The Dangers of Spring Cleaning

13 03 2013

spring-cleaning1Spring is nearly here. Does your yard beckon, displaying fast-growing weeds and frumpy foliage?

Mine calls to me, along with the garage, all of the windows, the closets, and every surface that is bespeckled with dust.

If you can’t fight the urge to clean, beware of the risks (you knew this was coming). If, however, you can resist the urge, feel free to use this list in your defense, should your SO wave a rake or sponge your way.

I can’t clean or do yard work . . .

—until I get my tetanus shot. Rusty nails, hoes, and rakes that are pokey and dirty, debris blown onto the yard from winter storms—they’re just waiting for me. (Swap out this Td shot for a one-time Tdap shot, get protected against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis.)

—because I saw mouse poop in the garage and I don’t want to get hantavirus by sweeping up those virus-laden bits. I have delicate airways. (There are safe ways to clean up mouse droppings, but the SO doesn’t need to know that.)

—as long as there are mosquitoes in this world. West Nile virus is everywhere! And I can’t wear mosquito repellent while doing yard work because it smells funny, although that’s not the case when I’m kayaking. Strange.

—while ticks live in this world. Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Colorado tick fever—these are all insidious infections brought on by ticks. I believe I saw a tick on the bathroom wall last week. Possibly it hitched a ride on the dog, which shook it off while in the bathroom. I really have no other explanation.

These excuses are reasonable and clear. If your SO is having trouble swallowing understanding them, feel free to share our contact info.

By Trish Parnell





Whooping Cough Can Happen to You or Your Baby

19 07 2012

Whooping cough comes in waves. It’s not a problem every year, but we’re riding a wave right now.

We were on a telebriefing this morning with Dr. Anne Schuchat, director, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (CDC), and Mary Selecky, secretary, Washington State Department of Health.

They reported that Washington state is a reflection of the national picture of this difficult-to-control disease.

Washington is in the midst of an epidemic, with 3,000 cases so far this year and nine infant deaths. Pertussis (whooping cough) is most dangerous for babies, and more than half who become infected are hospitalized.

In the nation, nearly 18,000 cases have been reported to date, with many states seeing higher numbers of infected than normal.

In 2010, there were 27,000 reported cases and 27 deaths, 25 of those who died were infants.

There has been a gradual and sustained increase of reported cases in the US, and the CDC is in the field trying to determine why that is.

Potential causes of increased numbers could be:

  • childhood vaccines provide immunity for a number of years, but that immunity wanes over time
  • there has been increased reporting of disease
  • there has been an increase in diagnosis of pertussis

In this current wave of disease, the highest rates of infection are among babies younger than one. Babies depend on those around to be immunized so that adolescents and adults won’t pass on the infection to the baby, who is too young to be fully protected by immunization.

There are also higher rates of infection in 10-year-olds, because early childhood immunizations have waned. A booster called “Tdap” (tetanus, diphtheria, acellular pertussis) is recommended for children 11 to 12 years old.

One odd thing that’s going on in Washington and elsewhere is that young people ages 13 to 14 years are also experiencing higher rates of infection. A theory as to a possible cause for this is that this group of teenagers is the first to have had acellular pertussis vaccine only as babies and young children, and no whole-cell pertussis vaccine.

In 1997, the switch was made from whole-cell pertussis vaccine to acellular pertussis vaccine in the US.

It’s just a theory. How that might affect immunity, if it does, is being investigated.

Pertussis vaccine is the most effective approach to preventing infection. Unvaccinated kids have an eight times higher risk of infection compared to vaccinated kids.

Vaccinated kids who get pertussis have milder symptoms, shorter illness, and are less infectious.

In 2010, only eight percent of adults in the US had a history of the Tdap booster.

Throughout today’s telebriefing, Dr. Schuchat and Ms. Selecky emphasized the need for pregnant women and all adults and adolescents to be vaccinated to protect not only themselves, but the babies in their lives, as most babies who are infected acquire that infection from adults and teens around them.

This surge in pertussis cases isn’t just in the US. Australia’s rate of pertussis infection right now is even higher than that in the US, and Canada is struggling.

Moms and dads are losing their babies to this disease. Whooping cough is so infectious—you could be infected and pass it on to a co-worker who then takes it home to his newborn daughter.

Because pertussis is underdiagnosed, many people are infected but don’t know it.

Ask your pharmacist, your doctor, or even your employer about getting the pertussis booster shot. Please.

By Trish Parnell

Image courtesy of CDC





Adults Young and Old Need Vaccines

21 05 2012

Adults know to wash hands and wear condoms to prevent infections. And we try to eat fruits and veggies to stay healthy. Some days, we even exercise.

One thing we don’t do enough of is get vaccinated.

Other than the flu vaccine in the autumn, I seldom think about vaccines for myself. I bet I’m not alone.

But, we should remember to vaccinate.

We make sure our kids wear seatbelts and helmets, cross the street at the light and keep a weather eye on the ocean for sneaker waves, and get all the vaccines they need.

