Toddlers Poisoned by Prescriptions? Bottles Not Child-Proof

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Children under age five make up most of the 100,000 Americans treated in the emergency room after accidently swallowing medications, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. And about 90 percent of child poisonings happen at home, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The poison can turn out to be any common household product children can get their hands on, according to Dr. Kevin Osterhoudt, emergency medicine pediatrician at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

"Children are curious by nature," said Osterhoudt. "The most common things are things they find in the home -- cosmetics, cleaning substances, but also our medicines and pharmaceuticals in the house."

ABC News' senior health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser tested three different types of medicine containers among six toddlers, to find out how fast they could open the containers. All six of the kids were able to break into the flip-top medicine containers -- some kids only took 10 seconds to open them. Four out of the six kids got into the easy-open bottles in less than 30 seconds. None of the six were able to open the child resistant prescription bottles, however. But that doesn't mean it can't be done.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Study Finds Breastfed Children Outscored Formula-Fed Classmates

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(SUBIACO, Western Australia) -- From flashcards to DVDs, the list of products touted as baby brain boosters is ever-growing.  But new research that suggests breastfeeding can significantly improve academic achievement later in life is offering food for thought on the impact of neonatal nutrition.

The benefits of breastfeeding for newborns and new moms alike are many.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, breast milk is loaded with nutrients that help babies grow and antibodies that stave off infections.  Breastfeeding is also thought to protect against chronic diseases such as diabetes (type 1 and 2), obesity and asthma, and may even ward off certain cancers such as leukemia.

Breastfeeding moms also tend to recover from their deliveries faster, shed their pregnancy weight sooner and have a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Because of the perks for moms and tots, the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of life, and continuing to age two or beyond with appropriate complementary foods.

But can breastfeeding actually make babies smarter?

According to the results of an Australian study published in Pediatrics, children who were breastfed for six months or more outscored their formula-fed classmates in tests of reading, writing and math at age 10.  However, the benefits were gender-specific, with only boys achieving significantly higher test scores for reasons that remain unclear.

Several studies have previously linked breastfeeding to later intelligence.  But how breastfeeding confers its brainy benefits remains unclear.  Researchers suspect that components of breast milk that may be missing from formula, such as the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid arachidonic acid (ARA), are essential for optimal brain growth. 

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Probable Carcinogen Present in Many Cities' Water Supplies

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- An environmental group is set to release a study that found the probable carcinogen hexavalent chromium is present to some degree in the drinking water supplies of 31 American cities.  The Environmental Working Group report is due out on Monday.

The Environmental Protection Agency has not set acceptable limits for hexavalent chromium in tap water but is about to do so. California has proposed a limit of 0.06 parts per billion.  It is the chemical at the center of the fact-based 2000 film, Erin Brockovitch

The Environmental Working Group surveyed 35 cities and found the substance in the water of 31 of them.  Of the 31 cities, 25 water supplies exceeded the proposed goal in California.  The highest levels, at more than 200 times the California figure, were in Norman, Okla.

Hexavalent chromium was commonly used in many industrial processes 20 and 30 years ago and is still used in some today. 

The American Chemistry Council represents the chemical industry and told the Washington Post the California goal is unrealistic because some water supplies have hexavalent chromium levels higher than the California proposal that occur naturally.  Medical experts tell the Post the study is "disturbing" and say the U.S. should strive to have no hexavalent chromium in drinking supplies, or at least limit it to the California goal.

Hexvalent chromium has been known to cause lung cancer when inhaled but recent research on animals shows it causes other potentially deadly conditions when ingested.

The Environmental Working Group says on its website it is dedicated to using public information to protecting the public and the environment.  Most of its funding comes from grants and private donations.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


HIV 'Cure' Not a Cure-All, Say Experts

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- When Victor Maldonado heard German researchers claim they had cured a man of HIV with a bone marrow transplant, he said his reaction was "guarded optimism."

