Orange Nose Day!

3 10 2011

Orange Nose Day is a flat-out fun idea!

One day a year (October 5th), health educators don an orange nose and start talking. And here’s why . . .

Most days of the year, educators get out there and talk the talk, saying the same things repeatedly: wash your hands, get immunized, floss, eat fruits and veggies, and so on.

When we hear these messages often enough, they become white noise.

But, somebody puts on an orange nose and turns to us with the same messages, we start smiling and we’re all ears. That’s the spark that created Orange Nose Day.

If you have a health message to share, visit orangenoseday.org, get an orange nose on your photo, and use that photo on your social media sites come 5 October. Also, join the collaborative by sending in your organization’s logo and become a partner on the website!

(Next year, put it on your calendar to get a real orange foam clown nose—just order it from the website by mid-September.)

The Orange Nose Day collaborative identifies five steps to good health and encourages you to add your own. The day isn’t about any particular message, but about sharing whatever health message you want your patients or public to hear.

There are lots of downloadables, including posters, web banners, and stickers, that are available free of charge on the site.

Hey, there are plenty of reasons to not kid around when we’re talking about health, but occasionally bringing a little levity to the message is a good thing.

Come, join the fun.

By Trish Parnell





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)





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?





Healthy People 2020

21 03 2011

In 1979, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Healthy People program debuted in the form of a surgeon general’s report. Since then, every 10 years (starting in 1990), scientists meet to try and figure out what’s needed and what’s feasible for the good of public health. 

The updated Healthy People 2020 website has a full list of objectives, along with resources to help health departments and organizations achieve those objectives.

We spoke with Carter Blakey, Acting Deputy Director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP), about how nongovernment organizations can get involved. “Health is very complex, there are lots of different factors,” Carter said. “It takes more than the federal government to change health.”

The Healthy People 2010 objectives were very ambitious, Carter admitted. All the goals rolled into achieving the objective of “eliminating disparities. The goals were set to be better than the best communities in the country.”

Carter said that some goals were set 1,000% above the national average. Some groups were very motivated by this and others were very discouraged because they thought the goals were impossible.

The 2020 goals are more realistic with a little bit of a stretch. “It will be interesting to see if we are able to meet more of our goals. Moving the needle takes a long time, many years.”

It’s up to States and organizations to tackle the objectives and make a real impact in their communities. While States are not required to participate in the Healthy People program, many do, and have a dedicated State Coordinator to help organize activity.

There is funding available for States, Territories, and Tribes that have an innovative plan to use Healthy People 2020 to improve a community’s health. The Healthy People Action Project proposals are due on April 1, 2011.

Beyond that specific grant, organizations can use the Healthy People benchmarks as data to support applications for grants or other funding opportunities by comparing their communities to the national average.

What goals are you most interested in tackling in the next decade? Where do you see the need to collaborate most to achieve these goals? We’d love to hear from you in our comments.





Obesity in Children Often Overlooked by Parents

19 07 2010

We love our kids, no matter what.  We want them to be happy, healthy people, but in the U.S., our children’s health is increasingly at risk from obesity.

A new study “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2010”  released by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) found that 1/3rd of American children are now overweight or obese and nearly 10% of infants and toddlers are overweight. That is triple (triple!!) the childhood obesity rate of 1980.

Polls reveal that many parents believe that childhood obesity is a big problem, yet fail to recognize the problem within their own household. Obesity in children (defined as a body mass index, or BMI, between the 85th and 96th percentile for their age and gender) is reaching such epidemic proportions that Dr. James Marks, RWJF’s senior vice president says,“We’re in danger of raising the first generation of children who could live sicker and die younger than the generation before them” [emphasis added].

First Lady Michelle Obama is tackling the issue with the Let’s Move! campaign, a national effort to bring healthier food to schools and to low-income areas, and to get kids exercising.

From a health standpoint, there are few things a parent can do for a child that are more important than introducing a healthy lifestyle and eating habits.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), here are some actions parents and families can take to encourage healthier habits in kids:  

  1. Make sure your child eats breakfast daily
  2. Choose family meals together rather than eating out
  3. Limit screen time (less than 2 hours per day is recommended)
  4. Pay attention – relatively speaking your child may look “healthy,” but keep in mind that he/she may be surrounded by other overweight kids
  5. Encourage your child to get at least one hour  of exercise each day

It’s been shown time and again that too much screen time, whether sitting in front of video games, television, phones, or computers, is linked to insufficient exercise and an overall sedentary lifestyle, which in turn can lead to overweight kids. Along with eating foods overly packed with fat and calories (such as fast food) American kids are spending too much time sitting around.

