Health Highlights: May 1, 2007

FDA Warns of Online Counterfeit Drug Sales L.A. Has Worst Air Pollution No Rise in Cancer Risk From Low-Frequency Electromagnetic Fields FDA Can't Ensure Food Safety, Critics Say Alcohol Promotes Breast Cancer Tumor Growth: Study Teen Girls More Likely to Abuse Prescription Drugs

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

FDA Warns of Online Counterfeit Drug Sales

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned Tuesday that 24 apparently related Web sites that appear on pharmacycall365.com may be involved in the distribution of counterfeit drugs.

In recent months, the FDA has received reports that counterfeit versions of the weight-loss drug Xenical were obtained from consumers from two different Web sites. Further investigation revealed that the two Web sites (brandpills.com and pillspharm.com) involved in these incidents are among 24 that appear on the pharmacycall365.com home page under the "Our Websites" heading.

Previously, four of the 24 Web sites were identified by the FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations as being associated with the distribution of counterfeit Tamiflu and counterfeit Cialis.

It appears that these Web sites are operated from outside of the United States and the FDA strongly cautioned consumers against buying drugs from any of these Web sites. It also restated previous warnings about buying prescription drugs online.

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L.A. Has Worst Air Pollution

Los Angeles has the worst air pollution in the United States, according to the latest ranking by the American Lung Association.

Based on 2003 to 2005 data, the association found that the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside metropolitan areas had the worst air quality, followed by Pittsburgh, Bakersfield, Calif., Birmingham, Ala., Detroit, Cleveland, Visalia, Calif., Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and St. Louis, the Associated Press reported.

The rankings are based on levels of ozone pollution -- created when pollutants from cars, refineries, power plants and other sources react with sunlight and heat -- and particle air pollution.

Overall, the ALA found that nearly half of U.S. residents live in counties with unhealthy levels of particle or ozone pollution, the AP reported. However, it did find that there appear to be less ozone air pollution in many areas than in previous years.

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No Rise in Cancer Risk From Low-Frequency Electromagnetic Fields

Electricity workers don't face an increased cancer threat from low-frequency electromagnetic fields, says a Danish study that looked at the health and employment records of 28,000 electricity supply company workers dating back to 1968.

The researchers compared cancer rates among the workers to rates in the general population and concluded that exposure to low-frequency electromagnetic fields did not increase the risk of brain cancer, breast cancer, or leukemia, Agence France Presse reported.

The study findings contradict some previous lab studies that did suggest an increased cancer risk.

The study authors said their results indicate that there is no need to tighten international safety guidelines on occupational exposure to low-frequency magnetic fields, which have a frequency of 50-60 Herz, AFP reported.

The study was published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

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FDA Can't Ensure Food Safety, Critics Say

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn't have enough staff or funding to adequately inspect food imported into the United States or to keep the nation's food supply safe, critics warn.

"The public thinks the food supply is much more protected than it is. If people really knew how weak the FDA program is, they would be shocked," William Hubbard, a former associate commissioner at the agency, told The New York Times.

"With globalization, American food processors are turning to less-developed countries to get food ingredients because they can get them so much more cheaply," Hubbard noted.

In 2006, FDA inspectors sampled only 20,662 food shipments out of the more than 8.9 million that were unloaded at American ports, the Times reported. Of the 199,000 food shipments from China, less than two percent were sampled, according to former agency officials.

The agency is responsible for monitoring 80 percent of food in the United States, but inspects only about one percent of all food shipments that arrive at ports, according to federal government data.

The FDA has only about 1,750 food inspectors to cover the ports and food production plants in the United States. Most plants are checked by FDA inspectors only about once every five to 10 years, Hubbard told the Times. Food production plants in other countries are not regularly monitored by the FDA.

In related news, the FDA announced Tuesday the creation of the position of Assistant Commissioner for Food Protection, which will be filled by Dr. David Acheson, who is currently chief medical officer and director of the FDA's Office of Food Defense, Communication and Emergency Response.

In his new role, Acheson will provide advice to the FDA commissioner on food safety and food defense matters.

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Alcohol Promotes Breast Cancer Tumor Growth: Study

Just two alcoholic drinks a day can promote tumor growth in women with breast cancer, says a University of Mississippi study.

The researchers gave a group of female mice the equivalent of two to four drinks a day for four weeks. A control group of mice received no alcohol. Both groups of mice were injected with breast cancer cells, BBC News reported.

Four weeks later, the tumors in the mice that received the alcohol weighed an average of 1.4 grams, nearly twice that of the mice in the control group. The researchers believe that alcohol boosts the growth of blood vessels in cancer cells which, in turn, increases tumor growth.

The study was presented at a meeting of the American Physiology Society.

Previous research has shown that alcohol increases the risk of developing cancer. But the impact of drinking alcohol once cancer has been diagnosed has been less clear, BBC News reported.

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Teen Girls More Likely to Abuse Prescription Drugs

Teenage girls in the United States are more likely than teenage boys to abuse prescription drugs, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Officials said Monday that nearly one in 10 teenage girls used a prescription drug, such as tranquilizers or antidepressants, to get high at least once in the past year, compared with one out of 13 teenage boys, the Associated Press reported.

Females account for 55 percent of emergency room visits involving prescription drugs, but only 35 percent of ER visits involving illicit drugs.

When it comes to the use of illicit drugs, males have much higher rates than females. Unique pressures faced by girls may explain why they're more likely than boys to abuse prescription drugs, federal officials said.

They noted that women abuse drugs and alcohol to boost their confidence, lose weight, or reduce tension, while men do so for the sensation, the AP reported.

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