The flu shot doesn’t work

I’ve seen a few kids this season who have influenza despite the fact that they had the vaccine. When the family hears that the flu test is positive (or that symptoms are consistent with influenza and testing isn’t done), they often say they won’t do the flu shot again because it didn’t work.

flu shot ineffectiveHow do they know it isn’t working?

Influenza can be deadly.

Most of the kids I’ve seen with flu who have had the shot aren’t that sick. Yes, they have a fever and cough. They aren’t well.

But they’re not in the hospital.

They’re not dying.

They tend to get better faster than those who have unvaccinated influenza.

Some kids still get very sick with influenza despite the vaccine.

That’s why there’s surveillance to see how it’s working.

When FluMist was determined to not be effective, it was removed from the market.

Studies are underway to make a new type of flu vaccine that should be more effective.

We know the shot isn’t perfect, but it’s better than nothing.

Maybe if you weren’t vaccinated you’d be a lot sicker.

Maybe you were exposed to another strain of flu and didn’t get sick at all.

I think it’s still worth it to get vaccinated each year (until they come up with a vaccine that lasts several seasons).

If everyone who’s eligible gets vaccinated against the flu, herd immunity kicks in and it doesn’t spread as easily. Historically only around 40% of people are vaccinated each year against influenza. We know that to get herd immunity we need much higher numbers.

Shot fears…

If your kids are scared of shots, check out Vaccines Don’t Have to Hurt As Much As Some Fear.

Don’t rely on Tamiflu to treat flu symptoms once you’ve gotten sick.

Tamiflu really isn’t that great of a treatment. It hasn’t been shown to decrease hospitalization or complication rates. It shortens the course by about a day. It has side effects and can be expensive. During flu outbreaks it can be hard to find.

Prevention’s the best medicine.

Learn 12 TIMELY TIPS FOR COLD AND FLU VIRUS PREVENTION.

Share Quest for Health

It’s not the flu!

I was at the gym today and an otherwise great instructor who seems to know a lot about health was sharing incorrect information about the flu with the class of about 40 people. She said that she had received several texts from other instructors asking her to cover their classes because they were vomiting. She went on to say that many at first thought it was food poisoning, but it’s spreading like illness, so it’s the flu, not food poisoning. She made a big deal that the flu is here.

That’s only partially right.

Yes…

There’s a stomach bug going around.

It’s not food poisoning.

Influenza is in town.

But this extreme vomiting is not “the flu”

Vomiting can be associated with influenza, but is not the main symptom.

The flu causes predominantly fever, cough, sore throat, and body aches for many days. It can cause vomiting and diarrhea, but those aren’t usually the predominant symptoms. And the flu doesn’t cause just a few hours of extreme vomiting like we’re seeing these days.

Why do I care if people call this stomach bug “flu”?

Runny nose is one of the symptoms of influenza.

The biggest reason I care is that it leads people to make other incorrect assumptions and to get the wrong treatments.

I hear all the time that people had the flu the year they got a flu shot, so they don’t want to get it anymore.

When probed about their illness, it’s usually not consistent with the flu. It was either a cold and cough or a stomach virus.

Cough is one of the most common symptoms of influenza, along with fever, sore throat, and body aches.

They need to know that this isn’t the flu. It wouldn’t be prevented with the flu shot. The flu shot has nothing to do with protecting against most cases of vomiting and diarrhea or most upper respiratory tract infections.

Of course there are people who got the flu shot (or FluMist when it was available) who did come down with the flu. They had a positive flu test and symptoms were consistent with the flu. But if they get influenza after the vaccine they tend to have milder symptoms. They tend to not end up in the hospital or dead if they’ve had the vaccine. Yes, even healthy young people can end up very sick from influenza. They can even die. (The FluMist didn’t protect well and was removed from the market due to this.)

We forget about all the times people did get the vaccine and they didn’t catch the flu even with likely exposure. Lack of disease is easy to fail to acknowledge.

We know the flu vaccine is imperfect. But if the majority of people get vaccinated, we can slow the rate of spread and protect us all against influenza most effectively.

We don’t have great treatments for influenza, so vaccinating and using other precautions is important!

7 Vitamin K Myths Busted

Social media has allowed the sharing of misinformation about many things, especially medically related things. When the specifics of something are unknown to a person, pretty much anything that’s said can sound reasonable, so people believe what they hear. This happens with many things, such as vaccine risks, chelation, and vitamin K.

I am especially frustrated when parents refuse to give their newborns vitamin K after birth. Since 1961, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended giving every newborn a single shot of vitamin K given at birth. This is a life saving treatment to prevent bleeding.

Life saving.

Vitamin K works to help our blood clot. Insufficient levels can lead to bleeding in the brain or other vital organs. Vitamin K deficiency bleeding or VKDB, can occur any time in the first 6 months of life. There are three types of VKDB, based on the age of the baby when the bleeding problems start: early, classical and late. Unfortunately there are usually no warning signs that a baby will have significant bleeding, so when the bleeding happens, it’s too late to do anything about it. Why parents don’t want to give this preventative life saving treatment is usually based on incorrect information.

This is a matter of a fairly low risk of bleeding if you don’t give vitamin K: 250-1700 per 100,000 within the first week, and 4-7 per 100,000 between 2 and 12 weeks. You might notice that the number is variable – it’s hard to study since the large majority of babies have gotten vitamin K over the years and the risk is low even without vitamin K. However, when there is bleeding it has significant consequences: lifelong disability or death. And we also know that there’s very low risk from the vitamin K and it works very well to prevent bleeding. So why take the chance of not giving it?

Conspiracy Theories, Misunderstandings, and Science

This is not a governmental conspiracy to somehow kill children. It’s a world wide attempt to help children survive and thrive. The World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines:

  • All newborns should be given 1 mg of vitamin K intramuscularly [IM] after birth [after the first hour during which the infant should be in skin-to-skin contact with the mother and breastfeeding should be initiated]. (Strong recommendation, moderate quality evidence)

Most people look at scientific information and can’t make heads or tails of what it means.

Photo Source: Hemorrhagic Disease of the Newborn

That coupled with the fact that things we read that make us react emotionally (such as fear that something will harm our child) makes us remember and associate with the information that created the emotion, whether it is right or wrong. This can lead parents to make dangerous decisions for their children while trying to do the right thing.

Myth Busting

I’m going to attempt to de-bunk the most common concerns I’ve heard because the best way to combat misinformation is to help explain the facts as we know them.

1. If every baby’s born with too little vitamin K, that’s the way we’re supposed to be.

Babies are born with very little vitamin K in their body. If they don’t get it with a shot, they need to either eat it or make it. Breast milk has very little vitamin K and babies won’t be eating leafy greens for quite awhile. Formula does have it, but it takes several days for vitamin K to rise to protective levels with formula and the highest risk of bleeding is during that first week of life. (Of course if you’re using this argument because you want babies to be all natural, you probably won’t be giving formula at this point.)

Bacteria help us make vitamin K, but babies aren’t colonized at birth with these gut bacteria.