In the words of a Nike commercial, we need to get our kids up off the couch, get them outside, and inspire them (hopefully with our own active healthy example) to“Just Do It!”

 





Intensivists

25 06 2010

When we’re in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU), either as a patient or as the caregiver of a loved one, we’re pretty scared and looking for all the help we can get.

Next time you find yourself headed to an ICU, ask for the Intensivist, or critical care specialist for the unit.

Intensivists are big picture people who review all available information and then develop a diagnosis and course of treatment for the critically ill patient. The plan they devise for the patient may change daily or hourly, because they stay on top of details and adjust the course as new information emerges—an essential element of high quality care.

Intensivists relish thinking outside the box, and their methods work. The survival rate of patients with an Intensivist running the ICU is greater than for those in an ICU without one.

Though qualifications and experience levels vary, these specialists are game-changers and often are the difference between successful and unsuccessful outcomes for critically ill patients.

An Intensivist gets information from many sources, including the patient and  the caregiver. If he or she starts asking you questions, don’t leave out even the smallest details. This is NOT the time to keep secrets.  You might be asked if your loved one has a substance abuse problem, or if the patient is supplemented with concoctions not on the “official list of medications.”  Share everything you know, as it’s impossible to say what might have bearing on the diagnosis and treatment of the patient.

An Intensivist usually has a specific time when he or she makes rounds. If you can manage to be there during that time, it’ll help you become part of the decision-making team.

Some tips for surviving the ICU:

  • Try not to be afraid.  The sights and sounds in the ICU are intense.
  • Use hand sanitizer or soap and water every time you enter and exit the area.
  • Don’t be afraid to touch and talk to your loved one.  And watch what you say, they can hear you.
  • Be considerate of the privacy of others, and obey the rules.
  • Ask questions of your doctors and nurses.  They have a lot of information to offer.
  • Rest when you can. You will be advised if you should NOT go home.  Keep a spare change of clothes and toiletries, if the circumstance warrants it.  Things can change quickly when someone is in ICU

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Medical Info on the Internet. Reliable?

14 06 2010

When we or our loved ones are diagnosed with a condition, many of us turn to the Internet for information.

Last year, 61 % of Americans used the Internet to research health topics.

The question is, how do we know if the medical information we find online is worth the time spent looking it up?

The National Library of Medicine has a 16 minute tutorial in both English and Spanish that helps users distinguish between reputable sites and those that may not be credible.

When faced with a potentially catastrophic diagnosis, we want to believe the hopeful sites that promise a cure, no matter who the authors may be, but we’re better served in the end by paying attention to details that tell us if a website is trustworthy.

Following are some things to note when determining a site’s credibility:

  • Who sponsors the website and are they easy to identify?
  • Is the sponsor’s contact information easy to find?
  • Who are the sites’ authors?
  • Who reviews the text?
  • Is it easy to determine when something was written?
  • Is there a privacy policy?
  • Does the information sound too good to be true?

The Internet can provide real assistance to us as we work to become team members in our own health care.

One benefit to having access to new technology is we can arrive at our doctor’s office better prepared for the visit. Given that doctor/patient visits last on average only eight to10 minutes, this is good news.

The more we understand walking in the door, the more time we’ll have to get the information that only comes from our healthcare professionals.

Bottom line is, we shouldn’t believe everything we read on the Internet, but if we become discerning in our online research, we’ll be more effective health advocates for ourselves and those we love.

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Labor Inductions Lead to Earlier Births

11 06 2010

It is my personal belief that pregnant women who are less than 6 feet tall should not be allowed to carry twins. Not literally, of course, but as a 5’3” pregnant woman carrying twins, I more or less cried with relief when my OB recommended an induction at 39 weeks.

Given a recent study which associates an increased rate of induction with lower birth weight and earlier birth, I ought to have paused a bit before submitting to the induction.

In the study, researchers found a correlation between the increased rate of induced labor in the U.S. (48% between 1993 and 2003) and earlier births, as well as lower birth weight.

Circumstances which merit an induction are hotly debated, with some decrying most inductions as invasive and unnecessary while others maintain that better technologies allow for more medically appropriate interventions.

Possible reasons for an induction include:

• Fetal distress

• Uterine infection

• 10 days past estimated due date

• Maternal medical condition

The reasons for the increased rate of induction were not investigated as part of this study, but the resulting earlier births and lower birth weights are of concern because of their correlation with complications such as respiratory infections and related illnesses. And the increased usage of labor induction could be a bellwether of further complications for newborns.

Most traditional healthcare providers will recommend against inducing labor unless it’s deemed medically necessary. Despite the temptation to push labor along using various “natural” methods, the Mayo Clinic recommends instead that you:

1. Stay in touch with your healthcare provider

2. Turn on your answering machine/voicemail

3. Relax and let nature take its course.

(Rachael Brownell is the statuesque mother of three adorable munchkins, and PKIDs’ Director of Outreach.)


