Monday Briefing

Fake Avastin reveals vulnerabilities in global drug supply chain. Health regulators internationally have few protections to protect patients from counterfeit medicines, and new laws aimed at addressing the problem could be years away. Scrutiny of the supply chain has grown since fake versions of Roche’s multibillion-dollar cancer drug Avastin turned up at U.S. oncology practices late last year. The World Health Organization estimates that less than 1 percent of medicines available in the developed world are counterfeit. Globally, however, the figure is around 10 percent, while in some developing countries as much as a third of medicines are estimated to be bogus. Reuters

Health authorities in England find that almost six out of 10 pregnant teens smoke. New figures show the high rate of smoking among young mothers even though, over the past 10 years, the proportion of all teenage girls who smoke has fallen to an all-time low, from 31 percent to 17 percent. Experts said a key reason smoking is so widespread among pregnant teenagers may be because they often come from disadvantaged communities where smoking is more common. Overall, the new figures show that the percentage of people in England who smoke fell from 21 percent to 20 percent over the past year. The Guardian, Daily Mail

Children frequently get hurt on stairs but injuries are declining. A study by researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio focused on children under age five brought to emergency rooms around the country from 1999 through 2008. The researchers calculated that, over the 10-year period, about 47 out of every 10,000 young kids, 93,000 in all, got injured on the stairs every year. Typical accidents involved tripping, being dropped by a parent or riding a tricycle down the stairs. Roughly one in 10 of the injured kids broke a bone. One of the study’s authors said changes in how staircases are designed might be needed to significantly reduce injury rates. Reuters

Air traffic controller relieved of duty after second serious incident. Controller Robert Beck ordered an Air Force C-130 to increase its altitude shortly after beginning his work shift Feb. 29 at the Gulfport-Biloxi airport in Mississippi. An FAA source said that put the jet on a converging course with a twin-engine turboprop owned by the Homeland Security Department. Eight months earlier, a mistake by Beck caused a regional airliner and a small plane to come within 300 feet of colliding with each other, according to a government report. Beck’s former boss, who tried to fire him, said the case illustrates the difficulty of dismissing controllers even when they are unfit. The Associated Press

Japan’s nuclear disaster leaves a legacy of distrust. A year after the worst natural disaster in their country’s history, residents of Japan are still struggling to cope with the staggering toll of a catastrophe that left nearly 20,000 dead or missing. But a more insidious legacy of the Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns may be a shaken trust — in their government, in their source of energy, and even in the food that sustains them. “Many Japanese feel they’ve been lied to by their government,” said an economics professor in Tokyo who has written about the public loss of trust. “In a time of disaster, people wanted the government to help them, not lie to them. And many wonder whether it could happen again.” Los Angeles Times

Some Japanese nuclear industry insiders blame utility company and regulators for Fukushima Daiichi disaster.  According to the critics, the nuclear plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power, or Tepco, and regulators for years ignored warnings of the possibility of a larger-than-expected tsunami in northeastern Japan. As such, they failed to take countermeasures, such as raising wave walls or placing backup generators on higher ground. The critics attribute this to a culture of collusion in which powerful regulators and compliant academic experts looked the other way while the industry put a higher priority on promoting nuclear energy than protecting public safety. The New York Times

Water problems worsening globally, United Nations report says. Issued on the eve of a six-day gathering in France on world water issues, the report warned of the difficulties that will be faced in providing water for a world population expected to rise from seven billion to nine billion by 2050. Among the key challenges, it said, will be the impact of global warming. “Climate change is a real and growing threat. Without good planning and adaptation, hundreds of millions of people are at risk of hunger, disease, energy shortages and poverty,” the report said. Agence France-Presse

Tornado deaths expose safety flaws of mobile homes. Two-thirds of the 34 people killed in the March 2 tornadoes in Kentucky and Indiana died in mobile homes, even though such housing makes up just 14 percent of the dwellings in Kentucky and 6 percent in Indiana. The Manufactured Housing Institute, an industry group, contends that newer mobile homes — built after 1976, when more stringent federal regulations went into effect — are as safe as conventional housing. But a review of county property records shows that at least seven of the 14 mobiles homes in which fatalities occurred on March 2 were built after 1976. The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Ky.)

High rate of leukemia found in Upstate New York community with gasoline additive in drinking water. A draft report by state health authorities discovered 18 leukemia diagnoses in men between 1990 and 2003, higher than the expected 10, in an area of Liberty, N.Y. served by a tainted water well. The well, near several gas stations, tested positive in 1992 for high levels of MTBE, which is added to gasoline to improve combustion and reduce emissions. The report said authorities couldn’t conclusively link the leukemia to the tainted water, but added that the high number of cases of the disease “may raise concerns among men and their families.”  Times Herald-Record (Middletown, N.Y.)

Recalls: goat feed

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

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