Just because they’re born that way doesn’t mean they’re supposed to stay that way. Inside the mother the baby is in a very different situation. They don’t breathe air. They don’t eat. They don’t have gut bacteria. Their heart has a bypass tract to avoid pumping blood to the lungs. This all works well in utero, but must change once they leave the womb. Change takes time, and during this time they are at risk. Why not minimize the risk if we know a safe way to do it?

2. The package insert has a big warning at the top that it can kill.

There are many reasons why we should not use the package insert of a medicine or vaccine to make healthcare decisions. These have been discussed before so I won’t go into all the details but please see these great blogs on how to read and use package inserts:

It is true that there is a black box warning on the top of the vitamin K package insert. This has scared some parents from wanting to get the vitamin K shot for their newborn.

Screen Shot from Package Insert 

Reactions to IV (intravenous) vitamin K are much more common than IM (intramuscular) injections. The difference is anything given by IV goes directly into the bloodstream and back to the heart. But we don’t give vitamin K by IV to newborns.

IM injections go into the muscle, allowing very slow absorption of the medicine. This not only decreases reactions to the injected vitamin, but also helps the level of vitamin K stay elevated for a prolonged time after a single injection.

I only found one report of a newborn with a significant reaction to vitamin K. The authors of the paper did note that IM vitamin K has been given for many years to babies all over the world without significant reactions and could not explain why the one infant had such a significant reaction.

Since we must always look at risk vs benefit, the very, very low risk of a serious reaction from receiving vitamin K IM is preferable to the benefit of the prevention of VKDB.

Another great resource on this topic is Dr. Vincent Iannelli’s That Black Box Warning on Vitamin K Shots.

3. Vitamin K causes cancer.

Many years ago there was a small study that suggested vitamin K led to childhood cancers. This issue has been extensively studied since then and no link has been found.

Vitamin K does not cause cancer.

Rates of cancer have not increased in the years since vitamin K has been given to the large majority of newborns worldwide. This is reported in the Vitamin K Ad Hoc Task Force of the American Academy of Pediatrics report Controversies Concerning Vitamin K and the Newborn.

4. Bleeding from vitamin K deficiency is rare or mild.

In the US bleeding from vitamin K deficiency is rare because most babies get the vitamin K shot soon after birth. In countries where vitamin K is not used routinely, bleeding is not rare at all. Some communities of the US where vitamin K is being refused by parents are seeing an increase in newborn bleeding.

Early VKDB occurs within 24 hours of birth and is almost exclusively seen in infants of mothers taking drugs which inhibit vitamin K. These drugs include anticonvulsants, anti-tuberculosis drugs, some antibiotics (cephalosporins) and blood thinners to prevent clots. Early VKDB is typically severe bleeding in the brain or gut.

Classic VKDB typically occurs during the first week of life. The incidence of classic VKDB ranges from 0.25-1.7 cases per 100 births.

Late onset VKDB occurs between 2 and 12 weeks usually, but is possible up to 6 months after birth. Late VKDB has fallen from 4.4-7.2 cases per 100,000 births to 1.4-6.4 cases per 100,000 births in reports from Asia and Europe after routine prophylaxis was started.

One out of five babies with VKDB dies. Of the infants who have late VKDB, about half have bleeding into their brains, which can lead to permanent brain damage if they survive. Others bleed in their stomach or intestines, or other vital organs. Many need blood transfusions or surgeries to help correct the problems from the bleeding.

5. It’s just as good to use oral vitamin K.

Early onset VKDB is prevented well with the oral vitamin K in countries that have oral vitamin K available, but late onset VKDB is an issue. Children with liver or gall bladder problems will not absorb oral vitamin K well. These problems might be undiagnosed early in life, putting these kids at risk for VKDB if they are on an oral vitamin K regimen.

There is no liquid form of vitamin K that is proven to be effective for babies in the US. That is a huge issue. Some families will order vitamin K online, but it’s not guaranteed to be safe or even what it claims to be. This is an unregulated industry. It is possible to use the vitamin K solution that is typically given intramuscularly by mouth, but this requires a prescription and the taste is questionable, so baby might not take the full dose. It would be an off-label use so physicians might not feel comfortable writing a prescription. The other issue that might worry physicians is with compliance in remembering to give the oral vitamin K as directed, since most studies include babies with late onset bleeding who had missed doses.

Most of us get vitamin K from gut bacteria and eating leafy green vegetables. Newborns don’t have the gut bacteria established yet so they won’t make any vitamin K themselves. They may get vitamin K through their diet, but breastmilk is very low in vitamin K, so unless baby is getting formula, they will not get enough vitamin K without a supplement. It is possible for mothers who breastfeed to increase their vitamin K intake to increase the amount in breast milk, but not to sufficient levels to protect the baby without additional vitamin K.

Many countries that have used an oral vitamin K protocol, such as Denmark and Holland, have changed to an intramuscular regimen because the oral vitamin K that was previously used became no longer available.

There are various oral vitamin K dosing strategies that can be reviewed in the linked abstract. In short:

  •  Australia and Germany: 3 oral doses of 1 mg vitamin K are less effective than a single IM vitamin K dose. (In 1994 Australia changed to a single IM dose and their rate went to zero after the change.)
  • Netherlands: A 1mg oral dose after birth followed by a daily oral dose of 25 mcg vitamin K1 may be as effective as parenteral vitamin K prophylaxis.
  • Sweden: (a later study) 2 mg of mixed micellar VK given orally at birth, 4 days, and 1 month has a failure rate of one case of early and four cases of late VKDB out of 458,184 babies. Of the failures, 4 had an undiagnosed liver issue, one baby’s parents forgot the last dose.

When vitamin K is given IM, the chance of late VKDB is near zero. Oral vitamin K simply doesn’t prevent both early and late bleeding as well — especially if there is an unknown malabsorption disorder, regardless of which dosing regimen is used.

6. My baby’s birth was not traumatic, so he doesn’t need the vitamin K.

Birth trauma can certainly lead to bleeding, but the absence of trauma does not exclude it. Late vitamin K deficient bleeding (VKDB) cannot be explained by any birth traumas since they can occur months later.

7. We’re delaying cord clamping to help prevent anemia and bleeding. Isn’t that enough?

Delayed cord clamping can have benefits, but decreasing the risk of bleeding is not one of them. There is very little vitamin K in the placenta or newborn, so delaying the cord clamping cannot allow more vitamin K into the baby.

Still not convinced?

Read stories about babies whose parents chose to not give vitamin K:

For More Information:

Evidence on: The Vitamin K Shot in Newborns (Evidenced Based Birth)

Traveling with Kids

Many families travel when school’s out of session, which over the winter holiday season means traveling when illness is abound. I get a lot of questions this time of year about how to safely travel with kids.

