Magazine article Science News

Dad's Farming May Hike Baby's Liver Risk

Magazine article Science News

Dad's Farming May Hike Baby's Liver Risk

Article excerpt

A father's farm work, especially if it involves pesticides, may put his unborn child at risk of a rare liver disorder, according to a new epidemiologic study. Although the finding is very preliminary, it may help scientists track down the origins of this often deadly defect.

Children with biliary atresia are born with missing or underdeveloped bile ducts. Normally, these tubes carry bile from the liver to the small intestine. But in infants with biliary atresia, the bile backs up, causing liver inflammation, yellowing of the skin and an inability to properly digest fatty foods. Surgery can sometimes correct defective ducts, but in many cases the damaging inflammation recurs. Unless these children receive a successful liver transplant, they may face early death.

Scientists know very little about the causes of biliary atresia, which strikes about one in every 25,000 babies born in the United States. Now, researchers report a statistical link between a father's farming occupation and his offspring's risk of the birth defect.

At the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health in Baltimore, Carol Magee and her co-workers contacted pediatric surgeons across the United States and located 267 families of children born with the disorder between 1982 and 1987. They also recruited a control group of 245 families whose children had been treated for other conditions by the same pediatric surgeons, in most cases for hernia repair. All parents filled out detailed questionnaires asking about their age, personal habits and occupational history, including past exposure to pesticides. …

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