BOSTON (AP) — New research suggests that high levels of BPA, a chemical in many plastics and canned food linings, might raise the risk of miscarriage in women prone to that problem or having trouble getting pregnant.
The work is not nearly enough to prove a link, but it adds to "the biological plausibility" that BPA might affect fertility and other aspects of health, said Dr. Linda Giudice, a California biochemist who is president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. The study was to be presented Monday at the group's annual conference in Boston. Last month, ASRM and an obstetricians group urged more attention to environmental chemicals and their potential hazards for pregnant women.
BPA, short for bisphenol-A, and certain other environmental chemicals can have very weak, hormone-like effects. Tests show BPA in nearly everyone's urine, though the chemical has been removed from baby bottles and many reusable drink containers in recent years. The federal Food and Drug Administration says BPA is safe as used now in other food containers.
Most miscarriages are due to egg or chromosome problems, and a study in mice suggested BPA might influence that risk, said Dr. Ruth Lathi, a Stanford University reproductive endocrinologist.
With a federal grant, she and other researchers studied 115 newly pregnant women with a history of infertility or miscarriage; 68 wound up having miscarriages and 47 had live births.
Researchers analyzed blood samples from when the women were discovered to be pregnant and divided them into four groups based on BPA levels. Women in the top quarter had an 80 percent greater risk of miscarriage compared to those in the bottom group even though they were similar in age and other factors. However, because the study is relatively small, there was a big range of possible risk — from only slightly elevated to as much as 10 times higher.
"It may be that women with higher BPA levels do have other risk factors" for miscarriage that might be amplified by BPA, Lathi said.
The study is not cause for alarm, but "it's far from reassuring that BPA is safe" for such women, she said.
To minimize BPA exposure, avoid cooking or warming food in plastic because heat helps the chemical leak out, she said. Don't leave water bottles in the sun, limit use of canned foods and avoid handling cash register receipts, which often are coated with resins that contain BPA.
"It's impossible to avoid it completely," Lathi said.
BPA info: http://1.usa.gov/QHrkfN
Infertility info: http://www.sart.org and
WASHINGTON (AP) — Michelle Obama has pushed America to eat healthier and to exercise more. Now she says we should "drink up" too. As in plain water. And as in more of it.
She's getting behind a campaign being announced Thursday by the Partnership for a Healthier America to encourage people to drink more water.
Organizers say too many people don't drink enough water daily and about one-fourth of kids below age 19 don't drink any water at all on any given day.
The first lady launched an initiative in 2010 to tackle childhood obesity. In the past, she has advocated switching from sugary sodas to water. But officials behind this new effort say it's strictly about getting people to drink more water — not about promoting water over other beverages.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Flu vaccination is no longer merely a choice between a jab in the arm or a squirt in the nose. This fall, some brands promise a little extra protection.
For the first time, certain vaccines will guard against four strains of flu rather than the usual three. Called quadrivalent vaccines, these brands may prove more popular for children than their parents. That's because kids tend to catch the newly added strain more often.
These four-in-one vaccines are so new that they'll make up only a fraction of the nation's supply of flu vaccine, so if you want a dose, better start looking early.
But that's only one of an unprecedented number of flu vaccine options available this year.
Allergic to eggs? Egg-free shots are hitting the market, too.
Plus there's growing interest in shots brewed just for the 65-and-older crowd, and a brand that targets the needle-phobic with just a skin-deep prick.
"We're moving away from the one-size-fits-all to choosing the best possible vaccine for an individual's age and condition," said Dr. Gregory Poland, an infectious disease specialist at the Mayo Clinic.
"The flip side of that," he said, is that "this will be a confusing year" as doctors and consumers alike try to choose.
Federal health officials recommend a yearly flu vaccine for nearly everyone, starting at 6 months of age. On average, about 24,000 Americans die each flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some questions and answers about the different vaccine varieties to choose from:
Q: What's the difference between those new four-strain vaccines and the regular kind?
