Love Those Critters, But Oh Those Germs.

22 01 2010

We love our pets. They give us unconditional love, cuddle when we want (and sometimes when we don’t), and make us laugh.

They also can be good for our health by reducing stress, improving moods, and lowering blood pressure.

But, our critters can infect us with some nasties – H1N1 is just one (huge) example of that.

To give an idea of what germs may lurk in our pets:

  • There are certain bacteria that live in animals’ guts that can cause infections that bring on diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fever in humans.
  • There is an infection that’s caused by worms that live in dog and cat intestines. People can get these worms by coming into contact with the worms’ eggs in an animal’s infected feces. This is where good hand cleaning can make a big difference in preventing infection. If the eggs get in your mouth and gut, you can get sick with fever, swollen glands, muscle pain, headache, cough, sore throat and rash.
  • A certain parasite is sometimes found in cat feces that can cause an infection that is particularly dangerous to pregnant woman because of the harmful effects to the baby she is carrying.
  • Cat scratch disease (a.k.a. cat scratch fever), tapeworms, and ringworm are also diseases that can be caught from cats and/or dogs.
  • Let’s not forget our avian friends–even those we keep in a cage. You can be exposed to some diseases by inhaling the fungus from bird droppings, ending up with serious problems like brain inflammation and pneumonia.  Parrot fever is transmitted by coming into contact with infected bird poop or dust in bird cages, causing cough, fever and chills. And, let’s not forget avian flu, although that would normally come from outdoor birds.
  • Salmonella can be caught from pets such as lizards, snakes, turtles and frogs.  Most reptiles and amphibians carry Salmonella in their digestive system and feces, and they can also carry it on their skin. People can get sick with Salmonella just from touching the animal or cleaning the cage.
  • Rodent pets such as hamsters, gerbils, and guinea pigs can carry diseases such as rabies and rabbit fever.  Rabies may be transmitted when an infected animal bites you. For rabbit fever and other diseases, you must come into contact with the animal’s urine or feces to get infected.

We need to protect ourselves and our kids from infections. After touching, feeding, or cleaning up a pet’s waste, we should always wash our hands. A good way to protect ourselves is by wearing gloves when we clean the cat’s litter box or a pet’s cage. And, we shouldn’t feed our critters raw meat or let them drink water from the toilet. Doing so can make them sick and they can pass that along to us.

Finally, make sure the pets have all their vaccines!


HIV is Still Here

15 01 2010

More than 1 million people in the United States are HIV+, and 25% of them don’t know it.

Thousands infected are between the ages of 13 and 24, and statistics show that 60% of newly-diagnosed youth are African-American.

There are some risk factors unique to adolescents and young adults that increase the chance of transmitting and acquiring HIV:

  • Sexually active youth with no prior HIV/AIDS education typically engage in riskier behaviors.
  • Female African-American youth are at greater risk in part because, for reasons that are not well-understood, this group appears to have a greater chance of becoming infected after exposure. 
  • Young men who don’t disclose their homosexual orientation are less likely to get tested for HIV; consequently, they’re less likely to know if they are HIV+.
  • Young men who don’t disclose their sexual orientation are more likely to have both male and female sexual partners, resulting in increased risk of transmitting the virus to both men and women.
  • Having a sexually transmitted disease (STD) increases the risk that HIV can be both transmitted and acquired. In many areas of the country, teens and young adults have higher rates of STDs than the rest of the population.
  • Drug, tobacco, and alcohol use also contribute to higher rates of HIV transmission among youth. Casual and chronic substance use contributes to high-risk behaviors such as unprotected sex when under the influence of the substance.

It’s important to know your HIV status. If you are HIV+, you need to take steps to avoid infecting others. HIV is not an automatic death sentence. While HIV is not curable, new medications can reduce the amount of virus in your body and help you stay well.

HIV status can be determined by HIV testing. There are three different ways the testing can be done. Blood, urine, and an oral/mouth test can all be used to test for HIV.  Some tests take 3-14 days to get results. A rapid HIV test can give results in 20 minutes.

