Childhood Diseases Reaching Out to Adults

16 12 2014

Angelina Jolie has chickenpox, and a passel of NHL players suffers at home with mumps. What’s going on?

Adults are getting knocked sideways by childhood illnesses because (1) when they were children, they missed one or more recommended vaccines, (2) there were no vaccines for certain diseases when they were young, or (3) the protection they received as children from vaccines is waning.

It’s also possible that a vaccine simply didn’t work for this or that person. It happens.

I was already an adult when the chickenpox vaccine first became available. A couple of years prior to the release of that vaccine, my little nephew became infected. He was miserable, and as his parents were out of town, I was the go-to person.

I bathed him in cool water to help bring down his temperature (does that really work?). I cuddled with him, and generally took care of him until his parents came home.

A couple of weeks later, my face erupted in what I thought were spectacularly huge pimples. They flattered my shiny new adult braces and first-ever pair of glasses.

I could not understand why I was breaking out, and then I remembered. My nephew.

I called my mom to see if I’d had chickenpox as a kid, and you already know the answer.

Well, that was a long time ago, and I can happily report my nephew and I had complete recoveries.

All this is to say that diseases lurk. It doesn’t matter how old or young we are, if we’re not protected, we’re open to infection. And, diseases from our childhood pose just as much risk to us as adults.

It takes one phone call or email to the healthcare provider’s office. Ask about all vaccine-preventable diseases, and where you are in your level of protection.

 

 

by Trish Parnell





Summer + Mosquitoes = Dengue Fever?

13 05 2014

The dengue fever virus is the most common virus that mosquitoes transmit and infects about 100 million people worldwide every year, killing about 25,000. In spite of this frequency, though, the United States, with the exception of Puerto Rico, has been mostly dengue-free for decades—until 2009.

image by infidelic

That year, a woman in New York turned up with a dengue infection, having just returned from a trip to the Florida Keys. Her case was the first of a handful that led public officials to conduct a survey of the Key West population. To their shock, they found that about 5% of residents, or about 1000 people, showed evidence of dengue exposure in 2009.

The mosquito that carries the virus occurs in warm areas of the country, including Florida and Texas, and indeed, isolated cases of dengue have cropped up a few times since the 1980s along the Texas–Mexico border. But the cases in 2009 and more in 2010 have authorities concerned that dengue now has achieved an intractable foothold on the continental United States.

Work on a vaccine against dengue is ongoing, but in the meantime, the only preventive is to avoid the bug that carries the virus: the mosquito.

Wearing repellent when in areas where they occur is one tactic. Another is removing breeding places, such as any containers with standing water. The precautions apply wherever you’re going, whether to areas where dengue is already endemic or where it is emerging. The CDC provides regular updates for travelers, including a page specific to the Florida cases.

Dengue fever can hit hard or harder, depending on the symptom severity. The “mild” version of the disease can involve a high fever, a rash, severe headache and pain behind the eyes, and nausea and vomiting.  Given that these symptoms are largely nonspecific, if you see your doctor about them and have traveled in a place where dengue fever occurs, be sure to mention it. A more severe form of dengue fever is dengue hemorrhagic fever, which begins much like the “mild” form but then progresses to symptoms that can include nosebleed and signs of bleeding under the skin, known as petechiae.  This form of dengue can be fatal.

The most severe manifestation of the disease, dengue shock syndrome, includes the symptoms of the milder forms along with severe abdominal pain, disorientation, heavy bleeding, and the sudden drop in blood pressure that signals deadly shock.  Onset is typically four to seven days after exposure, and the mild form usually lasts only a week, while the more severe forms can involve either a progressive worsening or a sudden worsening following an apparent improvement.

Oddly enough, having dengue fever once does not mean you’re safe from it. Indeed, some studies indicate that a second bout of dengue fever often can be worse than the first, with a greater risk of progressing to the hemorrhagic form.





Meningitis Outbreaks This Holiday Season

25 11 2013

What’s going on with meningitis at Princeton and UC Santa Barbara?

Both universities are experiencing an outbreak of meningitis—specifically, serogroup B (that’s the genetic fingerprint of the particular strain of meningitis).

