Monthly Archives: December 2005

New scan ‘may save babies’ lives’

Doll in new scanner
A helmet contains 32 different light sources
Scientists are developing a portable brain scanner which they hope could aid treatment – and possibly save the lives – of premature and newborn babies.

The MONSTIR scanner, developed by University College London, will avoid the need to move critically ill babies to conventional scanning facilities.

This can involve sedation, which carries a degree of risk.

The data produced by the scanner can be used to diagnose and assess conditions such as brain haemorrhages.

“It could make an important contribution to the care and treatment of critically ill babies”
Dr Adam Gibson

It can also help doctors to decide on the best possible treatment.

The researchers, backed by funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Wellcome Trust, are now working on how to reduce the size of the scanner, and to improve its speed of operation.

Two alternatives

Currently, there are two main ways of performing brain scans on small babies.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can provide data on brain function, but MRI scanners are large and static, and the baby may need to be sedated and wheeled to the scanner for the procedure to be carried out.

The alternative, ultrasound, can be performed at the cot side and is effective at revealing brain anatomy – but cannot show how the brain is actually functioning.

MONSTIR works by using a technique called optical tomography to generate images showing how the brain is working.

Light is passed through the body tissues, and then analysed by computer.

A helmet incorporating 32 light detectors and 32 sources of low-intensity laser light is placed on the baby’s head.

The sources produce short flashes and the detectors measure the amount of light that reaches them through the brain and the time the light takes to travel.

Computer analysis

A software package uses this information to build up a 3D image.

This can show which parts of the brain are receiving oxygen, where blood is situated, and evidence of brain damage. The UCL team are also testing whether the technology could be useful in diagnosing and treating breast cancer.

Researcher Dr Adam Gibson said: “The technology we’re developing has the potential to produce high-quality images at the cot side and is also cheaper than MRI.

“It could make an important contribution to the care and treatment of critically ill babies.”

It is hoped the scanners could be commercially available within a few years.

Henry Scowcroft, of the charity Cancer Research UK, said: “This is exciting work. Finding out what is going on inside the body quickly and non-invasively is an important goal for medical researchers.

“Current technology such as MRI and PET is extremely valuable but also expensive and cumbersome to use.

“Developing a smaller, more mobile imaging machine would be extremely useful.”

‘Mono’ virus may shorten pregnancy duration

If Epstein-Barr virus (or EBV) — the bug responsible for mononucleosis, among other ills — is reactivated during pregnancy, it may lead to early labor or even stillbirth, according to a new report.

“EBV reactivation in the first part of pregnancy was associated with shorter duration of pregnancy and lighter babies,” Dr. Anne Eskild from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, told Reuters Health. “Though not significant, this association was most prominent in stillborn children.”

Eskild and her colleagues investigated the risk of fetal death and other pregnancy outcomes according to EBV status during pregnancy, using the Medical Birth Registry of Norway. The team looked into 280 fetal deaths and 940 randomly selected live-born infants from among 35,940 pregnancies in the registry.

A first instance of EBV infection was seen in 1.5 percent of the pregnant women, the team reports in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and 25 percent of the women had signs of EBV reactivation during the first trimester.

The pregnancies of women with significant EBV reactivation were significantly shorter than those of women without reactivation, the report indicates.

Also, the rate of EBV reactivation was more than twice as high among women who delivered before 21 weeks (all of the infants were stillborn) than among women who delivered after 21 weeks (stillborn or live born), the researchers note.

EBV reactivation was also associated with lower average birthweight, body length and head circumference.

“Our findings need to be verified by others,” Eskild said, adding: “There is insufficient knowledge about the consequences of maternal EBV infection in pregnancy to make any clinical recommendations and guidelines.”

SOURCE: BJOG, December 2005.

Babies’ Names 2005 – Jessica pushes Emily off the top spot

Jessica has climbed two places to the number one spot, overtaking Emily, last year’s top name. Ellie, last years second favourite name for baby girls, has fallen into sixth place. Olivia is the only new entry to the top five, up three to number four.