"Everyone is curious and heartened by news about a possible cure, but by no means is anyone swinging from the chandeliers," said Maldonado, who has been HIV-positive since 2005 and works with HealthHIV, a Washington, D.C., HIV/AIDS advocacy group. "We've been disappointed too many times."

Medical experts reacted similarly, saying that while the news could potentially lead to more research into new types of treatments, a bone marrow transplant is both risky and impractical.

"Although it may encourage hope that a cure is feasible, this approach in practice cannot be applied to the vast majority of patients," said Dr. Douglas Richman, director of the Center for AIDS Research at the University of California at San Diego.

The "cured" patient also had leukemia, and originally received a bone marrow transplant in 2007. The researchers, led by Dr. Gero Hutter of Charite-Medical University in Berlin, first reported the man's progress at a workshop last summer and published their findings in the current issue of the journal Blood.

But the patient's marrow donor turned out to be a special case. The donor had a mutation that prevented the virus from entering cells. Research has shown that people with this mutation are rarely infected with HIV, but finding such donors is difficult.

"These donor cells are rare. About one in 100 people in central Europe have this mutation," said Dr. Frank Spinelli, who's in private practice in New York.

"We should be clear that this 'cure' will in fact have almost no impact on the average HIV-infected patient," said Bert Jacobs, a professor at Arizona State University at Tempe.

Bone marrow transplants are also inherently risky to patients. A person's own damaged bone marrow is replaced by someone else's, and the marrow donor must be a match, and such matches are difficult to find.

The procedure is also very expensive and potentially dangerous, and with other effective treatments available, it may not be worth the risk.

"The mortality rate is approximately 30 percent when it is used in cancer patients," said Spinelli.

"With modern antiretroviral therapy there is little justification for attempting such a dangerous procedure to cure a disease that is often manageable," said Jacobs.

People living with HIV will also continue to benefit from medications that are generally easy to tolerate and help improve quality of life.

"Antiretroviral therapy has transformed HIV care over the past dozen years and represents one of the major medical accomplishments of the past few decades," said Richman.

Victor Maldonado is grateful for that.

"I'm currently on antiretrovirals, and the drugs work. There's no doubt about it," he said.

Even though he knows the patient in Germany is a rare case, he hopes that research like it will continue.

"Research is the lifeblood for finding treatments and a cure for HIV," he said.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio 


Best, Worst Places To Be a Mom

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Motherhood has its joys and challenges, and the ratio of one to the other can vary wildly depending on where in the world a mom lives. In a list ranking 160 of the best and worst countries on the planet to be a mother, the United States was 28th from the top, according to Save the Children, the international charity that aims to help children in need. Norway topped the list, while Afghanistan came in dead last.

Countries were ranked based on the measurement of four key factors in a mother's life: her own health, economic status, political clout, and the well-being of her children.

All countries were ranked according to lifetime risk of maternal death, percentage of women using modern contraception, female life expectancy, expected number of years of formal schooling, ratio of estimated female to male earned income, participation of women in national government, and mortality rate for children under age five. In industrialized countries, additional factors considered were maternity leave benefits, number of young children enrolled in pre-school education programs and number of older children enrolled in high school.

In developing countries, meanwhile, additional factors included how frequently skilled health care workers assist with birthing babies, children's access to clean water, and the number of children enrolled in primary education program, including the ratio of girls to boys.

Here is a list of the top 10 best and worst places worldwide to be a mom.

Best Places

1. Norway
2. Australia
3. Iceland
4. Sweden
5. Denmark
6. New Zealand
7. Finland
8. Netherlands
9. Belgium
10. Germany

Worst Places
151. Equatorial Guinea
152. Eritrea
153. Sudan
154. Mali
155. DR Congo
156. Yemen
157. Guinea-Bissau
158. Chad
159. Niger
160. Afghanistan

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Embrace Infant Warmer Could Save Thousands

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(STANFORD, Calif.) -- Four Stanford University students-turned entrepreneurs have developed an innovative, inexpensive infant warmer that has the potential to save thousands of babies in the developing world.

