Halloween should be a fun time for kids. Help keep everyone safe by following a few simple tips.
Halloween is a favorite holiday for many kids – they get to dress as their favorite characters and get treats! But it’s also a time that kids are at increased risk. Consider a few safety tips to help keep it safe for all of our kids.
Food allergies and other health conditions
First and foremost, many kids have medical reasons to not eat many of the treats they get on Halloween.
Keep these kids in mind and have non-food items to give out. Check out my post on Teal Pumpkins to learn more.
Before the big day
Clear your sidewalk of any potential hazards for trick-or-treaters, such as low hanging tree branches, toys, electrical cords, and other obstructions.
Get flashlights, pumpkin lights, or glow sticks for your Jack O Lanterns.
Let kids participate in pumpkin decorating according to their abilities.
Toddlers can paint pumpkins. Get creative with rhinestones and glitter.
Kids can help remove the seeds after an adult removes the top – though many don’t like the texture of the goo!
Let school aged kids help design the Jack O Lantern. An adult should do the carving until kids are mature enough to handle a knife safely. Kids can:
Trace a template or their own drawing onto the pumpkin.
Use cookie cutters to press into the pumpkin as a template to cut.
Try tools designed to punch out pumpkin pieces to create a fun Jack O Lantern – just search online for “Pumpkin Punch Decorating Kit” and look for kid-safe tools.
For more pumpkin decorating safety tips, see Safewise.
At least one member of each trick-or-treating group should have a cell phone.
Feed kids before going out. This will help keep them from snacking on their treats before you have a chance to check them.
Adults should closely supervise young children.
Don’t force children to trick or treat if they’re not comfortable with it. This does not toughen them up. They can still participate by helping to decorate or by handing out treats.
Talk to older kids about safety as they earn the responsibility to go out with friends.
They should know the boundaries in which they can roam.
Be clear on when they should check in and when to be home.
Do not go to homes without a porch light or otherwise decorated to show they are participating.
It should be understood that they should never enter a home without your knowledge.
Only accept hand made treats from people you know.
Kids should always stick with their group and not fall behind or run ahead of the group.
Respect property and people. Be mindful of younger trick-or-treaters and stay out of their way. Don’t try to frighten them and let them go first. Say “thank you” and be polite. Trick or treating does not give permission to trick others. They should respect peers who might be afraid of a haunted house or other things on Halloween and not pressure them to do things they don’t want to do. No one should make fun of anyone for being scared.
If you’re driving, be very attentive to parked cars and other objects that could limit your view of kids about to go into the street.
Keep your own pets safely away from the crowds and watch your kids around unfamiliar animals.
Add reflective tape to costumes to help visibility in the dark.
Masks can hinder the ability to see well – use makeup instead. Test a small patch of skin in advance to be sure your child’s skin isn’t sensitive to it.
Kids can carry a lighted trick-or-treat bucket, wand, or other accessory or wear a glow stick bracelet or necklace.
Avoid costumes that are too long and increase the risk of tripping.
Weather is unpredictable. Make sure you can add layers if it’s cold or remove layers if it’s warm.
If kids are going to be walking for trick-or-treating, be sure their feet will be comfortable and their shoes safe. Plastic costume heels are not safe for our little princesses!
If a sword, magic wand, or other accessory is part of the costume, make sure it’s not sharp or too long for them to safely carry. Talk to kids about how to safely carry it so they don’t accidentally hit other people. Leave it at home if you think they would tire of carrying it or if it could be mistaken for a real threat.
Do not use contact lenses unless they’re prescribed by an eye specialist.
It’s flu vaccine season. There have been shipping delays, but vaccine is starting to show up in doctor’s offices around the country. As soon as it’s available, get your family vaccinated!
Every year we have some sort of complication in trying to vaccinate our patients against influenza. This year is no different. Shipping delays have lead to problems this year. Of course it’s not new that pharmacies get their vaccine shipments before individual physician offices. Dr. Smith of Partners In Pediatrics wrote about this way back in 2013. She, along with many of us, remain frustrated year after year.
There is no preference over the injectable vaccine (inactivated vaccine) or nasal vaccine (live attenuated vaccine) as long as it is age appropriate. *Note: There is a significant shortage of the nasal vaccine, so do not wait for it. It is highly likely that you will not be able to find it this season.
There are now formulations of inactivated flu vaccines that have the same dose for everyone over 6 months of age. (Previously 6-36 months had a smaller dose and those 36 months and over got a larger dose.) This should make the availability of the dose your child needs more likely.