Sleep disturbances

Sleep deprivation can make everyone miserable, especially kids (and their parents). Make sure your kids are well rested prior to travel and try to keep them on a healthy sleep schedule during your trip.
  • Bring favorite comfort items, such as a stuffed animal or blankie, to help kids relax for sleep. If possible, travel with your own pillows.
  • If you’re staying at a hotel, ask for a quiet room, such as one away from the pool and the elevator.
  • Be sure to verify that there will be safe sleeping areas for every child, especially infants, before you travel.
  • Try to keep kids on their regular sleep schedule. It’s tempting to stay up late to enjoy the most of the vacation, but in reality that will only serve to make little monsters of your children if they’re sleep deprived.
  • If your kids nap well in the car, plan on doing long stretches on the road during nap time. If kids don’t sleep well in the car, be sure to plan to be at your hotel (or wherever you’re staying) at sleep times so they can stay in their usual routine.
  • Some families leave on long trips at the child’s bedtime to let them sleep through the drive. Just be sure the driver is well rested to make it a safe trip!
  • If you’re changing time zones significantly, plan ahead. Jet lag can be worse when traveling east than when going west. Jet lag is more than just being tired from a change in sleep routine, it also involves changes to the eating schedule. Kids will often wake when they’re used to eating because the body is hungry at that time. Try to feed everyone right before they go to sleep to try to prevent this. Breastfed infants might have a harder time adjusting because mother’s milk production is also off schedule.
  • Tired, sick, and hungry all make for bad moods, so try to stay on track on all accounts. Sunlight helps regulate our circadian rhythm, so try to get everyone up and outside in the morning to help reset their inner clocks. Keep everyone active during the day so they are tired at the new night-time.

Keeping track of littles

  • Toddlers and young kids love to run and roam. Be sure that they are always within sight. Use strollers if they’ll stay in them.
  • Consider toddler leashes. I know they seem awful at first thought, but they work and kids often love them! I never needed one for my first – he was attached to parents at the hip and never wandered. My second was fast. And fearless. She would run between people in crowds and it was impossible to keep up with her without pushing people out of the way. She hated holding hands. She always figured out ways to climb out of strollers – and once had a nasty bruise on her forehead when she fell face down climbing out as I pushed the stroller. She loved the leash. It had a cute monkey backpack. She loved the freedom of being able to wander around and I loved that she couldn’t get too far.
  • Parents have a number of ways to put phone numbers on their kids in case they get separated. Some simply put in on a piece of paper and trust that it will stay in a pocket until it’s needed. Others write it in sharpie inside a piece of clothing or even on a child’s arm. You can have jewelry engraved with name and phone number, much like a medical alert bracelet. Just look at Etsy or Pinterest and you’ll come up with ideas!
  • It’s a great idea to take pictures of everyone each morning in case someone gets separated from the group. Not only will you have a current picture for authorities to see what they look like, but you will also know what they were wearing at the time they were lost.

Airplane issues

  • The great news is that air travel is much safer from an infection standpoint than it used to be. Newer airplanes have HEPA filters that make a complete air change approximately 15 to 30 times per hour, or once every 2-4 minutes. The filters are said to remove 99.9% of bacteria, fungi and larger viruses. These germs can live on surfaces though, so I still recommend using common sense and bringing along a small hand sanitizer bottle and disinfectant wipes to use as needed. Wipe down arm rests, tray tables, seat pockets, windows, and other surfaces your kids will touch. After they touch unclean items sanitize their hands. Interestingly, sitting in an aisle seat is considered more dangerous, since people touch those seats during boarding and when going to the restroom, so if you’re seated in the aisle pay attention to when surfaces need to be re-sanitized. Sitting next to a sick person increases your risk, so if there is an option to move if the person seated next to you is ill appearing, ask to be moved.
  • Most adults who have flown have experienced ear pain due to pressure changes when flying. Anyone with a cold, ear infection or congestion from allergies is more at risk of ear pain, so pre-medicating with a pain reliever (such as acetaminophen) might help. If you have allergies be sure to get control of them before air travel. The best allergy treatment is usually a nasal corticosteroid.
  • It has often been recommended to offer infants something to suck on (bottle, breast or a pacifier) during take off and landing to help with ear pressure. Start early in the landing – the higher you are, the more the pressure will change. Older toddlers and kids can be offered a drink since swallowing can help. Ask them to hold their nose closed and try to blow air out through the closed nostrils followed by a big yawn. If your kids can safely chew gum (usually only recommended for those over 4 years of age) you can allow them to chew during take off and landing.
  • Airplane cabin noise levels can range anywhere from 60 – 100 dB and tend to be louder during takeoff. (I’ve written about Hearing Loss from noise previously to help you understand what that means.) Use cotton balls or small earplugs to help decrease the exposure, especially if your kids are sensitive to loud noises.
  • The Car Seat Lady has a great page on knowing your rights when flying with kids.

Cruise ship issues

  • Learn about cruise-specific opportunities for kids of various ages. Many will offer age-specific child care, “clubs” or areas to allow safe opportunities for everyone to hang out with people of their own age group. Cruises offer the opportunity for adventurous kids to be independent and separate from parents at times, allowing each to have a separate-yet-together vacation. Travel with another family with kids the same ages as yours so your child knows a friendly face, especially if siblings are in a different age group for the cruises “clubs”.
  • Talk to kids about safety issues on the ship and make sure they follow your rules. They should always stay where they are supposed to be and not wander around. There’s safety in numbers, so have them use a buddy system and stick with their buddy. Find out how you can get a hold of them and they can get a hold of you during the cruise.
  • Of course sunscreen is a must. Reapply often!
  • Be sure kids are properly supervised near water. That means an adult who is responsible for watching the kids should not be under the influence of alcohol, shouldn’t read a book, or have other distractions.

Car seats (for planes, trains and automobiles)

  • I know it’s tempting to save money and not get a seat for your child under 2 years of age on a plane, but it is recommended that all children are seated in a proper child safety restraint system (CRS). It must be approved for flight, but then you can then use the seat for land travel.
  • I always recommend age and size appropriate car seats or boosters when traveling, even if you’re in a country that does not require them. Allowing kids to ride without a proper seat will probably lead to problems getting them back in their safe seat when they get back home. Besides, we use car seats and booster seats to protect our kids, not just to satisfy the law.
  • So… my section header was meant to be cute. Trains don’t have seatbelts, so car seats won’t work. But they are a safe way to travel. Car Seat for the Littles has a great explanation on Travel by Train.

Motion sickness

When should pregnant women and new babies avoid travel by air?

  • A surprising number of families either must travel (due to a job transfer, death in the family, out of state adoption, or other important occasion) or choose to travel during pregnancy or with young infants.
  • Newborns need constant attention, which can be difficult if the seatbelt sign is on and needed items are in the overhead bin. New parents are already sleep deprived and sleeping on planes isn’t easy. New moms might still have swollen feet and need to keep their feet up, which is difficult in flight. Newborns are at high risk of infection and the close contact with other travelers can be a concern. And traveling is hard on everyone. But the good news is that overall young infants tend to travel well.
  • It is advisable to not travel after 36 weeks of pregnancy because of concerns of preterm labor. Pregnant women should talk with their OB about travel plans.
  • Some airlines allow term babies as young as 48 hours of age to fly, but others require infants to be two weeks – so check with your airline if you’ll be traveling in the first days of your newborn’s life. There is no standard guideline, but my preference would be to wait until term babies are over 2 weeks of age due to heart circulation changes that occur the first two weeks. Waiting until after 6 weeks allows for newborns to get the first set of vaccines (other than the Hepatitis B vaccine) prior to flight would be even better. Infants ideally have their own seat so they can be placed in a car seat that is FAA approved.
  • Babies born before 36 weeks and those with special health issues should get clearance from their physicians before traveling.
  • Overall traveling with an infant is not as difficult as many parents fear. Toddlers are another story… they don’t like to sit still for any amount of time and flights make that difficult. They also touch everything and put fingers in their mouth, so they are more likely to get exposed to germs.

