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Health Highlights: Oct. 29, 2008

FDA Didn't Properly Assess BPA Health Risks: Experts Cold Germs Found on Many Household Surfaces Doctors Show Bias Against Black Patients: Study Women Underrepresented in Cardiovascular Disease Studies Vitamin E, Selenium Don't Cut Prostate Cancer Risk Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients Lack Treatment Knowledge: Survey

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

FDA Didn't Properly Assess BPA Health Risks: Experts

U.S. Food and Drug Administration didn't properly assess the potential health risks posed by the chemical bisphenol A, says a report released Wednesday by a panel of independent toxicology experts. BPA is used in a number of products, including baby bottles and food-storage containers.

In August, the FDA said BPA was safe at current exposure levels, a statement that prompted criticism from lawmakers and consumer groups.

The experts said FDA staff failed to provide "reasonable and appropriate scientific support" for the conclusion that BPA didn't pose a threat, even though some studies have linked the chemical to diabetes and developmental changes in children, Bloomberg news reported.

The FDA staffers considered but rejected "a number of potentially relevant studies" and the safety data they relied upon was "inadequate," wrote the experts serving on a subcommittee of the FDA's Science Board.

The report will be discussed at a public meeting Oct. 31. An FDA statement released Tuesday said additional study of BPA "would be valuable," Bloomberg reported.


Cold Germs Found on Many Household Surfaces

Doorknobs, TV remotes, refrigerator handles and other commonly touched household surfaces are hotbeds of cold germs, which can survive on those surfaces for two days or longer, says a University of Virginia study.

The study included adults with cold symptoms who were asked to name 10 places in their homes they had touched in the preceding 18 hours. The researchers then went to the participants' homes to hunt for cold germs, the Associated Press reported.

"We found that commonly touched areas ... were positive (for cold germs) about 40 percent of the time," said ear, nose and throat specialist Dr. Birgit Winther. Cold germs were found on six of 10 doorknobs, eight of 14 refrigerator handles, three of 13 light switches, six of 10 TV remote controls, eight of 10 bathroom faucets, four of seven phones, three of four dishwasher handles, and three of three salt and pepper shakers.

The study was presented Tuesday at a national conference on infectious diseases in Washington, D.C., the AP reported.


Doctors Show Bias Against Black Patients: Study

Many doctors unconsciously prefer white patients to black patients, suggests a University of Washington study released Tuesday. However, black doctors showed no preference for either race.

The researchers examined results from 2,500 anonymous people who identified themselves as doctors and took a test designed to measure unconscious bias. The findings revealed doctors were similar to other test takers, of whom more than 70 percent showed an unconscious preference for whites over blacks. This bias was stronger among male doctors than female doctors, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported.

The study results don't imply prejudice, said Janice Sabin, an assistant professor in medical education and training.

"It's important to not leave the impression that this necessarily affects behavior, because we really don't know," she told the Post- Intelligencer.


Women Underrepresented in Cardiovascular Disease Studies

Even though they suffer more than half of heart disease- and stroke- related deaths, women are less likely than men to be included in clinical trials on cardiovascular disease, say researchers who reviewed cardiovascular disease studies published in leading medical journals between 1997 and 2007.

Women account for 53 percent of cardiovascular disease patients, but represent only 9 percent of study participants with coronary artery disease, 25 percent of study participants with congestive heart disease, and 34 percent of study participants with arrhythmias. But women did account for 61 percent of participants in prevention trials, CBC News reported.

The findings were presented Tuesday at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in Toronto.

One reason women are underrepresented in cardiovascular disease trials is because they're asked to participate less often than men, Toronto cardiologist Dr. Beth Abramson, a spokeswoman for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, told CBC News.

Also, many trials don't accept anyone over age 70. Women without diabetes develop cardiovascular disease an average of seven to 10 years later than men, which could help explain why women are underrepresented in trials, Abramson noted.


Vitamin E, Selenium Don't Cut Prostate Cancer Risk

A major study looking at whether vitamin E and selenium protect men against prostate cancer has been suspended after data showed the nutrients didn't reduce risk, the U.S. National Institutes of Health announced Monday.

The independent analysis of the $119 million study involving more than 35,000 men also suggested vitamin E and selenium may actually increase the risk for prostate cancer and diabetes, but officials said those findings may be a coincidence, the Washington Post reported.

Study organizers have started notifying participants to stop taking the pills they were taking for the trial. All the men, age 50 and older, will continue to have their health monitored for about three years.

The study was funded by the NIH after previous research indicated vitamin E and selenium may protect against prostate cancer, the second most common cancer in men.

"The important message for consumers is that taking supplements, whether antioxidants or others, is not necessarily beneficial and could be harmful," Eric Klein of the Cleveland Clinic, a study coordinator, told the Post. "You should not be taking them unless there is a rigorous scientific study that shows a benefit."


Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients Lack Treatment Knowledge: Survey

Rheumatoid arthritis patients have far less knowledge about treatments than their doctors or nurses believe, according to an international survey of more than 3,300 patients, nurses and doctors.

While 90 percent of nurses and 87 percent of doctors believed their patients had a high level of knowledge of RA treatments, only 50 percent of patients rated their knowledge as high.

The survey also showed a large degree of disagreement between doctors and nurses over who should handle patient education. Only 14 percent of doctors believed nurses should educate patients, while 68 percent of nurses believed they were best suited for the task.

"These findings help pinpoint areas for additional attention where we can better work together to improve the patient understanding of this complex disease," Nicole Furfaro, study investigator at Seattle Rheumatology Associates, said in a news release. "Patients clearly can benefit from more interaction and education from their care providers to help bridge the gaps in knowledge and manage expectations of RA therapy."

The survey also found that 37 percent of RA patients in the United States and 34 percent of patients in the European Union were either extremely dissatisfied or dissatisfied with their level of RA pain. Only 9 percent of U.S. patients and 12 percent of E.U. patients were extremely satisfied or satisfied.

The findings were presented at the annual scientific meeting of the American College of Rheumatology.

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