Health Highlights: May 7, 2007

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

Plan B Not Always Available

The emergency contraceptive pill Plan B is not often prescribed by doctors and isn't consistently available in pharmacies, conclude two U.S. studies presented Monday at a meeting of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in San Diego.

Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved non-prescription sales of Plan B for girls and women age 18 and older. Girls under 18 still require a prescription for Plan B, which is designed to prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex.

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One study of 1,355 women undergoing annual gynecologic exams found that only nine percent of the 506 women using no form of birth control were given advanced prescriptions for emergency contraception, Bloomberg news reported.

"Doctors are underutilizing opportunities to increase awareness of emergency contraception to patients during annual gynecologic exams," wrote study lead author Archana Pradhan, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

"Even though Plan B is now an over-the-counter medication, health care providers still need to educate their patients regarding emergency contraception," Pradhan noted.

A second study included a survey of 1,085 drug stores in cities in a number of states with different laws. The study was conducted before the FDA approved OTC sales of Plan B, Bloomberg reported.

In Boston, no woman was refused the drug. Massachusetts requires pharmacists to provide emergency contraception. In four percent of cases in Boston, the drug was not in stock.

In Atlanta, nine percent of pharmacists refused to fill Plan B prescriptions. Georgia allows pharmacists to refuse to provide Plan B if they have a moral objection to the pill. In 26 percent of cases, pharmacists were willing to fill the prescription but didn't have the drug in stock.

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Pesticides, Nitrates May Boost Preemie Birth, Harm School Performance

The date that a child is conceived has an impact on both their likelihood for premature birth and their later academic performance, U.S. researchers say.

Seasonal use of pesticides and nitrate fertilizers may be to blame, the Indiana University School of Medicine team add.

The researchers analyzed more than 27 million live births in the U.S. from 1996 to 2002.

They found that rates of premature birth were highest in May-June (11.9 percent of live births) and lowest in Aug.-Sept. (almost 10.8 percent). Pesticide and nitrate levels in surface water are highest in May-June, lowest in Aug.-Sept.

"A growing body of evidence suggests that the consequences of prenatal exposure to pesticides and nitrates as well as to other environmental contaminants is detrimental to many outcomes of pregnancy," researcher Dr. Paul Winchester, professor of clinical pediatrics, said in a prepared statement. "As a neonatologist, I am seeing a growing number of birth defects and preterm births, and I think we need to face up to environmental causes."

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