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)

Hearing Loss

Most of us associate hearing loss with old age, but it is increasingly common for children and teens to suffer from mild to moderate hearing loss. Nearly 15% of kids have hearing loss according to the CDC. Hearing loss can be due to many things that are difficult to control, such as heredity, infection, and medications. In kids and teens it is oven due to a preventable cause: noise.

Where does the excessive noise come from?

Even young children are exposed to more loud noises through toys, television, and gaming devices than children of years past.

Widespread use of ear buds for prolonged periods can take its toll on hearing. Unlike the bulky headphones used when I was a child, ear buds deliver sound directly into the ear canal without any sound buffering in between. Most often the ear buds are used with iPods and other mp3 players are low to mediocre quality, so they are unable to transit the bass as effectively. Many kids turn the music up to hear the bass. If others can hear the music coming from ear buds, they are too loud!

Loud concerts or sporting events can also expose our ears to excessive volumes for a prolonged period of time.

Not all excessive noise is from kids being undisciplined – some kids are helping out the family or trying to earn extra cash by mowing lawns or using power tools, which puts them at increased risk.

How much is too much?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), being exposed to more than 85 decibels (dB) of sound for eight hours can damage your hearing. At 105 dB, hearing loss is possible after a mere 5 minutes.

If you’re like me, that means nothing because how much is 85 dB? There is a great chart of common sounds and how loud they are on this page from the CDC. There are also several free apps available for download on smartphones and tablets – search “sound meter” or “decibel” and read reviews before downloading. Take advantage of these — and because it’s in the phone, kids might actually have fun playing around with them and learning about their environmental risks at the same time!

Signs of hearing loss

One early sign of excessive noise is ringing in the ears, but most people with hearing loss never realize it’s happening because it’s slowly progressive. If you notice your child asking “what” more often or complaining that the television is too quiet when others hear it well, it is a good idea to have their hearing tested.

Consequences of hearing loss

There are many potential consequences to hearing loss:

  • Learning – you have to be able to hear the lecture.
  • Behaviors – if directions and instructions are missed, a child might incorrectly be seen as misbehaving.
  • Friendships and social skills – if a child can’t follow a conversation they aren’t easy to talk to or play with.
  • Job availability – many jobs require hearing at a certain level.

Prevention

Talk to your kids about the risks of their habits that involve loud sounds. Unfortunately kids won’t always take parental advice to heart because they have a feeling of invincibility, but studies show if they learn about hearing loss they are more likely to use protection. Even more so, what their friends are doing alters their behavior. Teach not only your kids, but also their friends. If they’re all going to a loud event, consider giving them all ear plugs. Once hearing is damaged they can’t gain the hearing back, so prevention is key.
Ways to protect include:
  • Wear hearing protection (earplugs) when mowing the grass and attending loud events, such as concerts or sporting events.
  • Turn down your music! Some music players have alerts when the volume goes too loud, but those can be ignored if the child doesn’t understand why it’s important to lower the volume. If others can hear the music you’re listening to through ear buds, turn it down.
  • Lower the maximum volume setting on your iPod or mp3 player. To do this, go to “Settings” and select “Volume Limit” under Music. Set it at about 60% of the full volume, that way you can’t accidentally turn your music too high.
  • Use big headphones instead of ear buds. They offer more external noise cancelling, which allows the music to be heard better at lower volumes. They are also physically further from your eardrum, which helps.
  • If you must use ear buds, use high quality buds that transmit bass if you are tempted to turn music up to hear the bass.
  • Follow the 60/60 rule: No more than 60 minutes of listening at a time, and no higher than 60 percent of maximum volume. If you go under “settings,” you can actually set your iPod for maximum volume setting of 60 percent, so you can’t accidentally turn your music up too loud.
  • Higher pitched sounds have greater potential to damage your ears than lower pitched sounds. Turn down the volume when a high-pitched song comes on.
  • Try not to fall asleep with ear buds or headphones on. The time of exposure matters and why waste sleep time damaging your ears?
  • If you need “white noise” to fall to sleep, put together a playlist of soft songs or sounds and have it play at a low volume from a speaker on your bedside table. Use your clock’s “sleep” function, which will automatically turn off your music after a set amount of time to ensure the music doesn’t end up playing all night long, which saves energy in addition to your hearing.
  • As always: model these behaviors for your children. If they see you mowing the grass with loud music blaring in your ears, they will grow up to do the same. If you wear ear buds many hours of the day, they will see that as a normal and acceptable behavior.

What happens that hurts our hearing?

