Panel Questions Need

For Antibacterial Soaps

Antibacterial soaps and disposable wipes have not been proven any more effective than regular soap in preventing infections among average consumers, health experts said Thursday.

If plain soap and water are not available, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are a "useful" alternative, the panel said in a unanimous vote.

Chairman Alistair Wood of Vanderbilt University's School of Medicine said using plain soap and water was shown to be "pretty effective."

"There was no data I saw that showed antiseptic hand washing is any better," he said.

Consumer products that include bacteria-fighting ingredients should be required to have scientific data proving they prevent infections, the panel also said.

The Food and Drug Administration, which has grappled with the issue for more than 30 years, asked its panel to weigh the risks of such products amid concerns they may help create drug-resistant bacteria.

The agency has yet to make a final decision on how to regulate such products, which are available over the counter.

'Black Box' Warning

Urged For Erectile Drugs

Drugs to treat erectile dysfunction need stronger warnings on their packaging about the risk of blindness, consumer group Public Citizen said Thursday in a petition filed with health regulators.

The Food and Drug Administration should "immediately add a black box warning regarding the risks of drug-induced blindness," Public Citizen's Health Research Group wrote.

Pfizer Inc.'s pulmonary hypertension drug, Revatio, which has the same active ingredient as its impotence drug, Viagra, should also carry a similar black box warning -- the strongest warning the agency can require, the advocacy group said.

Earlier this year, drugmakers agreed to put information about the possibility of vision loss on the labels of their impotence drugs.

Viagra; Cialis, sold by Eli Lily & Co. and Icos Corp.; and Levitra, sold by GlaxoSmithKline, Bayer AG and Schering-Plough Corp., now carry the new labels, which say the condition "has been reported rarely." Spokesmen said yesterday no further warning is needed.

Officials Say Not Enough

People Getting Flu Shots

Too few Americans, especiallyminorities, are being vaccinated against the annual flu epidemic, and shortages of vaccine are not helping, health officials said yesterday.

Fewer than half of blacks and Hispanics who should have received the vaccine actually did, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

The CDC report reflects the annual flu vaccine, which is recommended for everyone 65 and older, pregnant women, young children, people with weak immune systems and their caretakers.

In an average year, seasonal influenza kills about 36,000 Americans and as many as 500,000 people globally. Those numbers could rise to millions if a serious pandemic occurred -- a possibility many experts say has become more likely with H5N1 avian influenza.

There is no vaccine against H5N1 yet, but health officials want people to at least be protected against the less dangerous strains.

-- From News Services