Health Highlights: May 6, 2013
FDA Warns About Breast Cancer Drug Name Confusion Antibiotic-Resistant Gonorrhea Strain 'Very Dangerous' Pfizer Offers Viagra Online FDA Criticized for OK'ing Combo Cholesterol Pill Veterans at Higher Risk for Traffic Crashes
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
FDA Warns About Breast Cancer Drug Name Confusion
The generic names of two breast cancer drugs can cause confusion and lead to dosing errors, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns.
One drug's brand name is Kadcyla and its generic name is ado-trastuzumab emtansine. The other drug's brand name is Herceptin and its generic name is trastuzumab. Some electronic health record systems pharmacy prescription processing and ordering systems incorrectly use the name trastuzumab emtansine when referring to Kadcyla.
"The dosing and treatment schedules for Kadcyla and Herceptin ... are quite different, so confusion between these products could lead to dosing errors and potential harm to patients," the FDA said.
Since Kadcyla was approved on Feb. 22, 2013, there have not been any reported medication errors related to the confusion between Kadcyla and Herceptin. However, errors did occur during clinical trials for Kadcyla before its approval.
Health care professionals should use both the brand name for Kadcyla and its full generic name when writing medication orders or using computerized order entry systems, the FDA said.
Antibiotic-Resistant Gonorrhea Strain 'Very Dangerous'
The impact of an antibiotic-resistant strain of gonorrhea could match that of HIV/AIDS, according to some experts.
The strain, called HO41, has been placed in the superbug category along with other antibiotic-resistant bacteria, such as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), CNBC reported.
No deaths from HO41 gonorrhea have been reported, but this is "an emergency situation" and "it's getting more hazardous" as time passes, according to William Smith, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors.
"This might be a lot worse than AIDS in the short run because the bacteria is more aggressive and will affect more people quickly," Alan Christianson, a doctor of naturopathic medicine, told CNBC.
"Getting gonorrhea from this strain might put someone into septic shock and death in a matter of days," he explained. "This is very dangerous."
Pfizer Offers Viagra Online
In a first for the drug industry, Pfizer Inc. will start selling Viagra directly to patients on its website.
Men will still need a prescription to buy the erectile dysfunction drug on viagra.com but won't have to deal with a pharmacist, the Associated Press reported.
Pfizer's decision to sell Viagra online is an attempt to counter Internet pharmacies that sell counterfeit versions of the drug for a much cheaper price and with no prescription needed.
Counterfeit versions of many other brand-name drugs are also sold online and other major drug companies will be keeping close tabs on Pfizer's strategy, the AP reported.
FDA Criticized for OK'ing Combo Cholesterol Pill
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's recent approval of a new cholesterol-lowering pill called Liptruzet "just doesn't make any sense," an expert says.
Merck's new drug combines the generically available ingredient (atorvastatin) in Pfizer's Lipitor with Merck's Zetia (ezetimibe). While Zetia does lower "bad" LDL cholesterol linked with heart attacks and strokes, it is no more effective than drugs such as Lipitor, Crestor, or simvastatin, according to Forbes.com.
Unlike those other medicines, there is no evidence that Zetia prevents heart attacks or strokes, and there is no proof that Liptruzet prevents heart attacks, strokes or other cardiovascular events better than atorvastatin alone, according to Forbes.com.
A 2008 study failed to show that the combination of Zetia and simvastatin prevented artery hardening better than simvastatin alone.
A large study comparing the Zetia/simvastatin combination to simvastatin alone for preventing heart attacks, strokes and deaths is not due to be completed until late 2014 and many experts expected that the FDA would not consider approval of Liptruzet until the study was completed, Forbes.com reported.
Dr. Steven Nissen, chairman of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic and a longtime critic of Zetia, blasted the FDA's approval of Liptruzet.
"I find it astonishing that after all the controversy about ezetimibe the FDA would approve another combination product with a drug that has been on the market for a decade and has not been shown to improve cardiovascular outcomes," he told Forbes.com.
"It seems like the agency is just tone deaf to the concerns raised by many members of the community about approving drugs with surrogate endpoints like cholesterol without evidence of a benefit for the disease we are truly trying to treat -- cardiovascular disease," he said.
Nissen said the drugs can be prescribed separately if doctors want patients to have both of them. But due to the FDA's approval of the combination pill Liptruzet, it may be discovered that Zetia really doesn't prevent heart problems only after the medicine has become even more widely used.
Merck spokeswoman Pamela Eisele told Forbes.com that the company is "confident in ezetimibe and in the established relationship between lowering LDL cholesterol and reducing cardiovascular events."
Veterans at Higher Risk for Traffic Crashes
U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who have left military service have a 75 percent higher rate of fatal traffic crashes than civilians, according to The Washington Post.
It also said that veterans who have done multiple tours to combat zones are at highest risk for traffic crashes and that troops still in uniform are more likely to have traffic crashes in the months immediately after returning from deployment than in the months immediately before.
One explanation for the findings is that soldiers continue with driving habits that could prove lifesaving in war zones but are dangerous on America's roads. These behaviors include straddling lanes, racing through intersections, swerving on bridges and not wearing seat belts because they slow escape from the vehicle, The Post reported.
In addition, thousands of veterans have post-traumatic stress disorder, which increases aggressive driving. Research also suggests that drunken driving and thrill-seeking are more common among combat veterans.
The issue of traffic crashes among veterans was revealed by research along with the observations of soldiers, veterans and counselors, The Post reported.