A: For more than 30 years, the vaccine has offered protection against three influenza strains — two common Type A strains called H1N1 and H3N2, and one strain of Type B. Flu strains continually evolve, and the recipe for each year's vaccine includes the subtypes of those strains that experts consider most likely to cause illness that winter.
Type A flu causes more serious disease and deaths, especially the H3N2 form that made last year such a nasty flu season. But the milder Type B flu does sicken people every year as well, and can kill. Two distinct Type B families circulate the globe, making it difficult to know which to include in each year's vaccine. Adding both solves the guesswork, and a CDC model estimates it could prevent as many as 485 deaths a year depending on how much Type B flu is spreading.
Q: How can I tell if I'm getting the four-strain vaccine?
A: All of the nasal spray version sold in the U.S. this year will be this new variety, called FluMist Quadrivalent. The catch is that the nasal vaccine is only for healthy people ages 2 to 49 who aren't pregnant.
If you prefer a flu shot, ask the doctor or pharmacist if the four-strain kind is available. Younger children, older adults, pregnant women and people with chronic health conditions all can use flu shots. Four-strain versions are sold under the names Fluzone Quadrivalent, Fluarix Quadrivalent and FluLaval Quadrivalent.
Manufacturers anticipate producing between 135 million and 139 million doses of flu vaccine this year. Only about 30 million doses will offer the four-strain protection.
Q: Who should seek it?
A: Type B flu tends to strike children more than the middle-aged, Poland noted. And he said it's not a bad idea for seniors, who are more vulnerable to influenza in general. But the CDC doesn't recommend one vaccine variety over another, and the American Academy of Pediatrics said either kind is fine — just get vaccinated.
Q: How are these new vaccines different from the high-dose flu shot for seniors?
A: Fluzone High-Dose protects against the traditional three strains of flu, but it quadruples the standard vaccine dose in an effort to rev up age-weakened immune systems don't respond as actively to regular flu shots.
The government calls the high-dose shot an option for seniors, not one that's proved better. Last week, Sanofi Pasteur said initial results from a study of 30,000 seniors vaccinated over the past two flu seasons suggest the high-dose shot is about 24 percent more effective. Federal health officials will have to review the full study results to see if they agree.
Q: What if I'm allergic to eggs?
A: Traditional flu vaccine is made from viruses grown in eggs, and specialists say it's usually not a problem unless someone has a serious egg allergy. But the new FluBlok vaccine eliminates that concern because it is made with cell technology, like many other nonflu vaccines. So far, it's only for use in people ages 18 to 49.
Q: What if I'm scared of needles?
A: If you don't qualify for the ouchless nasal spray vaccine, there is one shot made with a teeny-tiny needle that pricks the skin instead of muscle. Called Fluzone Intradermal, it's available for 18- to 64-year-olds, and protects against the usual three strains.
Q: How soon should I be vaccinated?
A: Early fall is ideal, as it's impossible to predict when flu will start spreading and it takes about two weeks for protection to kick in. But later isn't too late; flu season typically peaks in January or February.
Q: How much does flu vaccine cost?
A: The vaccine is covered by insurance, and Medicare and some plans don't require a copay. Drugstore vaccination programs tend to charge about $30; expect the quadrivalent versions to be slightly more expensive.
The voice of the Cardinals is recovering from a major operation.
The team confirms that Mike Shannon had heart surgery on Monday. Shannon is recovering well. The procedure was to replace an aortic valve.
Shannon says he plans on returning to the broadcasting booth on September 23. In the interim, Al Hrabosky, Rick Horton, and Mike Claiborne will join John Rooney on air. Shannon has been the Voice of the Cardinals since 1972.
CHICAGO (AP) - A pair of new Illinois laws will fund diabetes research and track economic costs of the disease.
Gov. Pat Quinn signed the bills Thursday at a conference organized by the University of Chicago Medicine's Kovler Diabetes Center.
One measure creates a special license plate. Just over half of the $40 cost of the plate will go to the Diabetes Research Checkoff Fund.
