Health Shots: Ghosts, Oil, Antibiotics, and Dirty Hands

Photo by Armin K├╝belbeck, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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From some of the latest medical findings: how to exit the superhighway of antibiotic resistance; why ghostwriting medical papers is a bad idea; what physicians should know about BP’s oil spill; and how best to dry your supposedly-clean washed hands.

  • To avoid a public health crisis from rapidly rising rates of antibiotic-resistant infections, the US should focus on minimzing the use of antibiotics rather than continuing with the current pharmaceutical reimbursement system, which gives companies an incentive to oversell antibiotics before resistance sets in. This according to a new analysis by Public Health Law Research.
  • A new paper in PLoS Medicine analyzes 1,500 documents unsealed in recent litigation against pharma giant Wyeth (now part of Pfizer). The findings: that ghostwritten reviews and commentaries published in medical journals were used to promote unproven benefits and to downplay harmful aspects of the drug Prempro, a menopause hormone therapy. Wyeth used a medical education & communication company, DesignWrite, to produce ghostwritten articles in order to mitigate the perceived risks of breast cancer associated with Prempro, to defend its unsupported cardiovascular ”benefits,”  and to promote off-label, unproven uses such as the prevention of dementia, Parkinson’s disease, vision problems, and wrinkles. The ghostwritten papers, which were widely circulated among drug reps and doctors, also disparaged competing therapies.
  • BP’s Gulf oil spill poses direct threats tohuman health from inhalation and from skin contact with oiland dispersant chemicals. It also poses indirect threats to food (seafood) safetyand to mental health. A new paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that physicians familiarize themselves with a long list of healtheffects from oil spills, some of which are otherwise rare, in order to advise, diagnose, andtreat patients from the Gulf Coast and elsewhere.
  • Not drying your hands thoroughly after washing them could increase the spread of bacteria. Rubbing your hands under a conventional electric hand dryer could too. New research in the Journal of Applied Microbiology examined the many ways to dry your hands (paper towels, traditional hand dryers that rely on evaporationrubbing your hands together, plus a new hand dryer that strips off water using high velocity air jets). Their findings: hand washing diminishes but doesn’t destroy bacteria, and if the hands remain damp then bacteria are more easily transferred to other surfaces. Among the dirtiest methods: electric driers that require you rub your hands together. The best: paper towels.


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