Domestic Abuse During Pregnancy Linked to Baby Brain Changes – Technology Networks
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Domestic abuse against women during pregnancy can potentially have a significant impact on how the unborn baby’s brain develops, according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of Bath, working in collaboration with researchers from the University of Cape Town, analysed brain scans of 143 South African infants whose mothers had been subject to intimate partner violence (IPV) during pregnancy. Intimate partner violence includes emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse or assault. Brain MRI scans were taken when infants were just 3 weeks old on average so any changes that were observed are likely to have developed inside the womb.
Publishing their findings in the journal Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, the research team report that maternal exposure to IPV during pregnancy is associated with alterations in brain structure in young infants identified shortly after birth. This was evident even when the researchers took into account maternal alcohol use and smoking throughout pregnancy as well as pregnancy complications.
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Importantly, the effects of IPV exposure may differ by the baby’s sex. For girls, their mother’s exposure to IPV during pregnancy was linked to a smaller amygdala, an area of the brain involved in emotional and social development. For boys, IPV exposure was instead associated with a larger caudate nucleus, an area of the brain involved in multiple functions including the execution of movement, learning, memory, reward, and motivation.
Early changes to brain structures may explain why children whose mothers experience high levels of stress during pregnancy are more likely to have psychological issues in childhood or later life. Sex differences in brain development may also help explain why girls and boys often develop different mental health problems. However, the researchers cautioned that the study did not analyse emotional and cognitive development in children.
Lead researcher, Dr Lucy Hiscox from the Department of Psychology at Bath, explained: “Our findings are a call to act on the three Rs of domestic violence awareness: recognise, respond, and refer. Preventing or quickly acting to help women escape domestic violence may be an effective way of supporting healthy brain development in children.”
Whilst previous studies have looked at the impact of maternal stress in pregnancy and its impacts on children’s brain development, this is the first to examine domestic abuse. The children involved in this study are now aged 8-9 years and follow-up research is testing whether the differences in brain structure seen at 3 weeks old persist, or are altered, as they age.
For this study, the team from Bath worked with researchers at the University of Cape Town (UCT) to analyse data from a major South African cohort study, the Drakenstein Child Health Study (DCHS), led by South African paediatrician Professor Heather Zar. The DCHS has been tracking 1143 children since birth with data collection ongoing.
Co-author, Professor Kirsty Donald, a paediatric neurologist and Head of the Division of Developmental Paediatrics at UCT added: “Strategies that help identify and support pregnant mums for multiple potential risks to their unborn babies will require an integrated health system approach and should be considered a public health priority.”
This article has been republished from the following materials. Note: material may have been edited for length and content. For further information, please contact the cited source.
Syphilis In Babies Skyrockets In Canada Amid Rising Drug Use – NDTV
The numbers of babies born with syphilis in Canada are rising at a far faster rate than recorded in the United States or Europe, an increase public health experts said is driven by increased methamphetamine use and lack of access to the public health system for Indigenous people.
While syphilis has made a global resurgence over the last five years, Canada is an outlier among wealthy nations in its rate of increase: 13-fold over five years, according to Health Canada. The incidence of babies born with syphilis reached 26 per 100,000 live births in 2021, the most recent year available, up from 2 in 2017, according to the Health Canada data.
That total is on track to increase further in 2022, according to the preliminary government data obtained by Reuters.
Babies with congenital syphilis are at higher risk of low birthweight, bone malformations and sensory difficulties, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Syphilis in pregnancy is the second-leading cause of stillbirth worldwide, the WHO said.
Yet congenital syphilis is easily preventable if an infected person gets access to penicillin during their pregnancy.
Among the G7 group of wealthier nations for which data is available, only the United States had a higher incidence of syphilis at birth: 74 per 100,000 live births in 2021, triple the rate in 2017, according to preliminary figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
There were 2,677 cases of congenital syphilis in the U.S. in 2021 for a population of 332 million, according to preliminary CDC data. Canada had 96 cases for a population of 38 million, according to Health Canada.