In the US, we don’t have an approved vaccine against this serogroup or strain, but we do have vaccines that fight other strains of meningitis, such as C and Y. Those vaccines are working great!

We’re seeing more serogroup B infection right now because there’s no vaccine available in the US to control transmission. And, we’re seeing an outbreak because that just happens sometimes, particularly when there’s no vaccine to prevent it.

As of 25 November, there have been seven cases identified at Princeton, with a probable eighth case not yet formally identified. Three cases have been identified so far at UC Santa Barbara.

Some of the cases have been serious, but to date there are no deaths. Dr. Amanda Cohn, a pediatrician and expert in meningitis with the CDC, talked about these outbreaks today in a teleconference.

She said that while health departments and healthcare providers should be aware of symptoms and think about meningitis should they see indications, it is safe for the college kids to come home for the holidays.

CDC is not expecting transmission in the home. It tends to occur with very close contact (“french” kissing, sharing a room and coughing all over a roommate). Generally, you might get either meningococcal meningitis or meningococcal septicemia from a meningococcal infection.

Symptoms of meningococcal meningitis as noted by CDC include:

  • Sudden onset of fever
  • Headache (severe)
  • Stiff neck (hurts to move it)

Other symptoms might include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Photophobia (increased sensitivity to light)
  • Altered mental status (confusion)

The symptoms of meningococcal meningitis can appear quickly or over several days. Typically they develop within 3-7 days after exposure. This infection can be serious with long-term consequences such as hearing loss or brain damage, and it is at times fatal.

Symptoms of meningococcal septicemia may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Cold chills
  • Severe aches or pain in the muscles, joints, chest or abdomen (belly)
  • Rapid breathing
  • Diarrhea
  • In the later stages, a dark purple rash

These symptoms can come on in a matter of hours and the infection is very dangerous.

Prevention means washing your hands and covering your coughs and sneezes. Get up-to-date on your immunizations (no matter your age) and know that, if a healthcare provider suspects someone in the home may have an infection, those in close contact will receive antibiotics to prevent the spread of the disease. There are some manufacturers working on vaccines that include serogroup B for approval in the US, but they are not yet at the final stages of development on those vaccines.





Here Come the Germs!

24 09 2013

I love my kids. I do. But, may I just say, entre nous, that my heartbeat slows and I’m immersed in a narcotic sense of freedom when they toddle off to school each September.

That euphoric bliss lasts about two weeks. Maybe. Then come the colds, the aches, the lethargy, the sniffles, the who-knows-what.

Does your family experience the same thing? Here’s what’s going on:

  • In the US, kids under 17 years of age experience over 50 million colds each year. M-m-million!
  • Kids miss almost 22 million (there’s that “m” word again) days of school due to colds.
  • Diarrhea is no slouch when it comes to affecting the health of our kids—it’s a big contributor to missed school days.
  • Bacteria and viruses can survive on desktops, doorknobs, walls, water spigots, cafeteria trays, shoes, backpacks, purses, and other surfaces for minutes or even hours. A few even longer, depending on the environment. The germs lurk on surfaces, waiting for unsuspecting hands to slide by and pick them up.
  • Some kids and teachers don’t cover their coughs and sneezes, and they don’t clean their hands when it’s important to do so. Depending on the germ, it may float in the air and wait to be inhaled, or drop on a surface and wait to be picked up, or transfer from germy hands to surfaces or the waiting hands of others.

What can we do? We can’t completely protect our kids from the germs in the world (and there’s no way I’m homeschooling), so we teach them how to protect themselves and live with the fact that they’re occasionally going to pick up germs. Picking up germs is not a bad thing. That exposure helps strengthen the immune system and does other good things for the body that are best left to another blog post.