Don’t let your kids and teens ruin their hearing!
Keep the volume down – Too loud and too long can damage your hearing shows a man listening to music. Below it the music soundtrack and volume levels are shown. The video then breaks to showing what happens to the hair cells in our ear with these volumes, which makes the damage more understandable because you can see it happening.

Resources:

CDC’s Hearing Loss main page

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!

Active Shooters: Reflections and Talking to Kids

Area flags are at half mast today as we are mourning the loss of innocent lives from another mass shooting at a Texas church over the weekend. We are sad for grieving families once again. What we can do to protect ourselves and our loved ones from random violence and acts of hate?

My generally safe town has had two incidents of violence that have made national news in recent years. A man opened fire at a Jewish Community Center and a Jewish Retirement Home and killed three innocent people. Another man shot two men eating at a local restaurant after yelling racial slurs and telling them to leave his country. One of the men died.

My kids have been on lockdowns at their schools on several occasions over the years. Our kids are getting used to lockdown drills and even real events. Thankfully none of the local school lockdowns turned tragic. Being a parent who cannot do anything while a school is in lockdown is stressful. Not knowing what is happening during a lockdown when my children are most likely sitting on a floor of a crowded dark room is terrifying. My kids have never felt that scared, even when it’s a real lockdown, probably because they’ve practiced and feel prepared. For many kids this seems to be the case, but I’m sure there are some who start having separation anxiety or other manifestations of trauma-related stress.
Today my front office staff saw policemen with weapons in hand enter our building and run down the hall. They did not come into our office.
We locked our front door, closed the blinds, and kept patients in exam rooms. We saw several police cars in the parking lot for our building and those near ours.
Our office manager called the police department to find out what was happening and not a lot was learned, but there was a potential active shooter in the area, so they recommended lockdown.
Because I was only in the office for meetings on my “day off” I was able to help tell staff and patients what we knew. I helped bring some of the families into the office. I checked Facebook and Twitter repeatedly to find out what was going on. (But I didn’t grab these screenshots until hours later.)

I had planned on updating our social media, but couldn’t find any real information to post.

At one point we were told they apprehended someone in a creek area behind our building and got the all clear to open back up and let people leave.
41ActionNews
A few minutes later we were told to put our building back on lockdown. No one knew what was going on.
Our receptionists covertly monitored the parking lot for patients so they could get the door for them – we didn’t want families stuck in a potentially dangerous parking lot. Several patients called that they would be late to their appointments because police had blocked one of the roads into our parking area.
I am very proud of my staff and the families that were in the building. Everyone remained calm. No one complained that they were told to not leave the building. I didn’t hear anyone complain when the rooms started to fill, which affected the flow of seeing patients. I must admit that I didn’t really feel scared during all of this, since it seemed like police were all over and our office felt secure. It was frustrating not knowing what was going on, but the anxiety was much worse when the potential shooter was near my children’s school and they were on lockdown.
It is sad that a false alarm like this must be taken seriously. I’ve heard that it was just a man with a stick. Or maybe it was just a prank. No one really knows at this time.
But what I do know is that there are many good people in this world. We can help each other in times of need. We can support one another. Mr. Rogers says:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

When you have to explain these things to your children, remember to keep it simple. Answer their questions, but don’t go deeper than they’re ready to go. Find out what they already know and help them to understand it in ways that mean something to them. Try to keep the news off when kids are in earshot and monitor their screen time online. It’s okay to share your feelings, but try to reassure their safety and list some positives, like Mr. Rodger’s mother did.

Resources for parents to talk to kids about tragic news:

Common Sense Media: Explaining the News to Our Kids
PBS: Talking with Kids About News – sorted by ages
HealthyChildren: Talking to Children About Tragedies & Other News Events
American Psychological Association: How to talk to children about difficult news

Share Quest for Health

Lead by Example

We’ve all heard the saying: kids will do what they’re shown, not as they’re told.

It’s so true. Think about all the times your kids are watching you. They are learning from you.

What can you do to help them have healthy habits?
  • Eat your vegetables.
  • Get daily exercise.
  • Wear your seatbelt.
  • Stop at stop signs.
  • Don’t use your phone while driving.
  • Wear a life vest near a lake or river.
  • Maintain your composure during times of stress.
  • No phones at the dinner table.
  • Don’t tell lies- even little ones.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Be kind to others.
  • Call home- your parents and siblings would love to hear from you.
  • Don’t permit violence in your presence.
  • Give your time and talents to others.
  • Take care of your things.
  • Limit screen time.
  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss daily.
  • Wear a helmet when on a bike.
  • Don’t mow the lawn without proper shoes.
  • Make time for family.

