HEALTH

Obama administration: It is time to plan, prepare for upcoming flu season

BY Michael Johnsen

BETHESDA, Md. The Obama administration sent a message to the nation Thursday that it is time to start planning and preparing for the fall flu season and the ongoing H1N1 flu outbreak.

White House Homeland Security adviser John Brennan, secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined with delegations from 54 states, tribes and territories Thursday at the H1N1 Influenza Preparedness Summit at the National Institutes of Health here to kick-off the government’s nation-wide fall flu preparedness efforts.

“The President and the administration are actively engaged in mitigating the effects of the H1N1 flu virus and developing a national response framework and action plan that builds on the efforts and lessons learned from this spring’s initial onset to prepare for the possibility of a more serious fall outbreak of the virus,” stated Brennan in his address to summit participants.

“Over the course of coming weeks and months, we will move aggressively to prepare the nation for the possibility of a more severe outbreak of the H1N1 virus,” added Sebelius. “We ask the American people to become actively engaged with their own preparation and prevention. It’s a responsibility we all share.”    

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley moderated a Governors panel with participation via videolink from Govs. Jim Douglas of Vermont, Jim Doyle of Wisconsin, Mark Parkinson of Kansas, John Baldacci of Maine and Jodi Rell of Connecticut.

“The experience in the spring taught us that while earlier pandemic flu planning efforts were effective,” O’Malley said. “We share the commitment of the Obama Administration to constantly monitor, evaluate and improve these processes.”

As part of the preparedness plan, HHS will make available preparedness grants worth a total of $350 million. These grants were funded by Congress in the latest supplemental appropriations bill and they will give state and local public health offices and health care systems resources to step up their preparedness efforts.

In addition, the federal government will centralize communications about H1N1 and seasonal flu on the federal government’s new Web site www.flu.gov. This one-stop comprehensive site brings together flu-related information from across HHS and other federal agencies. The expanded site builds on the pandemic planning information long presented on www.pandemicflu.gov, and incorporates information about the novel H1N1 flu as well as the seasonal flu.

Finally, HHS is launching a new PSA campaign contest to encourage more Americans to get involved in the nation’s flu preparedness efforts by making a 15-second or 30-second PSA. Officials at the summit stressed the idea of “shared responsibility” when it comes to combating the flu and the goal of the new HHS PSA campaign contest is to tap into the nation’s creativity to help educate Americans about how to plan for and prevent the spread of H1NI influenza. HHS will evaluate submissions and will present the best PSAs back to the public so everyone can vote on their favorite submission. The winning PSA will receive $2,500 in cash and will appear on national television.

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CRN criticizes CSPI’s allegations over increased health risks associated with selenium intake

BY Michael Johnsen

WASHINGTON As part of its efforts to address misconception and misdirection around the safety and efficacy of dietary supplements, the Council for Responsible Nutrition on Tuesday issued a release criticizing the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s recent allegations that there are increased health risks associated with selenium intake.

“It is disappointing to read the kind of fear-mongering that is being attributed to the Center for Science in the Public Interest in connection with its campaign to clarify the permissible health claims that can be made for selenium and certain kinds of cancer,” stated Steve Mister, president and CEO, CRN. “Recently CSPI has been quoted as issuing statements like, ‘[selenium products] are dangerous to the health of men suffering from prostate cancer,’ ‘ may increase the risk of diabetes and hypertension,’ and that, ‘the [selenium] products pose a health risk to consumers because results from studies associate selenium intake with increased risk of developing diabetes and with increased risk of aggressive prostate cancer.’”

However, the authors of that study associating selenium with increased diabetes risk — the SELECT trial — “have themselves been very careful to state that any increased risk of diabetes that might have been associated with the SELECT trial was not statistically significant and may have been due to chance,” Mister said. “It is more than a little disingenuous to keep raising the specter of increased chance of diabetes from non-statistically significant data from a single study that may be due to chance.”

Likewise, CSPI has speculated about the dangers to men suffering from prostate cancer who supplement with selenium. CRN is not aware of any hard data that even remotely suggests that men with prostate cancer are turning to selenium as a cure or treatment, the association stated. Nor is there data that these men are forgoing their chemo-treatments or cancer drugs in favor of selenium.

The published study that CSPI cites in support of the allegations that selenium is associated with aggressive prostate cancer — Journal of Clinical Oncology, June 2009 — does not support that conclusion, Mister said.

“The real issue that is under scrutiny is whether the claim that selenium can reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer is adequately supported by the evidence,” Mister added. “CRN and CSPI can certainly disagree about that and whether particular claims appropriately communicate to consumers their risk of developing cancer; it would be entirely appropriate for CSPI to urge FDA to deny the claim while CRN argues that the data is sufficient to support such a claim. But it’s quite disturbing to see CSPI resorting to this kind of hyperbole to attract headlines and divert attention from the real issues.”

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NACDS announces support of new methamphetamine legislation

BY Michael Johnsen

WASHINGTON A law that would expand the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 was introduced last month by Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn. The bill would require distributors of pseudoephedrine products to sell only to self-certified retailers registered with the Drug Enforcement Agency.

It also would require the DEA to create an online database where distributors could check if retailers have certified that staff has been properly trained. The bill also would clarify that a retailer who negligently fails to file self-certifications, as required, can face civil fines.

The National Association of Chain Drug Stores expressed its support of the legislation. “These provisions will help prevent the diversion of pseudoephedrine … products for illegitimate purposes, while still allowing consumers with legitimate needs to access these necessary medications,” stated NACDS president and CEO Steve Anderson in a recent letter to Gordon.

“Even with the 2006 law, our country still has a huge meth problem,” stated Gordon in introducing the legislation, called the Combat Methamphetamine Enhancement Act of 2009. “In Tennessee alone, which leads the Southeast in the number of meth labs, 1,300 labs are expected to be seized by the year’s end. We need to do what we can to further reduce access to meth ingredients — this bill will do just that.”

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., is co-sponsor of the bipartisan legislation. “Over the years, the Drug Enforcement Agency has had trouble identifying noncompliant stores — with the number of stores estimated to be in the tens of thousands,” Sensenbrenner said. “This legislation will make it tougher for individuals to make meth, and therefore make it even more difficult to buy meth.”

According to the DEA Web site, 53,989 retailers had self-certified and registered their operations by Oct. 27, 2008, including 27,678 pharmacies and drug stores. The self-certification program includes a documented training program for all employees engaged in the sale of PSE products.

The Combat Methamphetamine Enhancement Act already has passed the Senate with bipartisan support after being introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in January. The legislation presently is before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

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