Our weekly roundup of the latest news in the world of health.
Only about 1 in 4 Americans infected with HIV has the virus under control, a report released this week says. The New York City health department said treatment should start earlier, and President Obama called for more funding. Lipitor, the popular cholesterol medicine, lost patent protection this week. But it's taking aggressive steps to keep sales high. More parents are refusing vaccines, the Associated Press says. Rates now exceed 5% in 8 states. A new study suggests that doctors who own MRI machines are more likely to order tests for patients who don't need them. And the governors of two states this week asked U.S. drug enforcement officials to change the legal status of marijuana. The change would allow doctors to prescribe it and pharmacies to dispense it legally.
This Issue: Wider Treatment Backed to Stop Spread of HIV Lipitor, Challenged by Generics, Not Giving Up Yet Vaccine Refusals Exceed 5% in 8 States No More Free Formula for R.I. Newborns Doctors Owning MRI Machine May Order More Tests Governors Ask DEA to Change Status of Marijuana
In the News:
Wider Treatment Backed to Stop Spread of HIV
Only about 28% of Americans infected with HIV have the virus under control with medicine, U.S. health officials said this week. That's partly because 20% of those with HIV don't know they are infected. But the other reason is that only 40% of those infected get medicine to suppress the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the study. It said some people hadn't been treated long enough to control the virus, which causes AIDS. Others stopped taking the drugs because of money or other reasons. On World AIDS Day, also this week, President Obama said he would boost spending on HIV treatment by $50 million. And New York City health officials said they would push doctors to prescribe HIV drugs sooner. People who get treatment are much less likely to spread the virus to others. But the drugs are expensive. Standard practice has been to prescribe them only after the immune system weakens. New York City health officials said costs will go down as the drugs become generic. They said preventing spread to others also will lower costs. The Associated Press wrote about these developments.
Lipitor, Challenged by Generics, Not Giving Up Yet
Starting this week, 2 companies can sell a generic version of the popular cholesterol medicine Lipitor (atorvastatin). But the maker of Lipitor is trying to keep people buying its brand-name version for the next 6 months. The Associated Press wrote about it. Pfizer Inc.is offering insured patients a discount card to get Lipitor for $4 a month. That's far below the typical $25 copay for a brand-name drug. It's even below the average $10 copay for generics. Pfizer is heavily promoting the cards. The company also is giving rebates to insurance companies that cover Lipitor for the next 6 months. The rebates push the costs of Lipitor below generic prices. In June 2012, more companies will be allowed to sell the generic drug. Meanwhile, Pfizer also will get 70% of the proceeds from one of the two versions sold now. This is the "authorized generic" from Watson Pharmaceuticals Inc. The other generic will be sold by Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd. That company's version gained final approval just this week.
Vaccine Refusals Exceed 5% in 8 States
In 8 states, more than 5% of children entering public kindergarten do not have all required shots. The Associated Press (AP) tallied the numbers and wrote about them this week. States allow parents to refuse to get some shots for their children. Legal reasons for these exemptions vary from state to state. The average exemption rate has been estimated at about 2%. But AP said exemptions have risen in about half of all states in the last 5 years. The highest exemption rates are mostly in the West and Upper Midwest. For the 2010-11 school year, Alaska had the highest rate, nearly 9%. Others included Colorado (7%), Minnesota (6.5%), and Vermont and Washington (6% each). Oregon, Michigan and Illinois were all just above 5%. Some parents who refuse vaccines think they are unsafe or not needed. Some worry about the number of shots. Some think that older vaccines are OK but question the need for newer ones, such as chickenpox. Public health officials worry when exemptions go above 5%. They tie recent outbreaks of some diseases, such as whooping cough, partly to vaccine refusals.
No More Free Formula for R.I. Newborns
Women who have babies at Rhode Island hospitals won't go home with free formula anymore. The seven hospitals in the state that have maternity units announced the policy change earlier this fall. This week, they received praise from state health officials. The decision will help to encourage breastfeeding, the officials said. The hospitals said women who have problems with breastfeeding will still be given formula samples. About 38% of Rhode Island mothers breastfeed their babies for at least 6 months. That's below the national average of 44%. Health Director Michael Fine said the state hopes to increase that to 60% by 2020. The Associated Press wrote about the formula policy.
Doctors Owning MRI Machine May Order More Tests
A new study suggests that doctors are more likely to refer patients for MRIs if they own the machine. Researchers looked at records on 500 magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans for people with lower back pain. Half were ordered by orthopedic surgeons who owned MRI scanners. The others were ordered by surgeons who did not own the machines. Scans ordered by MRI owners were much more likely to find nothing wrong. In all, 106 of those scans had normal results, compared with 57 scans ordered by doctors who didn't own the machines. Researchers presented the study results this week at a conference. They said doctors who owned MRI machines were more likely to use them on patients who probably didn't need them. These extra scans could help to pay for the cost of buying the machines, they said. The Associated Press wrote about the study.
Governors Ask DEA to Change Status of Marijuana
Two governors have asked U.S. drug authorities to change the rules on medical use of marijuana. Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire and Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee filed the petition this week with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). They asked the DEA to list marijuana as a Schedule 2 drug. This would allow it to be used for medical treatment. Then doctors could prescribe it and pharmacists could fill the prescriptions. Marijuana is now a Schedule 1 drug under U.S. law. This list is for drugs that have no medical use and can't be prescribed. Washington and Rhode Island are among the states that allow medical marijuana use. The petition says these states have struggled to find a way for patients to have safe access to the drug. The DEA had no immediate comment. The agency has rejected prior petitions seeking to reclassify marijuana. However, Gregoire said this is the first petition signed by governors. The Associated Press wrote about the petition.
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