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Health Updates 1 June 2012

  • In rat experiments, new hope for spine injuries“Rats with spinal cord injury that left their hind legs completely paralyzed learned to walk again on their own after an intensive training course that included electrical stimulation of the brain and the spine, scientists reported on Thursday.  Researchers have known for some time that stimulation and training can improve muscle control somewhat after such injuries in animals.  And last year, an international team of scientists reported the case of a 23-year-old paraplegic who regained the ability to stand for a few minutes at a time after a similar program.  But the new study is the most comprehensive and rigorous presentation to date of what is possible, and the Swiss research team is already working on technology to test the techniques in humans.  The report,  published online Thursday in the journal Science, provides a striking demonstration of what until recently few scientists thought possible: complete rehabilitation after a disabling blow to the spinal cord.  After weeks of training, many of the rats could walk as well as before the injury, and some could run.  The findings do not apply to all spinal injuries.  The animals’ spinal cords were cut without being completely severed; there were still some nerve connections that extended intact through the injured area.  But this is also a substantial proportion – perhaps a quarter to a third – of people whose injuries are severe enough to confine them to a wheelchair.”  This could provide a way to treat spinal cord injuries from a variety of conditions, perhaps including cancer and multiple sclerosis.  (NY Times)
  • FDA: Teething pain remedies dangerous: “Rubbing topical anesthetics such as Anbesol or Orajel on the throbbing gums of a teething baby can lead to methemoglobinemia, a serious condition that leads to oxygen deprivation and — in extreme cases — death, the FDA warned today.  Products sold over-the-counter for teething and toothache contain benzocaine, and that is the source of the FDA’s concern, said FDA pharmacist Mary Ghods, RPH, in a statement.  The risk is greatest among children younger than 2, the age range at which most children experience teething pain.  The FDA first warned about these products – a list that includes Hurricane, Baby Orajel and Orabase, as well as Orajel and Anbesol – in 2006…THe FDA issued a second warning a year ago, but, Taylor said, the agency remains concerned about ‘the difficulty parents may have recognizing the signs and symptoms of methemoglobinemia when using these products at home’.   Moreover, the symptoms can occur within minutes of use, or may not manifest until hours after the drug is applied, and a child can become symptomatic with first use or only after several uses.”  An alternate to using numbing drugs, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, is giving the baby a chilled teething ring or gently massaging the child’s gums with a clean finger.  Symptoms of methemoglobinemia include:
    • Shortness of breath
    • Fatigue
    • Confusion
    • Headache
    • Light-headedness
    • Rapid heart rate
    • Pale, grey or blue-colored skin, lips and nail beds. (Peggy Peck, MedPage Today)
  • Men and women with cancer may receive different fertility information: “When men are diagnosed with cancer they receive very different information about their future fertility than women, new Scottish research says.  ‘Our study has demonstrated significant gaps in the information provided to young women diagnosed with cancer and suggests the need for an early appointment with a fertility expert,’ study co-author Valerie Peddie, a fertility nurse specialists and research midwife at the School of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Aberdeen, said in a news release. …The study, published May 30 in BJOG: An International Journal  of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, revealed that nearly all the patients were provided with written information on their cancer treatment.  This information included a small section on fertility preservation.  The researchers also found, however, that the information male patients were given regarding their future fertility was different than the information given to female patients.  All men — even those with children — were encouraged to consider storing their sperm, and most had a discussion about sperm banking, the study showed.  In contrast, only a few women recalled any discussion about preserving their fertility.  The researchers found that the health professionals interviewed said treatment issues take precedence over future fertility issues.  The health professionals also believed sufficient information regarding fertility was given at the time of the women’s initial diagnosis, and their fertility wouldn’t be affected if treatment with first-line drugs was successful.” (HealthDay)
  • Sleepy, drunken drivers equally dangerous: study “Being sleepy behind the wheel is almost as bad as drinking and driving, suggests a new study from France.  The study, published as a letter in the Archives of Internal Medicinefound that drivers who were either drunk or sleepy were at least twice as likely to be responsible for a vehicle accident compared to their well-rested or sober counterparts.  Christopher Drake, an associate scientist at the Henry Ford Hospital Sleep Disorders and Research Center in Detroit, said the findings do not change what was already known, but the study is still ‘interesting’.  ‘We know from experimental studies that just four hours of sleep loss will produce as much impairment as a six-pack.  If you have a whole night of sleep loss, that’s equivalent to having a blood alcohol content of 0.19,’ Drake…told Reuters Health.”  Researchers surveyed 679 drivers who were admitted to a hospital in southwest France for more than 24 hours because of a serious vehicle accident.  They studied the questionnaires as well as police reports, blood alcohol levels, medications used and so forth.  The police determined that 355 of the drivers were responsible for their respective accidents, and alcohol use and being sleepy were tied to an increased risk for having a crash.  People taking medications were aware of the risks, took precautions, and were not part of the main issue.  Drake observed that there is no substitute for enough sleep.  Coffee wears off, and blasting yourself with cold air or loud music only mask the signs of sleepiness, they don’t make it go away.  And there are no Breathalyzers for sleepiness.  Further, ”’Anytime you’re feeling sleepy behind the wheel is a danger sign’.”  The best advice: don’t drink, and please get some sleep. (Reuters)
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