Children 6 months to 9 years of age who have received no previous influenza vaccine or only 1 dose before July 1, 2019, should receive 2 doses of influenza vaccine. Think of the first-ever dose in young children as a primer dose. A booster dose is needed every season. Everyone under 9 years of age getting vaccinated for the first time needs their primer dose and a booster dose at least 4 weeks later. Children who have previously received ≥2 total doses of influenza vaccine at least 4 weeks apart before July 1, 2019, require only one dose for 2019–20. The 2 doses of influenza vaccine do not have to have been administered in the same season or consecutive seasons. If they had only 1 flu vaccine before July 1, 2019, they need 2 doses this season.
Vaccines should be offered as soon as they become available and ideally will be given by Halloween. (I have concerns with this statement because of the shipping delays previously mentioned. If it is later than Halloween and your family has not yet been vaccinated, it is NOT too late. Get the vaccine – even if your family has already had the flu this year. You can get different strains in the same season!)
As we learn more about the risks of vaping, our children are being enticed to try it with tasty flavors and the false reassurance that it’s safe. Learn the facts and what you can do to help those with addictions quit.
Vaping risks have long been unknown, or at least downplayed. It has even been suggested that a smoker who wants to quit could use vaping to kick the cigarette habit.
When a mall kiosk vaping salesperson first called out to me while shopping with my then tween daughter many years ago, he got an ear full from both of us. I’m sure the sales guy targeted me because I was with an impressionable tween and he really wanted to peak her interest but couldn’t approach her directly. My daughter was young, but even her gut feeling was that this inhalational device was not smart or safe and she let him know it.
I’d like to take credit for raising her right, but that would imply that all the parents of kids who have fallen to the “vaping is fun and safe” propaganda somehow did something wrong. They didn’t. I’m just lucky that my daughter thinks for herself and generally makes safe decisions.
Fast forward to today and I can’t keep track of all of the severe lung disease reports and deaths attributed to vaping. When I started writing this, there were 250 cases of lung disease and 2 deaths. Now there are over 350 cases of severe lung disease and 7 deaths. No single device, brand, liquid or ingredient has been tied to all cases. Many of those afflicted have reported vaping THC though some only report using nicotine. It has been recently reported that vitamin E acetate is a potential cause, but investigations continue into the source.
Why are people calling vaping an epidemic?
According to the latest National Youth Tobacco Study more than 3.6 million middle and high school students currently use e-cigarettes. Nearly 5% of all middle school students and over 10% of high school students are current e-cigarette users.
In my state of Kansas alone, as of the first of this year, there have been at least 20 ER visits for patients with a history of vaping and concerns for significant lung disease. In 2017, 10.6% of Kansas high school students reported current use of electronic vapor products. The adult numbers are smaller, with 4.6% of those 18 years and older reporting current use of electronic cigarettes in Kansas.
This is a problem of young people.
Despite the fact that when electronic cigarettes came on the market and claimed to be a way for smokers to kick the habit, they have been marketed heavily to kids with enticing flavors. Many non-smokers have taken up the habit of vaping. After many years of declining nicotine use, the rates are now growing rapidly, mostly due to electronic cigarettes.
Tobacco Product Use Among High School Students – 2018
We’re still learning
Since I last wrote about vaping in e-Cigarette Use in Our Kids about a year and a half ago, we are learning even more vaping risks. It’s never too soon to talk to your school children about the dangers.
Once they’re hooked it’s hard to stop, even if they want to. The number of regular adolescent users is growing at an alarming rate.
What we know
The device itself
E-cigarettes, vapes, e-pipes, and other vaping products are battery-powered devices that allow users to inhale aerosolized liquid.
E-cigarettes come in many shapes and sizes. Most have a battery, a heating element, and a place to hold a liquid. They can hide in plain site because they look like common items, such as USB flash drives and pens.
E-cigarettes are usually filled with a liquid containing nicotine, which is highly addictive and harmful to the adolescent brain. Nicotine can impact learning, memory and attention span, and contributes to future addiction to tobacco and other substances.
The vape juices are flavored, and each flavor comes with it’s own chemical additives. Some of these are more irritating to the lungs than others, but all have potential side effects.
Some seemingly resourceful people put other substances in their vaping device, but that is now being recognized as increasing vaping risks.
Teens have found that vaping THC, the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s mind-altering effects, enables them to escape parental detection because they don’t smell like they do when they’ve smoked marijuana. They may vape cannabis-infused oils in place of e-liquids designed for the vaping device. They often end up consuming more THC than they would with a traditional joint.
