|Health Insight May 1999|
Women at work: a risky business
The Trades Union Council (TUC) has published a report, 'A Woman's Work is Never Safe', which suggests there is a male bias in health and safety legislation. Apparently women workers suffer more repetitive injuries, back pain, eyestrain and skin diseases than men. Almost 12 million women could be risking their health because of work problems, such as stress, heavy lifting, contact with dangerous chemicals, and eyestrain caused by staring at a VDU.
Part of the reason for the gender discrepancies is that women tend to be concentrated in professions that cause certain types of health hazards; for example, hairdressers have a high level of skin problems because of the chemicals involved. Women are now moving into traditionally male areas of work where standards of safety have been devised according to male models. A spokeswoman for the TUC said, 'We want equal attention to be given to the needs of women workers'. In response a spokeswoman from the Health & Safety Executive said, 'If the TUC asks us to look at gender and health and safety, I am sure we will do so'.
Source: BBC Online
New website for kidney research fund
The National Kidney Research Fund is Britain's foremost renal charity and relies entirely on voluntary support to continue its work. Now it is launching a redesigned website which will contain regular updates on new research into a range of kidney conditions, as well as profiling what life is like for those suffering with a kidney disease. All the latest national and regional news from the charity will also be featured on the new website at www.nkrf.org.uk
Details of breakthrough research into glomerulonephritis will be included on the website. This is the kidney disease responsible for 20 per cent of dialysis cases in young adults. One of the molecules involved has been identified by Hammersmith Hospital in London; research has been so promising that it is hoped clinical trials in patients can soon begin.
Source: Press release (National Kidney Research Fund)
The tiniest pacemaker
A three-week-old baby girl, weighing just over 4lb, has been fitted with a heart pacemaker, following surgery to repair a hole in her heart and other problems. Katie Burke, one of twins, was born with a complex heart condition, diagnosed while she was still in the womb. At the Diana Princess of Wales Children's Hospital in Birmingham, a tiny pacemaker was inserted under Katie's left armpit, as there was not enough room in her chest. A fine wire, which will unravel as she grows, was passed through the baby's veins leading to her heart. The consultant who performed the operation said the insertion was made possible thanks to the development of a wire fine enough to pass through the baby's tiny veins.
Source: Guardian 3rd April
The contraceptive pill: always controversial
Three-and-a-half years ago the DoH gave women a scare with its advice on the third-generation oral contraceptive pill. One consequence was that the abortion rate increased by 9 per cent. Doctors were advised to switch women to older, second-generation pills because of a slightly increased risk of blood clots in the leg with the newer drugs. Now the recommendation has been reversed by the Committee on Safety of Medicines (CSM), which has suggested that the gestodene/desogestrel pill can be offered as first-line treatment, provided the slightly increased risk of deep-vein thrombosis is explained to women. From June this year, third-generation pills will contain new package inserts, stating the risks. Although welcomed by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, a spokesperson said the CSM's advice in 1995 'was a disaster that should never have happened'.
However, views on the contraceptive pill vary. An eminent cancer statistician has provoked anger among family planning groups by questioning its safety. Professor Klim McPherson of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said, 'Confidence in the pill may be seriously misplaced because very young women who take the pill for years have not been fully studied'. He argues that hormones in a woman's body, between the age of her first period and first child, seem to play a role in her vulnerability to breast cancer. If his fears prove correct the proportion of women under 50 developing breast cancer could rise from 1 in 50 to 1 in 18.
Clinical trials on 23 men using an easy-to-use contraceptive pill and hormone patch have proved successful. A three-month course of the pill used in combination with the hormone patch reduces the number of active sperm to zero. The method has still to be perfected but researchers at Manchester University believe this work will lead to a more user-acceptable method of male contraception.
Are you microwaving your brain?
Almost half a billion people worldwide use mobile phones. To date there has been no consistent evidence suggesting risk to health, but there is continuing public concern about the possibility. Hence the DoH's Radiation Protection Research Programme has funded a short study of the effect of mobile phone frequencies on human memory and reaction times. The work, carried out at Bristol University, has found that mobile phones do not lead to cancer and there is no noticeable effect on memory loss – indeed the study found that the microwave emissions from the mobile phones had the unexpected effect of decreasing the time subjects took to react to words flashed on to a screen. Although this seems like good news, if microwave emissions can influence reactions times as they pass through the skull, what else might they be doing? It appears that the best protection to the microwave radiation field is the 'hands-free' set which cuts the field inside the head by more than 94 per cent.
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