Illness prevention

Who wants to be sick on vacation? No one. It’s easy to get exposed anywhere during the cold and flu season, so protect yourself and your family.
  • Teach kids (and remind yourself) to not touch faces – your own or others. Our eyes, nose, and mouth are the portals of entry and exit for germs.
  • Wash hands before and after eating, after blowing your nose, before and after touching eyes/nose/mouth, before and after putting in contacts, after toileting or changing a diaper, and when they’re obviously soiled.
  • Cover sneezes and coughs with your elbow unless you’re cradling an infant in your arms. Infants have their head and face in your elbow, so you should use your hands to cover, then wash your hands well.

 

Make sure all family members are up to date on vaccines.

 

Keep records

Take pictures of your passport, vaccine record, medicines, insurance cards, and other important items to use if the originals are lost. Store the images so you have access to them from any computer in addition to your phone in case your phone is lost.

Have everyone, including young children, carry a form of identification that includes emergency contact information.

Create a medical history form that includes the following information for every member of your family that is travelling. Save a copy so you can easily find it on any computer in case of emergency.

  • your name, address, and phone number
  • emergency contact name(s) and phone number(s)
  • immunization record
  • your doctor’s name, address, and office and emergency phone numbers
  • the name, address, and phone number of your health insurance carrier, including your policy number
  • a list of any known health problems or recent illnesses
  • a list of current medications and supplements you are taking and pharmacy name and phone number
  • a list of allergies to medications, food, insects, and animals
  • a prescription for glasses or contact lenses

Enjoy!

Last, but not least: Enjoy your vacation!
Be flexible.

Don’t overschedule. Your kids will remember the experience, so make moments count – don’t worry if you don’t accomplish all there is to do!

Take a look at some of the Holiday Health Hazards that come up at vacation times from Dr Christina at PMPediatrics so you can prevent accidents along the way.

Take pictures, but don’t make the vacation about the pictures. Try to stay off your phone and enjoy the moments!

10 Reasons Not To Get the Flu Vaccine, Reconsidered: Fight Flu!

Influenza is not a just a bad cold. People sick with with the flu can suffer from fevers, cough, sore throat and body aches.

It can lead to complications, many of them severe, and death. Complications include pneumonia, ear infections, and sinus infections. Since 2010, influenza has resulted in between 9.2 and 35.6 million illnesses, between 140,000 and 710,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 and 56,000 deaths each year. 

There’s good news though. There’s a vaccine to help prevent the flu.

There are many reasons people don’t get the flu vaccine, but many of those reasons deserve a second thought.

1. The flu vaccine doesn’t work.

While it’s true that the vaccine has variable efficacy, it’s important to get the vaccine each year. The more people vaccinated, the less likely the flu will spread through a community. Take a look at this really cool representation of how herd immunity works. How it was developed is described on IFLS.

No one claims that the vaccines against influenza work perfectly. The influenza virus can mutate by shifting and drifting. Until there’s a universal flu vaccine, we must rely on experts to look at the viral patterns and predict the strains that will be most predominant in the upcoming season and make a vaccine against those strains.

Despite not working 100% of the time, the flu vaccine has been shown to lessen the severity of illness and decrease hospitalizations and deaths. Even if there’s not a perfect match, it can still help those who are vaccinated have a lesser illness. That’s worth something.

2. I got the flu from the vaccine.

The influenza vaccine that is currently available cannot cause the flu. Only live virus vaccines can lead to forms of the disease. The vaccines available in the US this season are either an inactivated or a recombinant vaccine. These do not cause flu symptoms. The vaccines cannot mutate to cause symptoms. They simply don’t work that way.

There are many reasons you could have gotten sick after a flu vaccine that were not due to the vaccine.

  1. You were exposed to influenza before the vaccine had time to take effect and protect.
  2. You  caught a strain of influenza that wasn’t covered in the vaccine.
  3. You caught one of a number of other viruses that cause flu – like illness.
  4. The vaccine did cover the type of virus you have but your body didn’t make the proper protection from the vaccine so you were still susceptible.

In each of these scenarios, you still would have gotten sick if you hadn’t had the vaccine, but if you recently had the vaccine it’s easy to understand the concern that the vaccine caused the illness.

The FluMist is a live virus vaccine, so it could cause mild symptoms of influenza viruses, but it is not recommended for use in the US this year.

3. I can prevent the flu by being healthy.

It is important to eat right, exercise, get the proper amount of sleep, and wash hands. All of these things help keep us healthy, but they don’t prevent the flu reliably.

We cannot boost our immune system with megadoses of vitamins. (Vaccines are the best way to boost our immune system.)

Organic and non-GMO foods don’t offer any benefit to our immune system over other healthy foods. If these things did as some claim, people generations ago would have been healthier since they ate locally grown organic foods, got plenty of fresh air, and exercised more in their day to day life than we do these days. Instead of being healthier, they were much more likely to die from infections. The risk of death between the first and 20th birthday had decreased from over 3 in 100 children in 1900, to less than 2 in 1000 children today. One of the major causes of death historically (and still today) is from influenza, but it has been shown that the flu vaccine reduces the risk of death. Why not help your body prepare for flu season with the vaccine?

4. Flu vaccines shouldn’t be used during pregnancy — they’ve never been tested and can lead to miscarriage.

Pregnancy is considered a high risk condition for severe complications of influenza disease and the vaccine can help prevent those complications. It is recommended that all pregnant women get vaccinated against influenza. If a pregnant mother gets the vaccine, it not only helps to prevent complications during pregnancy, but it also helps prevent influenza in newborns since they can’t be vaccinated until 6 months of age.

There are some who assert that since the package inserts state the vaccines have not been studied in pregnancy that they aren’t safe, but in the next breath they say that they aren’t safe because a study showed a high rate of miscarriage after the vaccine.

The first part of the argument is one of the many ways the package insert is misused. Discussions about using package inserts properly are found at The Logic of Science, another at The Logic of ScienceSkeptical RaptorHarpocrates Speaks, and even this analogy of Package Insert Airline to vaccine package inserts.

Think about it… you can’t argue that it’s never been studied and then quote a study. It’s been studied. A lot. The Vaccine Safety Datalink is a huge database designed to document adverse events associated with vaccination, allowing researchers access to a large amount of data.

