Health Highlights: Sept. 24, 2013

By on September 24, 2013

Health Highlights: Sept. 24, 2013

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Environmental Chemicals a Threat to Pregnancy: Report

Americans are exposed daily to chemicals in the air, water, food and everyday products that can damage reproductive health, according to a report from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

The groups said doctors need to lobby for stronger environmental policies to better identify and reduce exposure to harmful chemicals, the Associated Press reported.

They also want doctors to ask pregnant women about their exposure to different chemicals and to teach their patients how to avoid some of the chemicals considered to be the most dangerous during pregnancy.

“What we’re trying to get is the balance between awareness and alarmist,” ACOG President Dr. Jeanne Conry told the AP.

For the report, a committee of specialists from the two groups examined studies about industrial chemicals that people’s bodies can absorb from various sources. They noted that certain chemicals have been linked to infertility, miscarriages, birth defects and other reproductive problems.

On-the-job exposure poses the greatest risk for women, so doctors should ask pregnant women about their workplaces when they make their first prenatal visit, the committee recommended.

They also said that research suggests that nearly all pregnant women are exposed to at least 43 different chemicals. It’s unclear how many pose a threat, but some can reach the fetus and are known to be harmful, the AP reported.

For example, mercury can accumulate in certain types of fish. When pregnant women eat these fish, the mercury can damage her unborn baby’s developing brain. Exposure to certain pesticides in the womb can increase the risk of childhood cancer, according to the committee.

Women and their babies aren’t the only ones at risk. The committee noted that high levels of pesticide exposure in adult men has been linked to sterility and prostate cancer, the AP reported.

The committee advised consumers to choose fresh fruits and vegetables over processed foods when possible and to thoroughly wash produce. Pregnant women and young children should limit their seafood consumption to species with low levels of mercury, such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon and catfish.

“There’s only so much people can do as individuals and families to limit chemical exposures,” University of Washington public health dean and environmental health specialist Dr. Howard Frumkin told the AP. He was not involved in the report.

But he called the report “a very balanced, reasonable and evidence-based contribution.”

Current environmental regulations provide sufficient consumer protection and the new report will create “confusion and alarm among expectant mothers” and distract them from proven measures for having a healthy pregnancy, according to the American Chemistry Council.


Pain Patches Pose Serious Threat to Young Children: FDA

Skin patches that contain the powerful pain reliever fentanyl can be deadly to young children, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Monday.

The agency has issued a Drug Safety Communication to warn patients, caregivers and health care workers about the dangers of accidental exposure to and improper storage and disposal of fentanyl patches.

The FDA is aware of 32 cases of children who were accidentally exposed to fentanyl since 1997, most of them involving children younger than age 2. There have been 12 deaths and 12 cases requiring hospitalization.

“These types of events are tragic; you never want this to happen. We are looking for ways that we can help prevent this from happening in the future,” Dr. Douglas Throckmorton, deputy director of FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in an agency news release. “This reinforces the need to talk to patients and their families to make sure that these patches are stored, used and disposed of carefully.”

Fentanyl is a potent opioid pain reliever. The patches, which are sold under the brand name Duragesic and as a generic product, are used to treat patients in constant pain by releasing fentanyl over the course of three days.

A fentanyl overdose — caused when a child either puts a patch in his or her mouth or applies it to the skin — can cause death by slowing breathing and increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the blood, the FDA said.

The FDA said Monday that it approved changes to the Duragesic patch so the name of the drug and its strength will be printed on the patch in long-lasting ink in a clearly visible color. The agency added that it has asked manufacturers of the generic versions to make the same changes. The previous ink color varied by strength and was not always easy to see.

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