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Consumer Reports Health News
Date:9/16/2009

YONKERS, N.Y., Sept. 16 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Welcome to Consumer Reports Health News for health and medical journalists. Consumer Reports and ConsumerReportsHealth.org cover issues pertaining to the efficacy and safety of prescription and non-prescription drugs (including natural medicines), mental health, diet and nutrition, food safety, and fitness. CR tests health and fitness products, rates the effectiveness and affordability of prescription drugs, and evaluates the claims made by drug companies and the health care industry -- all without commercial agendas or advertiser influence.

PROSTATE CANCER: TO SCREEN OR NOT TO SCREEN?

September is National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. With celebrities like former tennis star John McEnroe promoting prostate cancer screening for men as young as 40 on Prime Time TV, consumers may get the impression that this early screening is a must-do for good health. In fact, as Consumer Reports Health notes, many doctors disagree on the value of the blood test, called a PSA test, used to detect prostate cancer. That's because research hasn't clearly shown that men who are screened are less likely to die from prostate cancer than men who aren't. And PSA tests aren't fail-safe; studies have found that men can suffer significant distress from a false-positive result. An expert medical panel that reviewed all the evidence on PSA tests recently concluded that there isn't enough solid research yet to support prostate cancer screening. In a recent blog, Consumer Reports discuss what's wrong with free prostate-cancer screening. To read the blog, go to the following url: http://blogs.consumerreports.org/health/2009/09/whats-wrong-with-free-prostatecancer-screening-yankees-psa-test-bat-for-the-cure-us-open-john-mcenro.html.

To learn more about prostate cancer, screening, and treatment, visit www.ConsumerReportsHealth.org.

It's also worth noting that McEnroe's campaign for early PSA screening was funded by the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline. Consumer Reports Health urges consumers to think twice about where their information is coming from and get the facts about who's behind the messages they're hearing on TV and elsewhere. Drug companies spend billions of dollars every year on direct-to-consumer advertising but all those minutes of air time aren't necessarily amounting to better information for consumers. Drug ads sometimes play down or omit information about nondrug options, or imply that a drug works wonders for everyone when in reality it works only marginally better than a placebo. For our critique of various drug ads, log on to the following url to view AdWatch: www.consumerreports.org/health/prescription-drugs/adwatch/overview/adwatch-hub.htm.

And if you're wondering who's influencing CR's message, the answer is clear: no one! That's because Consumer Reports doesn't accept advertising. CRH's report on prostate screening is the result of comparative effectiveness research (CER). As noted in a recent Consumer Reports Health blog (http://blogs.consumerreports.org/health/2009/02/comparative-effectiveness.html), there's a lot of buzz these days about CER, which uses evidence to determine which treatments are most effective clinically. With the implementation of more medical research, we might have a chance at reducing spiraling health costs while making sure that prescribed tests and procedures are well warranted.

HEALTH CARE COVERAGE CATCH-22

Susan Braig, 60, of Altadena, Calif., says her health insurance plan left her without coverage for tens of thousands of dollars worth of outpatient chemotherapy and radiation treatments after she developed breast cancer. Braig says her policy "covers almost nothing" and meanwhile her monthly premiums have increased. Still, she can't switch to a new policy because she has a pre-existing condition, which makes her undesirable to other insurers.

Under proposed health reforms, pre-existing conditions would be a non-issue. Health insurers could not decline customers, exclude coverage of certain conditions, or charge people higher premiums on the basis of their health history. Finding coverage would be easier, too: Consumers would go to a central health insurance exchange and choose from among a variety of plans. Read CR's blog about how health care reform would help the uninsured who are not yet 65: http://blogs.consumerreports.org/health/2009/09/how-health-reform-can-help-the-uninsured-age-65-and-people-with-preexisting-conditions.html.

WHO'S WORRIED ABOUT SWINE FLU?

A new national poll of more than 1,000 adults by Consumer Reports Health finds that 67 percent of Americans are "concerned" or "very concerned" about swine flu. Interestingly, though, concern about the flu is lowest among those most likely to be affected, adults under age 30, with 59 percent saying they were concerned. Those least likely to catch the flu, age 55 and up, were most concerned at 72 percent. So far, about 75 percent of hospitalizations from swine flu, and 60 percent of deaths have been among people under age 49, with the youngest adults and children most likely to catch the flu.

College students also fall into the age group most likely to catch the flu. And the close quarters of dorm rooms, classrooms, and college life in general create the perfect conditions for the virus to spread. Early surveillance already shows a pick-up in flu-like illnesses on campuses. Consumer Reports Health recommends staying on top of new developments through state and local health departments, taking preventive measures such as frequent hand-washing and proper diet and rest, and seeing a doctor quickly if main symptoms of swine flu occur. Consumers can also stay up to date on flu developments by visiting this dedicated area of our Web site: http://www.consumerreports.org/health/medical-conditions-treatments/swine-flu/index.htm.

What to pack in a swine flu emergency kit? Consumer Reports recommends at least three days' worth of nonperishable, ready-to-eat foods; at least one gallon of water (preferably bottled) per person per day for three days; and a comprehensive first-aid kit. Those are just some of the key items you should pack in a swine flu emergency kit. For more details, visit www.ConsumerReportsHealth.org.

SHOPPING FOR COLD, FLU, AND ALLERGY DRUGS

Choosing the right remedy for the common cold has become a complicated decision -- ditto for flu and allergy drugs. For example, Tylenol sells 11 products for colds and coughs and another seven for allergy and sinus problems -- not including the formulations for children. A new guide by Consumer Reports Health offers advice on what to buy, what to skip, and what to beware of.

Generally, Consumer Reports Health recommends shopping by the active ingredients -- preferably one -- in a drug, not by brand. In addition, consumers should consult a doctor before taking an over-the-counter drug that was formerly prescription-only.

For colds, the best remedies are usually the simplest and often found in the kitchen, not a drugstore. Consumer Reports Health suggests a saltwater gargle for a sore throat and honey or other non-medicated lozenges for a cough. Everyone should get an annual shot against seasonal flu. Antivirals are effective at treating flu symptoms, but they're best if taken within 48 hours of symptoms and overuse is to be avoided to prevent development of antiviral-resistant strains. For allergies, prevention by limiting exposure to triggers is often key. Generic over-the-counter drugs are often a good first choice for controlling allergy symptoms, according to Consumer Reports Health. To read the full report, go to www.ConsumerReportsHealth.org.

SEPTEMBER 2009

The material above is intended for legitimate news entities only; it may not be used for commercial or promotional purposes. Consumer Reports on Health(R) is published by Consumers Union, an expert, independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves. To achieve this mission, we test, inform, and protect. To maintain our independence and impartiality, Consumers Union accepts no outside advertising, no free test samples, and has no agenda other than the interests of consumers. Consumers Union supports itself through the sale of our information products and services, individual contributions, and a few noncommercial grants.


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