The flu vaccine has been safely given to pregnant women for over 50 years. Despite a recent small study suggesting a potential risk of miscarriage, the flu vaccine has been studied extensively around the globe and found to be not only safe but effective at decreasing the risk of influenza disease during pregnancy and beyond.

5. I have a chronic illness and don’t want to get sick from the shot.

People with chronic illnesses (including diabetes, heart conditions, and asthma) are more at risk from serious illness from influenza disease. The influenza vaccine can prevent hospitalizations and death among those with chronic diseases. People with chronic diseases should be vaccinated, as should those around them to protect with herd immunity.

The flu shot cannot make anyone sick, even those who are immunocompromised. You do not need to avoid being around someone who is sick or immunocompromised if you’ve recently been vaccinated.

6. If I get the flu I’ll just take medicine to feel better.

There is no medicine that makes people with influenza feel better reliably.

There is no medicine that decreases the spread of influenza to friends and family of those infected.

We can take fever reducers and pain relievers, but they don’t treat the underlying virus. They suppress our immune system so we don’t make as much inflammation against the virus, which decreases the symptoms and our body’s natural defenses.

Cough and cold medicines simply don’t work well.

As for antiviral medicines, I have written about Tamiflu and why I rarely recommend it.

Megadoses of vitamin C or other vitamins, homeopathic treatments, essential oils, and other at home treatments have not been shown to significantly help.

It is important if you get sick, you should limit contact with others. This means missed school and work for at least several days with influenza. Prevention with the vaccine simply is better than trying to treat the symptoms.

7. I don’t like shots. (Or my child doesn’t like shots.)

I’m a pediatrician. Most of my younger patients hate shots. Like really hate shots. They cry, scream, kick, try to run and hide — you name it, they’ve tried it to try to avoid shots. They fear shots, but we can help them with techniques that lessen the pain, and they often say “it wasn’t that bad” afterwards. For more on how we can help lessen the pain, check out Vaccines don’t have to hurt as much as some fear.

8. I have an egg allergy so can’t get flu shots.

In previous years there was a concern that people with egg allergy would have a reaction from the vaccine so it was not recommended, but it has been found to be safer and still appropriate to vaccinate with proper precautions.

People who have had only hives after egg exposure can safely get flu vaccines following standard protocols.

People who have symptoms of anaphylaxis with egg exposure that requires epinephrine (respiratory distress, lightheadedness, recurrent vomiting, swelling – such as eyes or lips) should still get the vaccine, but they should be monitored at the appropriate facility (doctor’s office, hospital, health department) for 30 minutes to monitor for reactions.

9. Vaccines are only promoted to make people money. Doctors are shills.

Very little profit is made from any vaccine. Really. Some doctors and clinics lose money by giving vaccines. I often tell my own patients that I don’t care if they get the vaccine at my office, the local pharmacy, or at the parent’s office – whatever works for them best. I just want everyone vaccinated. This in the end will decrease my revenue because they will not come to the office seeking treatments for a preventable illness. But I am a pediatrician to take care of the health of children, not to make money. Pediatricians are consistently on the bottom of the list of physician salaries. If I was in it for the money, I would have gone into orthopedics or another surgical specialty.

There are many things to consider when addressing this argument and the Skeptical Raptor does it well, including links to more information.

10. The flu vaccine contains mercury.

While it is true that some flu vaccines contain thimerosal, not all do. Thimerosal was removed from the majority of childhood vaccines in 2001 due to lawmakers responding to constituent demands, not because it was shown to be a risk medically. Since the flu vaccine is not only for children, there are multidose vials that contain thimerosal. If that really bothers you, ask for a version without thimerosal. But since it was removed because people thought thimerosal caused autism and the rates of autism haven’t gone down since it was removed, that’s pretty strong evidence that it never caused autism. Just like the scientists said. It’s a preservative that is effective. I would gladly get a flu vaccine with thimerosal, and have over the years, but the majority of flu vaccines given to children in the US are thimerosal free. Just ask.

Flu Vaccine Information and Recommendations for the 2017-2018 Season

  • Both trivalent (3 strain) and quadrivalent (4 strain) vaccines are approved for use this year. There is no preference officially of one over the other, but the vaccine should be appropriate for age.
  • No FluMist Nasal Spray flu vaccine is recommended. The nasal spray did not work well in the last few seasons it was used in the US. Until it is understood why it wasn’t effective then how to make it effective, it will not be recommended.
  • Pregnant women should be vaccinated to protect themselves and their baby.
  • Everyone over 6 months of age should be vaccinated. Children 6 months to 8 years who have only had one flu vaccine in their past will need two doses this season. This is because the first dose acts as a primer dose, then a booster dose boosts the immune system. Once the body has had a boost, it only needs a boost each year to improve immunity.
  • Infants under 6 months of age can gain protection if their mother is vaccinated during pregnancy and if everyone around them is vaccinated. They cannot get the flu vaccine until 6 months of age.
  • People with egg allergy can be vaccinated. If there is a history of anaphylaxis to egg, they should be monitored for 30 minutes.
  • The CDC is encouraging everyone to be vaccinated by Halloween if possible, but it’s not too late to be vaccinated after that if not yet done this season. It takes up to 2 weeks for the vaccine to be effective. Flu season typically starts in January, but the peak can be as early as November and as late as March.
  • It is acceptable and encouraged to give the flu vaccine along with other recommended vaccines needed.

 

 

Related blogs

Vaccines don’t have to hurt as much as some fear

Tamiflu: Guest blogger Dr. Mark Helm
Tamiflu Status Downgraded

Tamiflu: the not-so-great influenza treatment

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Just do it… get your flu shot!

Vaccines Don’t Have to Hurt As Much As Some Fear

Many kids are scared of shots. Some even fight parents and nurses when it’s time to get shots. The more they fight and worry, the worse it gets. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Increasing the fear

In general there are some things that increase anxiety about shots or just make them seem bad.

Lying

Do not tell kids it won’t hurt. Shots can hurt. Lying doesn’t help. It just minimizes their fear and makes things worse. It might hurt, but how much is variable. Pain is a very individualized feeling. You can describe it as a pinch. Some kids do better with advance warning.

No promises

Never tell kids they won’t get a shot at the doctor’s office. They might be due for one (or more) and if they were specifically told they won’t get one, they are usually more upset.

Threats

Don’t threaten kids with shots if they misbehave. This makes kids see shots as a negative.

Siblings

Siblings can increase anxiety with their teasing. Don’t share the need for shots with siblings and if it’s possible to leave siblings at home when one child will need shots, that might work best.

Your fears

Some kids worry more because parents are worried or presume the child will be worried. When the parent starts talking about shots in a worrisome manner it feeds into the fear. Try to be factual. Don’t start telling them it’s okay and not to worry. That tells them there’s something to worry about.

Building anticipation

Some kids do best if they don’t know shots are coming. If they ask if they’ll get shots at an upcoming visit, you can say you don’t know. If you think your child will lose sleep for days worrying about the shots, this is often the best way to handle it. Then the doctor and nurse at the office can deliver the news and it isn’t your fault.

