Vaccine Education Center

28 04 2011

Dr. Paul Offit, Director, VEC

The science of vaccines can be . . . daunting. The lists of ingredients and potential side effects make us want to second guess ourselves and our children’s providers. We need to be sure we’re making safe choices.

And the complicated schedules! They’re enough to make sane people pound their heads.

The folks at the Vaccine Education Center (VEC) at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have a gift for presenting the complexities of vaccines and attending issues in a way that’s easy to understand yet comprehensive in scope.

The VEC website has a special section for parents and adults of all ages.  While there, you can sign up for the Parents PACK newsletter to get monthly immunization updates.  In the March issue, there’s a timely post on measles and the dangers of rubella parties.

You’ll also find age-specific information on vaccines and the diseases they prevent. There are FAQs, but if you can’t find your question, you can send it in via a form provided on the site.

The VEC has created a library of educational materials on specific vaccines and commonly asked questions. These resources range from information sheets to more consumer-friendly bookmarks and brochures.

They also maintain essential tools, including vaccine schedules, facts about vaccine preventable diseases, and the latest in vaccine science.

To keep information fresh, the VEC pens a monthly “Ask the VEC” on a myriad of topics.

Starting in 2011, the VEC will present three or four webinars a year addressing evolving issues, recent ACIP meetings, new science and media reports.

There are layers and layers of information available on the website, for those of us who feel more is better.  And what parent doesn’t?

The VEC staff constantly works at sifting vaccine fact from fiction and explaining the difference in ways we can all understand.  If you have questions, they’re worth checking out.





Sand, Surf, and What?!

25 04 2011

Kids love to dig in the sand and build castles. They’ll work for hours, crafting structures of dizzying heights, sculpting the turrets and drawbridges just so with their hands.

Oh, and getting buried in the sand? Even better.

Turns out, all that digging and getting buried can expose kids to lots of germs.  Researchers found “… evidence of gastrointestinal illnesses, upper respiratory illnesses, rash, eye ailments, earache and infected cuts. Diarrhea and other gastrointestinal illnesses were more common in about 13 percent of people who reported digging in sand, and in about 23 percent of those who reported being buried in sand.”

Just makes your skin crawl, doesn’t it?  Before you give up on the beach, know that there are things we can do to combat the germs.

Tell the kids they can play in the sand, but not to touch their faces with sandy hands, and make sure they clean their hands with soap or sanitizer when they’re done playing.  Also, send them to scrub down in a shower as soon as possible after play.  There’s no guarantee they’ll avoid an infection, but it’ll help.

Kids (and adults) love to swim in pools, lakes, and oceans. We’re usually swimming in urine,  garbage, or who knows what contaminants.  Due to the reality of raw sewage runoff, we could come down with all sorts of infections, including E. coli, after practicing the backstroke.

Blech, but hey, everything carries a risk. There’s no guarantee we’ll get sick or we won’t get sick from swimming.

So go. Swim. Enjoy and shower when you’re done.

Life is too short not to have fun on vaca!

(Photo from dMap Travel Guide)





April: STD Awareness Month

21 04 2011

There are an estimated 19 million new cases of STDs each year in the United States.  That’s too many.  We can significantly cut that number down.

April, the STD Awareness Month, is a time to shine a light on sex and disease.

STDs know no age limits, they can be visible or invisible and, yes, they can even affect our own sons and daughters. STDs also have a serious economic impact, with direct medical costs estimated at $17.0 billion annually  in this country alone.

The majority of STDs are preventable. Just by having a frank discussion with our partners, and using the appropriate protection, we can prevent most sexually transmitted diseases.

These are practical resources to help individuals and parents learn more about STDs and how to deal with current or potential infections:

There is never anything embarrassing about protecting our health. So wrap it up, protect yourself and keep STDs at bay!

(Photo courtesy of Andy54321)





Celebrating Prevention! NIIW 2011

18 04 2011

Protecting babies from infectious diseases is a big deal around here, as evidenced by disease prevention taking up a chunk of space in our mission statement.