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helmets, exercise
Exercising together safely as a family sets great lifelong habits!

It’s Back to School Time, Time to Think Safety!

Walking to school is wonderful for kids because they get exercise, which can help with focus at school and their overall health. It can be also be a time to talk with friends or family and build community bonds.

But it also can pose dangers, especially if drivers are distracted talking to their own children or texting. Please stop texting and driving. Don’t touch your phone at all while driving. Calls and texts can wait. If they can’t, pull over and check the message while parked.

Really.

Talk to your kids about safety.
  • Kids should walk with an adult until they show the maturity to walk safely without direct supervision. The specific age will depend on the area as well as the child’s maturity. Are there safe sidewalks? Are there busy roads to cross? Are there other kids walking the same route? Are there homes along the way they can go to in case of emergency? How long is the walk?
  • Find the safest route: Choose sidewalks wherever possible, even if that means the trip will be longer. If there are no sidewalks, walk as far from vehicles as possible, on the side of the street facing traffic. If possible, avoid areas near high schools, where there are more teen drivers.
  • Cross streets safely. If there are crossing guards, use those intersections. If there are street lights, wait until the “walk” symbol appears. Never cross in the middle of a block, use intersections. Look both ways twice before crossing. Do not text or play games when in the street.
  • Remind kids that if they are crossing a street, they should make eye contact with a stopped driver before crossing, even if there’s a “walk” symbol. Drivers turning right might turn on red and not notice small pedestrians.
  • Teach kids to use the same route every day or discuss which route they will take each day if they use different routes. If they don’t arrive to school or home as planned, you know the route to search. Walk the routes with them until they know how to safely navigate each.
  • Have kids stay in groups or with a walking buddy as much as possible.
  • Avoid distractions. Listening to music (especially with earbuds), playing video games, watching videos, and texting all keep kids from paying attention to their surroundings. Even talking on the phone is distracting, so don’t assume they are safer if they talk to you all the way home when you’re at work. They are more likely to trip and fall, step into a street without looking first, or not notice that they’re being followed if they’re distracted. They should be aware of their surroundings at all times.
  • Remind kids to never accept a ride from anyone unless you pre-plan it. Rain, snow, and cold weather make it tempting to hop in a car, so have kids dress appropriately for the weather and arrange safe rides as needed.
  • Have kids keep important contact information in their backpacks in case of emergency. At least two people should be on this list. People on the list could include a parent, grandparent, or trusted adult friend/neighbor. Names and phone numbers should be included.
  • Related: If they are riding a bike, scooter, or skateboard to school, they should follow the rules of the road and proper safety.

See if your school can help arrange walking buses, where kids all walk the same route to school with adult walk leaders.

Suggestions for adults:
  • Be extra cautious when driving in the before and after school times, especially near schools and in neighborhoods.
  • Be nice and don’t use your sprinklers in the before and after school times so kids can stay on the sidewalks and not wander into the street to avoid getting wet.
  • Never text and drive. Put your phone on silent and in a place you can’t reach it while driving. Texts can wait.
  • If kids are in your car, make sure they are properly buckled. Only teens and adults should be in the front seat. Use an appropriate car seat or booster seat. Kids shouldn’t wear their backpack in the car, nor should they unbuckle while in a drop off line to get their backpack on before the car is stopped.
  • If your kids will carpool with other families, be sure they are in proper seats at all times. It’s tempting to not use boosters for short drives, but it’s never safe to have kids improperly restrained. Find boosters that are easy to move between cars.

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Talk to kids about safety when walking to school.

Dry Drowning – What Parents Need to Know

I thought about calling this one “We’re drowning in dry drowning phone calls” because we are getting many worried calls about dry drowning, but that’s overly dramatic and I hate headlines that make things seem like the sky is falling…

I had never heard of dry drowning until social media picked it up a couple of summers ago. Maybe I did as a resident, but since I’ve never seen it, I’d forgotten the term. Either way, it isn’t very common at all, but it is an emergency when it happens, so it’s good that we all know that it can happen. People also use the term secondary drowning and some experts differentiate the two by whether or not water actually gets into the lungs, causing swelling of the lung tissue, or if water irritates the vocal cords, causing them to spasm and close off. Either situation is potentially life threatening and they have similar symptoms. Note: Please see the addendum at the bottom. Several articles have emerged since the original writing of this post that clearly indicate there is no such thing as dry drowning.

One of the reasons I think so many parents are worried is that it is common for kids to go under water: in the tub and in the pool. Many get water in their mouth or complain that it went up their nose. Few actually get any into their lungs, which is where it can cause problems. How can you know when you need to worry?