How to prepare

If you want to prepare your kids before bringing them in for shots or if you just need some help when you’re at the office, follow these tips:

Risks and Benefits

I often ask kids if they’ve ever gotten hurt playing outside. They usually say yes. Then I ask if they still wanted to play outside again. They usually say yes. I might sound surprised that even though they know that they can get hurt, they still want to play, but then I “realize” that it was because the benefit (playing) outweighs the risk (getting hurt). Then we talk about the benefits of the shot are so much more than the quick poke and a little pinch feeling. This works really well for the middle school shots because they’re old enough to get the connection.

Medicine?

Don’t pre-treat with an oral pain reliever. Studies have shown that acetaminophen and ibuprofen decrease the immune response, which might make the vaccines less effective.

Crying’s okay

Don’t tell kids to not cry. It’s okay to be scared and to feel pain. Let them know what is and is not okay. If they cry it’s okay. It is not okay to kick, hit, run, or do anything that can harm others or themselves.

Education

Educate kids about how vaccines help us. There are many resources available. When they understand why the shots are good for them, it helps them to accept them.

Practice

Practice what happens when we get shots.

Have them practice sitting still and making their arms loose.

Wipe the arm with a tissue as you explain the person giving the shot will clean the area with a very cold wet tissue to clean the area. (I avoid the term alcohol swab because the term alcohol confuses younger kids who learn about drug prevention in school.)

Pinch the arm to show them there will be a small pinching feeling.

Put a bandaid on the area if they like or just explain that they can get a bandaid when it’s over. (If your child hates bandaids, tell the person giving shots that they prefer to not have them.)

Let them practice giving you a “shot” too.

Show that the poke will be fast and they can move their arms up and down afterwards to make the sting go away.

Lovies

Bring a comfort item from home, such as a stuffed animal or blankie.

Blowing

There is evidence that blowing out or coughing during the injection helps decrease the pain. We often recommend this for kids old enough to blow or cough.

Sometimes we’ll entice preschoolers with bubbles or pinwheels. It really helps!

Distraction

Other forms of distraction can help too. Telling stories, reading books, or watching a video on a smart phone or tablet are great distractions.

Sit vs Lay Down

Studies have shown that allowing kids to sit (rather than force laying down) during shots is perceived as less painful. The less restraining the child needs, the better. It makes sense that if they need to be held down they will be more scared and it will be perceived as more painful.

I have seen tweens and teens prefer to lay down if they have a history of getting light headed with needles or they’re worried about fainting.

Order of vaccines

Ask the person giving the vaccines to save the most painful vaccine for last, if applicable. (Our nurses do this routinely.)

Pain DISTRACTOR devices

Our office sometimes uses Buzzy when kids are especially afraid of shot pain. As long as the child isn’t overly worked up and they aren’t opposed to the coldness of the ice, Buzzy works fantastically! If kids have worked themselves into a frenzy it isn’t sufficient to distract in this way.

Bribery

I used to think bribery was not a good parenting technique… until I had kids. It can be very effective. If you can promise a reward for being brave, such as stopping for a smoothie or getting a favorite treat, that can work wonders.

Just do it

I like this Dr. Mom’s take on getting shots. Dr. Corriel knows that her son will just need to do it. Fear and all.

Help with anxieties in general

(great for life worries, not just shots!)

Build up bravery

After kids do things that they were afraid of, congratulate them for the attempt. Remind them that even though they were scared they did it. This helps set the pattern that they can be brave when faced with any fear.

Kids can even keep a list of things that they did despite being scared to try. Make a “Bravery Book.”

They can use the list whenever a new fear pops up to see how many things they’ve already done and how brave they really are.

video to future self

I’ve started recommending that parents take a video of kids to show their future self if they can say it didn’t hurt as much as they worried it would.

We all tend to remember the anxious phase of excessive worry, but forget that it wasn’t that bad.

Show the video the next time shots are due. Their own self stating it wasn’t bad can be reassuring!

Meditation

Use a meditation app, such as Stop, Breathe & Think. It’s free and helps with general anxieties as well as mindfulness. Download it and use it at home several times to let them get comfortable using it.

Some great articles:

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HPV Vaccine Concerns

The large majority of the parents who bring their children to my office want their children to be vaccinated against any disease we can protect them against. The HPV vaccine is one exception. While most of my patients are given the Gardasil at their 11 or 12 year check up, some parents still “want to do their research” or “have heard things” so they decline to protect their kids at those visits. Sadly they often return year after year and say that they still haven’t done their research, so their child remains unprotected. Sometimes they’ll say that they will let their child decide at 18 years of age. Sadly, by that age many will have already been infected.

I recently had a parent share HPV Vaccine: Panacea or Pandora’s Box? The Costs and Deceptiveness of the New Technology with me. She had concerns based on the information in this article. The first thing I noted was that it is from 2011. This is outdated, since we have learned so much in the six years since it was published, yet like many anti-vax articles, it continues to circulate online.

 The first argument is that it won’t last long enough.

It is therefore possible that the protective effects of the vaccination will wane at the time when women are most susceptible to the oncogenic effects of the virus (those over 30), providing protection to those who do not need it (adolescents) and failing to provide protection to those who do (women over 30).

Studies show protection lasts 10 years and hasn’t dropped by that time. If future studies show a booster is needed, we can add that. That in no way should mean to not give protection for the years it is really needed – adolescence and young adult life. I cannot agree with the statement that providing protection “to those who do not need it (adolescents)” at all. Yes teens need protection. I’ll get more into their risks below. And the fact that women over 30 are more likely to develop the cancer does not mean that is when they come into contact with the virus. It’s kind of like saying that kids don’t need to brush their teeth because they don’t have cavities. If you wait for the cavities to develop, it’s too late!

The second argument is based on old version of the vaccine.

We now use the 9 valent variety, which covers the large majority of cancer causing strains. Again, even if there are other strains, why not protect against what we have?

Natural immunity lasting longer than vaccine immunity?

The argument that natural immunity will last longer than the vaccine immunity is not a valid argument. Natural immunity can wane with some diseases too, and if we can protect against the disease, it is preferable. Boosters for many vaccines are needed when we know immunity wanes. That’s okay. Some parents advocate to not vaccinate and get the real disease. When their kids get whooping cough they’re miserable. Many are hospitalized. Some even die. I’d rather do boosters! (This may be a bad example because I don’t think our booster for whooping cough lasts long enough and there are complications with giving boosters more often, but ongoing surveillance and research will continue and hopefully improve the situation.)

The cost issue is interesting.

If it was not cost effective in the long run, insurance companies wouldn’t pay for it. It’s that simple. They’ve done the math. Australia is a great example. Their cancer rates are down because HPV is a mandatory vaccine.

Debunking Risks

The risks listed have all been shown to not be as risky as once shown.

Abstinence as prevention?

The article also alludes to this being a sexually transmitted disease so we can just teach abstinence until marriage.

There are so many things wrong with this.

First, this virus can spread through non-intercourse activities, which can be part of a normal and healthy teen relationship.

Second, even if your child is a virgin at marriage, their spouse might not be. Or the spouse could die and they remarry.

