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)





Does Vaccination Prevent Cancer?

7 03 2011

The history of anxiety about possible negative effects of vaccines is long, tracing back at least as far as Benjamin Franklin. Countering these worries is the fact that vaccines are one of the greatest public health successes of our time, saving millions of lives worldwide.

Now we know that vaccine benefits may extend beyond prevention of the target childhood disease.

An already recognized extra benefit comes with the vaccines for varicella. A varicella vaccine not only can prevent chickenpox in young people, but may also stop the occurrence of shingles in older folks.

Shingles, a neurological attack by the chickenpox virus decades after an infection, can cause a rash that leaves behind chronic, unbearable pain. Vaccination in childhood may protect against shingles, and according to a new study from a Texas group, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, childhood vaccines may offer reduced odds of childhood cancer.

The researchers, going on hints from earlier studies, looked at vaccine rates in specific areas and compared those numbers to childhood cancer rates in the same region. While childhood cancers are rare, they are, of course, devastating. The most common cancers in children are leukemia and brain and spinal cord cancers. According to previous studies, some common childhood infections might increase a child’s risk of leukemia, while vaccinations might reduce that risk. It’s not a nutty idea that some infections—especially viral infections—might be associated with cancer. Indeed, a few viral infections have an established association, including human papillomavirus (HPV, associated with cervical and anal cancers), hepatitis B (associated with liver cancer), and Epstein-Barr (the “mono” virus, linked to a type of lymphoma).

The researchers looked at the 2800 cases of childhood cancer diagnosed in Texas from 1995 to 2006, focusing only on cases diagnosed in children two years or older. For every child diagnosed with cancer, the team identified four more children who had not had cancer, matched for age and sex. As a final step, they then mapped how many children from each group had been born in Texas counties with high vaccination rates.

Their results showed that where hepatitis B vaccination rates were high, odds of all childhood cancers fell by almost 20%. Where rates of inactivated polio virus, hepatitis B, or a specific mix of childhood vaccinations were high, odds of finding cases of a common childhood leukemia, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), dropped by as much as 38%. The biggest dip in odds came with higher rates of Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b) vaccine and ALL, with a 42% decrease in ALL odds where Hib vaccination rates were high.

It’s important to remember that the authors didn’t establish a cause–effect link here. This study is based on the numbers, and the take-home message here is a simple one. The authors put it best in their abstract: “Some common childhood vaccines appear to be protective against ALL at the population level.”





My Son Battles Pertussis

30 07 2010

(Our thanks to mom and guest blogger Aleshya Garner.)

My name is Aleshya Garner. My now 10 month-old son, Peyton, is a pertussis survivor. At only 6 weeks of age he developed the disease pertussis, also known as whooping cough.

This disease caused my son to have severe coughing attacks, followed by the struggle to catch his breath, which caused him to turn purple due to low oxygen levels. During each attack, I listened to my son make these awful high-pitched noises, a sound that’s very common in pertussis. As a new mother, the first sounds I expected to hear from my son were soft coos and giggles, not the sounds of him gasping for air. I worried with every cough, “Will he catch his breath?” The only thing you can do is help him through it, with a calm tone, “please breathe Peyton, please breathe” while watching him turn purple.

We are not sure how Peyton got whooping cough, but it could have been prevented had our family been more aware that adults as well as children need booster shots. Just one simple Tdap shot could have possibly prevented Peyton and our family from experiencing this horrible disease.

Not only were we uneducated about pertussis, it took three trips to the ER for the doctors to finally admit Peyton into the ICU at our local hospital. During one of the trips, the doctor told us Peyton’s condition was caused by being constipated, so we were sent home. After being told many wrong diagnoses, they finally ran a pertussis test on my son. The test took about five days to culture. My husband and I were told for five days, by many different doctors, that there was no way our son had pertussis, even though Peyton’s pediatrician suspected it. They were sure it was the flu. The pertussis test came back positive.

I was told that because the hospital staff did not take proper precautions with Peyton’s “possible” pertussis, everyone in every department that he came in contact with was required to take antibiotics, after the pertussis was confirmed.

Peyton was discharged from the hospital after seven days on October 25th. At that time, we were only two weeks into his pertussis. This is surprising, given that resources I read say this disease can last up to ten weeks. Each day was a little bit better, as his attacks were not as frequent as they were in the beginning, but they were just as severe.

More and more cases of pertussis appear each day. A disease that we once just about wiped out is back. As a new mother, I thought “All I have to do is keep him safe from the flu…….” Boy was I wrong. Not in my wildest dreams did I think that my healthy infant son would have to battle with such a potentially fatal disease.

Why isn’t there more awareness out there about pertussis? Why aren’t we encouraged more to follow up on our booster shots to prevent another pertussis outbreak, to protect more babies like Peyton, and to save lives?

To all new parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles, please from the bottom of my heart, get your booster shots. It is that important, and since there is little awareness, help spread the word about pertussis. You may never know it, but it could save a baby’s life.





Twilight Love Bites… Ouch!

28 07 2010

The Twilight Series: It’s the rage among teens.  It’s a love story with hip, modern-day vampires.  Love the books, love the movies, but do NOT love the Twilight trend that is emerging among teen friends and couples: biting.

