Top health outrages of 2009

Outrageous Contagious

For most of 2009, it’s been the Year of the Ox in China.

For everywhere else: Year of the Swine. Swine flu, that is. And what better place to start our year-end recap of the Top Outrages of 2009 than with the fearsome H1N1 “pandemic.”

I put “pandemic” in quotes because (here’s Outrage Number One) it would never have been a pandemic at all if World Health Organization officials hadn’t actually changed their definition of the word.

Before May 2009, a pandemic required “enormous numbers of deaths and illness.” Once those six words were removed from the definition, the pandemic was on! And so was the gold rush. Governments all over the world placed orders for hundreds of millions H1N1 vaccine doses.

Just two months later (Outrage Number Two), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised state health officials to do two things. 1) Stop testing patients for H1N1. 2) Stop counting cases of H1N1.

A CBS News reporter thought that was a bizarre move in the middle of a pandemic. So she asked CDC officials: Why stop testing and counting? The CDC response: No comment. So the reporter went state to state, checking on flu numbers and found that confirmed H1N1 cases accounted for only a small fraction of the total number of flu-like illnesses.

Gee. It’s almost as if there were no pandemic at all!

As the year closes, the only thing we can say for sure about H1N1 is that this mild flu has sold a boatload of vaccines that have been slow to arrive.

One word: Outrageous!

Putting on the squeeze

Outrage Number Three has pretty much flown under the radar. Unless you happen to be a hypothyroid patient.

Armour is the brand name of a natural desiccated thyroid treatment that provides the complete range of thyroid hormones. William Campbell Douglass, M.D., recommends it for all his hypothyroid patients. He says, “The majority of these patients experienced an almost immediate improvement.”

But this safe and effective non-drug treatment appears to be under stealth attack from the FDA (even though the use of desiccated thyroid actually predates the existence of the FDA!). The agency has asked several companies that produce desiccated thyroid to submit a new drug application for their products. These applications require research that costs millions of dollars, so most of the companies have to take their products off the market.

The result: a nationwide shortage of desiccated thyroid. This leaves hypothyroid patients only one choice – a synthetic drug treatment. In the New Year, we’ll probably learn the long-term fate of Armour and other natural desiccated thyroid products. I’ll keep you posted, but the outlook is not good.

Those are the top three outrages of the year. But there are plenty of worthy runner-ups that annoyed and infuriated in 2009.

“Boys to Men” (10/26/09)
FDA officials followed the recommendation of their Gardasil panel and approved the dangerous vaccine for all young men, ages 9 to 26, to prevent genital warts. Never mind that the long term efficacy and safety of the vaccine is unknown, or that some of the boys who received Gardasil in trials still developed genital warts, or that the FDA has received more than 15,000 adverse event reports for Gardasil use among girls. Just line your boys up, America, and allow Merck executives to collect millions of your dollars.

“Government Bailout” (1/28/09)
Last year, a two-year trial that compared the effects of Zocor (a statin) with Vytorin (a combination of Zocor and Zetia – a drug that blocks cholesterol absorption) found that both products reduced LDL cholesterol. Unfortunately, the thickness of artery walls INCREASED, on average, among 720 subjects. So FDA officials investigated, and issued their report last January: Yep. It’s true. LDL went down while artery walls narrowed. And the media response? You could hear crickets.

“Like Candy From a Baby” (7/29/09)
Despicable is a harsh word, but it may not be harsh enough to describe a hospital practice known as “Pit to distress.” Oxytocin is a hormone that naturally prompts contractions of the uterus during labor. Pitocin is a synthetic version of oxytocin, frequently used to induce or speed up labor. Doctors who want to move labor along quickly sometimes call for the highest dose of Pitocin, knowing the fetus will become distressed. The parents are informed that their baby is in danger, and everyone hurries to an operating room for an emergency cesarean section. And how common is “pit to distress”? One medical center professional told the Wall St. Journal, “Pitocin is used like candy in the OB world.”

“Peer Pressure” (6/1/09)
When an Australian man who was using Vioxx had a heart attack, he sued Merck. Nothing odd there. Vioxx has prompted thousands of lawsuits against Merck. But during the trial, a reporter discovered that Merck executives had created a journal titled Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, published from 2000 to 2005. To any casual observer (such as a busy doctor, for instance), the AJBJM appeared to be a legitimate, peer-reviewed medical journal. In fact, it was a marketing tool, filled with articles and studies that sang the praises of Merck products such as Fosamax and Vioxx.

“Golden Goose Egg” (3/16/09)
This year, a group of international scientists sent a letter of protest to Tufts University School of Medicine to express their “shock and unequivocal denunciation of the experiments being conducted by your colleagues which involve the feeding of genetically modified golden rice to human subjects (adults and children.)” According to the scientists, the Tufts experiments violate the Nuremberg code because they involve children as subjects (children can’t legally give their consent), and because no animal trials have been conducted to test the safety of golden rice. The capper: The experiments were administered and funded by the National Institutes of Health. That’s right: U.S. tax dollars at work, driving down ethical standards for research on children.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson

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