People experiencing poverty, homelessness and drug use, and those with inadequate access to the health system, are more likely to contract syphilis through unsafe sex and pass it to their babies, public health researchers said.
“In high-income countries you see it in pockets of disadvantaged populations,” said Teodora Elvira Wi, who works in the WHO’s HIV, Hepatitis and sexually transmitted infection program.
“It’s a marker of inequality. It’s a marker of low-quality prenatal care.”
What sets Canada apart are its Indigenous populations who experience discrimination and often have poor access to health and social services, said Sean Rourke, a scientist with the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, who focuses on prevention of sexually transmitted disease.
“It’s just the whole system, and all the things that we’ve done in bad ways not to support Indigenous communities,” he said.
Health Canada told Reuters it has dispatched epidemiologists to help provinces contain the increase in congenital syphilis. Spokesperson Joshua Coke said the federal government is expanding testing and treatment access in Indigenous communities.
Tessa, an Indigenous 28-year-old woman who asked to be identified only by her middle name, said she had a years-long crystal meth addiction and was homeless when she got pregnant in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
“I would be walking down the street just crying: ‘Why am I living like this?'” she told Reuters.
She said she received no prenatal care until she went into labor in November, which is when she tested positive for HIV and syphilis during a routine test.
Her daughter was prescribed a 10-day course of antibiotics, administered by IV, and is now healthy, Tessa said. But she still thinks about the difficulties she experienced in accessing prenatal care.
“Having transportation, maybe, and a place to live, and being sober, probably would have helped, big time,” she said.
Susanne Nicolay, nurse lead at Wellness Wheel clinic in Regina, Saskatchewan, which serves Indigenous and vulnerable populations, said providers needed to do more to expand access to health care. “The system always talks about patients that are hard to reach. But I think it’s health providers that are hard to reach,” she said.
A lot needs to go wrong for a baby to be born with syphilis, said Jared Bullard, a Manitoba pediatrician who has been researching babies born with syphilis since 2021 in an ongoing study for the Public Health Agency of Canada.
“It’s pointing at multiple failures along the path,” he said.
In Canada, the rise in babies born with syphilis is concentrated in the three prairie provinces: Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Prairie provinces have higher crystal meth use and remote populations and Indigenous populations who may have trouble accessing health care, Bullard said.
Manitoba recorded the highest rate, with about 371 cases per 100,000 live births in 2021.
The province said in an emailed statement that it is expanding training for health care providers in addressing sexually transmitted infections, encouraging frequent testing and early treatment. It is digitizing its records of STI infections.
Saskatchewan has launched a public awareness campaign urging people to practice safe sex and get tested, said Dale Hunter, a spokesperson for the provincial health ministry. The province had an incidence of 185 cases of congenital syphilis per 100,00 live births in 2021.
Alberta said women aged 15-29 made up more than half of what it called a “significant increase” in syphilis rates. “The reasons for the increase are not fully known, but it is likely that a variety of factors have contributed to this rise,” Alberta Health Services spokesperson James Wood said.
In preliminary results of a study of 165 infants exposed to syphilis, Bullard and fellow pediatrician Carsten Krueger found at least two-thirds were born to women reporting a history of substance abuse.
About 45% of the women identified as Indigenous and another 40% had no ethnicity recorded. Indigenous people make up about 5% of the Canadian population, according to census data.
About a quarter of the people in the study did not get tested because they got no prenatal care; about one-fifth of those who tested positive did not get treated. Bullard said he has also seen people get treated early in pregnancy and then get re-infected.
Public health researchers and clinicians said the rates of congenital syphilis began increasing before the pandemic and worsened as public health agencies diverted resources to COVID-19 testing and other pandemic-related health measures.
“All of the social circumstances that contributed to this have just gotten worse over the pandemic,” said Ameeta Singh, an infectious diseases specialist with an HIV/STI practice in Edmonton, Alberta.
This month Health Canada approved a syphilis and HIV test that can provide results in less than a minute, allowing providers to begin treatment right away.
Some public health researchers and providers are urging the Canadian government to buy and distribute the tests.