For the most part, we follow the same safety rules, except for that one about vaccines.

I am determined to get myself fully vaccinated and to nag encourage friends to do the same. I don’t want to get sick and think “if only.”

If you’re like-minded, I’ve listed the diseases for which there are vaccines for adults 19 years of age and older. Not every adult will need every vaccine, so print out this post and take it to your provider, find out what vaccines you need, and realize that you may need more vaccines if you’re traveling outside the US:

  • Flu is a respiratory illness. It can cause fever, chills, sore throat, cough, muscle or body aches, headaches, tiredness, and a runny or stuffy nose. You get over it after several miserable days, unless you develop complications, some of which can be life-threatening.
  • Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccines are combined for adults. Tetanus is caused by certain bacteria entering the body through a break in the skin. It’s the one that causes lockjaw, and can cause spasms and seizures. It has a surprisingly high death rate of 10 – 20% of cases. Diphtheria is caused by bacteria spread person-to-person and can damage the heart, kidneys and nerves. Pertussis, also called whooping cough, is a very contagious disease caused by bacteria. In some parts of the world, it’s called the 100-day cough. The “whoop” is most often heard from babies, for whom it can be a lethal infection.
  • Varicella, also called chickenpox, is a virus that spreads easily and causes a blistery rash, itching and fever. For some, it can cause severe complications including pneumonia or sepsis.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted infection that is very common in the population. Most people get it and get over it, but some will develop genital warts or cervical or other types of cancers.
  • Zoster or shingles is caused by once having had chickenpox. The virus stays in the body after the chickenpox clears up and goes away, and years later can reactivate, causing pain and itching, followed by a rash.
  • Measles, mumps, rubella vaccines are also combined for adults. Measles is caused by a virus that makes you feel like you have a bad cold, along with a rash on the body and white spots in the mouth. It can develop into pneumonia or ear infections, sometimes requiring hospitalization. Rubella is also caused by a virus and brings with it a rash and fever. This infection can be devastating to the fetus if a woman is pregnant when infected. Mumps is caused by a virus with symptoms of fever, fatigue and muscle aches followed by the swelling of the salivary glands. Rarely it will cause fertility problems in men, meningitis or deafness.
  • Pneumococcal disease is caused by bacteria and can appear as pneumonia, meningitis, or a bloodstream infection, all of which can be dangerous.
  • Meningococcal disease is caused by various bacteria, and the available vaccines prevent many of these infections. The symptoms are varied and include nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and mental confusion. This disease can lead to brain damage, hearing loss, or learning disabilities.
  • Hepatitis A is caused by a virus. It’s generally a mild liver disease, but can rarely severely damage the liver.
  • Hepatitis B is also caused by a virus that damages the liver. Most adults are infected for a short time, but some become chronically infected. The infection can cause jaundice, cirrhosis or even liver cancer.

More information on these infections can be found on the CDC website.

Talk to your provider about these vaccines. Who can afford to get sick these days?

By Trish Parnell

Image courtesy of Lancaster Homes





Teens, Vaccines, and Media

26 07 2010

How do I communicate with teens? This question hounds most providers as well as parents and teachers. Thanks to excellent research by the Kaiser Family Foundation and PEW Research Center, we know some of the answer lies in the latest media trends and technologies.

But what about health information? Most parents have to walk the line between gatekeeping and educating their teens about their own health and wellness. Nowhere is this juggle more apparent than in the realm of teens and vaccines.

According to CDC, teens 18 and under need Tdap, meningococcal, seasonal flu, and HPV vaccines, as well as to stay current with other childhood vaccines.

In 2008, CDC launched a pre-teen vaccine campaign, impressing on caregivers the importance of vaccinations for this age group as well. The host of recommended vaccines protect against diseases such as whooping cough, HPV, meningitis, pneumonia, and others.

Reaching Our Teens

Communicating the importance of vaccinations to teens isn’t just a matter of laying out the facts. Programs like GetVaxed, PKIDs teen and young adult site, attempt to reach adolescents using colorful, short, pithy health messages with extra punch and color.

Translating health messages, pithy or not, into action is a science that interests many, especially given the evolution of information-sharing with the onset of online and mobile technologies.  In a subsection of the Internet and American Life Report, Pew Research Center tracks the way teens use technology to communicate and get information.

As teens increasingly turn to texting as their preferred method of communication, parents and health providers would be wise to consider ways to text out health and prevention messages.

According to Pew, using texts to educate teens about STD prevention can be effective, though no data exists currently that addresses text immunization messages.

Given the importance of teen and pre-teen vaccination, it’s clear that parents and immunization educators would benefit from more outreach efforts targeting the favored language of teens (texts, Facebook, and the mobile Web).

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s report, Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8 to 18 Year Olds concludes that in the past few years TV as a messaging medium has largely been replaced by the Internet and mobile technology.

Parents and providers are still the trusted purveyors of immunization information for teens, but we need to adapt how we share that information with them to ensure receipt.