Unfortunately vaping risks increase when the substance vaporized is not sold by an authorized retailer.
E-cigarette aerosol contains many potentially harmful chemicals regardless of the juice put into the device. These include ultrafine particles, volatile organic compounds, heavy metals (nickel, tin and lead) and other cancer-causing chemicals.
What we’re learning
Vaping risks are much greater than initially recognized.
The vapor can contain substances that are addictive and can cause lung disease, heart disease, and cancer.
For many years there was no monitoring or tracking of complications from e-cigarette devices. After being available for about 10 years, the FDA requested that physicians report any possible lung disease related to e-cigarette use.
In a very short time hundreds of possible cases of lung disease has been linked to vaping from across the US. At least 7 people have died from illness related to vaping.
The majority of people with illness thought to be due to a component of vaping have vaped THC, but some only report vaping nicotine products.
What is this mysterious illness?
News reports are calling the lung problems associated with vaping a “mysterious illness” because no one knows the exact cause or mechanism of lung damage.
Symptoms can include shortness of breath, coughing, or chest pain. Some patients reported vomiting, diarrhea, or other stomach problems, as well as fever or fatigue. If you vape and have these symptoms, it is imperative that you seek immediate medical attention.
Do not start vaping.
If you smoke or vape and would like to quit, seek professional help.
Never buy vaping cartridges from a non-authorized seller.
Be cautious of vaping from a friend’s device – you cannot be sure where they bought their product.
Do not modify the vaping device. If it appears to be damaged in any way, dispose of it safely.
If you vape and develop a cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, vomiting, diarrhea, or other concerns go to the Emergency Department.
Do not charge your vaping device while you sleep or with a charger that is not designed for your device.
Do not allow your vaping device to come into contact with metallic objects (such as coins or keys).
If you suspect you have an illness related to vaping, after you’ve been to a doctor, file a report with the Safety Reporting Portal.
Where to get help:
Unfortunately parents can’t use standard discipline techniques to get their kids to stop vaping once they are addicted. Addiction treatment is complex and difficult. Work with professionals.
Your child must be invested in stopping the habit or any treatment will fail.
A pediatrician might know local resources, such as therapists who have expertise in addictions. Your physician may also recommend medications to help stop the habit or refer to a physician who specializes is addiction.
We all lose hairs every day, but when does it signify a problem? When should you worry about your child losing too much hair?
A lot of parents ask about hair loss in their kids. When is it normal and when should they worry? I’ve had a hard time finding reputable online resources for parents over the years.
What I do see reproduced on many sites (mostly hair clinic sites, nothing I would rely on for information) is that both Fall and Spring are a time of normal hair thinning. Studies link hair growth to sun exposure and melatonin levels. I am definitely not a hair expert, but wanted you to know some warning signs of abnormal hair loss and when it is safe to wait it out.
Notice the hair loss pattern.
Most of us lose 50-100 head hairs a day. Long hair is obviously more noticeable when lost, since it plugs shower drains, accumulates on brushes, and is seen on our clothing.
Simply seeing hair being lost is not a concern.
Hair loss causes
Some causes of hair loss are easily identified. Others are harder to identify because associated symptoms are vague and not always noted to be associated with hair loss. If you are concerned, make an appointment to discuss it with your child’s doctor. Since this can be a chronic issue, it is not ideally handled at an urgent care or walk in clinic. If indicated by the findings of their exam, your child’s doctor may refer to a dermatologist, endocrinologist, or other specialist, but many of these can be managed by your pediatrician.
Traction: Braids or other hair styles that pull the hair shafts (as in picture above) can cause hair loss in a pattern easily identified by the hair style. Treatment is simple: stop styling the hair with traction. If continued, damage to the hair follicles might make regrowth impossible.
Babies often have hair breakage from friction on the back of their head. It usually develops the first few months of life. When they start sitting up most of the day and sleeping on their tummies it regrows. (Note: Do NOT put your baby to sleep on his tummy to prevent this. Tummy sleeping is associated with SIDS.)
Trichotillomania (or hair pulling disorder) is the compulsive urge to pull out (even sometimes eat) hair. It can be seen in infants and toddlers, but peaks in young school aged kids. Treatment can be difficult and involves behavioral therapy. There is some encouraging research into N-acetylcysteine (NAC) treating trichotillomania and other behaviors.
Ringworm of the scalp is a fungal infection that can cause hair to break, leaving the base of the hair in the scalp. The skin can appear red and/or scaly. It can be secondarily infected with bacteria, causing swelling, pain, and drainage. After the diagnosis is confirmed, an oral medication is needed.
