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WebMD's 10 Top Health Stories of 2007

Recalled Toys, Unsafe Food, Bad Bugs, New Stem Cell Source Top List
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A long-term study of autism offers hope. It shows that autism symptoms improve in adulthood, especially for children whose autism does not involve mental retardation and who have some degree of language ability.

What causes autism? Experts don't know. A small but vocal minority of parents believe that thimerosal, a type of mercury used as a vaccine preservative, is to blame. They've taken the case to court, although serious researchers are nearly unanimous in rejecting the thimerosal theory. New research reported in 2007 shows that children exposed to thimerosal in the womb are not more likely to have autism.

A CDC study recently showed no consistent link between thimerosal and a wide range of neurological symptoms. But the study did not look into autism, which is the topic of another CDC study. Release of that study is expected to be a top story in 2008.

No. 7: Kids' Cough Medicine: Out Cold?

2007 was barely under way when the CDC warned parents that cough and cold medicines can be deadly for kids younger than 2 years old. The culprit: too-high doses of a common decongestant called pseudoephedrine.

In August, the FDA warned parents not to give over-the-counter cough or cold medicines to children younger than 2 unless told to do so by their health care provider.

Fast-forward to the October meeting of an expert FDA advisory panel. The panel voted 13-9 that over-the-counter cough medicines not be used in children younger than 6. By a 15-7 vote, the panel voted to permit the drugs' use in kids aged 6 to 12.

What does this mean to parents? Doctors deeply involved in the issue offered answers to hard questions suggested by WebMD readers.

Will the FDA ban the drugs for young kids? That's not clear. While the FDA usually follows its panels' advice, it does not always do so. And makers of the medications strongly opposed an outright ban.

Some parents aren't waiting for the FDA to act. A December 2007 poll showed that a third of U.S. parents already have stopped giving cough and cold medicines to kids younger than 6.

On the other hand, some parents don't care what the FDA says. Half of parents in the poll say they'll keep giving the drugs to their young children.

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