National Infant Immunization Week (NIIW), observed April 23-30 this year, is part of a larger global vaccine education initiative with WHO. For the past 17 years in the U.S., the CDC, health departments, and immunization organizations across the country have marked the week as a time to showcase immunization achievements and raise awareness of the need for continued vaccination of babies.

We asked our child immunization friends to share their planned activities, and we did some research of our own to find novel programs to share. To learn about activities in your area, visit the CDC’s NIIW site for details. Here’s a sampling of events coming up for NIIW:

  • Arizona – The Cochise County Health Department is giving free diapers to parents who bring in up-to-date immunization records. Children who need vaccines will also be vaccinated at the event and parents will receive free diapers. Scientific Technologies Corporation is doing a blog series during NIIW and promoting the week on their homepage.
  • Connecticut – The New Britain Immunization Program has collaborated with the New Britain Rock Cats Minor League Baseball Team to give free tickets to stadium visitors who have their children’s immunization records reviewed. The Southwestern Area Health Education Center will honor WIC moms and dads at a Mother’s Day Social where attendees will get education and play CIRTS (Connecticut Immunization Registry and Tracking System) BINGO.
  • Illinois – The Chicago Area Immunization Campaign has partnered with Jewel Osco, a local pharmacy chain, to distribute 15,000 immunization information cards with people’s prescriptions.
  • Nevada – The Northern Nevada Immunization Coalition will host “Give Kids a Boost: Sun Valley Health and Safety Fair” (GKAB Fair) to alleviate the barriers of health care access and transportation.
  • Rhode Island – The Rhode Island Department of Health has partnered with birthing hospitals and childcare centers to have area children to draw pictures inspired by the story “The Flu and You,” by Geri Rhoda, RN. The pictures will be used on placemats designed for use in the maternity wards and will include the infant immunization schedule and information about the importance of vaccinating caregivers with Tdap.
  • Texas – The Hidalgo County Health & Human Services Department will host an event with speakers from Mexico and Texas educating promotoras (health educators in Latino communities) on vaccine preventable diseases, the importance of vaccines, and the Mexico/US immunization schedule. The Immunize Kids! Dallas Area Partnership is reaching out to Hispanic families and women’s centers with education packets and presentations.

Do you have great activities planned for NIIW? Post a comment and tell us about it!

(photo courtesy snorp on Flickr)





Intercessory Prayer and Science Intersect

14 04 2011

If you pray for my brother to recover from diabetes, will he? What if 1,000 people meditate for him to do so?  What if 10,000 people say the rosary, meditate, pray, or daven to God, to Shang Ti, or to Allah? Will he recover?

Maybe it’s not called praying, and maybe God isn’t the name of the one or many we beseech, but whatever the terminology, the question is, does it work?

Dr. Herbert Benson and colleagues  designed a study about the effectiveness of intercessory prayer – one person praying on behalf of another.  In 2005, his group published the findings of their big study that was supposed to be the study on intercessory prayer, with about 1,800 subjects enrolled.

The results indicated that intercessory prayer doesn’t work. To the surprise of many, it appeared that the prayers did more harm than good.

I’m guessing believers didn’t want to hear this and agnostics were disappointed, although atheists probably held an “I told you so” behind their teeth.

Gil Guadia, Professor Emeritus, State University of New York at Fredonia, said that researching intercessory prayer is akin to “attempting to study the existence of miracles.” Let’s just say he was a little POed at the idea of funding being spent on what he considered a fruitless quest, and non-scientific to boot.

Benson didn’t give up.  He noted that study limitations may have affected outcomes.

So what’s the answer? Can you pray, or meditate, or whatever your faith calls it to heal my brother and will those beseechments wipe out the effects of diabetes?

Perhaps, if you’re in the same room, or so suggests a study published in 2010. Unlike Benson’s study, which involved DIP (Distant Intercessory Prayer), Candy Gunther Brown’s study looked at PIP (Proximal Intercessory Prayer), where the one praying is physically near the prayee, and sometimes laying hands on the individual.  The 25 subjects in this study had either impaired hearing or impaired vision, and they reported improvement post-PIP.

Maybe intercessory prayer works if you breathe the same air as the patient.  Maybe you have to lay your hands on the patient.  Maybe there are too many variables to say for sure.  And maybe Benson’s study was right.

