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Studies OK Infant Monitors . . . With a Couple of Caveats

November 18, 1986|ALLAN PARACHINI | Times Staff Writer

In these days of the yuppie baby boom, in-home electronic monitors to detect symptoms of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) have come into widespread use. But there also are concerns that monitors may do more harm than good by unnecessarily alarming mothers.

However, after a study of 56 mothers, researchers in Atlanta concluded the monitors don't unnecessarily alarm women, provided the mothers are able to easily reach a physician or nurse with questions.

The research is reported in the journal Pediatrics.

In a separate study, from the University of Wisconsin Center for Health Sciences, researchers cautioned that electrical injuries may occur with SIDS monitors--when older siblings inadvertently plug electrode wires connected to the monitors into wall outlets.

The team suggested that electric power cords be removed from monitors and put away when not in use, that electrode wires never be left with one end dangling and the other end connected to either the baby or monitor, that older siblings not be left unsupervised near a monitor, that children be strongly warned not to handle any part of the monitor and told never to plug in any related wires. Electrical outlets should be protected by safety covers.

Last week's U.S. Supreme Court action upholding a $4.7-million liability award against the makers of Ortho-Gynol, Ortho-Creme and Gynol II spermicidal creams and jells came after months of speculation that if Ortho Pharmaceutical Corp.--maker of the products--lost the case, it might withdraw them from the market. But the threat seems to have passed.

Such a product removal, were it to occur, would threaten the continued availability of the diaphragm method of contraception--currently the choice of an estimated 2 million women. Ortho is the largest maker of spermicides used with diaphragms. It had been speculated that other companies might follow Ortho's lead if Ortho dropped out of the market.

Ortho might take such a step, so this reasoning went, since the suit attempted to link the products to birth defects--something in which scientists generally agree the jells and creams have no role--in the case of a baby girl born after her mother used Ortho spermicides. On Nov. 6, two government experts had appealed in the New England Journal of Medicine for reason in the case, saying the public must come to understand the difference between legitimate medical threats like pathogens (disease agent) and teratogens (causes of deformity) and legally contrived problems the doctors called "litogens." (The following week, the Supreme Court upheld an award of $4.7 million to a Tennessee couple, Gary Wells and Mary Maihafer, whose daughter, Katie Wells, was born in 1981 with a variety of birth defects including cleft lip and lack of a left arm.)

But now, in statements intended to reassure women and couples who rely on the diaphragm, both Ortho and its parent company, Johnson & Johnson, say they will keep the spermicides on the market.

A basic human listening skill--the ability of the brain to home in on one sound among many perceived by the ears--is attracting renewed attention as researchers struggle to understand the phenomenon known as the "cocktail party effect." The term more or less speaks for itself; it's the way we focus on what someone is saying to us from across a crowded room full of boisterous partygoers.

Someone who lacks this ability may have perfectly normal auditory function but be totally unable to make sense of, say, a classroom lecture.

Dr. John Zook, an Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine researcher, reporting some of his initial observations in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Assn., speculates that the phenomenon has its origins in the auditory pathways of the brain. But for the moment, Zook and other researchers remain puzzled by how the cocktail party effect works and how it might be corrected when something goes wrong.

DOCTOR'S LEXICON--Two numbers that have been burned into the consciousnesses of most Americans are those measuring blood pressure. But many people probably don't know what the two figures--"120 over 80," for instance--are a measurement of . The numbers have their origins in the distance, in millimeters, that a person's blood pressure, harnessed by an inflated armband, will drive mercury in a vertical closed glass tube. While many types of blood pressure monitors are now available, such mercury columns remain among the most accurate. The first of the two numbers--generally the larger of the two--is a measurement of the force of blood as it is expelled from the heart at the peak of the beating cycle, a phase called systole ("SIST-oh-lee"). The lower of the two numbers if the force of blood in the vessels at the low point of the heart's contractions--a phase called diastole ("die-ASST-oh-lee").

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