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Health Highlights: Oct. 22, 2002

Breast-Fed Babies Need Vitamin D Supplements Study To Assess Link Between In Vitro Fertilization, Birth Defects Too Few Nurses Place Surgery Patients at Risk FDA Warns Against Decorative Contact Lenses Abortion Pill May Help Treat Depression Poultry Disease Returns to California

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

Breast-Fed Babies Need Vitamin D Supplements

Babies who are exclusively breast fed may need a daily Vitamin D supplement.

Nutrition experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics think the increasing number of reported rickets cases in babies and toddlers may be linked to an insufficient amount of Vitamin D, according to USA Today. Rickets is a disorder involving softening and weakening of the bones of children primarily caused by lack of Vitamin D.

By early next year, the academy will likely recommend that infants feeding solely on breast milk get an extra 200 units of Vitamin D a day, the newspaper says.

Unlike infant formula, which is rich in vitamin D, breast milk is low in the bone-building mineral. While direct sunlight is another source of vitamin D, most parents practice sun safety and keep their babies in the shade. Breast-fed black babies are especially susceptible to rickets because their skin tends to block any absorption of the vitamin from the sun, says Dr. Frank Greer, a pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin Medical School.

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Study To Assess Link Between In Vitro Fertilization, Birth Defects

British researchers are planning a major study to evaluate whether children born using certain in vitro fertilization techniques (IVF) may be prone to birth defects.

According to a BBC News report, scientists at The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority and the Medical Research Council are troubled by recent studies that have questioned the safety of some forms of IVF treatment.

They are especially concerned about intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), where a single sperm cell is injected directly into an egg. This technique sidesteps the body's natural selection mechanism that, under normal conditions, rejects unfit sperm.

Recent research found that this method led to a slightly greater risk of birth defects, the BBC says.

"Whilst there is no evidence to suggest an increase in the number of birth defects in children born from normal IVF, there may be a slight increase in abnormalities among children born as a result of ICSI," a Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority spokeswoman told the BBC.

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Too Few Nurses Place Surgery Patients at Risk

Surgery patients whose nurses are overworked are more likely to die of post-operative complications, a new study has found.

The study, published in tomorrow's Journal of the American Medical Association, shows the risk of dying after surgery jumps 14 percent when a patient's nurse has six beds to cover instead of four. It soars by more than 30 percent if the nurse is responsible for eight beds, HealthDay reports.

If all hospitals had six patients per nurse instead of four, the researchers say, they would expect 2.3 additional deaths per 1,000 patients, and nearly 9 additional complications per 1,000. With a ratio of eight-to-one, there would be 2.6 more deaths and almost 10 more complications for every 1,000 patients, they say.

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FDA Warns Against Decorative Contact Lenses

People who use decorative contact lenses obtained without a doctor's prescription risk permanent eye injury and even blindness, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns.

The non-corrective lenses, if not professionally prescribed and fitted, could cause ulcers of the cornea -- leading to dangerous infections and permanent blindness or eye loss if undiagnosed and untreated, the agency warns.

The FDA says it has launched an import ban on the products, meaning U.S. marshals have been directed to seize the lenses at America's borders. The products are often sold at flea markets, convenience stores and beach shops.

Current users are urged to stop wearing the lenses immediately, and to notify the FDA of any complaints or problems with the products. The number for the agency's voluntary reporting program is 1-800-FDA-1088.

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Abortion Pill May Help Treat Depression

The abortion pill known as RU-486 may help treat a particularly severe and stubborn form of depression, reports The New York Times.

Generically known as mifepristone, the drug proved effective in helping people whose severe depression was accompanied by delusions or hallucinations, according to results of two small studies described recently in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

Of 30 patients who participated in the recent studies, those who took mifepristone for seven days at higher doses than is used to induce abortion found substantial improvement in their symptoms of psychotic depression, the Times reports. The drug reportedly led to only mild side effects.

Psychotic depression accounts for 15 percent to 19 percent of cases of severe depression diagnosed in the United States, the newspaper says.

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Poultry Disease Returns to California

Newcastle disease, blamed for the destruction of some 12 million chickens during an epidemic in the 1970s, has returned to California.

The deadly infection has been diagnosed at some 60 locations in Riverside, San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties, reports the Associated Press. More than 5,600 backyard hens, roosters and show fowl have been killed in an attempt to stop its spread.

Fortunately, the disease has not spread to flocks used to produce food, but agriculture officials worry about that possibility. The disease cannot be transmitted to humans and poses no public health hazard.

The 1970s outbreak cost some $56 million to combat and threatened the entire U.S. poultry and egg supply, the AP reports.

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