Teens caught up in the Twilight rage are “leaving their marks” on each other as a sign of closeness.  What does this mean?  It means that they are biting each other.  As parents, we thought we had left that nightmare long behind us in the toddler years!  It’s returned, and the implications are even more serious.

First there are the socio-psycho implications. Teen biting is a form of branding, and a form of ownership.  Some teens believe it shows commitment to a significant other, or group of friends. One teen noted biting was an “add-on to kissing,” comparing it to putting a case on his iPhone.

It seemed we had all but eliminated the idea of “blood brothers and blood sisters,” and now we have teens that cut each other’s skin to taste each other’s blood.    

This is extremely dangerous and can cause serious infections.  The human mouth is filled with bacteria, and a bite that draws blood can have serious implications.  If biting has occurred, we need to look for signs of more serious bites, including:   swelling, redness, pain, and pus at the site.   All bites need to be carefully cleaned, and may require treatment with oral or IV antibiotics. 

What often goes unmentioned is the danger of spreading bloodborne diseases,  such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and B, and syphilis.  

There is a vaccine for hepatitis B, so please be sure your teen is vaccinated.  There are no vaccines for HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C.  These diseases do not discriminate, and if your biting, vampire-loving teen chooses to engage in such activities, she may end up with an infectious disease that at best remains with her for the rest of her life, and at worst, takes her life.

You can find evidence of this craze on teen-made YouTube videos and Facebook pages.  Some teens say they have been biting their partners for over a year. 

We all need to be talking to our teens about the health risks involved in this practice.  They need to hear our opinion on this; it will make a difference when it comes time for them to choose to participate in this risky behavior—or not.





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!”

 





Lessons Learned from Botswana’s AIDS Fight

16 07 2010

In the early to mid-’90s, life expectancy in Botswana was 65 years. Ten years later, it was below 40 years of age due to the impact of AIDS. The children of Botswana were also affected by the pandemic. To date, nearly 100,000 children have lost at least one parent to AIDS

Faced with such losses in a country with a population under 2 million, and determined to save its people, the government took action and the Botswana-Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership (BHP), was founded.

The Institute provides training and research, and acts as point of contact for the efforts to reduce HIV/AIDS in Botswana. In 2001, simultaneous to the opening of a state-of-the-art lab funded by the Institute, the government launched the Masa (or “new dawn”) treatment program, buying antiretrovirals and making them widely available at no cost to infected citizens. The research capabilities of the BHP, along with Botswana’s HIV/ AIDS education, prevention, and treatment efforts, are unparalleled and show impressive results.

Key factors in Botswana’s fight against HIV/AIDS include:

  • International and national funding and research partnerships (represented by the Botswana-Harvard AIDS Institute)
  • Coordination of education efforts at the national level, and targeted to specific populations including school-age children, pregnant and new mothers, and high risk adult populations
  • Education outreach including targeted mobile outreach (involving peer-to-peer education and counseling)
  • Focus on enrolling mothers in the program to prevent mother-child transmission of the disease.

Stemming the tide of mother-to-child transmission of HIV is crucial in halting the spread of disease. In Botswana, peer-to-peer enrollment in the government-sponsored prevention and treatment program slowly increased maternal participation from under 10% to just over 33%.

Both the Masa and the Botswana-Harvard Institute aren’t easily replicated in countries without a similarly high level of financial and governmental support, but the lessons learned can still be applied.

Although it’s unlikely that most developing countries have the resources to accomplish what wealthy Botswana has done, it is a bit of bright news in the otherwise depressing struggle that is HIV/AIDS in Africa.





Whooping Cough: California’s Preventable Epidemic

30 06 2010

Recent news reports warn that California stands to “…suffer the most illnesses and deaths due to pertussis, also known as whooping cough, in 50 years.”  At least 5 infants have died of whooping cough with another 600 suspected cases currently under investigation.  Public health officials have labeled it an epidemic.

It’s easy to forget that before the vaccine was made available, pertussis killed thousands of people and infected hundreds of thousands each year.  Once a vaccine was developed, cases dropped by 99 percent, but the numbers haven’t stayed that low. In 2008, there were more than 13,000 infections and several deaths.

It is estimated that a rising number of families in California are choosing to avoid vaccinating their children through the use of a “personal belief exemption.”  Given this trend, it’s no surprise that we’re seeing a resurgence in infectious diseases like pertussis.

Some basic facts about pertussis:

  1. Whooping cough is a highly contagious bacterial disease that infects the respiratory system.  Symptoms can appear mild at first, including a runny nose and a mild cough. When in doubt, take your child to the doctor right away.
  2. Infants can become gravely ill very quickly.
  3. Symptoms may progress to rapid coughing (sounds like a “whoop” in young children) coupled with difficulty breathing. Infants can turn blue from lack of oxygen.
  4. Left untreated, pertussis can lead to bacterial pneumonia and, especially in infants, seizure, encephalopathy, or death.

How to protect your child from pertussis

  1. The best way to protect infants from pertussis  is to vaccinate them according to the recommended schedule.
  2. Immunity from pertussis begins to fade by the time we reach our teens, so it’s critical that adolescents and adults get the one-time pertussis booster in order to cocoon the infants and others in their lives who are not able to be fully vaccinated.
  3. Keep anyone with a cough away from your child.
  4. Wash your hands and your child’s hands regularly.

Protect your children by talking to your provider to see what vaccines are right for your family. To read more about pertussis, go here.

Share