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Warning Signs to Appear on Aspirin Displays

January 23, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Posters and warning stickers will begin appearing in stores this week to warn parents of a link between aspirin and the often fatal children’s disease called Reye Syndrome, the government said Wednesday.

One Washington, D.C.-based supermarket chain - Giant Food - plans to have posters in place Thursday, and other posters will be distributed by aspirin industry salesmen beginning next week, the Department of Health and Human Services said.

Some stores will put warning stickers on store shelves next to the aspirin bottles, the department said. Radio and television commercials also will be broadcast as public service announcements beginning next week.

But new aspirin labels warning of the association will not appear on store shelves until after this winter’s flu season is over, HHS officials added.

The new labels, warning against the use of aspirin to treat children or teen-agers suffering from chickenpox or flu, will begin appearing in stores this summer, they said.

Aspirin products now on the shelves do not contain warnings against such use, and labels on children’s aspirin even recommend use of the product to relieve the discomfort of colds or flu. The action taken by the aspirin industry does not include recall of those products to change the labels.

Plough Inc., of Memphis, Tenn., which produces the St. Joseph line of aspirin products, also is putting warning stickers on products already produced but not yet shipped, the department said. Plough also was the first to agree to make label changes.

The campaign was announced by HHS Secretary Margaret M. Heckler, who commended the Aspirin Foundation of America for ″its prompt and responsible action, which will be getting the message to Americans within a week.″

Mrs. Heckler had called for voluntary action by the industry on Jan. 9, after rejecting a request for emergency action.

Her request followed the release of a study by the federal Centers for Disease Control indicating that children given aspirin for flu or chickenpox ran a 25 times greater risk of getting Reye Syndrome than children suffering from those illnesses who were not given aspirin.

The industry agreed to make voluntary changes two days later, and government and industry officials have been meeting for nearly two weeks to work out details of what would be done.

But Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of the activist Health Research Group, called Mrs. Heckler’s compliment of the aspirin industry ″a kick in the head of the 610 children, 175 of whom are dead, who got Reye Syndrome after there should have been warning labels, three years ago.″

Wolfe, who first released the CDC study along with a call for emergency federal action, said companies ″should be required to put a strong, uniform label on and should be required to take steps until then to either remove unlabeled products from thse shelves or put warning stickers on. ...

″The question is how many children will die or suffer brain damage before the government orders a more thorough response,″ Wolfe added.

Reye Syndrome is a fast-developing sickness that occurs in children and teen-agers following a viral infection such as flu or chickenpox.

It is characterized by a sudden onset of vomiting, often with fever. Other symptoms include lethargy, severe headaches and sudden changes in behavior. The illness can progress rapidly to convulsions, delirium and coma.

Of the 190 cases reported in the year ending last November, about one in four died, and many of the survivors suffered brain damage.

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