Malnutrition can cause thinning of the hair, growth problems, behavior problems, muscle wasting, and abdominal swelling. Too little iron and/or protein in the diet can lead to hair loss. Biotin, zinc, and B12 deficiency are specific associations. In this country malnutrition is very uncommon. Treatment involves improving nutrition and addressing any underlying condition causing the malnutrition.
Too much Vitamin A has been linked to hair loss. If your child takes supplements, be sure to let your doctor know when you are discussing hair loss.
Hypothyroidism (low thyroid levels) has many symptoms, including thinning of hair. Not all need to be present, and some symptoms can be there without hypothyroidism because they are vague and common issues. Hair may become brittle and break off more easily. Hypothyroidism can cause kids to feel tired and not have much energy. Constipation is a frequent complaint. Heartbeats might slow and kids may feel cold when others are comfortable. Skin is often dry. Kids can slow their growth and may become overweight. Blood tests can help identify hypothyroidism and thyroid hormone replacement can treat it.
Uncontrolled diabetes can affect hair growth and loss. Working with an endocrine specialist is important to get diabetes under control.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) can affect hair thickness. Girls with PCOS can have excessive hair growth on their body but male pattern hair loss on the head, acne, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and abnormal menstrual cycles. Blood tests along with a history and physical can help identify PCOS.
Medications can cause hair loss. The most commonly known type are chemotherapy drugs, but also some acne medicines, anabolic steroids and lithium can cause hair loss. If hair loss is a concern, be sure your doctor knows all the medicines and supplements you give your child.
Hair treatments: chemical treatments, such as coloring, straightening, bleaching and curling can lead to hair loss. Heat from a hair dryer, curler, or flat iron can break hairs. Even combing wet hair leads to more breakage because wet hair is more elastic. Limiting these treatments can allow hair to re-grow.
Severe stress, including that from infection or surgery, can lead to sudden hair loss. Because hair grows slowly, this is seen many weeks to months after the event. It will regrow, usually within 6 -12 months.
As you can see, there are many causes of hair loss and the treatment for each varies based on the cause. If you feel like your child has balding areas, generally thinning hair, or other issues with hair loss, please call to schedule a visit to discuss the concerns with your primary care physician.
Bike safety starts before you even get on the bicycle.
Summer’s in full swing. I love to see neighborhood kids out playing. We don’t see that enough these days. I want kids to have fun outdoors for fresh air and exercise. Bike safety should be taught early on and encouraged every time people young and old are on bikes.
Twice already this summer kids have told me about friends who had ugly accidents due to wearing flip flops or sandals on a bike. My patients hear the message to cover their heads with a helmet and feet with proper shoes before bikes and scooters. These kids listened but not their friends.
My favorite bike safety tips are in this easy to read and share infographic.
There are two types of measles vaccines in the United States: MMR and MMRV.
There is no longer a separate measles vaccine available in the US.
The MMR includes protection against measles, mumps, and rubella. This vaccine can be used in infants 6 months and older and is the only vaccine approved over 13 years of age for those who need to catch up on vaccines.
In addition to measles, mumps, and rubella, the MMRV has protection against varicella (chicken pox). The MMRV can be used from 12 months through 12 years of age (until the 13th birthday).
Using the MMRV vaccine has the benefit of one fewer injection, but there are some downsides.
It cannot be used as an early dose of measles protection prior to 12 months of age.
The MMRV should not be used in those 13 years and older.
The MMRV has a higher risk of fever within 42 days after vaccination compared to the MMR and Varicella vaccines being given in separate injections, even when they’re given on the same date in children 12-24 months of age. There is less data on children 24-47 months of age, but it is likely that they also have this increased risk.
The MMRV has a higher risk of febrile seizures from 5-12 days after vaccination compared to the MMR + Varicella being given in separate injections, even if given on the same date.
What is the typical age of vaccination?
One of the measles vaccines is recommended routinely at 12-15 months and then again at 4-6 years.
Either the MMR or the MMRV can be used at these standard times.
If the MMR is used, a separate varicella vaccine can be used at the same time or at a different time.
Can the 2nd dose be given early?
Yes. An early 2nd dose does count as the second dose as long as it is separated by at least 28 days from other live virus vaccines.
Early second doses do count toward the required two doses after the first birthday. There is no minimum age for the second dose, as long as both doses are after the 1st birthday and a month apart.
What does the booster dose do?
Contrary to common belief, the MMR/MMRV second dose is not a booster to increase the immunity of the first dose.
