Health Buzz: Premature Babies and Other Health News

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New Calculator for Parents of Premature Babies

A new calculator may help doctors and family members calculate the chances of survival and risk of complications for very low birth weight, premature babies born between 22 and 25 weeks of gestation. Users input the baby's sex, weight, and other variables and receive feedback on the baby's survival prospects and risk of neurodevelopmental problems. Many babies born this young have lifelong disabilities, including blindness, hearing loss, and cerebral palsy--while others grow up to have few or no health problems.

The tool, offered by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and based on data from randomized controlled trials, is not a substitute for a doctor's advice but may be useful when deciding how to care for an infant.

Study Charts the Spread of Annual Flu Outbreaks

Scientists have discovered the path that the flu takes each year as the illness goes on its annual worldwide journey. This information should help officials better pinpoint the flu strains most likely to affect Americans and develop a vaccine targeted to those strains, according to the study, published in the journal Science. The illness hits East Asia and Southeast Asia first each year, researchers said, and it then spreads around the world. It takes about nine months for the flu to reach Europe and North America.

Smoking, Drinking, and High Cholesterol Linked to Alzheimer's

There is new evidence that how you live your life may affect your risk of dementia. A study presented Wednesday at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting found that heavy smokers (one pack of cigarettes or more per day) and drinkers (two or more drinks per day) and people with high cholesterol at middle age had an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease earlier in life than those who didn't fit in those categories. Heavy smokers in the study developed Alzheimer's disease 2.3 years earlier, on average, than those who didn't smoke heavily. Heavy drinkers developed the disease about 4.8 years sooner.

Antibiotics Not Always Best for Sinusitis

People with mild sinus infections may be best off toughing it out rather than turning to an antibiotic, which research increasingly suggests isn't likely to speed their recovery. Two studies in recent weeks, including one published yesterday by the Cochrane Collaboration--a group that produces reviews of medical research--have reached that basic conclusion, U.S. News reports. Researchers found that antibiotics may have a "small treatment effect" in patients with mild sinusitis and symptoms for more than seven days. But, the new report notes, eight out of 10 patients improve without antibiotics within two weeks, so "clinicians need to weigh the small benefits of antibiotic treatment against the potential for adverse effects."

U.S. News offers antibiotic-free tips for managing sinusitis symptoms.

--January W. Payne