Health Highlights: May 10, 2010

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Premature Babies More Sensitive to Pain: Study

Premature babies would benefit from better pain relief while in intensive care, report researchers who say invasive hospital procedures make preemies pain-sensitive.

Injections, blood tests, tube feeding and other treatments make preterm babies feel pain more acutely than healthy newborns, says a team from University College London, BBC News reported.

"Our study shows that being born prematurely and undergoing intensive care affects pain processing in the infant brain," said Dr. Rebeccah Slater, lead researcher. "Our ability to measure brain responses to painful events will lead to a better and more informed approach to the administration of analgesia, and enable us to define optimal ways of providing pain relief in this vulnerable population."

For the study, the newborns' brain activity was measured with an electroencephalogram (EEG) while they underwent routine heel pricking to obtain blood samples.

The brain activity of preemies hospitalized for 40 days or more was stronger than that of healthy babies of the same age. This indicates that the premature babies are bothered more by pain, the researchers said.

However, the babies are not more sensitive to touch and can benefit from being held or cuddled, the authors said, according to BBC News.

The findings are published in the journal NeuroImage.


U.S. Should Allow Ritual 'Nick' of Girls' Genitalia: AAP

U.S. doctors should be allowed to perform a ceremonial pinprick or "nick" on young girls' genitalia in order to keep the girls' families from taking them overseas for full circumcision, says the American Academy of Pediatrics.

U.S. law forbids any nonmedical procedure on the genitals of a girl. To get around the law, some parents take their daughters to other countries for what's commonly called female genital mutilation (FGM), The New York Times reported. The practice is common in some African and Asian cultures.

"It might be more effective if federal and state laws enabled pediatricians to reach out to families by offering a ritual nick as a possible compromise to avoid greater harm," said a policy statement released last week by the American Academy of Pediatrics' bioethics committee.

The suggestion triggered harsh criticism.

"I am sure the academy had only good intentions, but what their recommendation has done is only create confusion about whether FGM is acceptable in any form, and it is the wrong step forward on how best to protect young women and girls," Representative Joseph Crowley (D-NY) told The Times. He recently introduced a bill to make it a crime to take a girl overseas to be circumcised.

"FGM serves no medical purpose, and it is rightfully banned in the U.S.," said Georganne Chapin, executive director of an advocacy group called Intact America. She told The Times she was "astonished that a group of intelligent people did not see the utter slippery slope that we put physicians on" with the new AAP policy statement.


Sexual Satisfaction Decreases for Older Americans: Survey

Financial stress may be the main reason why Americans 45 and older are having sex less often and are less satisfied with sex.

A new AARP survey of 1,670 people 45 and over found that 28% said they had intercourse at least once a week, and 40% said they had intercourse at least once a month. Both categories were down at least 10% from 2004, the Associated Press reported.

Only 43% of respondents said they were satisfied with their sex lives, compared with 51% in 2004.

The survey also found that only 22% of respondents said sex outside of marriage was wrong, compared with 41% in 1991.

"The economy has had an impact on these people," sociologist Pepper Schwartz, AARP's sex and relationship expert, told the AP. "They're more liberal in their attitudes, yet they're having sex less often. The only thing I see that's changed in a negative direction is financial worries."


More Night-time Driving Deaths Among Young Blamed on Cell Phones

Talking and texting on cells phones is a likely reason why the proportion of night-time fatal crashes involving drivers 16 to 19 years old increased 10% between 1999 and 2008, says a U.S. study.

Texas Transportation Institute researchers analyzed data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatality Reporting System and found that the total number of fatal crashes dropped between 1999 and 2008. However, the percentage of crashes that occurred at night increased, the AP reported.

There were 4,322 fatal crashes in 2008 involving drivers ages 16 to 19, and 2,148 (nearly 50%) of them were at night. In 1999, nighttime crashes accounted for 45% of the overall 6,368 fatal crashes involving drivers in that age group.

Night-time crashes accounted for 18,601 of the 44,803 fatal crashes in 2008 involving drivers ages 20 to 97, compared with 18,899 of 48,991 fatal crashes in 1999, the AP reported.

Alcohol use is the primary reason for the proportional increase in night-time crashes among drivers ages 20 to 97, but driver distraction caused by talking and texting on cell phones is the likely cause among younger drivers, the study authors said.

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