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Health Highlights: Aug. 29, 2006

Improper Use of Sunscreens Can Harm Skin: Study FDA Reviews Rule On Emergency Research Without Consent Gerald Ford Released From Mayo Clinic Medicare Recipients Told How to Repay Erroneous Refunds Another Suspected Bird Flu Case in Indonesia Experts Criticize Acne Drug Safety Program

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Improper Use of Sunscreens Can Harm Skin: Study

Unless it's continuously reapplied, sunscreen can actually attack the skin and leave it vulnerable to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, concludes a University of California, Riverside study.

The researchers found that, over time, molecules in sunscreen that block UV radiation can penetrate into the skin and leave the outer layer susceptible to UV, CBC News reported.

The study appears in an upcoming issue of the journal Free Radical Biology & Medicine.

"Sunscreens do an excellent job protecting against sunburn when used correctly," Kerry Hanson, a research scientist in the university's department of chemistry, said in a prepared statement.

"This means using a sunscreen with a high sun protection factor and applying it uniformly on the skin. Our data show, however, that if coverage at the skin surface is low, the UV filters in sunscreens that have penetrated into the epidermis can potentially do more harm than good," he said.

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FDA Reviews Rule On Emergency Research Without Consent

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is reviewing a regulation that allows clinical emergency research on patients when informed consent can't be obtained from the patients or their families.

The regulation, which came into effect in 1996, allows research studies to test emergency treatments on patients with specific life-threatening medical conditions including head trauma, cardiac arrest and stroke.

"On the 10-year anniversary of this regulation, it is appropriate that we review the regulation and get the perspectives of those who participated in such studies to make sure that emergency research is being carried out in a scientifically sound and ethical manner," Dr. Janet Woodcock, the FDA's deputy commissioner for operations, said in a prepared statement.

"Unless the medical community can conduct studies in these life-threatening emergency situations, we may not truly have scientifically validated solutions to benefit patients in these extremely difficult circumstances. It is critical that this type of research be conducted to help advance the practice of emergency medicine," she said.

The review includes a public hearing scheduled for Oct. 11 at the University of Maryland Shady Grove Center in Rockville. The FDA is also seeking written comment on a draft guidance that can be found at www.fda.govdockets/ecomments.

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Gerald Ford Released From Mayo Clinic

Former U.S. President Gerald Ford, 93, was discharged Monday from the Mayo Clinic, where he had a heart pacemaker implanted and also underwent angioplasty to reduce or eliminate blockages in coronary arteries.

A statement from the clinic said that Ford, who was admitted to the Mayo 10 days ago for "testing and evaluation," has returned to his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif., CNN reported.

Ford, the oldest living former U.S. president, has been hospitalized four times since last December. In late July, he spent two days in a Vail, Colo. hospital after he complained of shortness of breath.

Last January, pneumonia forced him to spend 11 days in a hospital near his home in Rancho Mirage. He was admitted to the same hospital in December for unspecified tests, CNN reported.

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Medicare Recipients Told How to Repay Erroneous Refunds

The estimated 230,000 U.S. Medicare beneficiaries who received mistaken refunds last week will get a letter this week instructing them how to repay the money, the federal government said.

The erroneous refunds, caused by a computer glitch, totaled $50 million. The average reimbursement per Medicare beneficiary was $215, the Associated Press reported.

The easiest method for people to repay the money is to write VOID on the face of the check and mail it to: Medicare-Drug Premiums, P.O. Box 9058, Pleasanton, CA 94566-9058.

That same address can be used by people who want to send a personal check or money order to reimburse the government. The check should be made payable to Medicare and should include a notation with the beneficiary's account number, the AP reported.

The federal government also said it will establish a toll-free telephone line for Medicare beneficiaries to find out if they're affected by the mistake. Operators will also be able to help callers arrange to have repayments withdrawn from their bank accounts and transferred electronically to the government. The toll-free number is 1-866-292-8080 and can be called between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. EDT.

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Another Suspected Bird Flu Case in Indonesia

A 60-year-old man from West Java in Indonesia has been admitted to hospital for treatment of suspected bird flu. The man is from the same area -- Cikelet -- where other people have been infected and killed by bird flu.

A health official said the man was admitted to hospital with high fever and respiratory problems, both symptoms of bird flu. He owned 10 chickens that died suddenly two days before he was taken to the general hospital in Garut, Agence France Presse reported.

In the past few days, thousands of domestic birds have been killed in Cikelet and more birds are due to be slaughtered, an official said.

So far, Indonesia has had 60 confirmed cases of bird flu, and 46 of them have been fatal, the highest number of deaths of any country, AFP reported.

Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous nation, has been criticized for not doing enough to control bird flu. Experts fear that the more cases of bird flu that occur, the greater the risk that the H5N1 virus will mutate into a form that's easily transmitted between humans. That could spark a global pandemic.

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Experts Criticize Acne Drug Safety Program

A dermatology group says that patients and doctors are having ongoing problems with a U.S. federal government program created to control access to the acne medication isotretinoin (brand name Accutane), which can cause birth defects if it's taken by pregnant women, the Associated Press reported.

The drug is also sold in three generic versions -- Amnesteem, Claravis and Sotret.

Nine out of 10 dermatologists report having problems with the iPledge program, concludes a survey released Monday by the American Academy of Dermatology, which has been critical of the program.

The survey included 378 doctors who prescribe the drug. About 80 percent of them said that their patients had experienced problems such as mandatory lockout periods that interrupt treatment, the AP reported.

Under the program, doctors, patients, pharmacies and drug wholesales have to be registered and activated in the computerized iPledge system to lawfully prescribe, sell, or take isotretinoin.

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