtain Latisse, the product is widely available without a prescription online and at locations such as health clubs, The New York Times reported.

"When the FDA approved this product for marketing, they made a determination that the side effects or misuse or inappropriate use could cause harm, and that's why they restricted it to a prescription drug," said Carmen A. Catizone, the executive director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. "If it was completely safe to use without doctor supervision, they would have deemed it over-the-counter."

Potential problems include redness, itchiness, irritation and eyelid discoloration. There's even a slight risk that Latisse could change a person's eye color from hazel or blue to brown.

Without a doctor's guidance, patients may face "a cumulative risk," Dr. Andrew G. Iwach, executive director of the Glaucoma Center of San Francisco, told The Times. "Let's say you use the product once inappropriately, or outside the approved guidelines, you might get away with it, but this drug is being applied repeatedly over weeks, months and potentially years. The consequences, or risk of consequences, add up over time."


FDA Plans to Improve Food Safety During Transport

New guidance to improve the safety of foods during transport were issued today by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The standards are designed to reduce physical, chemical and biological risks during transportation of food products for people and animals while the FDA reviews current food safety transportation regulations.

Among the guidance measures: maintain foods at proper temperatures during transport and closely monitor food for pests; vehicles used to transport food should be sanitary and in proper working condition; sanitary measures should be followed during the loading and unloading of foods.

The FDA is accepting input on writing the new rules. After evaluating the input from interested parties, the agency will propose specific regulations.

"Our aim is to look at every component of the system to assess hazards, and to take science-based action where appropriate to maximize the safety of our food from farms all the way to consumers' tables," Jeff Farrar, FDAs associate commissioner for food protection, said in a news release. Although contamination of food product during commercial transport is relatively infrequent, the potential harm can be widespread and serious."


Quality Lacking in Private Medicare Plans: Study

Many American seniors are enrolled in Medicare Advantage insurance plans that offer only fair to medium quality, says a new study.

The study by consulting firm Avalere Health found that 47% of Medicare beneficiaries are in plans that scored two or three stars out of five on a federal government rating system for consumers, the Associated Press reported.

Only 23% of seniors are enrolled in plans with four or five stars -- meaning very good to excellent quality, according to Avalere.

"There is obviously a wide variance in performance," said company president Dan Mendelson, the AP reported. "These ratings are about to become much more important. When you start linking quality to payment, you can bet the plans are going to be very motivated to bring the scores up."

Under the new health care law, insurance plans will be paid according to the quality of service they provide to clients.


Johnson & Johnson Subsidiaries Agree to $81 Million in Fines

Two subsidiaries of Johnson & Johnson will pay more than $81 million to settle charges of illegally promoting the epilepsy drug Topamax for treatment of psychiatric disorders, the U.S. Justice Department said Thursday.

The drug is approved in the United States for epilepsy and prevention of migraine headaches. Johnson & Johnson's Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals unit will pay more than $75 million. That unit's subsidiary, Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical, will plead guilty to a misdemeanor violation of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and pay a $6.1 million criminal fine, the Associated Press reported.

More than $9 million of the settlement will go to private citizens who launched two lawsuits under the False Claims Act.

Earlier this week, the federal government announced a $520 million settlement with AstraZeneca to resolve allegations of illegal marketing of the antipsychotic drug Seroquel, the AP reported.

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