In Brief

In Brief

May 05, 2006

Autism

5.5 of every 1,000 children diagnosed

About 300,000 U.S. children have been diagnosed with autism, according to the largest national study so far of the prevalence of this complex behavioral disorder. That means about 5.5 out of every 1,000 school-age children have been diagnosed with the condition.

Past estimates have ranged from 1 to 9 out of every 1,000 children, based on smaller studies in individual states or cities. The government-run study released yesterday reports findings from national surveys of tens of thousands of families.

The report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also found boys are nearly four times more likely than girls to be identified with the condition. And it found Hispanics had lower autism rates, though it's possible that may be related to health care access problems.

The study does not answer whether autism is increasing -- a controversial topic, driven in part by a debate over whether autism is linked to a vaccine preservative. The new research was published this week in the CDC publication, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Los Angeles Times

Conservation

16,000 species may face extinction

Polar bears and hippos are among more than 16,000 species of animals and plants threatened with global extinction, the World Conservation Union said this week.

According to the Swiss-based conservation group, the number of species in serious danger of extinction increased from about 15,500 in its previous Red List report, published in 2004.

The list includes one in three amphibians, a quarter of the world's mammals and coniferous trees, and one in eight birds. "Biodiversity loss is increasing, not slowing down," said Achim Steiner, the group's director general. "The implications of this trend for the productivity and resilience of ecosystems and the lives and livelihoods of billions of people who depend on them are far-reaching."

The Red List classifies about 40,000 species according to their risk of extinction and provides a searchable online database of the results. The total number of species on the planet is unknown, with 15 million being the most widely accepted estimate. Up to 1.8 million are known today. The list is available at iucnredlist.org

Associated Press

Mental health

Chocolate's mood benefits fleeting

Devouring a bar of chocolate may drive away sorrows for those sweet moments it takes to melt on your tongue. But the mood-boosting benefits pass just as quickly, a new study has found.

The report, published online in the Journal of Affective Disorders, reviewed all research findings on the relationship between chocolate and mood.

According to Gordon Parker, a professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia, the fleeting solace of chocolate is no greater than the emotional lift from eating any carbohydrate, such as cake or potato chips. Nor is there evidence that eating chocolate helps depression.

While people may call themselves chocoholics, chocolate can't cause the type of chemical addictions that alcohol, cigarettes or drugs do, the report determined.

Los Angeles Times

Pediatrics

FDA warns against antihistamine's use

Federal officials are warning parents and doctors not to give drugs that contain promethazine hydrochloride to children younger than 2, citing seven cases of death linked to the antihistamine.

The Food and Drug Administration said in a safety alert that beyond the deaths, it also has received 22 reports of severe breathing problems associated with use of the allergy drug, all in children younger than 2. The drug, also known as promethazine HCl, is sold by Wyeth under the brand name Phenergan as well as in various generic versions. The warning covers all forms of the drug.

Parents also should use care in giving the drug to children older than 2, the FDA said. The labels on all versions of the drug have been updated to reflect the strengthened warnings, the FDA said.

The drug, approved in 1951, is used to treat hay fever, stuffy or runny nose from allergies and other minor allergies.

Los Angeles Times

Chemicals

Toxic ingredient hard to eliminate

A toxic ingredient in antibacterial hand soap is so persistent that almost 75 percent of it survives wastewater treatment -- and winds up in the municipal sludge that gardeners buy to fertilize their plants and vegetables, a study from the Johns Hopkins University has found.

Scientists at Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health followed the path of triclocarban, an ingredient in many hand soaps that can be poisonous when ingested.

They found that treatment in a large Eastern wastewater processing plant removed all but 3 percent of the chemical from the water.

But most of the rest wound up concentrated in the sludge that the wastewater plant sells to gardeners to improve their soil, according to a report in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

"Triclocarban is leading a peculiar double life," said senior author Rolf U. Halden, co-founder of the Johns Hopkins Center for Water and Health.

He added that "the study shows just how important it is to consider the full life cycle of the chemicals we manufacture for use in our daily life."

Sun staff

Did you know?--More than 3 million Americans stutter. Stuttering affects three to four times as many males as females. -- The Stuttering Foundation

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