Parents are more adventurous when choosing names for their little girls. Girls’ names move up and down the list more frequently than boys’ names and there is far more variety in the names given to girls.

There are three new entries in the top 50 girls’ names. Two of them Keira, which has risen 13 places to 38, and Scarlett, which has jumped 25 places to 47 are the names of popular Hollywood actresses, respectively Keira Knightley and Scarlett Johansson. The other new entry, Libby, has been steadily moving up the top 100 since 2000. This year it climbed four places to 48.

Other notable climbers are the similar sounding names Evie (up 10 places to 29), Eva (up 32 places to 78) and Ava (up 65 places to 84).

Jack is the most popular name for baby boys for the eleventh year running, although its popularity is declining: 14% fewer boys were called Jack this year than last. Will Jack fall down and lose his crown next year?

For the first time since 2002, there is a new entry in the top five names. Oliver has risen two places into fifth position, pushing Daniel outside the top five. Joshua, Thomas, James remain unchanged at number two, three, and four respectively.

Leo is the only new entry in the top 50 boys’ names, jumping 20 places to 37 in 2005.

Soap Stars
Eastenders, which suffered a tough 2004 in the realms of ratings and baby names, was resurgent in 2005. Alfie, which fell nine places last year, climbed back up six places to 21 this year. Meanwhile, the shows resident heartthrob Jake climbed 9 places to 16.

Other ‘Enders names to have a good year were Ruby (Up 16 places to 15) and Demi, which jumped to 80 thanks to a 41 per cent increase in popularity. Aleesha, the name of Demis newly born baby in the show, went up by 298 per cent.

Eastenders big rival Coronation Street was not to be totally eclipsed: Frankie, the shows resident cockney sparrow, almost doubled in popularity to reach number 152 in the list of girls’ names.

Sporting Heroes
In the year when England finally recaptured the Ashes after 16 years of demoralizing defeat, the names sported by Englands cricketing heroes suffered varying fortunes. While Freddie (as in Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff) jumped 15 places to 81, Michael (as in Michael Vaughan) slipped four places to 39.

Elsewhere, Callum Best (star of Celebrity Love Island and son of the recently-deceased footballer George) saw his name climb steadily from 18 to 15.

New Year’s Day 2006: delayed by a second

Get ready for a minute with 61 seconds. Scientists are delaying the start of 2006 by the first “leap second” in seven years, a timing tweak meant to make up for changes in the Earth’s rotation.

The adjustment will be carried out by sticking an extra second into atomic clocks worldwide at the stroke of midnight Coordinated Universal Time, the widely adopted international standard, the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology said this week.

“Enjoy New Year’s Eve a second longer,” the institute said in an explanatory notice. “You can toot your horn an extra second this year.”

Coordinated Universal Time coincides with winter time in London. On the U.S. East Coast, the extra second occurs just before 7 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. Atomic clocks at that moment will read 23:59:60 before rolling over to all zeros.

A leap second is added to keep uniform timekeeping within 0.9 second of the Earth’s rotational time, which can speed up or slow down because of many factors, including ocean tides. The first leap second was added on June 30, 1972, according to NIST, an arm of the U.S. Commerce Department.

Since 1999 until recently, the two time standards have been in close enough synch to escape any need to add a leap second, NIST said.

Although it is possible to have a negative leap second — that is, a second deducted from Coordinated Universal Time — so far all have been add-ons, reflecting the Earth’s general slowing trend due to tidal braking.

Deciding when to introduce a leap second is the responsibility of the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service, a standards-setting body. Under an international pact, the preference for leap seconds is December 31 or June 30.

Precise time measurements are needed for high-speed communications systems among other modern technologies.

Oral contraception ‘cuts MS risk’

contraceptive pills
Contraceptives contain hormones
Taking the oral contraceptive can cut women’s short-term risk of multiple sclerosis, a study suggests.

