Allergan, the pharmaceutical company which brought the world Botox, has announced the launch of its new FDA approved prescription medication for lengthening eyelashes. Latisse contains the same basic medication as Allergan's glaucoma eyedrops, Lumigan. Lumigan is a prostaglandin analog, which helps reduce the pressure in the eyes of glaucoma patients. Apparently a sharp eyed researcher discovered that a frequent side effect of Lumigan usage is longer, thicker eyelashes. (Other frequent side effects include discoloration of the iris and eye irritation.) I saw a commercial for Latisse on television last night, which touted it as the Next Great Thing in beauty breakthroughs. Curious, I looked up some of the details online. I was flabbergasted when I found the price tag - about $120 a month, or $4 per day. And you have the double whammy: since it's a prescription medication, you have to see a doctor to get a prescription. But since it's a cosmetic prescription, your health insurance won't cover it.
Although most commonly prescribed antibiotics are useless against the flu, the antiviral drug Tamiflu has been very effective. Overuse of the other antibiotics has caused a huge health problem, leading to the rise of antibiotic-resistant strains of disease like MRSA and antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis. For once, the story about a medicine resistant strain of disease is not about the overuse of antibiotics. The CDC reported last week that the new flu strain H1N1 has apparently spontaneously developed the ability to shrug off Tamiflu. Researchers are not sure where the strain developed, and they speculate that it could even have arisen in a country like Norway, where antivirals like Tamiflu are not in use. This is an interesting story for several reasons. For one thing, it highlights the fragility of our global medical care system. One little spontaneous genetic quirk, and suddenly what was historically the most effective drug is rendered useless.
As kids return to school after the holidays, New Jersey has become the first state in the country to add flu shots to the list of attendance requirements. Parents in New Jersey had until December 31st to vaccinate their kids. Children who have not received the flu vaccine will not be allowed back into the classroom. Ten years ago, this would not even have been a blip on the national news radar. But the well documented rise in autism, and a perceived link between autism and vaccinations, has made this a very hot topic indeed. Mandatory vaccinations have become a battleground between parents and public health officials. This latest law, for a vaccination against a disease that many people do not feel is life threatening, seems like an insult to the anti-vaccination crowd. (Flu of course can be very lethal, particularly to the young, the elderly, and the immune-compromised.) In 1998, the highly respected British medical journal The Lancet published a paper which claimed a link between vaccinations and autism.