VITAL SIGNS

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Breakthrough could save thousands of babies

Doctors have made a breakthrough that could help to save the lives of more than 1,000 babies a year who die of meconium asphyxiation syndrome - inhaling their own bowel movements while still in the womb. The babies' lungs are so full of meconium that once delivered they are unable to breathe. Now a fibre optic probe has been developed at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London, that can be inserted into the womb to detect if a baby needs emergency delivery. Professor Phillip Steer, head of obstetrics and gynaecology at the hospital, says it could cut meconium deaths by at least half.

Nicotine patches can cause poisoning

Vigorous exercise should be avoided by anyone using nicotine patches, a report from Canada suggests. It describes the cases of three sports players wearing the patches who experienced nicotine poisoning - with symptoms ranging from nausea, vomiting, disorientation and palpitations. Increased skin temperature during exercise resulted in intensified absorption from the patches, researchers conclude in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Implants can impare breast feeding

Women who have had breast implants are far less likely to breast feed successfully, according to a survey of more than 5,000 women in the United States. The survey found that 64 per cent of those who had their breasts augmented could not produce enough milk, compared with 7 per cent of other women. Some breast surgery reduces nipple sensation and damages the milk ducts, the study warns in Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

Mother's milk can prevent tonsillitis

Research from Italy, meanwhile, suggests that breast feeding can protect babies against tonsillitis. A study of more than 2,500 children published in the British Medical Journal found that removal of the tonsils was more common among bottle-fed children, presumably because the immune components of breast milk reduce the likelihood of infections.

Asthma attacks linked to gas stoves

Women who cook on gas stoves may be at greater risk of asthma attacks and other respiratory symptoms than those using other cooking methods, says a study of more than 1,000 women published in The Lancet. Researchers from St Thomas's Hospital, London, suggest that high concentrations of nitrogen oxide, a product of natural gas that can harm the lungs, may be the cause. The link between gas cooking and allergy symptoms was not found in men, either because women are more susceptible or because men do less cooking.

When in doubt, call your GP out

Parents who are anxious about a child's health should call out their GP without hesitation, despite the new patient education campaign that is aimed at cutting down unnecessary out-of-hours calls, says a children's charity. The Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths says that parents in doubt about whether their baby's illness is minor or serious should still call their GP.

Nicotine patches can cause poisoning

The first booklet aimed at gay men who choose not to wear condoms during sex has been produced by Camden and Islington Community Health Services NHS Trust. The booklet, "Thinking it Through", acknowledges that some gay men do not like using condoms and advises on ways they can reduce the risk of contracting HIV. For more information, contact the Gay Men's team, 0171-530 3900.

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