House minority leader Tom Cross sponsored the bill. He hopes the license plate will serve as a "moving billboard" for diabetes awareness.
The second bill requires the Illinois State Diabetes Commission to report regularly on the economic and social costs of diabetes and efforts to prevent the disease.
The laws take effect Jan. 1.
The Illinois Department of Public Health says about 800,000 state residents have diabetes.
MARYVILLE, Ill. (AP) - U.S. Rep. John Shimkus' office says doctors performed two medical procedures on his heart after he noticed his heart was beating with an abnormal rhythm.
The Republican congressman's office say doctors in St. Louis earlier Tuesday performed an electrophysiology test and a procedure known as an ablation. An ablation is a non-surgical procedure used to correct an abnormal heart beat.
Shimkus' office says doctors expect him to make a full recovery.
Shimkus is at home in Collinsville and will miss all House of Representatives votes this week. He plans to return to a normal work schedule the week of July 15.
The 55 year old Shimkus represents Illinois 15th Congressional District. He's been a member of Congress since 1997.
ST. LOUIS (AP) - Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has signed legislation allowing parents more time to give up newborns, requiring screening for a heart defect and dealing with mandatory reporters of child abuse.
Nixon held a bill signing ceremony Tuesday at St. Louis Children's Hospital.
The legislation will permit parents up to 45 days instead of the current five days to give up their babies. And starting in 2014, screening for critical congenital heart disease will be required for infants.
Another newly signed bill seeks to close a loophole for child abuse reporting. Mandatory reporters suspecting child abuse or neglect currently must "immediately report" or "cause a report to be made." That means reporters can pass the information to another person in their organization. Information will now go directly to state officials.
The Democratic senator from Illinois sent a letter Monday to the CEOs of Red Bull, Rockstar and Monster asking for an explanation for the companies' sponsorship of sporting events that target children.
Durbin says the companies have often claimed they do not market their drinks to youngsters. But he says he is aware of multiple situations that contradict their claims.
Durbin cites several examples in his letter, including a high school football tournament and a motorcycle race for children as young as thirteen endorsed by Red Bull.
Durbin says his letter stems out of growing concerns during the past year about the potential health risks posed by energy drinks.
WASHINGTON (AP) - We know a lot about how babies learn to talk, and youngsters learn to read. Now scientists are unraveling the earliest building blocks of math - and what children know about numbers as they begin first grade seems to play a big role in how well they do everyday calculations later on.
The findings have specialists considering steps that parents might take to spur math abilities, just like they do to try to raise a good reader.
This isn't only about trying to improve the nation's math scores and attract kids to become engineers. It's far more basic.
Consider: How rapidly can you calculate a tip? Do the fractions to double a recipe? Know how many quarters and dimes the cashier should hand back as your change?
About 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. lacks the math competence expected of a middle-schooler, meaning they have trouble with those ordinary tasks and aren't qualified for many of today's jobs.
"It's not just, can you do well in school? It's how well can you do in your life," says Dr. Kathy Mann Koepke of the National Institutes of Health, which is funding much of this research into math cognition. "We are in the midst of math all the time."
A new study shows trouble can start early. University of Missouri researchers tested 180 seventh-graders. Those who lagged behind their peers in a test of core math skills needed to function as adults were the same kids who'd had the least number sense or fluency way back when they started first grade.
"The gap they started with, they don't close it," says Dr. David Geary, a cognitive psychologist who leads the study that is tracking children from kindergarten to high school in the Columbia, Mo., school system. "They're not catching up" to the kids who started ahead.
If first grade sounds pretty young to be predicting math ability, well, no one expects tots to be scribbling sums. But this number sense, or what Geary more precisely terms "number system knowledge," turns out to be a fundamental skill that students continually build on, much more than the simple ability to count.
What's involved? Understanding that numbers represent different quantities - that three dots is the same as the numeral "3" or the word "three." Grasping magnitude - that 23 is bigger than 17. Getting the concept that numbers can be broken into parts - that 5 is the same as 2 and 3, or 4 and 1. Showing on a number line that the difference between 10 and 12 is the same as the difference between 20 and 22.
