Monday, February 07, 2011

Some babies' brains damaged by mothballs

So they want to ban a very common and very effective household precaution. Why do we all have to suffer for the benefit of a few? Should not the at-risk groups be responsible for avoiding whatever is harmful to them? And whatever the do-gooders suggest in place of napthalene will undoubtedly be found to be also problematical eventually (as with trans fats). I'm going to stock up on mothballs. I have been using them to good effect for decades

EXPERTS have called for a ban on the sale of mothballs containing the chemical naphthalene, warning that they pose a risk of severe blood problems and even brain damage for significant numbers of Australian babies.

About 5 per cent of Australians of Asian, African, Middle Eastern or Mediterranean descent have an inherited enzyme deficiency, and affected babies can suffer blood-cell breakdown if placed too close to fabrics stored with naphthalene mothballs.

In severe cases this causes jaundice and the yellow pigment linked to jaundice, called bilirubin, can build up in the brain. This causes a condition called kernicterus, triggering neurological problems and sometimes brain damage, The Australian reports.

Australians of predominantly Anglo-Saxon or indigenous background are less commonly affected, but naphthalene can also cause red cell breakdown in those without the G6PD deficiency.

In a letter to the Medical Journal of Australia published today, three pediatric experts from Sydney and one from Christchurch say at least three babies suffered from the brain complications in the past three years. One of them died.

William Tarnow-Mordi, director of the Westmead International Network for Neonatal Education and Research at the University of Sydney, said affected babies could develop massive breakdown of their red blood cells within hours of being wrapped in clothing stored with mothballs containing naphthalene.

"The lifetime costs of caring for a baby with kernicterus are many millions of dollars," Professor Tarnow-Mordi said.

The European Union banned the supply of naphthalene products in 2008, and Professor Tarnow-Mordi said he and other experts were working with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to see whether similar action should be taken in Australia.

"Health authorities in Australia already inform parents about the dangers of mothballs with naphthalene. Without further measures, more babies could sustain brain damage or die," he said. "A total ban on mothballs with naphthalene may now be the safest course."


A gene protects some U.S. blacks from heart disease

Some black Americans have a gene that protects them from heart disease, researchers said on Thursday. About a quarter of African-Americans carry the protective gene, and if they are lucky enough to have two copies, one from each parent, their risk of heart disease is 10 times lower that of other blacks.

People with just one copy have five times lower the risk of heart attacks, blocked arteries and other symptoms of heart disease, the team reported in the Journal of Human Genetics.

"What we think we have here is the first confirmed hereditary link to cardiovascular disease among African-Americans and it is a protective one," Diane Becker of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore said in a statement.

The same gene has been studied in people from Japan, South Korea, Europe and elsewhere but not in black people. In fact, few such genetic studies have been done in blacks at all, the researchers said.

The gene is called CDKN2B, and certain mutations raise the risk of heart disease. For instance, Swedish people with one version of the gene were more likely to have strokes if they also had high blood pressure.

Becker's team studied 548 healthy African-American brothers or sisters of people with documented heart disease. They had their genes sequenced and were followed for 17 years.

The researchers noticed a certain type of mutation called a single nucleotide polymorphism, SNP (pronounced "snip") for short, on a gene that had been linked to heart disease in studies of people in Korea, Italy and elsewhere. About 25 percent of the volunteers in Becker's study had this protective version of the gene, and 6 percent had two copies.

Becker's team said when genetic tests became more common it might be worth testing blacks for which version of the gene they have, so those without the protective mutation could be more closely monitored for heart disease, the No. 1 killer in the United States and most other developed countries.

It is becoming more common to use ethnic origin to define disease risks. In 2005, Nitromed Inc. got U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to market its heart drug BiDil specifically to blacks after it was shown to benefit African-Americans more than whites.

Studies have shown that African-Americans are less likely than whites to be prescribed heart drugs or receive bypass surgery, although blacks have an overall greater risk of heart disease than whites.


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