To keep illness down to a manageable level, share these tips with your family:

  • Wash hands with soap and water after coughing, sneezing, playing inside or outside, going to the bathroom, or touching animals, and before preparing or eating food and at any time that the hands look dirty. And, wash those hands as soon as you come home from school or, well, anywhere.
  • Use hand sanitizer in place of soap and water if no soap/water is available, but soap and water are preferred. Remember that hand sanitizer kills many germs, but only while it’s being rubbed onto the hands. Once it’s dry and the hand touches something germy even two seconds later, germs will live on the hands again.
  • Cough and sneeze into the crook of the elbow. Coughing and sneezing into tissues is OK, but not ideal. The tissues are thin and the germs blast right through onto the hands, requiring an immediate hand cleaning. Plus, the germs are more likely to escape the tissue and float around waiting to be inhaled, or drop onto surfaces, waiting to be touched.
  • Don’t share with others anything your mouth touches. This means don’t share forks, spoons, water bottles, food, drinking glasses, straws, lipstick or any other makeup, come to think of it, and don’t use anything that’s touched another person’s mouth, such as their pen or pencil or any item already listed. This is not a complete list, just one to get you thinking about how germs can be passed from one person to another.
  • Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth, as these are entryways for germs.
  • Walk around your home with a disinfecting wipe and clean doorknobs (interior and exterior), light switches and the wall area around them if the wall surface will hold up to the moisture, keyboards, remote controls—anything around the house that gets touched a lot.
  • Call your provider and your child’s provider and make sure the entire family is up-to-date on immunizations.

Share your tips in the comment section. Let’s try to have a healthy school year!

 

By Trish Parnell

 

 





CDC – Working 24/7

20 04 2013

Welcome to NIIW!

Every 20 seconds, a child dies from a disease that could be prevented with a safe and effective vaccine. Millions more children survive, but are left severely disabled. Vaccines have the power not only to save, but also transform lives by protecting against disease – giving children a chance to grow up healthy, go to school, and improve their lives.  Vaccination campaigns sometimes provide the only contact with health care services that children receive in their early years of life.

Immunization is one of the most successful and cost-effective health interventions—it currently averts an estimated 2 to 3 million deaths every year in all age groups from diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), and measles.

cdc blogImmunization is a global health priority at CDC focusing on polio eradication, reducing measles deaths, and strengthening immunization systems. CDC works closely with a wide variety of partners in more than 60 countries to vaccinate children and provide technical assistance to ministries of health to strengthen and expand countries’ abilities to create, carry out, and evaluate their national immunization programs.

Too few people realize that the health of Americans and the health of people around the world are inextricably linked. Viruses don’t respect borders, so they travel easily within countries and across continents. By helping to stop vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs) globally, CDC is also helping to protect people in the United States against importations of VPDs from other countries.

For example, in 2011, there were 220 reported cases of measles in the United States—200 of the 220 cases were brought into the U.S. from other countries with measles outbreaks.

The most effective and least expensive way to protect Americans from diseases and other health threats that begin overseas is to stop them before they spread to our shores. CDC works 24/7 to protect the American people from disease both in the United States and overseas. CDC has dedicated and caring experts in over 60 countries. They detect and control outbreaks at their source, saving lives and reducing healthcare costs. In 2012, CDC responded to over 200 outbreaks around the world, preventing disease spread to the U.S.

CDC’s global health activities protect Americans at home and save lives abroad. They reduce the need for U.S. assistance and create goodwill and good relationships with global neighbors.

Thanks to the CDC for sharing this information.





Reporters – Follow The Science (Please!)

12 12 2012

Immunizations are a perpetually hot topic. We’ve been getting questions from reporters for over a decade about the need for vaccines, the efficacy of vaccines, and invariably the safety of vaccines.

Reporters have been doing stories on vaccines for a lot longer than a decade, but I remember 1999 as the year that things kicked off on the national scene. The television program ‘20/20′ ran shows featuring parents who claimed that various vaccines caused SIDS, multiple sclerosis, autism, and a variety of other illnesses in themselves or their children.

All these years later, when study after study after hundreds of studies have proven the safety of vaccines, many reporters still insist on representing the “other” side of the story when the subject is vaccine safety.

When I get a call from a reporter asking to speak to a parent whose child has been affected by a vaccine-preventable disease, I ask if they are also speaking to parents who believe their child has been adversely affected by a vaccine.

The answer is always yes.

The reporter will say that he or she just wants to present a balanced story.

After all of these years, and after all of these studies, I can’t help but wonder what their definition of balanced may be.

When I read a story about the importance of wearing a helmet when riding a bicycle or a motorcycle, there is often included in the story an anecdote about someone not wearing a helmet while riding who was consequently harmed by the lack of said helmet.

