Vital Signs

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Oral fixation

Parents taking small children to the beach this summer should be on the alert for what goes into their mouths. Doctors from Newcastle upon Tyne describe in the British Medical Journal the case of a nine-month-old girl who developed a "calcified mass" on the roof of her mouth, which was thought to be a cancer, after a holiday in Minorca. Closer inspection revealed it to be a seashell that had become stuck to the hard palate.

Measles vaccine for babies

A new, synthetic measles vaccine that can be given orally without side- effects is being developed by scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The vaccine, which can be given to infants as young as six months, triggers an immune response without inducing the mild infection triggered by the live vaccine, according to a report in Pulse. The vaccine is due to undergo clinical trials on adult volunteers within the next two years and could be followed by similar vaccines for German measles and mumps.

Coffee high

Coffee, the world's most widely consumed psychoactive substance, is thought to improve mood, according to recent research. A study of nearly 87,000 female nurses, published in Archives of Internal Medicine, identified 56 who had committed suicide. The risk of suicide in women who drank two or three cups of coffee a day was only a third of that in women who drank no coffee.

Laser surgery volunteers

Far-sighted volunteers are needed to take part in trials of laser surgery at St Thomas's Hospital, London. The hospital's pioneering ophthalmology department, which has carried out laser surgery on more than 1,000 people with short sight since 1989, says it has had a success rate of better than 90 per cent and is confident treatment for far-sightedness and astigmatism (an abnormality of the cornea) will prove equally successful. The treatment, on volunteers aged between 21 and 65, will be provided free and will include post-operative care after day surgery. Anyone wishing to take part should write with a copy of their most recent contact lens or spectacle prescription to Excimer Laser Trials, UMDS St Thomas's Hospital, Department of Ophthalmology, London SE1 7EH.

This won't hurt a bit

Painful jabs to take blood samples from newborn babies to check for jaundice may soon become a thing of the past, thanks to a hand-held scanner currently being developed that will give the same information by analysing the light reflected from a baby's skin. The device has been developed by Pierre Graves, a technologist based in Oxfordshire who witnessed the trauma suffered by his son, David, when he developed jaundice and had to have his heel pricked almost every day for samples. A small proportion of newborn infants who suffer from jaundice require life-saving treatments to clean their blood. However, even when the obvious yellow colour vanishes from their skin, the poison that causes jaundice, bilirubin, can remain in the blood - which is why some babies need to have regular blood tests. According to a report in the New Scientist, the scanner will be able to tell how much light has been absorbed by deposits of bilirubin still in the blood, even when none is visible to the naked eye.

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