Free, confidential, or anonymous tests are available. You can visit to find a testing location or call 1-800-CDC-INFO (available 24 hours a day).

To help stop the spread of HIV and reduce your chances of getting it, avoid having sex or use a new latex condom every time you do have sex. Also, talk about sex and HIV with your partners and friends. Talk to your friends about HIV testing and talk to your partners about their HIV status and past tests. And, talk to your doctor.

If you are sexually active, get tested for HIV.


Flu and the Vulnerable

8 01 2010

Be it swine or seasonal, influenza can knock people off their feet for days. Sometimes the infection leads to hospitalization and, rarely, death. It’s not a disease anyone should ignore.

It can be bad for those without health issues, but there are several groups of people who are at greater risk of complications from influenza, including those with physical and/or developmental challenges.

Physical challenges can interfere with the body’s ability to fight infection. For example, folks living with chronic diseases or conditions, such as HIV, asthma or diabetes, are more likely to be severely affected by influenza.

Developmental challenges interfere with a person’s ability to understand and make decisions, which can make it difficult to know when or how to take precautions and evaluate one’s own health status.

Difficulty communicating may make it hard to tell others about one’s symptoms. This increases the risk of developing more serious illness.

Some people who are physically or developmentally challenged live alone and may be less likely to be monitored closely for illness symptoms, which can also result in more serious illness.

Children aged 5 and younger have a higher risk for developing complications from influenza, and for a child living with spina bifida, cerebral palsy, seizure disorder, or weakened immune system from HIV/AIDS or cancer, the risk for developing complications from influenza is amplified.

In addition to precautions such as covering coughs and sneezes and washing hands frequently, the flu vaccine, if used by everyone, can keep at-risk people safe from influenza and its complications.


Chickenpox Vaccine and Shingles – Two for the Price of One

20 12 2009

Kaiser Permanente completed a study that reviewed the health records of children who received the varicella (chickenpox) vaccine from 2002 to 2008. This study aimed to compare incidences of shingles in the vaccinated population compared to rates in the unvaccinated population.

Results found decreased rates of shingles in the vaccinated population. The study suggests that vaccinating children for chickenpox also reduces their chances of getting shingles, a secondary viral infection known as herpes zoster that typically results after primary infection with the varicella zoster virus.

Shingles is a very painful skin rash that develops from inactive varicella zoster virus that rests in nerve tissue near the spinal cord and brain. When stress or immune changes in the patient cause the virus to become active, the painful skin rash appears along the nerve.

Anyone who’s had shingles can tell you that it’s something to be avoided at all costs. Do your kids a favor, protect them from chickenpox now, and (possibly) the pain of shingles later.


HIV/AIDS in 2009

16 12 2009

It’s been a good year in the fight against AIDS. For example, in November 2009, the United Nations reported that global HIV infections remained stable at 33 million for the past two years, and they believe that infection rates may have reached their peak in the late 1990s.

Why have infection rates stabilized?  The WHO and others suggest that increased world-wide access to antiretroviral drugs may be a reason. Forty-two percent of people in the developing world now have access to drugs that increase the life span and decrease viral loads in the patients who use them, perhaps reducing the likelihood of passing the infection to others.  Several organizations, such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the Clinton Foundation, and the Gates Foundation have helped to make this increased access possible.

The CDC and the NIH are planning major studies in two large U.S. cities to determine what effect improved diagnosis and treatment for HIV+ people might have on reducing HIV infection rates across the community.

This year has also brought interesting news regarding development of an HIV vaccine. A study in Thailand showed a two-vaccine combination resulted in a modest infection reduction rate.  Although the vaccine appeared to lose effectiveness over time, it is the first time researchers have been encouraged that HIV immunization might work.

Regarding treatment, The New England Journal of Medicine reported on a case study about a patient who had both HIV and leukemia. The patient received a stem cell transplant for the leukemia. Interestingly, the donor blood had a rare gene mutation that was immune to HIV. Now, the patient has no detectable HIV in his blood.

While this therapy has serious drawbacks—this type of donor blood is rare and there is a 30 percent risk of death from having a stem cell transplant, it make one wonder if parts of the concept might one day be part of a cure.