The Harvard School of Public Health research showed the incidence of MS was 40% lower in those taking the Pill compared to those who were not.

The findings are in line with previous animal studies which suggested female hormones could delay the onset of MS, or the development of symptoms.

The three year study is published in Archives of Neurology.

MS is an inflammatory disease which causes a range of symptoms from fatigue and numbness to difficulties with movement, speech and memory.

Pregnancy changes

Researchers compared 106 women who had a new diagnosis of MS between January 1993 and December 2000 with 1,001 other women without MS. Information was taken from the British General Practice Research Database.

Incidence of MS was 40% lower in women using oral contraceptives than in those who were not taking the Pill

Women were also found to have a lower risk of MS during pregnancy, but a higher risk in the six months after having a baby – compared to those who were not pregnant.

Writing in Archives of Neurology, the researchers led by Dr Alvaro Alonso, said: “These findings are consistent with studies on the effect of pregnancy in patients with MS and the immunological changes associated with pregnancy.

“Our findings suggest that high levels of exogenous [from outside the body] oestrogens from OC use and of endogenous [from the body] oestrogens during pregnancy may delay the first clinical attack of MS.”


Chris Jones, chief executive of the UK’s MS Trust said: “Any new information which highlights potential protective factors for MS is welcomed.

“It is already well documented that sex hormones such as oestrogen can influence the development and course of MS as evidenced by the higher ratio of women with MS compared to men, and the higher risk of MS in women post-pregnancy.

“But it is however difficult to draw firm conclusions from this one study.

“As the authors comment themselves, other factors may have influenced the results, such as a pregnancy during the follow-up period or whether those using the pill were ‘healthy’ individuals – ie not smokers or overweight.

“Overall, these findings are interesting, although more research needs to be conducted within this area before firmer conclusions can be drawn.”

A Guide to Contraception

A Guide to Contraception


Oral contraception, commonly known as ‘the pill’ is an extremely popular choice in birth control.  It has been a popular choice for women of all ages for the past 40 years.
Is the pill right for you?

Tuesdays quiz….prize for the winner!!

Just to remind you all there will be our weekly quiz night as usually in the bar this Tuesday at 9pm!

It has been organised by strawberry I believe she already has questions drawn up (far more organised that me lol) and I will donate a small prize for the winner!

Get yourselfs in there nice and early …dont forget all drinks are free.

I hope to see lots of faces in there this week…you’ll be guarntee’d a right chuckle!!!

Concern over birth unit closures

Campaigners are calling for parents to have more choice
More expectant parents are being denied a choice of where they can have their baby, campaigners have warned.

The National Childbirth Trust says at least 10 birth centres across the UK are now considering closing, or are definitely set to do so.

Some “temporary” closures over Christmas may become permanent due to a lack of funds, the NCT says.

But the Department of Health said local health services had the funds to provide adequate maternity services.

“It’s quite astonishing how often that temporary closure turns into a long term closure”
Belinda Phipps, National Childbirth Trust

Birth centres are smaller than hospital units, and are not run by consultants.

They focus on ensuring births are as natural as possible.

They account for about two per cent of births in the UK. But they are sometimes under-used. The NCT says GPs often do not give women the confidence to try them.

There are around 100 such centres across the UK.

The NCT said in November that six units were under threat.

But it now says centres in Dover, Petersfield, Fareham, Southport, Devizes, Malmesbury, Wakefield, Guisborough and Romsey are under threat, or had recently been closed.

Birth centres in Grampian are also threatened with closure, they suggest.

Some centres have been closed temporarily, but the NCT says there are fears they will not re-open.

Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the NCT, said: “With Christmas coming up we’ve seen a sudden increase in the numbers that are closing – theoretically temporarily, but it’s quite astonishing how often that temporary closure turns into a long term closure and once they’re gone they’re gone, and it’s very difficult to get that sort of service back.