About 93% of people respond to their first measles vaccine and are protected against the measles. They are protected and wouldn’t need a booster, but we can’t easily tell if any individual person is immune after the first dose. It is also possible that a person is immune to some of the MMR/MMRV components but not to all of the components, so another dose is needed for protection to be more reliable.
The second vaccine helps more people convert to being immune. After the second dose, 97% of people are immune to measles.
There are some people (3%) who are not immune despite two doses, which is why we sometimes hear of a vaccinated person still getting the disease.
Herd immunity is one reason why it is important for everyone in a community who is eligible to get the vaccine to be immunized. By immunizing the community, we can protect those in the community who are not able to be vaccinated due to young age or medical condition and those who are vaccine non-responders.
High risk situations: outbreaks and travel
It is recommended to receive an MMR (or MMRV if age indicated) if there is a local outbreak and the health department recommends an early vaccine or if an infant 6-12 months of age will be traveling to an area of increased risk.
Infants and children in high risk areas can get the second dose as early as 4 weeks after the first.
Either of the measles vaccines can be used as long as they are indicated for the age of the person being vaccinated.
More about early doses
MMR can be given to infants at least 6 months of age if they are considered high risk due to travel or outbreaks.
It is not recommended for all babies to get an early vaccine at this point.
Local health departments help to advise whether or not local conditions warrant early vaccination.
International travelers should be vaccinated against measles after 6 months of age due to the higher risk of exposure during travel.
Why not give to babies under 6 months?
Under 6 months of age an infant is considered protected from his or her mother’s antibodies. These antibodies leave the baby between 6 and 12 months after birth.
The antibodies prevent the vaccine from properly working, which is why we generally start the vaccine after the first birthday, when the antibodies have likely gone away.
Does an early dose count?
Any measles vaccine dose given before the first birthday does not count toward the two doses required after 12 months of age, but might help protect against exposure if the immunity from the mother is waning.
As mentioned above, an early 2nd dose does count as long as the first dose is after the 1st birthday and the second dose is at least 28 days later.
Is it safe to give the MMR before 12 months?
It is safe for a child to get extra doses of the vaccine if needed for increased risk of exposure between 6 and 12 months.
As discussed above, it is not because of safety that it is not routinely given earlier. It may not be effective at this age if the baby still has maternal immunity.
What’s the deal with live virus vaccines?
All live virus vaccines must be given either on the same date or a month apart. If they are given too close together on different dates they are less effective and the second one given does not count.
Other types of vaccines do not have this restriction, only live virus vaccines.
Examples of live virus vaccines include:
FluMist (only the nasal influenza vaccine, not the injectable flu vaccine)
Oral typhoid (not on the routine vaccine schedule, but recommended for international travel)
BCG (a vaccine against tuberculosis that is used in some countries, but not the US)
Oral polio (a vaccine no longer used in the US, but still in use in other countries)
Yellow fever (not on the routine vaccine schedule, but required prior to visiting some countries)
Zoster (a vaccine for older adults, not children)
If your child has FluMist (the nasal flu vaccine) on October 1st, if he or she gets the MMR or MMRV on October 15th, the MMR/MMRV won’t count.
This is becoming more difficult to track as pharmacies, work places, and other clinics offer vaccines. I can think of one instance where a parent had a child get a nasal flu vaccine a couple of weeks before the other parent brought the child in for kindergarten shots. The 2nd parent was not aware of the flu vaccine, so the live virus vaccines given at the routine well visit had to be repeated a month later. The child was not happy!
Always get documentation of the vaccines your child gets and be sure if it’s not done at your child’s primary care office that they get a copy! If you’re transferring to a new physician, request a transfer of records in writing before your first visit to your new medical home so they have what they need to best care for your family!
Tuberculosis testing with PPD
Although this is not a live virus vaccine, tuberculosis testing can also be affected by live virus vaccines.
A false negative skin test can occur if any live vaccine is given during the month BEFORE the TB skin test is done.
If MMR vaccine is given, you should wait at least 4 weeks before doing the TB skin test unless it is given on the same date.
All vaccines, live or inactivated, can be given on the same day or at any time AFTER a TB skin test is done.
What if someone who hasn’t been vaccinated is exposed to measles?
Unvaccinated people who are exposed to measles can be given post-exposure prophylaxis unless they have a vaccine contraindication.
If the MMR vaccine is given within 72 hours of initial measles exposure it may provide some protection or lead to a less severe infection.
Immunoglobulin (IG) can be given within 6 days of exposure to provide some protection.
If you think you’ve been exposed, contact your physician and/or the local health department.