Factors such as IQ and attention span didn't explain why some first-graders did better than others. Now Geary is studying if something that youngsters learn in preschool offers an advantage.
There's other evidence that math matters early in life. Numerous studies with young babies and a variety of animals show that a related ability - to estimate numbers without counting - is intuitive, sort of hard-wired in the brain, says Mann Koepke, of NIH's National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. That's the ability that lets you choose the shortest grocery check-out line at a glance, or that guides a bird to the bush with the most berries.
Number system knowledge is more sophisticated, and the Missouri study shows children who start elementary school without those concepts "seem to struggle enormously," says Mann Koepke, who wasn't part of that research.
While schools tend to focus on math problems around third grade, and math learning disabilities often are diagnosed by fifth grade, the new findings suggest "the need to intervene is much earlier than we ever used to think," she adds. Exactly how to intervene still is being studied, sure to be a topic when NIH brings experts together this spring to assess what's known about math cognition.
But Geary sees a strong parallel with reading. Scientists have long known that preschoolers who know the names of letters and can better distinguish what sounds those letters make go on to read more easily. So parents today are advised to read to their children from birth, and many youngsters' books use rhyming to focus on sounds.
Likewise for math, "kids need to know number words" early on, he says.
NIH's Mann Koepke agrees, and offers some tips:
-Don't teach your toddler to count solely by reciting numbers. Attach numbers to a noun - "Here are five crayons: One crayon, two crayons..." or say "I need to buy two yogurts" as you pick them from the store shelf - so they'll absorb the quantity concept.
-Talk about distance: How many steps to your ball? The swing is farther away; it takes more steps.
-Describe shapes: The ellipse is round like a circle but flatter.
-As they grow, show children how math is part of daily life, as you make change, or measure ingredients, or decide how soon to leave for a destination 10 miles away,
"We should be talking to our children about magnitude, numbers, distance, shapes as soon as they're born," she contends. "More than likely, this is a positive influence on their brain function."
EDITOR'S NOTE - Lauran Neergaard covers health and medical issues for The Associated Press in Washington.
Health officials say the new number doesn't mean autism is occurring more often. But it does suggest that doctors are diagnosing autism more frequently, especially in children with milder problems.
The earlier government estimate of 1 in 88 comes from a study that many consider more rigorous. It looks at medical and school records instead of relying on parents.
For decades, autism meant kids with severe language, intellectual and social impairments and unusual, repetitious behaviors. But the definition has gradually expanded and now includes milder, related conditions.
The new estimate released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would mean at least 1 million children have autism.
The number is important — government officials look at how common each illness or disorder is when weighing how to spend limited public health funds.
It's also controversial.
The new statistic comes from a national phone survey of more than 95,000 parents in 2011 and 2012. Less than a quarter of the parents contacted agreed to answer questions, and it's likely that those with autistic kids were more interested than other parents in participating in a survey on children's health, CDC officials said.
Still, CDC officials believe the survey provides a valid snapshot of how many families are affected by autism, said Stephen Blumberg, the CDC report's lead author.
The study that came up with the 1-in-88 estimate had its own limitations. It focused on 14 states, only on children 8 years old, and the data came from 2008. Updated figures based on medical and school records are expected next year.
"We've been underestimating" how common autism is, said Michael Rosanoff of Autism Speaks, an advocacy group. He believes the figure is at least 1 in 50.
There are no blood or biologic tests for autism, so diagnosis is not an exact science. It's identified by making judgments about a child's behavior.
Doctors have been looking for autism at younger and younger ages, and experts have tended to believe most diagnoses are made in children by age 8.
However, the new study found significant proportions of children were diagnosed at older ages.
Dr. Roula Choueiri, a neurodevelopmental pediatrician at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, said she's seen that happening at her clinic. Those kids "tend to be the mild ones, who may have had some speech delays, some social difficulties," she wrote in an email. But they have more problems as school becomes more demanding and social situations grow more complex, she added.