“The NHS requires them to be in place, but if they’re not we really worry that they won’t ever come back.”

The NCT warns the government’s plans to improve maternity services – as set out in the National Service Framework for Children, Young People and Maternity Services – will be jeopardised unless the government backs community-based birth centres.

Ms Phipps added: “We know that access to birth centres helps to increase normal birth rates, giving women with a straightforward pregnancy a better chance of giving birth without drugs, forceps or emergency surgery.”

But she added: “Many women are not being encouraged to consider the full range of choices for birth. As a result, birth centres in some areas appear unpopular, underused by women and unsupported by the local community.

“We fully support government pledges to increase choices for women over where and how they have their baby. Yet their worthy aims are being undermined by the short-term financial difficulties of NHS trusts.

“We are urging the government to consider the needs of the modern day “Mary and Josephs” and support community birth centres.”

But a Department of Health spokeswoman said: “Of course, expectant parents will be able to access maternity services over the festive period.”

She added: “Record investment in the NHS means that local primary care organisations and hospitals have the resources to deliver high quality maternity services.

“It is up to local service providers to decide how best that extra investment can be spent to meet the needs of their local communities.”

And a Scottish Executive spokeswoman said: “We do not recognise these claims at all.

“Our commitment to community midwife units is well documented and this is set to continue.”

Abandoned babies get mothers’ milk

Baby drinking donated breast milk
Volunteer mothers donate the milk
Amid high HIV infection rates in South Africa, women in Durban are volunteering to provide immune-boosting breast milk to abandoned children, the BBC’s Mahlatse Gallens reports.

Eight-month-old Thalenthe was abandoned by his mother weeks after he was born.

His ailing grandfather could not take care of him and brought him to Ithemba Lethu: a transit shelter for abandoned children in the city of Durban.

Children like Thalenthe are part of the trail of devastation left behind by the HIV-Aids pandemic ravaging the country.

In KwaZulu-Natal, the province with the highest infection rate in South Africa, 40% of women test positive at the government’s ante-natal clinics.

Some of the children who arrive on Ithamba Lethu’s doorstep are HIV positive.

Here they don’t only get shelter, food and love – they also receive breast milk from a network of volunteer mothers who express extra milk every day.

The milk is then collected and sent out to homes like Ithemba Lethu.


Project co-ordinator Penny Reimers says the advantages of breast milk have been proved by a World Health Organisation study.

These orphans have thrived and are now awaiting adoption

“The WHO did a study of children in developing countries and they found that children who are not breast fed are six times more likely to die from diarrhoea and pneumonia – it’s literally life saying,” she says.

“The studies they have done in relation to HIV show that if a child is exclusively breast fed for six months – that means no other formula or water – these babies have a very low chance of contracting the HIV virus.”

Penny Reimers says volunteer mothers are rigorously screened before contributing the milk, to avoid HIV from being transmitted through the milk.

“In donor banks internationally they do blood tests on the mothers – we don’t have the funding to do that so we screen by lifestyle,” she says.

“Then we pasteurise the breast milk to kill off any HIV, hepatitis virus or bacteria that might be in the milk.”


The breast milk project is the brain child of paediatrician Professor Anna Coustodis, who with her friends wanted to lend a hand in the fight against Aids.

The project has grown through word of mouth, over the last four years, and more than 100 mothers have become a part of it.

Andrea Muller, 33, provides just over 500 millilitres of milk every week.

“As a South African, Aids is very close to everyone’s heart and everyone wants to do something to help – without giving money perhaps. It seemed something that would be easy to do to help babies – and having a little one gives one a very soft heart.”

That kind of compassion is urgently needed in a country where poverty and disease have driven some mothers to desperation.

“There are a lot of children abandoned,or just left”, says Liz Holley, the house mother at Ithemba Lethu.

“One of our little girls was left in a room. Then the neighbours could see no-one was going in but could still hear the baby crying. They broke the door down and got the child out.