Who shouldn’t be vaccinated?
The long list of medical contraindications to vaccines that some promote is not valid. There are very few contraindications to getting the MMR vaccine. These include:
Age less than 6 months of age
Anyone who has had a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) after a previous dose or to a vaccine component or neomycin
Those with a known severe immunodeficiency (chemotherapy, congenital immunodeficiency, long-term immunosuppressive therapy, and some with human immunodeficiency virus [HIV] infection)
Some conditions have precautions, but not true contraindications, to the MMR vaccine. The risks and benefits of vaccination should be discussed if a person has the following:
Moderate or severe acute illness
Tuberculosis testing (see separate section above)
Antibody-containing blood products within the previous 11 months
Those who have received a live virus vaccine in the previous 4 weeks
What about adults?
People born before 1957 are presumed to be immune to measles because they lived through several measles epidemics before the vaccine became available.
It is not considered necessary to check titers for these adults unless they are in a high risk group, such as healthcare providers. If their titers do not show immunity, they should be vaccinated according to current recommendations.
Adults born after 1957 should have documentation of two measles vaccines or the disease. Before 1980 it was only recommended to have one vaccine, so some adults may require another dose.
If documentation is not available, titers can be done to see if you’re immune or need a vaccine. Some may choose to simply get an MMR. Talk to your doctor.
Titers can show if people are at risk, but are not recommended routinely. Because of the overall high level of protection (97%), the cost-benefit ratio of testing titers routinely is not in favor of testing.
Certain persons, such as healthcare providers, may have to show immunity or get additional vaccine doses.
Two doses of one of the measles vaccines available is recommended for everyone after their first birthday. A dose can be given between 6 and 12 months if there is high risk but it does not count toward those two.
The MMR vaccine can be used in any person over 6 months of age if they are needing a measles vaccine, as long as they have not received another live virus vaccine in the previous 28 days.
The MMRV vaccine can be used between 12 months and 13 years of age. There is a higher risk of fever and febrile seizures with this vaccine compared to the MMR + Varicella vaccines given separately (even on the same date).
The first measles vaccine provides protection 93% of the time. The second dose increases the protection to 97% of people.
It is very important that where you are getting your vaccines has access to previous vaccines given, especially if you are getting any live virus vaccines. Keep a copy of all your family member’s vaccines available at all times.
If you are changing primary care physicians for any reason, have your records transferred prior to your first visit. This must be done in writing, but your doctor must provide these. The cost of these records will be determined by the hospital or clinic and state laws.
Always keep records of your family’s vaccine records easily available. You will need these for school entry, many camps, some volunteer or work positions, and more.
Getting one of the measles vaccines is not the only type of vaccine to get. We’re seeing outbreaks of measles currently, but any of the vaccine preventable diseases can make a come back if given the opportunity.
Why is everyone so worked up about the measles showing up all around the country? Is it really a big deal?
Measles is a big deal. If you understand that, you can stop reading right now. If you’re not sure why it’s so important that we vaccinate against this disease, read on. If you’re worried about the vaccine and haven’t protected your children with it, you need to learn about the disease.
Measles is highly contagious.
But it’s also preventable.
If all eligible persons are vaccinated, we can protect those who can’t be vaccinated due to young age or medical condition. This herd immunity is very important to our communities. Sadly, our herd is not protective at this point. Too many are not vaccinating due to unwarranted fears. This leaves too many vulnerable to disease, which allows infection to spread rapidly.
There are a very limited number of conditions that are true medical exemptions, but if herd immunity is high enough we can keep measles from spreading. Using false exemptions drops that herd immunity rate, leading to outbreaks like we’re seeing now.
We’ve been getting a lot of questions about the vaccine and the risks of the disease, so here’s a quick run down of the risks of a measles infection. I’ll cover the vaccines in the next post.
Measles is highly contagious and can be deadly.
Symptoms commonly include fever, rash, diarrhea, pneumonia, and ear infections.
Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) is a rare form of chronic progressive brain inflammation caused by measles virus. It can show up many years after someone is presumed to be healed from the disease, much like shingles can affect a person years after chicken pox disease.
For every 1,000 reported measles cases in the US, approximately 1 case of encephalitis (brain inflammation) and 2-3 deaths is found. The risk for death is greater for infants, young children, and adults than for older children and adolescents.
How contagious is measles?
Measles can be spread through the air of a room 2 hours after an infected person leaves. The rash doesn’t usually appear until approximately 14 days after exposure, 2 to 4 days after the fever begins.
