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Personal Health: News and Notes

Reading to kids is good; doing it a certain way is even better

It's no surprise that children whose parents read to them are better prepared for school and are eager to learn to read.

But a review of the research found it's not just the reading itself that matters - it's also "the type of conversations . . . as well as the emotional quality of the interactions" between the adult reader and the young listener.

"The style of the reading, more than the frequency, impacts children's early language and literacy development," write Boston University School of Medicine pediatricians in their article, published online last week in Archives of Disease in Childhood.

In one style that has been shown to help children, the reader describes and labels pictures during reading sessions. In another style, the reader discusses the meaning of the story with the child at the end of it.

The review authors also urge pediatricians to play a role through programs such as Reach Out and Read, which uses routine doctor's visits as a chance to give parents a book to read to their children. Reach Out and Read, The program (


), founded in Boston, has spread to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and other centers.

- Marie McCullough

Dirty toilets in hospitals may be why C. diff infections hang on

The most important people in the battle against the sometimes deadly Clostridium difficile infections in hospitals may not be your highly paid doctor, but the humble housekeeping staff. The bacterial infections commonly called C. diff are on the rise in U.S. hospitals and becoming more difficult to treat with common antibiotics.

Now a team of Canadian scientists is measuring the bug's presence by using ultraviolet lights to see if the cleaning staff is hitting every nook and cranny.

The study, published online this week in BMC Infectious Diseases, is significant, because although scientists often test what cleaning agents will kill these resilient bugs, they seldom look to see if the janitors are actually applying the solutions.

Researchers at University of Manitoba spread an ultraviolet lotion on toilets in a Canadian hospital to measure how effective housekeeping staff wiped down toilets.

You guessed it. Only 70 percent of the toilets were properly cleaned.

The results were more troubling when patients were in isolation for the C. diff infection, which causes severe diarrhea. In those cases, 72 percent of the toilets showed the bug was still present.

The high numbers come from one finding in the study: The staff could not decide who was responsible for cleaning the toilets, so they often went without scrubbing. That shortcoming probably shows up more than many would like to think. A weakness of the study was that it involved just 20 patients.

- John Sullivan

Haze in summer air is bad news for those with deep-vein clots

Cardiologist Robert Brooks has a problem with those much-anticipated, hazy-crazy-lazy days of summer - or at least with the haze, which he says we all accept as normal even though it's killing us.

Particulate matter, besides turning the air a sultry shade of beige and damaging the lungs, also weakens the cardiovascular system and may render our bodies more vulnerable to certain kinds of blood clots, Brooks wrote in an editorial in the latest issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

His piece accompanied a new study published in the same issue connecting particulate pollution with deep-vein thrombosis - a type of blood clot which usually starts in the legs. The condition tends to make headlines when it kills relatively young people on long airline flights, though it happens most often in older people who smoke, are obese, or both.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Milan, Harvard and the University of Chicago, compared air particulate matter exposure for a group of 870 blood clot patients and 1,210 controls. They found those with clots were more likely to live in the areas most choked with particulates small enough to squeeze deep into the lungs.

- Faye Flam

Study: Naproxen, similar drugs don't ward off Alzheimer's

Observational studies have suggested there is a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease among people who take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, a group known as NSAIDS.

But a large, multi-center study coordinated by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and funded by the National Institute on Aging has found that two popular drugs in the group - celecoxib (Celebrex) and naproxen sodium (marketed as Aleve and other brands) - did not improve cognitive function. Indeed, there was weak evidence for a detrimental effect from naproxen.

Researchers followed 2,117 men and women ages 70 and older with a family history of the disease at clinics around the United States. From March 2001 to December 2004, some participants took 200 milligrams of celecoxib twice daily, some took 220 milligrams of naproxen sodium twice daily, and the rest got a placebo. All participants' cognitive functions were tested seven times a year.

The results "do not show a protective effect" from the drugs, the researchers write in an Archives of Neurology article published online last week scheduled for July's print issue.

More research is needed, they write, to determine whether these findings differed from earlier studies because specific groups were compared this time or for another reason. It is also possible that these results apply only to the two drugs studied and not NSAIDS overall.

- Sandy Bauers