“Many of the women are desperate, they don’t know what to do. Families refuse to help because it’s HIV-related and they don’t know what to do with the children.”

Ithemba Lethu is Zulu for “I have a destiny”. By coming here, children like Thalenthe have a chance of realising theirs.

Nursery: a melting pot for infection

By Jane Elliott
BBC News health reporter

A nursery school
Parents feel children often more ill after starting nursery
Most parents will agree that nurseries are breeding grounds for coughs, colds, and tummy upsets.

When a young child starts at nursery, they seem to suffer an endless cycle of minor ailments, that then seem to infect the whole family.

But the jury is still out about whether this is a bad thing, or whether early exposure to germs plays a key role in the development of a child’s immune system.

Little research has been done in the UK into how many respiratory infections are caught by children attending nursery – and the knock-on efects this can have on the rest of the family.


Dr Nicol Black, a public health expert in Newcastle, has examined the issue in close detail.

“Pre-school children in day-care are three to four times more likely to have a respiratory infection than a child who stays at home”
Dr Nicol Black

He has just completed an 18-month study to examine whether there is any truth in the anecdotal belief that nursery attendance is linked to a greater risk of infection – and whether there are good grounds for promoting vaccination against certain illnesses.

Dr Black collated data from around 100 local nurseries and involving 550 episodes of illness.

His findings seem to support his contention that nurseries are a “wonderful melting pot” for infections.

“Pre-school children in day-care are three to four times more likely to have a respiratory infection than a child who stays at home,” said Dr Black.

“And that fits what, anecdotally, parents are well aware of.”

He added that in half the households studied, when a child became sick, others in the house were also ill either just before or just after the child.

About 13% of the adults were quite ill and had to have an average of six days off work.

Further analysis

Dr Black is to analyse the data further to assess further not only the health impact, but the economic impact on families, and the wider population in general.

He will look at issues such as whether illness spreads to other members of the household, and how much time off parents need to care for a sick child.

He will also look at whether prevention measures, such as vaccinations against serious conditions such as pneumococcal infection and flu, are needed.

The completed data from the study, which is expected to be published early next year, will be sent to the Department of Health.

But should we keep our children away from nurseries until they are older, or would that just be delaying the inevitable?

Leukaemia risk

Research from the US has shown that children who attend nursery may be less likely to develop childhood leukaemia and that delaying their exposure to infection may result in them having an underdeveloped immune system, which puts them at a greater risk.

Dr Jackie Bucknall, consultant paediatrician at the Homerton Hospital, in London, believes there is no good health ground for not sending children to nursery.

“If you have a child that is fit and well and has not got any condition that can make them immunosuppressed, such as receiving cancer treatment, then I would recommend all parents to send their children to a place where they have got a good peer group mix.

“I would recommend all parents to send their children to a place where they have got a good peer group mix”
Dr Jackie Bucknall

“Although it may often seem that they always have a runny nose this is the way they stimulate their immune system.

“There is no problem. Children are going to be exposed to infections at sometime and it is probably better that it happens when they are nursery than when they are older.”

Dr Bucknall stressed that toddlers were no more vulnerable to infection than those at school.

But she said it was important that children going to nursery were vaccinated against the most important childhood illnesses, such as measles, to protect themselves and others.


Mother Sam Salter, whose three-year-old Daisy goes to a local nursery agrees, saying she would rather Daisy had early exposure to infection.

“I would rather she had them now than when she went to school. It is easier for them when they are young and it is usually less serious.

“But I have noticed that Sean, my partner, has become more ill. He has had a lot more colds since Daisy started nursery.”

Sam, from Surrey, has not had Daisy vaccinated against any illness, but says she does not worry about her becoming exposed to them.

She was not vaccinated herself as a child and had most of the illnesses including measles, German measles and whooping cough.

“I do not worry about her coming into contact with any of these childhood illnesses.

“But when we lived in London I was concerned about Daisy being exposed to TB and when there was an outbreak I would not go on the bus.”