A person is contagious 4 days before the rash starts, so can unknowingly spread the infection for days. They remain contagious for another 4 days after the rash starts.
Over 90% of susceptible people who are exposed will get sick.
Are you willing to put your kids at risk by delaying the vaccine knowing the risks of natural infection?
What vaccines are available?
There are two types of measles vaccines in the United States: MMR and MMRV.
There is no longer a separate measles vaccine.
We’ll go into these options next time. Stay tuned!
Lawn mowers send many kids and adults to the ER every year. Learn to use them safely with the tips below.
As the winter months (finally) end and the weather warms up, we need to get our lawns in order again. I haven’t written about lawn mower safety in a long time, but as I drive around my neighborhood I’m reminded just how many people don’t realize the dangers.
We need to respect lawn mowers and use them safely.
In 2016, more than 86,000 adults and 4,500 children in the U.S. were treated in emergency departments for injuries related to lawn mowers according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Riding mowers lead to the most injuries, but even walk behind mowers are dangerous.
People can suffer minor and serious cuts, burns, broken bones, eye injuries, loss of limbs, and death. A lawn mower can eject a rock, piece of metal, or wood up to 100 miles per hour, leading to injuries of people in the yard but not near the mower.
Only use a mower that has protection over hot and sharp parts. Never remove these protective coverings.
Teach kids to never touch a lawn mower. Many are burned by touching a hot mower, even when it is off.
Add fuel only to mowers when they are cool and off.
Never operate a mower when under the influence of alcohol or drugs that impair your level of alertness.
Never leave a running mower unattended. Turn it off before walking away.
Wear protective gloves, goggles, sturdy shoes, and long pants when you use lawn mowers. Never mow barefoot or in sandals.
No one under 16 years should ride on or operate a riding mower.
Riding mowers should have the reverse switch behind the driver, forcing the driver to look behind when placing the machine in reverse.
Push mowers should be used only by people over 12 years of age.
Push mowers should have a control that stops forward motion when the handle is released.
If children must be in the yard during mowing, they should remain at least 20 feet away at all times. Ideally children should not be allowed in the yard when the grass is being cut due to the possibility of flying debris.
Remove stones, toys, and debris from the lawn before mowing to prevent injuries from flying objects.
Mow across slopes with a push mower to avoid pulling the mower over your feet if you happen to slip.
Mow up and down slopes with a riding mower to prevent the mower from tipping over.
Do not cut wet grass.
Use hearing protection. Do not listen to music through your ear buds. The high volume required during mowing is harmful to your hearing.
Do not talk on your phone when mowing. It is a distraction that can lead to accidents.
A little planning and preparation can help everyone in your group stay healthy while traveling. Some preventative treatments take up to 6 months to complete, so talk to your doctor early!
When families are able to travel, it can be a wonderful time of exploration and bonding. Don’t let illness get in the way. Many locations have diseases that you don’t typically see in your home town. Take a little bit of time to learn what you need to do to prepare for your vacation. Insurance doesn’t usually cover travel medicine, so be sure to consider these extra costs when planning a trip.
Keep track of everything
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 travel group. 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)
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 copy 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
Prepare everyone for local specs
Learn what the local healthcare options are if someone in your travel group gets sick or injured. For several tips, see this travel information from the CDC.
Find out how you can use your phone overseas. Be sure to bring a charger that will work with local electrical outlets.
If you’re traveling with young children, plan ahead for where they’ll sleep. Infants will need a safe place of their own with a firm surface. Everyone will need time to adjust to new time zones.
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 traveling.
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 sunscreen tips, see Sun and Water Safety.
Mosquitos, ticks and other bugs not only cause itchy rashes but they can carry diseases. Using insect repellant properly can help to prevent getting bit.
Use insect repellent with at least 20% DEET to protect against mosquito and tick bites. Follow package directions and reapply as directed. Do not use combination bug sprays with sunscreen. They should be applied separately.
Wear long sleeves and pants. Consider treating your clothes with permethrin and tucking your pants into your socks. Sleep in areas that are screened against bugs.
Extra vaccines may be needed when you travel, especially in infants who are too young to get a measles vaccine on our usual schedule and adults who have not gotten vaccines that are now on the regular schedule.
Before you travel you can look at destination-specific advice on the CDC’s Destination page.
The news routinely reports outbreaks of measles these days. Many of the US outbreaks are related to an unvaccinated person returning from abroad. The MMR protects against measles, mumps, and rubella.
