Posted On: November 29, 2007

New Report Suggests CT Scans may become Cancer Risk for Children

A new report in today's New England Journal of Medicine suggests that many people in the U.S. are needlessly exposed to dangerous radiation during medical tests, particularly CT scans. The problem is most clearly evident with respect to children. The report may be overestimating possible risks to adults, but there is a clear reason to think that an excess of these tests pose a public health risk to children.

The study points out that a minimum of 4 million CT scans are done on children per year, with over 62 million done on the American population as a whole. These large numbers are the result of the overwhelming popularity and rapid increase of use of CT scans since they were introduced. These numbers, in conjunction with studies showing that a large percentage of medical tests are completely unnecessary, suggest that many children are being given CT scans when they do not need them.

The risk of CT scans come from the "super X-rays" that the test uses. Children are more susceptible to radiation than adults and more likely to develop cancer because of it. But it is important to remember that the risk to any one particular individual is slight. It is only when we look at large populations that a problem starts to emerge. It is also important to remember that the report is pointing to a potential problem rather than an actual one: the report predicts that CT scans will be tied to a significant percentage of cancer cases. This means that the new report gives us an opportunity to head off a public health problem before it becomes truly dangerous. It also highlights one of the possible downsides of rampant overuse of medical tests.

The New England Journal of Medicine provides the first few lines of the report here: Computed Tomography--An Increasing Source of Radiation Exposure.

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Posted On: November 29, 2007

Study Shows that All-Terrain Vehicles are Highly Risky for Children

A new study from the University of Arkansas and Arkansas Children's Hospital shows that all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) pose a significant risk to children, according to the lead doctor involved in the research. An ATV is defined as any motorized vehicle with four low-pressure tires, handlebars for steering and control and a seat meant to be straddled by the operator.

The doctors studied 500 minors who came to the Children's Hospital over a period of eight years, all of whom were involved in ATV accidents. Of these five hundred, there were six fatalities (not counting those who died at the accident site, rather than at the hospital). More common were long-term disabilities and severe injuries.

The National Safety Council has a list of recommendations for ATV safety.
Among these are restrictions regarding age and engine size, as well as a stern warning against multiple riders in an ATV. Another good resource is the ATV Safety Institute.

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Posted On: November 21, 2007

Cold Medicine Lawsuit

A month after the FDA change in labeling guidelines for cough and cold medications for children and a voluntary recall of those products, the mother of a boy who died after taking cold medication is filing a lawsuit.

The baby, son of Dimitria Alvarez of Illinois, was four months old. He died after taking Infant Tylenol Cold Decongestant Plus Cough and Walgreen-brand Pediatric Drops-Cough Plus Cold, according to the mother. The commonality between these two drugs is that they contain dextromethorphan, which is found in many cough and cold medications, including many of those recalled.

For more information on the uses of dextromethorphan, see this page from Medline Plus.

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Posted On: November 21, 2007

More on Lead Poisoning: Even Small Amounts of Lead Linked To Reduced IQ

A newly-released study, done over the course of six years by researchers at Cornell University, finds that even small amounts of lead in children's blood (below CDC guidelines for acceptable levels) make reduced IQ much more likely. This correlation holds true even when other factors that affect IQ--such as other environmental factors or genetics--are accounted for.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that the maximum allowable blood-lead level is 10 micrograms per deciliter. But the new Cornell study focused on kids with between 0 and 10 micrograms per deciliter, and found that those in the 0-5 range had average IQs of about five points higher than those in the 5-10 range. The unavoidable conclusion is that even when lead poisoning is less than what the CDC deems harmful, it can still have significant negative effects on children's developing brains.

Those who are poor are at greater risk for lead poisoning, as lead is often found in the paint of old or poorly-maintained buildings. Lead poisoning has been in the news lately, because of the Mattel recall and other toy safety issues. This very morning, New York State recalled children's jewelry from stores including Michael's and Big Lots because they contained hazardous levels of lead. It is important to remember that houses are the most common source of lead-related brain damage.

The researchers involved in this study had previously published another, similar study in 2003. They found then, as they did again now, that blood-lead levels are related "inversely and significantly" to IQ. Clearly, this is a serious problem that needs to be recognized and addressed.

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Posted On: November 16, 2007

Recent Study Shows Value of Vaccines for Children

Thirteen childhood diseases for which we have vaccines are causing fewer deaths than ever, according to a new study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Deaths and hospitalizations from smallpox, diphtheria and polio have gone down one hundred percent since vaccines against them were approved. Deaths and hospitalizations from nine of the diseases have gone down ninety percent, and only in only four diseases (all of which have vaccines that were approved only recently and thus have had less time to take effect in the population) did they go down less than ninety percent. Those four diseases were hepatitis A and B, varicella and invasive pneumococcal diseases.

This is a striking demonstration of the value of vaccinating children--a practice that is sometimes controversial, as many parents oppose it either for religious reasons or because of skepticism about its efficacy. Hopefully studies like these will address some of that skepticism and promote the use of vaccines in preventing deadly diseases.

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