Embrace Infant Warmers are non-electric, miniature sleeping bags that use a removable wax insert, which can be heated safely using hot water. The product is easy to sanitize and can be heated over and over again. Once the hot wax insert is placed inside the sleeping bag, it can maintain a consistent 98 degrees for four to six hours, keeping a premature or Low Birth Weight (LBW) newborn at a healthy body temperature. The team has also designed a second model for rural clinics that will use an electric heating apparatus instead of water to warm the wax.

The team's invention came out of a class assignment at Stanford's Institute of Design in 2007, when they were tasked to come up with a low-cost incubator design that could help save premature babies born into poverty.

According to World Health Organization, 20 million premature and LBW babies are born around the world every year and four million of them die within the first four weeks of life -- that's 450 babies dying every hour. Incubators are vital because the internal organs of premature babies are not fully developed at birth.

Premature and LBW babies are at an even greater risk of falling victim to hypothermia and potentially neo-natal death because there is so little fat on them. Those babies that do survive often face a lifetime of debilitating diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and weak brain development.

By 2013, Jane Chen, part of the team that designed the product, expects the Embrace will be able to save more than 100,000 babies in India and prevent illness for as many as 800,000. She and her team are planning to expand to other developing nations in the years to come.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Breast Cancer: FDA Considers Avastin Withdrawal

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- New evidence suggests the benefits do not outweigh the risks of Avastin for treating metastatic breast cancer, according to officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The agency has now begun the process of withdrawal of the popular advanced breast cancer treatment.

The FDA granted an accelerated conditional approval for Avastin in February 2009 to treat late-stage breast cancer patients. The drug, it had been suggested, slowed the progression of the disease or improved overall survival.

But results from four new trials that enrolled more than 3,000 women found no significant reduction in disease progression or death among those who took Avastin along with chemotherapy.

"These trials were intended to confirm progression-free survival, and they did not," Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA's Center of Drug Evaluation and Research, said at a news conference. "There was no symptomatic benefit and no effect in overall survival."

Avastin is still available to patients, but the announcement is the beginning of a regulatory withdrawal of the drug from the market. And some cancer specialists say the basis of the announcement has huge implications for the way their patients will be treated.

Still, the studies not only showed no overall benefit from the drug, but even suggested some patients had an increased risk of death because Avastin is, in some ways, toxic.

"We would encourage at this time patients to discuss with their physician what the appropriate action should be," said Dr. Richard Pazdur, director of the FDA's Office of Oncology Drug Products.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio 


Iowa Woman Never Experiences Fear

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(IOWA CITY, Iowa) -- Snakes, spiders, haunted houses and scary movies may evoke shrieks of fright in many people, but there's a woman in Iowa who doesn't seem to be afraid of them -- or anything else.

She goes only by the initials S.M. to protect her identity and she is the subject of a study published in the latest edition of the journal Current Biology that looked at how a certain part of the brain experiences fear.

Neurology researchers at the University of Iowa have been studying the woman for a number of years because she is one of very few people known to have damage to the amygdala on both sides of her brain. The amygdala is an almond-shaped structure that studies have shown plays a role in processing fear and other emotions, though experts say its exact role is unclear.

The damage to S.M.'s amygdala was caused by another rare condition, Urbach-Wiethe disease, which caused calcium deposits to form and cause lesions on the amygdala.

"We wanted to know: can such a patient experience fear normally in response to fear-inducing stimuli?" said Daniel Tranel, one of the study authors and professor of neurology and psychology at the University of Iowa.

To determine the impact of this rare condition on the fear response, Tranel and his colleagues exposed the woman to things that normally frighten people -- spiders, snakes, a place ranked as one of the "most haunted," and frightening film clips. They used questionnaires to assess whether she experienced the symptoms of fear over a three-year period and also asked her to rate the level of different emotions at random times for a three-month period.