Or there could be infidelity in marriage.

There may not be signs of this virus during an infection. Testing for HPV is recommended for women over 30 years of age, but is not available for men at any age, so teens and young adults will not know if they have the virus or not.

And we know that abstinence only teaching fails. Some people raised in strict Christian households have sex outside of marriage.

Teaching kids to protect themselves is much more effective to prevent many sexually transmitted infections, but condoms don’t always protect against HPV transmission.

And there’s always rape. One out of four women has been sexually assaulted. One in four! What a horrible thing to be raped. Then to find out you get cancer from that…

What about males?

They argue it hasn’t been tested in males.

It has.

And it cuts cancer rates in men too. They’re not just vectors as stated in the article.

We keep learning

This article is several years old.

It didn’t yet know that the cancer rates in Australia would fall like we now know.

We’ve learned much more information than they knew in 2011 when it was written.

We know the HPV vaccine is safe.

It is best given before the teen years to induce the best immune response and to get kids protected before the risk of catching the virus becomes more likely.

It isn’t a lifestyle choice to get this virus, as it seems the author claims. People have sex. This virus and other infections can spread through sex. But this virus is also spread without intercourse (such as through oral sex or skin to skin contact without sex), which is why 80% of the adult population has had the virus at some point.

If you don’t think the risk is real

Someone You Love is a documentary that follows several women with HPV related cancer. If you still think the vaccine isn’t worth it for your child, watch it. I am not paid in any way to recommend this. It simply is a powerful documentary that shows the devastation of HPV disease and you should see that before saying your child doesn’t need protection.

Do I recommend the vaccine?

I strongly feel this is a safe and effective vaccine. So much so that my own teens received three doses of the original Gardasil and one dose of Gardasil 9 despite no official recommendations for this booster. I want to protect them in any way that I can.

If I had any concerns about its safety I would not have given it to my own children.

I don’t think I can list any study or give any argument stronger than that.

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Concerns about the HPV vaccine are all over social media, but studies show it to be safe and effective.

Traveling Around the World

Spring Break is around the corner, which means many of my patients will be traveling to various areas of the world for vacation or mission trips. Many of these areas require vaccines prior to travel, so plan ahead and schedule a travel appointment with your doctor (if they do them) or at a travel clinic. Many insurance companies do not cover the cost of travel medicine visits, medications, or vaccines, but they are important and are a small cost in comparison to getting sick when on your trip.

Vaccinate when you can!

Immunization records will need to be reviewed, so if you are going to a travel clinic outside your medical home (doctor’s office) be sure to bring the records with you. Vaccines work best when they are given in advance, so do not schedule the pre-travel visit the week you leave! Some vaccines that are recommended are easily available at your medical office but others are not commonly given so might require a trip to a local health department, large medical center, or travel clinic. Check with your insurance company to see if the cost of the vaccine will be covered or not so you can include your cost in your travel budget if needed.

Watch the food and drinks

Many diseases are spread through eating and drinking contaminated foods. If in doubt: do not eat! Cooked foods are generally safer. Any fresh fruits or vegetables should be washed in clean water before eating. Be sure all dairy products are pasteurized. Avoid street vendors, undercooked foods (especially eggs, meats, and fish), salads and salsas made from fresh ingredients, unpeeled fruits, and wild game. Drink bottled water or water that has been boiled, filtered or treated in a way that is known to be reliable. Use the same water to brush teeth. Do not use ice unless you know it is from safe water because freezing does not kill the germs that cause illness. As always, wash hands often, use sanitizer as needed when washing is not available, and avoid touching the “T” zone of your face (eyes, nose, and mouth). Do not share utensils or foods. Avoid people who are obviously ill.

Medicines for travelers Diarrhea

  • Many companies that schedule international travel recommend bringing antibiotics for prevention or treatment of diarrhea.
  • This is not recommended by many experts due to the rise of “superbugs” with the use of unnecessary antibiotics.
  • In general, the use of antibiotic prophylaxis is recommended only for high-risk travelers, and then only for short periods.
  • The average duration of illness when untreated will be 4 to 5 days, with the worst of the symptoms usually lasting less than a day.
  • Antibiotics might lead to yeast infections, allergic reactions, or even a chronic carrier state (colonization) or irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Antibiotics should be reserved for the treatment of more serious illnesses that include fever and significant associated symptoms such as severe abdominal pain, bloody stools, cramping, and vomiting.
  • Bismuth subsalicylate is available over the counter for adults and can reduce traveler’s diarrhea rates by approximately 65% if taken four times daily. Risks of bismuth products are that it can turn the tongue and stool black and they contain salicylate. Salicylate carries a theoretical risk of Reye syndrome in children, so should be avoided in children.
  • Probiotics and prebiotics have been shown to help prevent and treat diarrheal illnesses safely in most people with intact immune systems.

 

Mosquitos…

Many diseases are spread by mosquitos. Contact with mosquitoes can be reduced by using mosquito netting and screens (preferably insecticide-treated nets), using an effective insecticide spray in living and sleeping areas during evening and nighttime hours, and wearing clothes that cover most of the body. Everyone at risk for mosquito bites should apply mosquito repellant. See below for prevention medication options.

Non-Infectious Risks

Vehicle safety risks vary around the world. Know local travel options and risks. Only use authorized forms of public transportation. For general information, see this International Road Safety page.
  • Learn local laws prior to travelling.
  • Be sure to talk with your teens about drug and alcohol safety prior to travel. Many countries have laws that vary significantly from the United States, and some teens will be tempted to take advantage of the legal nature of a drug or alcohol.
  • Remind everyone to stay in groups and to not venture out alone.
  • Dress appropriately for the area. Some clothing common in the United States is inappropriate in other parts of the world. Americans are also at risk of getting robbed, so do not wear things that will make others presume you are a good target.
  • Wear sunscreen! It doesn’t matter if you’re on the beach or on the slopes, you need to wear sunscreen every time you’re outside. Don’t ruin a vacation with a sunburn.
  • For more safety tips, see this helpful brochure.

Keep records

It is a great idea to take pictures of everyone each morning in case someone gets separated from the group. Not only will you have a current picture for authorities to see what they look like, but you will also know what they were wearing at the time they were lost.

Take pictures of your passport, vaccine record, medicines, and other important items to use if the originals are lost. Store the images so you have access to them from any computer in addition to your phone in case your phone is lost.

Have everyone, including young children, carry a form of identification that includes emergency contact information.

Create a medical history form that includes the following information for every member of your family that is travelling. Save a copy so you can easily find it on any computer in case of emergency.

  • your name, address, and phone number
  • emergency contact name(s) and phone number(s)
  • immunization record
  • your doctor’s name, address, and office and emergency phone numbers
  • the name, address, and phone number of your health insurance carrier, including your policy number
  • a list of any known health problems or recent illnesses
  • a list of current medications and supplements you are taking and pharmacy name and phone number
  • a list of allergies to medications, food, insects, and animals
  • a prescription for glasses or contact lenses

Specific Diseases to Prevent

Risks of illness vary depending on where you will be travelling and what time of year it will be. I refer to the CDC’s travel pages and the Yellow Book for information on recommendations. Some of the most common issues to address are discussed below in alphabetical order.

