Check in with us as we feature the latest trends, research and news in medicine, health and science. A team of Star Tribune staffers will aggregate updates from news wires, websites, magazines and medical journals.

Numbing agents can harm teething babies, FDA says

Posted by: Colleen Stoxen Updated: June 27, 2014 - 11:35 AM

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning parents that prescription drugs such as viscous lidocaine are not safe for infants or young children who are teething, and that they have hurt some children who used those products.

Viscous lidocaine is a prescription medication, a local anesthetic in a gel-like syrup. Reports of overdoses in teething babies have been linked to jitteriness, confusion, vision problems, vomiting, falling asleep too easily, shaking and seizures.

FDA has previously recommended that parents and caregivers not use benzocaine products for children younger than 2 years, except under the advice and supervision of a health care professional. Benzocaine, which, like viscous lidocaine, is a local anesthetic, can be found in such OTC products as Anbesol, Hurricaine, Orajel, Baby Orajel, and Orabase.

The use of benzocaine gels and liquids for mouth and gum pain can lead to a rare but serious—and sometimes fatal—condition called methemoglobinemia, a disorder in which the amount of oxygen carried through the blood stream is greatly reduced. And children under 2 years old appear to be at particular risk.

Read more from FDA.

Ebola outbreak is largest ever, CDC reports

Posted by: Colleen Stoxen Updated: June 27, 2014 - 11:39 AM

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the ebola outbreak in West Africa is the largest ever documented.

As of June 23, there have been 635 confirmed Ebola cases and 399 deaths (case-fatality rate of 63%). The largest previous outbreak occurred in Uganda during 2000–2001, when 425 cases were reported with 224 deaths (case-fatality rate of 53%). The current outbreak is the first in West Africa and the first time that Ebola virus transmission has been reported in a capital city.

Ebola viral disease is characterized by the sudden onset of fever and malaise, myalgia, headache, vomiting, and diarrhea. Among EVD patients, 30% to 50% have hemorrhagic symptoms.

The first two Ebolavirus species were recognized in 1976 during simultaneous outbreaks in Sudan and Zaïre (now Democratic Republic of the Congo). Since 1976, there have been more than 20 EVD outbreaks across Central Africa, with the majority caused by Ebola virus (species Zaïre ebolavirus), which historically has demonstrated the highest case-fatality rate (up to 90%).

Read more from CDC.

Are kids getting too many vitamins and minerals?

Posted by: Colleen Stoxen Updated: June 24, 2014 - 11:56 AM

Many U.S. children are eating potentially harmful amounts of vitamins and minerals in fortified foods, according to a report by the Environmental Working Group. The EWG found that nearly half of kids 8 or younger may be getting too much vitamin A, zinc and niacin.

The report focused on 1,550 cereals and 1,000 snack bars and found that 114 had 30 percent or more of the adult daily value for some vitamins and minerals, which can cause liver damage, skeletal abnormalities, hair loss and more in kids.

They include General Mills Total Raisin Bran, General Mills Wheaties Fuel, Kellogg’s Cocoa Krispies and Kellogg’s Krave, among others. EWG also found that 27 common brands of snack bars, such as Balance Bars, Kind bars and Marathon bars, were fortified with 50 percent or more of the adult Daily Value of at least one of these nutrients.

"Heavily fortified foods may sound like a good thing, but it when it comes to children and pregnant women, excessive exposure to high nutrient levels could actually cause short or long-term health problems," said Renee Sharp, EWG's research director and coauthor of the report. "Manufacturers use vitamin and mineral fortification to sell their products, adding amounts in excess of what people need and more than might be prudent for young children to consume."

Read more from Environmental Working Group.

Routine vitamin D testing questioned

Posted by: Colleen Stoxen Updated: June 23, 2014 - 5:43 PM

More patients are getting tested for vitamin D deficiency, but the value of the tests remains too murky to make them routine, an influential advisory group says.

There simply isn't enough evidence that testing the blood of healthy, symptom-free people for vitamin D deficiency will end up improving people's health, says the draft recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. The task force — an independent panel whose recommendations influence which prevention measures are widely adopted — also says there's little evidence testing would hurt.

Low vitamin D levels have been linked with bone fractures, falls, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, depression and even early death, the task force says. But studies have not shown that giving vitamin D supplements to apparently healthy people with low levels can prevent those problems.

Another issue: Expert groups disagree on how low is too low. Also, different lab tests can produce different results. Because of varying standards and study methods, estimates of vitamin D deficiency in the U.S. population range from 19% to 77%, the task force says.

"There's a lot of controversy here," says task force co-chair Albert Siu, a geriatrics professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

Read more from USA Today.

Depending on age, caffeine has different effect

Posted by: Colleen Stoxen Updated: June 16, 2014 - 12:31 PM

Kids appear to process caffeine -- the stimulant in coffee, energy drinks and soda -- differently after puberty. Males then experience greater heart-rate and blood-pressure changes than females, a new study suggests.

Although the differences are small, "even what we might consider low doses of caffeine can have an effect on heart rate and blood pressure in kids," said study lead author Jennifer Temple, an associate professor at the University at Buffalo in New York.

About three out of four U.S. children consume caffeine each day, but little is known about their safety.

For this study, about 100 preteens and teens consumed the equivalent amount of caffeine found in a can of soda or a cup of coffee. Half were 8- and 9-year-olds; the others were 15 to 17 years old.

"Although our data do not suggest that this level of caffeine is particularly harmful, there is likely no benefit to giving kids caffeine, and the potential negative effects on sleep should be considered when deciding which beverages to give to kids," Temple said.

The researchers found that caffeine lowered the heart rates of the kids past puberty by about 3 to 8 beats per minute. Boys were affected more than girls.

Caffeine also boosted systolic blood pressure in boys past puberty to a greater extent than girls, although the effect was slight.

"This suggests that boys may be more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than girls," Temple said.

Girls also experienced different heart-rate and blood-pressure changes throughout their menstrual cycle, the researchers said. This further supports their theory that sexual maturity changes the body's reaction to caffeine.

Caffeine's effects were relatively similar between boys and girls before puberty.

Read more from U.S. News.


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