“We probably need a million tests to get out there around the country,” Rourke said. “The solution’s right in front of us.”
Health Canada did not respond when asked about purchasing test kits.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
High-risk places affected by respiratory outbreaks
A respiratory virus outbreak has been declared at Southbridge Lakehead long-term care home.
The outbreak is facility-wide at the Vickers Street home. Restrictions are in place on admissions, transfers, discharges, social activities and visitation until further notice.
There are now four active respiratory outbreaks in high-risk settings in the Thunder Bay district, including at Hogarth Riverview Manor on the first floor and 2 North and on Plaza 1 at Pioneer Ridge.
A facility-wide COVID-19 outbreak is also ongoing at the Manitouwadge Hospital.
There are no active influenza outbreaks in the district.
The Thunder Bay District Health Unit reports that emergency department visits because of respiratory-related complaints have decreased and are at seasonal levels in its catchment area and the influenza A surge overall has subsided with the peak in cases and hospitalizations having taken place in November of 2022.
COVID-19 does continue to circulate with 104 new lab-confirmed cases in the last seven days.
Hospitalization numbers are stable with 23 people in the hospital with COVID in the district, including three in intensive care units.
The health unit continues to stress the importance of precautions like getting the annual flu vaccine and latest COVID booster as well as wearing a face mask, particularly indoors and crowded places. Also, stay home when sick.
WHO advisers to consider whether obesity medication should be added to Essential Medicines List
Advisers to the World Health Organization will consider next month whether to add liraglutide, the active ingredient in certain diabetes and obesity medications, to its list of essential medicines.
The list, which is updated every two years, includes medicines “that satisfy the priority health needs of the population,” WHO says. “They are intended to be available within the context of function health systems at all times, in adequate amounts in the appropriate dosage forms, of assured quality and at prices that individuals and the community can afford.”
The list is “a guide for the development and updating of national and institutional essential medicine lists to support the procurement and supply of medicines in the public sector, medicines reimbursement schemes, medicine donations, and local medicine production.”
The WHO Expert Committee on the Selection and Use of Essential Medicines is scheduled to meet April 24-28 to discuss revisions and updates involving dozens of medications. The request to add GLP-1 receptor agonists such as liraglutide came from four researchers at US institutions including Yale University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
These drugs mimic the effects of an appetite-regulating hormone, GLP-1, and stimulate the release of insulin. This helps lower blood sugar and slows the passage of food through the gut. Liraglutide was developed to treat diabetes but approved in the US as a weight-loss treatment in 2014; its more potent cousin, semaglutide, has been approved for diabetes since 2017 and as an obesity treatment in 2021.
The latter use has become well-known thanks to promotions from celebrities and on social media. It’s sold under the name Ozempic for diabetes and Wegovy for weight loss. Studies suggest that semaglutide may help people lose an average of 10% to 15% of their starting weight – significantly more than with other medications. But because of this high demand, some versions of the medication have been in shortage in the US since the middle of last year.
The US patent on liraglutide is set to expire this year, and drugmaker Novo Nordisk says generic versions could be available in June 2024.
The company has not been involved in the application to WHO, it said in a statement, but “we welcome the WHO review and look forward to the readout and decision.”
“At present, there are no medications included in the [Essential Medicines List] that specifically target weight loss for the global burden of obesity,” the researchers wrote in their request to WHO. “At this time, the EML includes mineral supplements for nutritional deficiencies yet it is also described that most of the population live in ‘countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than underweight.’ “
WHO’s advisers will make recommendations on which drugs should be included in this year’s list, expected to come in September.
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“This particular drug has a certain history, but the use of it probably has not been long enough to be able to see it on the Essential Medicines List,” Dr. Francesco Blanca, WHO director for nutrition and food safety, said at a briefing Wednesday. “There’s also issues related to the cost of the treatment. At the same time, WHO is looking at the use of drugs to reduce weight excess in the context of a systematic review for guidelines for children and adolescents. So we believe that it is a work in progress, but we’ll see what the Essential Medicines List committee is going to conclude.”
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