Wherever the facts reside on this question, the act of communing with something or someone beyond one’s workaday world provides comfort to those who believe in it. I’m not sure if it provides miracles.

What do you believe?

(This blog post reflects the curiosity of its author, Trish Parnell)





Symptom Checkers – Are They Helpful?

11 04 2011

Dawn, our handy dandy Outreach Coordinator, was sick the other day with an assortment of symptoms, including headache, body aches, mild fever, sinus pressure and fatigue. Rather than calling the doctor, she turned to the WebMD symptom checker app on her iPhone to see what was up.

After answering a string of questions, including was her fever “made worse by intravenous drug use” or were her body aches “made worse by swimming in infested waters,” she arrived at a list of possible diagnoses. They ranged from common ailments such as flu, acute sinusitis and sunburn, to the more serious lupus, cryptococcosis and dengue fever.

She wasn’t impressed. “It didn’t help at all,” she said. “I was more dismissive of the usefulness of the tool. It gave me conditions that weren’t even possible, like sunburn, alongside ones that were much more likely like sinusitis.” 

We wanted to know what others had experienced when using symptom checkers, so we did an unscientific study and asked a few people.

One physician, preferring to remain anonymous, said:

I happen to like healthychildren.org symptom checker because most of the time the algorithms are correct and it can take pressure off our phone nurses.

Pam Ladds, a nurse and Facebook fan, said:

When used intelligently, they can be really helpful. Unfortunately, modern medical practices tend not to look at the whole person – merely a part or an orifice. I’ve seen several people who finally got a diagnosis and appropriate treatment by searching symptom sites. Of course, the symptom junkies can misuse these sites and drive themselves to insanity. But they can do that anyway! Balance, repeat after me, balance 🙂

Lynn, from the National Meningitis Association, also replied to the question we posed on Facebook:

I agree that all symptom checkers seem to include a cancer diagnosis.  Being a very nervous person myself, I have to force myself to not look up my symptoms, because I always feel worse afterwards.  I know that’s not the intent of the websites (and I’m only talking about the reputable ones – Mayo, etc.), but they have to cover every possibility.

So, I am not sure about using symptom checkers.  With meningitis, we list the obvious ones – headache, high fever, nausea, vomiting, etc.  But, if I look up one of the many GI symptoms I have, it can range from stress-induced to cancer, so my mind jumps to the worst conclusion. 

What do you think? Do symptom checker sites do more harm than good? Do they help parents put symptoms in perspective? Do we love them or loathe them?





iPad shmiPad, It’s Germy!

7 04 2011

Don’t you love your iPad? Your Droid? Your iPhone? Whatever touch-screen device you use, isn’t it (sigh) maaaarvelous?

It’s also germier than a subway toilet, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology. Viruses can stay viable on the surface of these devices for awhile. If we share our touch-screen device with others, the germs they leave behind can transfer to our fingertips. Once that happens, it’s easy to become infected.

So, how can we disinfect the device without getting moisture into the inner workings or damaging the surface?

According to Apple’s public relations team, the only way to clean an iPad is to:

…unplug all cables and turn off iPad (press and hold the Sleep/ Wake button, then slide the onscreen slider). Use a soft, slightly damp, lint-free cloth. Avoid getting moisture in openings. Don’t use window cleaners, household cleaners, aerosol sprays, solvents, alcohol, ammonia, or abrasives to clean iPad. The iPad screen has an oleophobic coating; simply wipe the screen with a soft, lint-free cloth to remove oil left by your hands. The ability of this coating to repel oil will diminish over time with normal usage, and rubbing the screen with an abrasive material will further diminish its effect and may scratch your screen.

Not the greatest advice for disinfecting, since water and wiping do little to kill germs.

One way to keep germs off of our device is to use a case and a screen protector, then clean/disinfect those pieces rather than the actual device.

Another way to curb the transmission of germs from a touch-screen device is good old hand hygiene. Washing our hands or using a hand sanitizer before and after we use a touch-screen device will limit the spread of germs.

Now, we got some Splodin’ to do!

(photo courtesy henke on Flickr)