Health News Update 17 September 2012

  • Popular antibiotics may carry serious side effects: Antibiotics are important drugs, often restoring health and even saving lives.  But like all drugs, they can have unwanted and serious side effects, some of which may not become apparent until many thousands of patients have been treated.  Such is the case with an important class of antibiotics known as fluoroquinolones.  The best known are Cipro (ciprofloxacin), Levaquin (levofloxacin) and Avelox (moxifloxacin).  In 2010, Levaquin was the best-selling antibiotic in the United States.  But by last year it was also the subject of more than 2,000 lawsuits from patients who had suffered severe reactions after taking it.  Part of the problem is that fluoroquinolones are often inappropriately prescribed.  Instead of being reserved for use against serious, perhaps life-threatening bacterial infections like hospital-acquired pneumonia, these antibiotics are frequently prescribed for sinusitis, bronchitis, earaches and other ailments that may resolve on their own or can be treated with less potent drugs or nondrug remedies – or are caused by viruses, which are not susceptible to antibiotics….The rising use of these potent drugs has…been blamed for increases in two very serious, hard-to-treat infections: antibiotic-resistant Stephylococcus aureus (known as MRSA) and severe diarrhea caused by Clostridium difficile“.  Some of the debilitating side effects of fluoroquinolones include severe joint pain, vision problems, dry eyes, mouth and skin, ringing in the ears, uncontrollable shaking, heart palpitations and muscle spasms.  In rare cases, the drugs have caused serious injury to the central nervous system (bringing on ‘brain fog’, depression, psychotic reactions and hallucinations), the heart, liver, skin (painful and disfiguring rashes and other problems), the gastrointestinal system and blood sugar metabolism.  “No long-term studies have been done among former users of these antibiotics.  Fibromyalgia-like symptoms have been associated with flurorquinolones, and some experts suggest that some cases of fibromyalgia may result from treatment with a fluoroquinolone….When an antibiotic is prescribed, it is wise to ask what the drug is and whether it is necessary, what side effects to be alert for, whether there are effective alternatives, when to expect the diagnosed condition to resolve, and when to call if something unexpected happens or recovery seems delayed.  At the same time, when an antibiotic is appropriately prescribed, it is extremely important to take the full prescription as directed and not to stop treatment when the patient simply begins to feel better.” (Jane E. Brody, NY Times)
  • Medicare gaps leave many with a big bill at end of life, study finds: “Many US seniors have trouble saving enough money to handle health costs beyond what Medicare covers, a new study suggests.  As a result, a significant portion of their savings and other assets go to paying their end-0f-life costs when they die.  In the past five years of life, out-of-pocket co-payments and deductibles, and the high cost of home care services, assisted living and long-term nursing home care cause 25 percent of seniors to spend more than their total non-housing assets, the study found.  ‘The biggest problem for many families is covering long-term care,’ said study author Dr. Amy Kelley, an assistant professor of geriatrics and palliative medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in New York City.  Kelley became interested in the issue of cost in the final years of life by working with patients and families who are struggling to make decisions while facing financial challenges.  ‘I see it every day.  Individuals facing retirement may not be aware of what Medicare doesn’t cover,’ she said….Kelley and her colleagues found that the average out-of-pocket health care spending by households of Medicare recipients in the last five years of life was nearly $39,000.  And 10 percent of recipients spent more than $89,000,  while 5 percent of recipients spent more than $139,000.  More than 75 percent of households spent at least $10,000, while 11 percent of  single and 9 percent of married households spent more than $100,000.  The amount of spending varied with the person’s illness.  Those with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia spent the most for health care, averaging about $66,000,  more than double that of those with cancer or gastrointestinal disease, who spent about $31,000.”  (HealthDay)
  • Topical products for muscle, joint pain may cause burns: FDA “Over-the-counter pain relievers designed to be rubbed into the skin — such as Bengay and Icy Hot — could cause skin injuries in rare cases, the US Food and Drug Administration is warning.  If you experience burning pain or blistering after using the products, the FDA says, you should seek medical attention right away.  The agency said it has received reports about severe skin injuries to people who use topical products to treat muscle and joint pain.  Other products include Capzasin, Flexall and Mentholatum.  People have developed mild to severe chemical burns, some within a day after using a product just one time.  Some burns were so severe that some people needed to be hospitalized, the FDA said.  ‘There’s no way to predict who will have this kind of reaction to a topical pain reliever for muscles and joints,’ Dr. Jane Fille, a medical officer in the FDA’s division of nonprescription regulation development, said in an FDA news release….Most of the severe burns occurred after the use of pain relievers that include menthol or a combination of menthol and methyl salicylate; higher concentrations (greater than 3 percent menthol or 10 percent methyl salicylate) were more problematic.  There were fewer cases involving products that contain another ingredient, capsaicin, the FDA said.  The FDA offers this advice:
    • Don’t apply these products to damaged or irritated skin.
    • Don’t put bandages on top of areas where you’ve applied one of the products.
    • After applying a product, don’t make the area hotter through the use of heating pads, hot water bottles or lamps.  That increases the risk of serious burns.
    • Don’t allow the products to touch your eyes or mucous membranes (that includes skin inside the nose, mouth and genitals).
    • If you experience pain after using one of the products,  be on the lookout for blistering or burning.  If you see any, stop using the product and get medical help. (
  • Cancers added to federal 9/11 health program: “About 50 types of cancers will be added to the US government’s list of illnesses linked to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and will be covered by the 9/11 health program, two New York state senators said [last] Monday.  According to the Associated PressSenators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer announced the move in a statement.  Unresolved questions about links between exposure to dust from the World Trade Center attacks and cancer had kept Congress from adding malignancies to the initial list of covered illnesses, the AP said.  However, last June the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health announced that it favored enlarging the $4.3 billion program to cover cancer.  An advisory panel said it was possible that first responders and others might have gotten cancer due to exposures to toxins in the dust.” (US Dept. HHS/HealthDay)



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