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)





Ryan is Hepatitis C+

14 03 2011

(Guest post from Nora, Ryan’s mom.)

courtesy sugar daze

As a little girl, I dreamed of being a wife and mother with a home filled with children. 

When I realized that “prince charming” wasn’t showing, I knew I could still be a mom.  When I set out on the journey alone, I thought it would take forever, however I was a lucky one.  I signed with an adoption agency in June of 2002, and my son was born in August 2002. 

When the agency told me they had a birthmother looking for a single mom, I questioned why? In speaking to the birthmom she said “she had grown up in a household where her parents fought a lot, so her thought was if there was one parent she was ok with that.”  Anyway, it worked out great for me. 

 The agency told me the mother was a drug user and had hepatitis B and C.  I thought “OK so what does that mean?”

I was able to get the birthmom’s medical records as well as my son’s records, once he was born, and have then reviewed.  At birth, my son’s blood was non-reactive to hepatitis C and of course he was given the vaccine for hepatitis B.  OK, non-reactive that’s good right?  Well it really doesn’t mean anything except that the virus is not active as of right now, and we would have to wait until he was 15 months old to run further blood work. 

 When I was asked if I still wanted to adopt him, I thought they were crazy, well of course.  He was my son, it was meant for me to be his mom and my blessing from above.  We plugged along with him over the first year having some issues, having to be withdrawn from the drugs he was born addicted to, having a bout of meningitis, bladder infections, a lot of virus issues etc.  Then the dreaded 15 month time frame was here. 

Ok we went and had the blood work and I just knew in my heart that since I had been told that there was less than a 1% chance that he would have hepatitis C that we would be doing this just to get the all clear.  I remember it was right before Thanksgiving and I was going into the mall to shop when my cell phone rang.  It was Ryan’s pediatrician who was a friend that I had worked with over the years.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, his blood work was positive for hepatitis C.  What, say that again?  You have to be wrong, right? 

No, he wasn’t wrong.  He told me to enjoy the holiday and he would see me right after.  Enjoy the holiday, are you kidding me, how would I ever enjoy anything again? 

You see for me the first 15 months of my son’s life was spent dealing with the other issues, and not ever really thinking that we would have to deal with HCV.  I didn’t really know a lot about it and my first thought was “Oh my God, I am going to have to watch my child suffer.” 

Well over the next week I began researching and reading everything I could on hepatitis.  By the time Ryan got in to see the GI specialist, I knew we had to run a genotype screening and viral load blood work.  I was in an attack mode and wanted my baby fixed.  Well I wish it was that easy.  The GI physician here at our local Childrens’ Hospital told me that there was not much info on children dealing with this disease and he would follow Ryan with blood work and ultrasounds every six months, and at age 3 we would treat him. 

WHAT, I wanted something done now.  Of course I realized in my mind that that was not the protocol and that I had to trust the doctors.  That was hard for me, I wanted to be in control over what happened with my son, not this horrible disease that could be eating away at his liver.  How would I allow it to go on for another 2 years before we did anything?  Of course, now I realize the harshness of the treatment, but at that time I just wanted it not to be true.  I prayed that I would be strong for my son and be able to gain as much knowledge as I could about this monster living within his blood and liver.  

(Ryan is finally in treatment.)





Ryan and HCV

7 02 2011

Ryan’s mom Nora talks about Ryan and his daily struggles with the difficulties in treating hepatitis C infection.

Listen now!

Right-click here to download podcast (7.5 mins/3mb)





Two Risks

31 01 2011

Courtesy of NOAA's People Collection

Ben Franklin chose not to inoculate his little boy against smallpox, fearing the inoculation more than the disease.  In 1736, Ben’s son died at the age of four — from smallpox infection.

Was Ben right to choose the “common way” of infection? Well, no, he wasn’t, although inoculation was nasty.  First, a string was drawn through a pustule of someone infected with smallpox.  The string was then left to dry, and later drawn through a cut made on an uninfected person.  The resulting infection was milder in form and about two percent of those inoculated died from infection versus 15 percent of those who became infected the common way.