Dengue Fever

Dengue is a mosquito-borne viral illness. It is seen in parts of the Caribbean, Central and South America, Western Pacific Islands, Australia, Southeast Asia, and Africa. There is no vaccine or specific treatment. Mosquito bite prevention measures are important.

Hepatitis

Infants should begin vaccinations against Hepatitis B starting at birth and against Hepatitis A starting at a year of age. Be sure these vaccines are up to date. Hepatitis A is spread through food and water, so be sure to follow the above precautions even if vaccinated.

Malaria

Malaria transmission occurs in large areas of Africa, Latin America, parts of the Caribbean, Asia (including South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East), Eastern Europe, and the South Pacific. Depending on the level of risk (location, time of year, availability of air conditioning, etc) no specific interventions, mosquito avoidance measures only, or mosquito avoidance measures plus prescription medication for prophylaxis might be recommended.

Prevention medications might be recommended, depending on when and where you will be travelling. The medicines must begin before travel starts, continue during the duration of the travel, and continue once you return home. There is a lot of resistance to various drugs, so area resistance patterns will need to be evaluated before choosing a medication.

  • Atovaquone-proguanil should begin 1–2 days before travel, daily during travel, and 7 days after leaving the areas. Atovaquone-proguanil is well tolerated, and side effects are rare but include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and headache. Atovaquone-proguanil is not recommended for prophylaxis in children weighing <5 kg (11 lb).
  • Mefloquine prophylaxis should begin at least 2 weeks before travel. It should be continued once a week, on the same day of the week, during travel and for 4 weeks upon return. Mefloquine has been associated with rare but serious adverse reactions (such as psychoses or seizures) at prophylactic doses but are more frequent with the higher doses used for treatment. It should be used with caution in people with psychiatric disturbances or a history of depression.
  • Primaquine should be taken 1–2 days before travel, daily during travel, and daily for 7 days after leaving the areas. The most common side effect is gastrointestinal upset if primaquine is taken on an empty stomach. This problem is minimized if primaquine is taken with food. In G6PD-deficient people, primaquine can cause hemolysis that can be fatal. Before primaquine is used, G6PD deficiency MUST be ruled out by laboratory testing.
  • Doxycycline prophylaxis should begin 1–2 days before travel to malarious areas. It should be continued once a day, at the same time each day, during travel in malarious areas and daily for 4 weeks after the traveler leaves such areas. Doxycycline can cause photosensitivity so sun protection is required.  It also is associated with an increased frequency of vaginal yeast infections. Gastrointestinal side effects (nausea or vomiting) may be minimized by taking the drug with a meal and it should be swallowed with a large amount of fluid and should not be taken before bed. Doxycycline is not used in children under 8 years. Vaccination with the oral typhoid vaccine should be delayed for 24 hours after taking a dose of doxycycline.
  • Chloroquine phosphate or hydroxychloroquine sulfate can be used for prevention of malaria only in destinations where chloroquine resistance is not present. Prophylaxis should begin 1–2 weeks before travel to malarious areas. It should be continued by taking the drug once a week during travel and for 4 weeks after a traveler leaves these areas. Side effects include gastrointestinal disturbance, headache, dizziness, blurred vision, insomnia, and itching, but generally these effects do not require that the drug be discontinued.

Measles

We routinely give the first vaccine against measles (MMR or MMRV) at 12-15 months of age, but the MMR can be given to infants at least 6 months of age if they are considered high risk due to travel or outbreaks. Under 6 months of age, an infant is considered protected from his mother’s antibodies. These antibodies leave the baby between 6 and 12 months. The antibodies prevent the vaccine from properly working, which is why we generally start the vaccine after the first birthday. Any vaccine dose given before the first birthday does not count toward the two doses required after the first birthday, but might help protect against exposure if the immunity from the mother is waning. It is safe for a child to get extra doses of the vaccine if needed for travel between 6 and 12 months.

Meningitis

  • Meningococcal disease can refer to any illness that is caused by the type of bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis. Within this family, there are several serotypes, such as A, B, C, W, X, and Y. This bacteria causes serious illness and often death, even in the United States. In the US there is a vaccine against meningitis types A, C, W, and Y recommended at 11 and 16 years of age but can be given as young as 9 months of age. MenACWY-CRM is newly approved for children 2 months and older.
  • There is a vaccine for meningitis B prevention recommended for high risks groups in the US but is not specifically recommended for travel.
  • Meningitis vaccines should be given at least 7-10 days prior to potential exposure.
  • Travellers to the meningitis belt in Africa or the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia are considered high risk and should be vaccinated. Serogroup A predominates in the meningitis belt, although serogroups C, X, and W are also found. There is no vaccine against meningitis X, but if one gets the standard one that protects against ACWY, they will be protected against the majority of exposures. The vaccine is available for children 9 months and older in my office and a newer vaccine is approved for 2 months and up. Boosters for people travelling to these areas are recommended every 5 years.

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) occurs worldwide, but travelers who go to areas of sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and parts of Central and South America are at greatest risk. Travelers should avoid exposure to TB in crowded and enclosed environments and avoid eating or drinking unpasteurized dairy products. The vaccine against TB (bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine) is given at birth in most developing countries but has variable effectiveness and is not routinely recommended for use in the United States. Those who receive BCG vaccination must still follow all recommended TB infection control precautions and participate in post-travel testing for TB exposure. It is recommended to test for exposure in healthy appearing people after travel. It is possible to have a positive test but no symptoms. This is called latent disease. One can remain in this stage for decades without any symptoms. If TB remains untreated in the body, it may activate at any time. Typically this happens when the body’s immune system is compromised, as with old age or another illness. Appropriately treating the TB before it causes active disease is beneficial for the long term.

Typhoid

Typhoid fever is caused by a bacteria found in contaminated food and water. It is common in most parts of the world except in industrialized regions (United States, Canada, western Europe, Australia, and Japan) so travelers to the developing world should consider taking precautions. There are two vaccines to prevent typhoid.

  • Children over 2 years of age can be vaccinated with the injectable form. It must be given at least 2 weeks prior to travel and lasts 2 years.
  • The oral vaccine for children over 5 years and adults is given in 4 doses over a week’s time and should be completed at least a week prior to travel. The oral vaccine lasts 5 years.
  • Neither vaccine is 100 % effective so even immunized people must be careful what they eat and drink in areas of risk.

Yellow Fever

Yellow fever is another mosquito-borne infection that is found in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America. There is no treatment for the illness, but there is a vaccine to help prevent infection. Some areas of the world require vaccination against yellow fever prior to admittance. Yellow fever vaccine is recommended for people over 9 months who are traveling to or living in areas with risk for YFV transmission in South America and Africa.

Zika Virus

At this time it is advised that pregnant women and women who might become pregnant avoid areas in which the zika virus is found. For up to date travel advisories due to this virus, see the CDC’s Zika page.