Most of us recall a time we coughed briefly after inhaling liquid, and we were fine. So when is it worrisome? It’s when the water that gets into the lungs causes inflammation within the next day or two. This inflammation makes it hard for the lungs to work – the air tubes are swollen, so air can’t get through. Treatment is giving oxygen, sometimes with a ventilator (breathing tube and machine) until the inflammation goes down.

Symptoms you need to recognize and act upon by taking your child to an ER:
  • Cough: If your child has coughing for a minute or more after being in water, he’s at risk. This indicates that the child is trying to clear the airways. If water got down there and they cough most up, some can remain behind and lead to inflammation over time. Watching your child carefully for the next 3-4 days is important. This can be hard to recognize initially, so a complete evaluation is important if any other symptoms develop.
  • Difficulty breathing: Anyone who is struggling to breathe needs further evaluation. Signs can be rapid breathing, sucking in the ribs or the stomach, difficulty talking, or even a look of fear from difficult breathing.
  • Near drowning: If your child had to be pulled out of the water, he should be evaluated in an ER. Even if he seems fine afterwards. The reaction is delayed, so they can seem to be 100% better and then go downhill.
  • Behavior changes or confusion: If a child is confused, lethargic** or has a change in ability to recognize people, he should go to the ER. Serious illnesses can present with a change in mental status, including significant infections, concussion, heat exhaustion, brain tumors, and drowning. The ER doctor will ask what else has been going on to help identify the cause of confusion.  **Many people misuse the term lethargic. Lethargic isn’t the same thing as being tired after a long day. The medical definition is “Relatively mild impairment of consciousness resulting in reduced alertness and awareness; this condition has many causes but is ultimately due to generalized brain dysfunction.”
  • Vomiting: Vomiting after a day at the pool can be due to infection (from swallowing contaminated pool water), food poisoning (from food left in the heat too long) or dry drowning. It’s best to check it out in the ER.
What will happen in the ER?

Many parents don’t want to go to the ER because of high co-pays. We try to keep kids out of the ER as much as possible. But some issues are better taken care of in an ER. Most offices don’t have the equipment or staff to manage these issues well. Dry drowning can be life threatening, and the evaluation and treatment should start in the ER. I cannot say exactly what the doctor will do, since that will depend on your child’s symptoms and exam. There is no specific treatment for this, only supporting your child’s airway and breathing as the swelling goes down.

  • If the doctor thinks your child may have swelling of the airways, he might order a chest x-ray to look for pulmonary edema (lung tissue swelling).
  • An iv might be started to be able to give adequate fluids, since your child might not be up to drinking well.
  • Oxygen levels will be monitored and extra oxygen might be given.
  • Since the swelling worsens before it gets better, if there is a strong suspicion of dry drowning your child will be admitted for further observation.
  • Some kids need help breathing and are put on a ventilator (breathing machine) until the swelling goes down.
Prevention is important!
swimming
Watch your kids when around water!

As with many things, we should do all we can to be sure our kids are safe around water. This includes the bathtub and toilet as well as swimming pools, lakes, and ponds.

  • Childproof your home when you have little ones who might play in a pet water bowl or the toilet.
  • Teach your kids water safety. Swimming lessons can help them learn skills. Tell them to never try to dunk each other. They shouldn’t pretend they’re drowning because it might distract a lifeguard from a true emergency.
  • Learn infant and child CPR.
  • If you have a pool or pond at home, be sure there is a fence limiting access from your house.
  • Watch your kids closely and keep them within reach when they’re in water until they are strong swimmers. When they are strong swimmers you can let them swim outside your reach as long as lifeguards are present.
  • Learn what distress in the water looks like. The movie depiction of drowning with a lot of yelling and thrashing around is not what usually happens. If someone can verbalize that they’re okay, they probably are. Drowning victims can’t ask for help. There is a video linked to this page of what to look for with drowning that shows an actual rescue.
From this site, signs of drowning:
  • Head low in the water, mouth at water level
  • Head tilted back with mouth open
  • Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
  • Eyes closed
  • Hair over forehead or eyes
  • Not using legs – Vertical
  • Hyperventilating or gasping
  • Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
  • Trying to roll over on the back

Addendum:

    • I just read a post that gives references regarding drowning definitions. It appears I didn’t forget learning about dry drowning in medical school.

It isn’t really a thing.

The symptoms listed above that I recommend getting evaluated are still concerning symptoms, but they might be from another cause.

Check these out:

On “Dry Drowning”

Drowning in a Sea of Misinformation: Dry Drowning and Secondary Drowning

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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.