Ben Franklin was a brilliant man, but in this case, he failed to look at the science.  Some years after losing his son, he said:

“In 1736 I lost one of my Sons, a fine Boy of 4 Years old, taken by the Smallpox in the common way. I long regretted that I had not given it to him by Inoculation, which I mention for the Sake of Parents, who omit that Operation on the Supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a Child died under it; my Example showing that the Regret may be the same either way, and that therefore the safer should be chosen.”

After his son’s death, Franklin became a big believer in inoculation, considering it the safer choice.  He wrote an introduction to English physician William Heberden’s pamphlet on the subject, which promoted the act and even explained how parents could inoculate their children themselves.  Ben then distributed the document in America.

Nearly 300 years after Ben Franklin chose between two risks and lost, parents face the same choices. No vaccine is 100 percent safe, and no disease is 100 percent benign.  There’s a risk when vaccinating and a risk when choosing natural infection.

The fact is, our kids don’t live in bubbles, and we can’t keep them safe from exposure to germs.  Although the vaccines today are not perfectly risk-free, they are much safer than the infections they prevent.

All we can do as parents is look at the science, talk to our pediatricians, and make the safest choices for our kids.





Healthcare Reform & Me

20 01 2011

No matter what side of the aisle we’re on, we all agree that our healthcare system needs improvement.  The new Affordable Care Act makes some sweeping changes to that system and most of us have questions about how the Act affects us, and how to separate truth from fiction.

The White House has a section on its website that’s helpful for those of us who don’t really know what’s involved in this legislation. There are several informative and simply written pages to be found, if you poke around.

The States page helps bring the info home.  By clicking on a state, we can hear stories and information about the specific effects of the new Act and how it will directly impact that state and its citizens.

The site is an easy way to gather fast facts about some of the highlights of the new Act and answers some of the more common questions many of us have. For example, will Medicare benefits be reduced? No.  In fact, benefits will be added, including “free prevention coverage, annual wellness visits and a phase-out of the Medicare donut hole.”

Another significant change is being able to keep children up to age 26 on a parent’s health insurance plan.

Information about business incentives, drug rebates, and the specific dates when various provisions take effect can also be found on the White House site.

And for a look at the Act itself – who doesn’t have occasional insomnia? – take a look here.





Haiti – Unfulfilled Promises

13 01 2011

This week marks the grim one-year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake, yet it’s hard to find significant progress in the recovery efforts.

Roughly one million Haitians are still homeless, living in 1,200 tent camps across the country.  Fewer than half of the 45,000 t-shelters (semi-permanent structures) that the U.N. and other housing organizations have pledged to build have been realized.

The rubble has been oppressive for the island country.  Only 5% of the up to 22 million cubic yards of heavy debris has been removed, and at this pace it could take 19 years to clean it all up.

Thanks to the generous outpouring of donations from governments and individuals, nearly $10 billion in short- and long-term aid has been pledged in the past year, but only $1.6 billion has actually been spent.

Stumbling blocks to Haiti’s recovery include Haitian laws and taxes that make it difficult to implement aid on the ground, and the lack of coordination and cooperation among relief agencies.

Why aren’t the agencies and organizations working together more often to solve these problems?  It’s a simple question with no good answers.

A side effect of the slow recovery has been the spread of cholera. While the U.S. has been free of cholera since the early 1900s, the disease remains active in the poorest parts of the world.

Cholera, which is spread through contaminated drinking water and food, has already claimed the lives of over 3,600 Haitians since October, and scientists say the spread of the disease has not yet peaked.

Because cholera was not a common disease in Haiti before the earthquake, many parents don’t recognize the symptoms. They are not taking their children to see the doctor soon enough because they are mistaking cholera symptoms for food poisoning.

There are two vaccines to prevent cholera, but widespread vaccination in Haiti is just not feasible for many reasons:

  • There is literally not enough vaccine in the entire world to cover the population of Haiti
  • The cost per vaccination can be high – up to $40/dose
  • The vaccines are only 60-80% effective
  • Administering the second dose is logistically difficult
  • Immunity takes about three weeks to take hold

Clean drinking water and food, proper sanitation, and hand washing are the best ways to combat the spread of this disease, along with some sort of vaccination program. But, these basic needs are difficult to meet in Haiti.

There are so many needs.

There needs to be an action plan to introduce a more modern culture to Haiti. The goal of getting Haiti to pre-earthquake status is not enough.