S.M. reported little-to-no symptoms of fear on the questionnaires and also rated herself as fearless most often during the emotional experience sampling. However, she did experience other emotions, such as joy, happiness and sadness normally, the researchers said.

S.M. also had exposure to fearful situations in her past. She was held up at gunpoint and at knifepoint and was almost killed during a domestic incident. S.M. told researchers she did not feel fear during these life-threatening situations. She was also aware that her inability to react to fearful stimuli was not normal.

"It's very striking that she has only a rational response, not a physiological one," said Dr. Jon Shaw, professor of psychiatry at the University of Miami School of Medicine. "The body is not prepared for a physiological response because the amygdala has been taken out of the loop."

Tranel said this study, along with S.M.'s recollection of past incidents, show that the amygdala plays a vital role in how people respond to fear.

"This gives us, for the first time, really solid empirical evidence that the amygdala is critical for the induction and the experience of fear as triggered by visual and auditory stimuli," said Tranel. 

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Graphic HIV/AIDS Video Horrifies Gay Community

Photo Courtesy - New York City Health Department (NEW YORK) -- A public service announcement produced by the New York City Health Department promoting condom use to prevent HIV/AIDS has horrified advocacy groups, who say it demonizes and frightens gays and those living with the disease.

The video, which aired on such cable networks as the gay and lesbian channel Logo, Bravo and the Travel Channel, chides, "When you get HIV, it's never just HIV. You're at a higher risk for dozens of diseases even if you take medications, like osteoporosis, dementia, and anal cancer."

Gay advocacy groups and blogs were barraged by complaints after viewing the video on YouTube.

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York are demanding the video be withdrawn, saying scare tactics do not work and that the PSA is stigmatizing.

"While it's extremely important that we continue to educate New Yorkers about HIV/AIDS prevention, the sensationalized nature of the commercial, including its tabloid-like fear tactics, misses the mark in fairly and accurately representing what it's like to live with HIV/AIDS," said GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios.

"It's our hope that the department will work with us to create a PSA that promotes safety and solutions, rather than stigma and stereotype."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Scientists Suggest Reason Political Rivals Can't See Eye to Eye 

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(LINCOLN, Neb.) -- New research suggests there may be a biological reason why some folks turn left while others turn right. Maybe liberals and conservatives literally can't quite see eye to eye.

A provocative new study out of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln suggests we may not be as open-minded as we think, and it's all because of biology. Finding a biological basis for everything from believing in God to picking a mate is all the rage these days, but this study explores new territory.

"It's well established in almost any scientific discipline that there are biological influences on behavior," Mike Dodd, lead author of the study, said in a telephone interview. "But political scientists have been kind of resistant to that because they like to think that political temperament is entirely environmentally determined. It's based on your experience."

That attitude doesn't necessarily apply to Dodd's co-authors, John R. Hibbing and Kevin B. Smith, political science professors at the university who have been searching for some time now for evidence that there is a biological component to formulating our "political temperament."

And the three believe they have found something that literally separates liberals from conservatives. These opposite ends of the political spectrum respond differently to something called "gaze cues," the shifting of a person's attention from one place to another in an attempt to see where another person is looking.

What they have found so far is liberals are easily distracted when a face on a computer screen shows a person looking one way or the other. The liberal will mimic the face's action, looking in the same direction as the face. That's called following a "gaze-cue." Conservatives were far more likely to remain fixed on the eyes of the face, less distracted.

Why? Well, this gets a little debatable. In their study, to be published in the journal Attention, Perception & Psychophysics, the researchers offer these assumptions:

Conservatives "tend to be more supportive of individualism, and less likely to be influenced by others, than those on the left." They value "personal autonomy."

Liberals, on the other hand, "are often thought of as more empathetic and more concerned with the welfare of others relative to conservatives, meaning that liberals may be more susceptible to the influence of social cues."

That stops short of saying conservatives are tough minded and liberals are wishy-washy. So the assumptions may not please everyone. But the research is intriguing.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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