No need to panic, says Health Canada

Health Canada has reformed its health warning system, so lessurgent information about drugs and other health products can beannounced to Canadians without causing unnecessary panic.

Before, Health Canada only released information about drugsthrough public warnings and public advisories.

“You don’t want to cry wolf,” said Christopher Williams,spokesperson for Health Canada. “If you use an advisory too oftenit will lose its effectiveness when it’s really important, or for alarger group.”

Public warnings are meant to tell the public about urgentsituations when they should stop using a product immediatelybecause death or other serious health problems could occur,according to Health Canada’s website.

The website says advisories are less urgent and tell the publicabout possible serious health hazards associated with a product,allowing them to make educated decisions about whether to continueuse.

Williams said these new systems will help “rank the urgency” ofinformation Health Canada is disseminating.

In a press release, Health Canada announced that the public willalso receive information through information updates and foreignproduct alerts.

According to Health Canada’s website information updates willinform Canadians about product information that is less of apotential health risk or will affect a very small group ofpeople.

The website described foreign product alerts as a means to warnconsumers about harmful products that are not available in Canada,but may have made their way in through Internet purchases orpersonal importing.

For warnings and advisories, information is sent to the mediathrough Canada News Wire, posted on the Health Canada website, andthe Health Canada media e-mail list.

The data is also distributed by the MedEffect electronicbulletin, when the warning is about health products marketed inCanada, said Williams.

Concerned Canadians can sign up to receive MedEffect on HealthCanada’s website.

Williams said foreign product alerts and information updateswill not be released through the Canada News Wire, but willcontinue to be disseminated by the other channels public advisoriesand warnings do, when warranted.

Health Canada makes every attempt translate foreign productalerts into the languages of the populations most likely to be incontact with the merchandise, according to Williams.

“Ideally, this will help the general public be more informedabout the products they are taking and the medical devices they areusing,” he said.

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