ABC's disease-mongering of toenail fungus


I'm breathless.

Almost 5 minutes of network airtime to discuss a "new cure" for toenail fungus.

GMA toenail fungus.png

How was it disease mongering?

• ABC said, "About half of all Americans over the age of 50 are struggling with this problem." Struggling? Really? Enough to warrant a $1200 treatment ($120 per toe) that is NOT covered by insurance (thank God)? This is part of the 16% of the GDP that Americans spend on health care.

• ABC profiled one woman: "Meghan, like millions of Americans, has had her toe fungus for 15 years. It's unsightly, embarrassing. And like others, she suffered in silence, not wanting to talk about it." Millions of us like poor Meghan - suffering in silence? But not silent any longer - thanks to almost 5 minutes of network news time.

A physician promoting the laser on the program offered up this clear-as-mud analysis:

"Long-term studies need to be done. Studies have only been done since 2007. It was FDA-cleared in 2008. And I want to make it clear that this is an off label use right now.”

So long term studies need to be done. But it's been FDA "cleared". But it's an off-label use right now - meaning it hasn't been cleared for this use. HUH??????

And does anyone at the FDA care about such blatant off-label marketing on network TV.?


And I bet more people watched it than 60 Minutes' chilling segment on the closing of Las Vegas' only public cancer-treatment center.

Laser Treatment For Toenail Fungus: Was the story in question disease mongering? Or Was it laser treatment mongering? Or did it deserve the coverage it received?
I think the story deserved the coverage it received for the following reasons: 1) Spending dollars, including tax dollars, for health care does not seem like a bad thing. Striving after better ways to guard health should be a priority for everyone. Right up there with having adequate food, clothing, safety, shelter, and income. 2) Only one podiatrist was used as the source for the $1,200 cost that you quote. Preliminary information suggests that at least four individual treatments are needed to develop a 50% cure rate. Was that $1,200 for four, five, six, or how many treatments? We can expect that as the technology becomes more common, the cost of treatment will fall. 3) The cure rate for laser treatment looks like it may turn out to be substantially higher than for other treatment modalities. It may also turn out to be safer, given the adverse effect rates for some of the medications being used. 4) Onychomycosis (toe nail fungal infection) is observed in about 10% of adults according to one source. And it is more than a cosmetic problem for people with diabetes or immune disorders. And it is unknown whether chronic onychomycosis carries long-term risks for other people. It wasn't long ago that no one thought chronic oral infections carry any risk for cardiovascular disease but apparently they do. Therefore better and safer treatments are needed.
For additional perspective, see: Singer, N. (2009 Mar 19). False Start on a Laser Remedy for Fungus. In The New York Times. Retrieved 2009 Apr 13, from

I meant disease mongering.

"Half of all Americans over 50 struggling with this problem?"

"Suffering in silence?"

That's classic disease mongering.

I'm sure it is "more than a cosmetic problem for people with diabetes or immune disorders" but that's not half the population over age 50.

You wrote: "Striving after better ways to guard health should be a priority for everyone. Right up there with having adequate food, clothing, safety, shelter, and income." I would not say that striving to treat ugly toenails should be a priority for everyone.

Marketers and promoters of new technologies try to make their ideas priorities for everyone.

Journalism should scrutinize claims more closely.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Gary Schwitzer published on April 10, 2009 7:23 AM.

Today's LA Times gives front page space to ad that looks like news was the previous entry in this blog.

Bill to teach teens breast self-exam gets political support, scientific opposition is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.



Wikio - Top of the Blogs - Health

Add to Technorati Favorites