Finally, in 2009, the Obama administration lifted a ban that prevented HIV+ foreigners from entering the U.S., citing that we must make these decisions based on fact and save lives by encouraging HIV testing.


Scrubs and Lab Coats and Germs – ‘Twas Ever Thus

11 12 2009

Most of us multitask our way around town, constantly checking our to-do lists and cramming as much as we can into small windows of time.

Healthcare professionals, the ones who work in hospitals and wear the nifty lab coats and scrubs, are no different. They hurry out during lunch break to run errands, hurry to catch the bus to go home, and hurry to pick up their kids from soccer practice – they multitask.

But, if they don’t change their clothes and shoes before leaving the hospital, they can easily spread Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) and other germs around and make lots of people sick.  One hospital survey said that almost 500,000 people a year in the U.S. are getting sick just from C. difficile infections, which can cause diarrhea and inflammation of the colon.

In a January 2009 Wall Street Journal piece, author BetsyMcCaughey noted that:

At the University of Maryland, 65% of medical personnel confess they change their lab coat less than once a week, though they know it’s contaminated. Fifteen percent admit they change it less than once a month. Superbugs such as staph can live on these polyester coats for up to 56 days.

These multitasking, scrub and lab coat wearing healthcare professionals are spreading germs they pick up in the hospitals to their homes, to bus and subway seats, to restaurant chairs and tables and elsewhere.

Concern isn’t being aimed squarely at scrubs or lab coats: any type of unnecessary clothing is being criticized for carrying germs as workers move from patient to patient, person to person.

Loose clothing and long-sleeved shirts are culprits, as are neckties. In a 2004 New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens study, a test of 40 medical employees and 10 security guards found that half of the employees’ ties were a significant source of germs compared to only one in ten of the guards.

Hospitals are supposed to enforce rules about wearing scrubs or lab coats outside of the office, but sometimes these rules aren’t enforced. Budget concerns may prevent hospitals from improving their laundry habits or purchasing additional clothing for employees.

Using more care to clean hands, sterilize equipment, and wear clean scrubs without below-the-elbow items like long-sleeve shirts or neckties can lower hospital-related infection rates.  It’s worked in Denmark and other countries that have pushed for stricter regulations regarding hospital apparel.

Why not give it a try here?



19 11 2009

Mumps, mumps, mumps.  Why are we having outbreaks of mumps?  The MMWR recently published info on the latest infections, and they say it’s the largest outbreak since 2006, when we had over 6,000 cases.  By comparison, this outbreak is puny, with 179 cases as of 30 October.

The majority of those infected (about 84%) are male, with an average age of 14 years.  It’s believed that at least 113 of those infected had “received age-appropriate vaccination.”  The fact that so many are vaccinated is good, but why are they still getting the disease?

The fact is, no vaccine is 100% effective for 100% of those vaccinated.  This is one of the reasons we need to keep community vaccination rates high, to prevent disease from coming into the community and infecting those who either can’t be vaccinated or those for whom the vaccine isn’t effective.

CDC states that the mumps vaccine effectiveness is estimated at 73% to 91% for 1 dose and 76% to 95% for 2 doses.  So there we are.

Maybe we need a booster shot for mumps like the one we have for pertussis.  Any immunologists out there want to hazard a guess?

In the meantime, get vaccinated and encourage those you know to do the same.

CDC explains what can happen when someone becomes infected:

Mumps is best known for the swelling of the cheeks and jaw that it causes, which is a result of swelling of the salivary glands. It is usually a mild disease, but can occasionally cause serious complications. The most common complication is inflammation of the testicles (orchitis) in males who have reached puberty; rarely does this lead to fertility problems.

Other rare complications include:
• Inflammation of the brain and/or tissue covering the brain and spinal cord (encephalitis/meningitis)
• Inflammation of the ovaries (oophoritis) and/or breasts (mastitis) in females who have reached puberty
• Deafness


CDC’s Pre-teen Vaccine Campaign!