The 10,000 nongovernmental organizations that have pledged support need to work together to get Haiti back on her feet.  Few of the report cards from big organizations highlight coordinated efforts with other organizations.

We cannot turn our eyes and give up. We can offer a future to Haiti if all of the helping hands join together in this work.





Back to School?!

9 08 2010

The kids are staggering around, moaning about school’s approach while we parents giggle in our sleep.  We have to put in some work to get our little sweetums of all ages launched into the new school year, but the payoff is worth it.  The kids – out of the house!

Vaccines.  Have to get pre-schoolers, collegians and everyone in-between up-to-date on those immunizations.  Ice cream afterward, no matter the age.

Flu.  Ok, this seems like it should be with the vaccines above, but most of us focus on the immunizations we need to get done before the kids go back to school, and this one usually isn’t available in clinics until September/October.  Put it on the calendar, because it’s easy to forget.  Check with your provider about each member of your family getting vaccinated against influenza.  It’s important.

Cover coughs.  With kids crammed into classrooms and adults back at the office after summer holiday, diseases have a chance to spread quickly.  Show the kids how to cough (or sneeze) into their elbows, or into tissues.  This helps stop the germs from floating around and being inhaled by others, or from landing on surfaces that others then touch, picking up the germs on their hands.

Wash hands.  Washing our hands throughout the day, and always after using the bathroom and before we eat, is an all-around good habit.  It’s one of the most effective ways to prevent infections.  Show the kids how to wash their hands.  We didn’t know there was a particular way that worked best until we had a nurse come in and show us prior to making this little video a few years ago.

Dating.  There will be a lot more interaction between teens after school starts.  Even though they know about STDs, it doesn’t hurt for them to hear us talk about the ways diseases spread.  It’s surprising how parents’ willingness to talk, and talk often, can impact a teen’s choices.  Also, thanks to the recent vampire craze, we have to explain that biting your date’s neck can spread all sorts of diseases.

Any parents out there want to chime in on what they do or say to keep their kids healthy?  We’d love to hear!





Haitian Children in Need

12 04 2010

Why are our most vulnerable so often our least protected?

Haitian pastor Jean Guillaume, determined to help the children of Haiti, moved some orphans to a mountainous region outside of Port-au-Prince to save them from that city’s sexual predators, thugs, and imminent flooding. About 200 children will live in his tent encampment, but without funds, it’s hard to say how long he can keep them sheltered, fed, and out of harm’s way.

Courtesy Marco Dormino

Those 200 children are, for now, the lucky ones. They have a temporary reprieve from the daily fear they felt in Port-au-Prince, and from the floodwaters that will soon hit the capital’s tent cities.

Various governing bodies from around the world, including the United States and the European Union, have pledged $9.9 billion in aid to Haiti. More than half of that will be laid out over the next 18 months to rebuild Haiti’s infrastructure, reform the agriculture industry, and rebuild hospitals, schools, and government buildings. The projects will also provide jobs for thousands who are out of work.

This is good news, in a 30,000 foot level sort of way. But, we’re still left with the vulnerable—those who in any society should not be expected to care for themselves—the children.

Almost half of Haiti’s population is under the age of 18.

The children of Haiti are psychologically and physically worn down. What do they need right now? They need to feel safe again. They need to be safe again. They need three square meals a day, shelter from the storms, working toilets and running water, an education to lift them out of illiteracy and poverty, and someone to tuck them in at night.

This is an opportunity for Haitians and the world community to change the status quo in in this weary land.

Find reputable agencies that have been working in Haiti for several years and give money to them, directing that your donations be put to use in Haiti. It’s easy to pass off tragedy of this scope as a societal or governmental problem, something that can’t be solved by you or me, but ask any changemaker what it takes. He or she will tell you that it takes one person, or a small group of friends, or a family, to decide. That’s it, they just have to decide, and then they do.

We’ve decided to make a habit out of Haiti this year. We hope you do the same.

We’ll post any stories or pictures you have about your Haiti habit. It’s going to be a great year.

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Kids and Nutrition

25 01 2010

Nurse Mary Beth tells us what works and what doesn’t when it comes to the foods our kids eat.

Listen now!

Right-click here to download podcast (5mb, 10min)


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