February Health Notes

AAP Launches Web Site for Parents
At www.healthychildren.org, the American Academy of Pediatrics offers parents “a virtual extension of the pediatrician’s office,” featuring health advice and guidance for moms and dads of newborn to those now enrolled in college.

“Parents have hundreds of questions about their children’s health, and they want detailed answers,” says Dr. Jennifer Shu, a practicing pediatrician and medical editor of the site. “HealthyChildren.org empowers parents to be proactive about their children’s health — whether it’s learning about the vaccines their infant needs, the developmental milestones to watch for in their toddler, or how to stay connected with their teenager.”

By registering with the site, parents can customize the information based on their children’s ages and health topics. The “Ask the Pediatrician” tool allows parents to browse a list of frequently asked questions, or pose their own questions. And a pediatrician finder makes it easy for both first-time and experienced parents to find an AAP-member pediatrician in their area.

Living With a Smoker Puts Kids at Risk
Children who are around smokers face a higher risk of early emphysema when they become nonsmoking adults, perhaps because their lungs never totally recover from secondhand smoke exposure, new research suggests.

Researchers came to this conclusion after conducting CT scans on 1,781 nonsmokers from six communities across the country. About half of them grew up in homes with at least one smoker.
“We were able to detect a difference on CT scans between the lungs of participants who lived with a smoker as a child and those who did not,” says Gina Lovasi, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “Some known harmful effects of tobacco smoke are short-term, and this new research suggests that effects of tobacco smoke on the lungs may also persist for decades.”

The researchers didn’t find a link between childhood exposure to tobacco smoke and lung function. “However, emphysema may be a more sensitive measure of damage compared with lung function in this relatively healthy cohort,” Lovasi noted.

The findings were published in the December issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology. For more information, visit http://aje.oxfordjournals.org.

Mom’s Job Could Boost Baby’s Odds for Birth Defects
Among working women in the United States, teachers seem to have the lowest risk of having babies with birth defects, while those who work as janitors, scientists and electronic-equipment operators appear most at risk, researchers say.
A study looked at nearly 9,000 babies born with single or multiple birth defects, such as those affecting the eye, ear, gastrointestinal tract, mouth and face. The study also included almost 3,400 children who had none of the 45 different types of birth defects considered.

The researchers tried to determine if a link existed between the likelihood of birth defects in the children, who were born between October 1997 and December 2003, and their mothers’ jobs. More than three-quarters of the women had paid jobs during the period from one month before pregnancy through the first trimester.

Women who were cleaners or janitors, operators of electronic equipment and scientists were at significantly higher risk of having a child with birth defects, while teachers had the lowest risk, the study authors found.

The researchers didn’t analyze chemicals that the women may have been exposed to, nor did they consider the number of hours worked. Also, the findings only point to a connection between type of employment and birth defects and don’t prove a woman’s job directly can cause birth defects.
The study was published online in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine. For more information, visit http://oem.bmj.com.

Dads Need to Follow Up After Getting ‘Snipped’
Nearly half of all men who get vasectomies don’t return for follow-up tests that make sure the procedure is working, new research suggests. Those who don’t go back, and therefore risk an unwanted pregnancy, are more likely to be smokers, not highly educated and the fathers of four or more children, the study found.

The findings show the need for better communication between doctors and vasectomy patients, especially those at higher risk of not following up, says study co-author Yefim Sheynkin, an associate professor of urology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
Overall, vasectomy is a “pretty darned good” form of birth control, says Dr. John K. Amory, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Washington Medical School “It’s about 99 percent effective.”

Doctors explicitly tell patients to return for a sperm check, but since the message is not getting across, there’s talk of other strategies, Sheynkin said. These might include making follow-up appointments at the time of a vasectomy and using home semen-analysis tests.
The latter strategy is promising, said Amory. He envisions men buying test kits at the store or online, as women do with pregnancy tests.