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Am Fam Physician. 2003;67(3):459-460

“Oh, boy.” China may soon run out of girls. According to figures published in BMJ, 116.86 boys are born in China for every 100 girls. A normal ratio would be about 102 boys to 100 girls. The Chinese have a traditional preference for male children, especially in rural areas, to carry on the family name, help work the land, and care for elderly parents. Because of this tradition and the nation's strict one-child policy, many couples seek ways to guarantee having a son. Chinese and foreign experts blame the gender gap on the increased availability of ultrasonography and selective abortion of female fetuses throughout China in the past decade.

Children who lose their hearing after speech and language acquisition may benefit from early cochlear implantation, according to a study published in The Lancet. Phonetically balanced kindergarten word scores were positively correlated with duration of implant use and negatively correlated with age at implantation in 34 prelingually deaf recipients of implants. Three years after implantation, children implanted before age five scored significantly higher in this correlation than those implanted after age five.

Handheld computers can help your patients stay healthy. According to BusinessWeek, personal digital assistants (PDAs) can be used for everything from storing important health information to managing diabetes. Software programs are available that can transform PDAs into calorie counters, fitness trainers, and even portable heart monitors. As if life weren't scheduled enough, one PDA program can help expectant parents monitor the progress of labor, sounding an alarm when it is time to call a physician.

“Where there's a will, there's a way.” Unfortunately, this saying still seems to apply to teenagers who want cigarettes, according to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. A survey conducted in 490 Texas schools found that in 1998 and 1999, smokers in middle school were less likely to buy their cigarettes from stores and vending machines than in previous years. However, these teens were more likely to steal cigarettes or get them “some other way.” Most sources for obtaining cigarettes reported by older teens did not change.

In most cases, pregnant women do not need to fear cats and their litter boxes. Pregnant women are usually warned to avoid all contact with cats and cat feces to avoid exposure to Toxoplasma gondii, a microbe that can cause miscarriages or damage to fetuses. Instead, pregnant women should be wary of undercooked meat; 8 percent of beef and 20 percent of lamb and pork carry the microbe, according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine and cited in the New York Times. However, if the expectant mothers are still worried, they can ask their doctors to test them for an antibody that would indicate they had developed an immunity through an earlier exposure to T. gondii. And, as always, it is wise to change the litter box daily and to wear gloves when gardening.

Here is some news that is guaranteed to make cooks everywhere smile. Or, at least, not cry. Researchers have found the enzyme responsible for the tears that fall when we slice and dice onions, reports Nature. By downregulating the activity of the enzyme, called lachrymatory-factor synthase, researchers may be able to develop a non-lachrymatory onion that retains its flavor and nutritional value. No word as to when you will be able to find a tearless onion in your local produce aisle.

The benefits of a glass of wine may have more to do with the moderate drinker's healthy lifestyle than the wine itself, suggests a cross-sectional study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Comparing the overall health of 2,864 men and 1,571 women enrolled in the University of North Carolina Alumni Heart Study, researchers found that wine drinkers ate more healthfully than those who consumed beer, liquor, or no alcohol, and were less likely to be smokers. The study shows that the key to good health is still eating right and exercising regularly. Now, can we toast to that?

“Ick!” Maggot therapy is making a comeback. According to an article in American Medical News, two recent studies showed that this medieval remedy is an effective treatment for refractory skin ulcers. Despite some obvious drawbacks to the use of maggots, including the possibility that they will escape or turn into flies, physicians who think the maggots work well are singing their praises. Said one dermatologist interviewed for the article: “I am enamored with the little creatures.”

Many children are missing out on the health benefits of walking and biking to school, according to survey findings published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Of 611 families surveyed, the majority said their children can't walk or bike to school because of barriers such as long distances, traffic danger, adverse weather conditions, crime, and school policy. An editorial note accompanying the findings adds the reminder that increasing the number of walking and biking trips to school is a national health objective for 2010.

“Using the date rape drug to combat alcoholism? That doesn't seem quite right.” A 52-year-old man with a 20-year history of alcohol dependence self-medicated with 30 mL of gamma-hydroxybutyrate taken three to four times a day to suppress a craving for alcohol. Over a three-month period, he reduced his alcohol intake but was unable to achieve abstinence, according to a study published in Southern Medical Journal. Other studies have shown that alcoholics were able to maintain abstinence by taking the same dose six times a day. While this product shows promise, further research needs to be conducted to define its role in the management of alcohol detoxification.

If major health risks were addressed by both governments and individuals around the globe, life expectancy could be increased by five to 10 years, according to the World Health Organization's 2002 annual report. The report shows that 40 percent of 56 million deaths worldwide can be attributed to only 10 risk factors, including childhood and maternal underweight, unsafe sex, high blood pressure, tobacco use, alcohol abuse, iron deficiency, and overweight/obesity.

Facial expressions can tell us a lot about how a patient is feeling. But it seems that some emotions are difficult to recognize. According to a study published in Pain and cited in BMJ, some health care professionals are likely to confuse a look of pain with a look of disgust. Although 59 percent of physicians and nurses in two London hospitals could correctly identify pain in photographs of faces, they were better able to recognize other emotions, such as sadness (92 percent), surprise (81 percent), and embarrassment (79 percent).

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