Never, in the same story, do I read about riders who were saved from harm by not wearing helmets, although I’m sure there are people in this world who believe it is safer to ride without helmets. For some reason, reporters don’t feel the need to present the anti-helmet point of view in order to have a balanced story.

The use of seat belts in cars has been mandatory in all states since the 1980s. When writing about car accidents, reporters frequently include stories about the injuries sustained when so-and-so was not wearing a seat belt.

I don’t believe I’ve ever read such a story where the reporter also highlighted incidents of those saved from harm by not wearing seat belts. I know of at least one person who firmly believes that not wearing a seat belt is safer than wearing one, but I have not yet seen her anti-seat belt view used to provide balance in a car accident story.

Reporters who include opinions from parents who believe their children were adversely affected by vaccines, and who include junk science from those pretending to be scientists, all in the name of having a “balanced” piece on vaccines, simply haven’t done their homework.

They are behind on the science, and the stories they write end up creating fear and confusion on the part of parents.

If a reporter feels that it is important to present views not substantiated by science, they should do an opinion piece rather than a news story.

At PKIDs, we sincerely appreciate those writers who look for and use the facts. As parents of children affected by disease, it’s easy for us to have lab work done and determine by the results that our child is infected with a particular disease.

If there is a vaccine to prevent that particular disease, we can say that it’s probable that, had our child been vaccinated, he or she would not have become infected. But, since not all vaccines work for everyone, we cannot say for certain. We can only talk about what vaccine-preventable diseases have done to our families.

We’re not painting all reporters with the same brush. Many reporters follow the science and come back with a fact-based story.

For those who do not, we ask that you make clear in your next story which parts are unsubstantiated, and which are based on fact.

Let’s stop the unnecessary scaremongering of the public.

 
By Trish Parnell





Why Vaccinate? I Never Get Sick!

5 11 2012

No matter your age, if you’re sitting in a moving vehicle you’re required to wear a seatbelt or to be in a size-appropriate car seat.

Most states require that anyone riding a bicycle or a motorcycle wear a helmet. And again, it doesn’t matter what age you are.

Kids going to public schools are required to be immunized against several diseases for school entry. How many immunizations they’re required to get depends on the state they live in, and the school they attend.

I suppose I could think up a few public health scenarios that would require adults to be immunized against a particular disease. But as a rule, unless our jobs require it, we adults are exempt from this particular requirement.

There are lots of protections in place for kids, as there should be. For instance, if I don’t feed my daughters, or provide adequate shelter for them, they’ll be taken away from me and placed in a foster home, where they’ll get the care they need. We need that oversight in place, so that no kids fall through the cracks. The heartbreak is that there are still kids falling through the cracks, but we do know that the oversights in place keep that number from being astronomical.

Most adults don’t need that kind of micromanagement when it comes to their health. But, they do need information. Before I became involved with PKIDs, I wasn’t even aware that there were vaccines for adults, other than the flu vaccine.

Now I know.

I don’t have time to get sick. I get vaccinated for me. I also wash my hands, try to get enough sleep, make myself eat green vegetables, and generally do whatever I need to do to keep myself healthy. But because I’ve met and talked with so many families affected by preventable diseases and I know how awful those infections can be, one of my motivations for getting vaccinated is so that I don’t accidentally infect someone else.

For example, it’s the infected adults and teens around babies who infect them with whooping cough, and it’s the infected birth moms who infect their newborns with hepatitis B. Babies infected with whooping cough can end up hospitalized, or worse. And babies infected with hepatitis B usually stay infected for life. This can lead to liver cancer or transplantation—if they’re lucky.

If you’re one of those people who never gets sick and figures you don’t need to be vaccinated—well, who knows, you might be right. But not getting sick is not the same as not being infected. You can and do pass on those germs to little babies who haven’t gotten all of their vaccinations yet, and others whose immune systems are not robust, for one reason or another.

So, you know where I’m going with this. Take just a few minutes the next time you’re at the pharmacy or your doctor’s office and ask what vaccinations you need. Do it for you, but also do it for the vulnerable in your life.

By Trish Parnell