13 11 2009

CDC wants folks to know about these educational materials, so we’re doing the viral thing and passing this blurb along.  Hope you do the same:

Pre-teens Need Vaccination Too!

With school in full swing and winter just around the corner, now is a great time for parents of 11 and 12 year olds to get their kids vaccinated against serious diseases such as whooping cough, meningitis, influenza, and, for girls, cervical cancer.

CDC recommends that pre-teens should receive the following:
• Tdap vaccine – combined protection against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis
• Meningococcal  vaccine  – protection against meningitis and its complications
• Seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccines – protection against seasonal and H1N1 influenza viruses
• For girls, HPV vaccines to protect against the two types of human papillomavirus that cause up to 70% of cervical cancers. Each year, almost 4,000 women in the U.S. die of cervical cancer.

These recommendations are supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine.

One of two available HPV vaccines also protects against warts in the genital area, and boys and men up through age 26 can get this vaccine.

CDC’s Pre-teen Vaccine Campaign has educational materials tailored for various audiences, including Caucasian, African-American, Hispanic, Asian American, and Native American parents, available in English, Spanish, Korean, and Vietnamese.

Visit the Pre-teen Vaccine Campaign gallery to download or order materials at NO COST.


CCIC Speaks Up

12 11 2009

Give Thanks for Your Healthy Child

(by guest blogger Dawn A. Crawford, Communications Director at the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition)

Healthy Kids Thanks-A-Thon LogoWe often don’t think about our family’s health until someone gets sick.

The Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition (CCIC) wants to change that. Inspired by the spirit of the season, CCIC invites you to join us in giving thanks for healthy kids!

CCIC works to protect children’s health by ensuring that kids are vaccinated at the appropriate ages to prevent common childhood diseases. Our mission is the same as yours: Keep kids healthy!

How can you give thanks? Tell us why you are grateful for a healthy kid! It’s easy and it’s a great way to celebrate the spirit of the holiday season!

This Thanksgiving season, the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition (CCIC) has created a simple and free way for parents and others to share their gratitude for healthy children with the CCIC Healthy Kids Thank-A-Thon.

Parents, grandparents and parents-to-be are encouraged to submit to the Healthy Kids Thank-A-Thon website gratitude statements, photos, videos, and blog posts explaining why they are grateful for a healthy child.

From these submissions, CCIC will spread the gratitude for healthy kids all Thanksgiving weekend (November 26 – 29) by tweeting parents’ and grandparents’ submissions on Twitter, creating a video for YouTube, and sharing the love on Facebook.

How to Participate:
• Visit the CCIC Healthy Kids Thank-A-Thon website to tell us why you are grateful for your healthy child. We encourage you to include a picture of your family or a video of your healthy child.
• Spread the word to co-workers, patients, neighbors, and friends by posting this info and forwarding this blog post

All submissions are due Monday, November 23.

Make sure to join CCIC for the Thanksgiving weekend in sharing gratitude for all our healthy kids.

Have a wonderful holiday season!



World Pneumonia Day

28 10 2009

World Pneumonia Day logoMore young children die from pneumonia each year than from any other single cause—including war, famine, or any other disease.

How did this happen?  It’s preventable and treatable. How did we get to where we are today while allowing this to continue?

We lose a child to pneumonia every 15 seconds, a total of 2 million children a year.  That’s unacceptable.

We know how to fight back against pneumonia, but we just aren’t doing it. Children’s lives can be saved by increasing vaccination, antibiotic treatment, and breastfeeding and by practicing thorough, frequent handwashing and reducing indoor air pollution

November 2nd is the first annual World Pneumonia Day. A global coalition has formed to take on this killer. It is our hope that, if we all pitch in, we’ll swiftly work ourselves out of a job.

 Save the breath and the life of a child. Please join us.

  • Visit the World Pneumonia Day website for more information.
  • Join the cause on Facebook to spread the word about this disease. Ask your friends to do the same.
  • Contact your elected officials, make sure they know the facts about pneumonia, and encourage them to take action.
  • Donate funds to provide vaccines or to train community health workers to reach families in need who are too far from clinics.

Do one of these things, or do them all. Do something and save a child.