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Germs – It’s a Symbiotic Thing

26 04 2010

We have 100 trillion microbes in and on our bodies. Most of these little critters don’t affect us—no harm, no foul.  Some germs even help out with digestion and other functions, and some cause illness.

Despite the fact that we’re walking bags of bugs, we don’t want to think about it and we definitely don’t want to get more germs, at least not the disease-causing kind.

Photo courtesy "bmann"

To prevent disease and general yuckiness in the home and elsewhere, we are a sponge-and-cleaner wielding people. Some of us more than others. (That’s right, Mom, I’m talking about you.)

We can’t keep our homes and offices germ-free, nor should we.  We have a symbiotic relationship with the germs in our world that requires a delicate balance of healthy intimacy to maintain.

But, we don’t want pathogenic germs to get the upper hand.  They’re the germs capable of causing disease.

Being clean and tidy helps keep the nasty numbers down, but germs will always be with us. Our bodies fight pathogens off all day long as we go about our business.

And when we actually do get around to cleaning, we tend to focus on obvious trouble spots (bathrooms, kitchens) while ignoring places we don’t typically think of as germ hot zones. We’re talking about our offices, our phones, our keyboards.

Dr. Charles Gerba, a professor of microbiology at The University of Arizona at Tucson, has done a lot of research on viruses and bacteria in offices.

His work reveals startling facts. For instance, the germiest place in any type of office is something you use every day. “The phone is typically the dirtiest piece of equipment in an office because it goes straight to your mouth, and you never clean or disinfect it,” says Gerba.

Right behind phones are desks, which often pull double-duty as restaurant tables, and keyboards, which are tricky to clean and good at collecting things like dirt, hair, food particles, dust and bacteria. Many of us like to grab a bite while catching up on email, but studies may make you rethink that: keyboards are usually much germier than toilet seats.

Things get complicated if many people share a computer. This is bad news if you absent-mindedly bite your nails or touch your nose or eyes while working.

Women’s offices tend to have more germs in them, as women tend to bring in and take out more items like bags and purses, which can carry germs that get transferred to office equipment.

However, men’s wallets are often found to be germier than women’s purses.

So, how can you protect yourself at work without turning into a worrywart? In an interview with Entrepreneur, Gerba suggested you:

  • Wipe down your desk and surrounding items with a disinfecting wipe once a week.
  • Keep a hand sanitizer at your desk and use it throughout the day.
  • If you tend to eat at your desk on a regular basis, think again–this behavior is inviting bacteria to grow at your fingertips.
  • Wash coffee mugs and glasses on a regular basis.
  • If you’re sick, don’t go to work.

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A Hundred Years to Live

17 03 2010
Picture of Gertrude Baines, 115th birthday

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

How many people would wish for an unusually long life, if they had their druthers?

The average lifespan in the U.S. (around 77 years) doesn’t seem like enough time to experience…everything.

Extending the lifespan is a hot topic in the health world. Everywhere we look, there’s a new fountain of youth beckoning. Whether it’s antioxidants, calorie restriction diets, or extreme exercise regimens, everybody is looking to live just a little longer, or to sell the idea that we can.

Centenarians—those among us who’ve made it to their 100th birthday or beyond—get honors galore from the rest of us, but we also view them with puzzlement.

They’ve outlived their friends, their children, numerous presidents, and probably a spouse or two.  They have memories of events most of us only read about in history books.

Everyone wants to know what their big secret is.

Some know exactly how they lasted so long (“I ate three raw eggs for breakfast every day!”), while others are more modest, happily unsure of how they passed the hundred-year mark.

And then there are the old-timers who’ve flown in the face of accepted science. One supercentenarian (aged 110 or greater) credited her many years to crispy bacon and regularly enjoyed fried chicken and ice cream.

Studies have shown that women generally live longer than men, and it is thought that most centenarians have some sort of genetic mutation giving them an advantage when fighting off disease. All are usually thin or of average weight and most never smoked or drank to excess. Most have interests or a purpose beyond themselves—family or religion, for example. More obscure reasons, like where their ancestors hailed from, also seem to play a role.

We’re a a long way from pinpointing what body processes, genes, and environmental factors exert the most control over how long one lives. But in our fast-food, 24-hour, desk job society, the advice on how to live to be a centenarian holds as much common sense as ever:

“Eat sensibly. Keep walking. Keep knitting. If you can’t keep friends, make new ones. Plan so much invigorating work that there’s just no time to die. And no regret when you do.”

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