While our standard vaccine schedule does not recommend the MMR until 12 months of age, the vaccine can be used in infants as young as 6 months. It is considered safe to use in infants, but we don’t know when their immunity from their mother goes down. If the maternal immunity is still active the vaccine won’t work. This immunity typically falls between 6 and 12 months. After 12 months the vaccine is more likely to be effective, so when the risk is lower, it is recommended to wait until that age for the vaccine.
Between 6 and 12 months of age the MMR is recommended for infants considered high risk for being exposed to measles. This is because if their immunity has fallen, we don’t want them to be unprotected. International travel is considered to be high risk. If your baby’s maternal immunity is still high, the vaccine won’t provide protection, but he or she is still protected until that maternal immunity falls.
Because we don’t trust that the vaccine is effective before a year of age, babies who get an early MMR will still need two after their first birthday.
Talk to your baby’s pediatrician about getting the MMR if your child is over 6 months of age. Ideally it will be given at least 2 weeks prior to travel to give the body time to develop immunity.
Both hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccines are now on the routine schedule for children in the US, but many adults did not get these vaccines as children. These vaccines are recommended for travel to many locations. Verify if your family has had both hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccines before you travel.
It is recommended that infants start hepatitis B vaccines at birth. The series is completed at 6-9 months of age. There are catch up schedules for those who haven’t completed the series on time.
Children do not get the hepatitis A vaccine until 12 months of age. If they have not yet started the series and they are over a year, they can start at any time. The booster is given 6-12 months later.
It takes at least 6 months to complete each of these series, so plan early!
Typhoid is not a vaccine routinely given in the US but it is recommended for travel to many parts of the world. There are two main types of typhoid vaccine, injectable and oral.
Children 2 years and older can get an injectable typhoid vaccine, ideally at least 2 weeks prior to travel. It is only one dose and lasts 2 years.
The oral vaccine is only for people 5 years and older. It is given in 4 doses over a week’s time and should be completed at least a week prior to travel. It must be given on an empty stomach (1 hour before eating and 2 hours after eating). Antibiotic treatment can make this vaccine ineffective, so discuss any current medicine you are taking with your doctor. 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.
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 it can be given as young as 9 months of age. MenACWY-CRM is 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.
Travelers 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. Boosters for people traveling to these areas are recommended every 5 years.
Yellow fever is a 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.
Most physician offices do not offer this vaccine. A special license is required to be able to provide it. Check with your local health department or a travel clinic in your area. This vaccine should be given at least 10 days prior to travel.
Remember that influenza hits various parts of the world at different times of the year. The southern hemisphere tends to finish their flu season just as ours is starting. Check to see when it’s flu season and vaccinate as needed.
Medications for your trip
Aside from bringing your routine prescription medications and over the counter medicines in their original prescription container, there are some medications that are recommended for traveling to various parts of the world.
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 traveling. 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. Review the area-specific travel recommendations with your doctor.
I am commonly asked to prescribe antibiotics to prevent traveler’s diarrhea. This is discouraged due to growing bacterial resistance to antibiotics. It is best to prevent by avoiding local water, choosing foods wisely, using proper handwashing techniques, and considering bismuth subsalicylate or probiotic use.
Traveler’s diarrhea is often from bacteria, but it can also be from a viral source. Maintaining hydration with clean water with electrolytes is the most important treatment. Many cases of traveler’s diarrhea do not require antibiotics. See details of treatment recommendations in the Yellow Book.
After you return…
If you’ve been in an area of the world that has increased risk for tuberculosis (TB) or if you have suspected exposure to TB, testing for exposure is recommended.
Tuberculosis occurs worldwide, but travelers who go to most countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Russia are at greatest risk.
Travelers should avoid exposure to TB in crowded and enclosed environments. We should all 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.
Drowning is one of the most common preventable causes of death in infants, kids, and teens. Learn how to protect against this tragedy!
Summer is on its way. We’ll soon be visiting lakes and pools to cool off from the heat. Unfortunately drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death in children between ages 1 and 4. It continues to be a top cause of unintentional death among other age groups through the early adult years. Fortunately there are many precautions we can take to help lower the risk.
I wrote about Sun and Water Safety last summer, and want to remind everyone about the risks of drowning. I also wrote about Dry Drowning previously, but it seems that it isn’t really a thing – see the addendum in that post.
What are the risks?
About 1 in 5 people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger. Each year about 300-500 children under 5 years of age drown.
For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries. Even though they’re not fatal, they have significant consequences.
Over half of drowning victims treated in emergency departments require hospitalization for further evaluation and treatment. These nonfatal drowning injuries can cause severe brain damage that may result in long term disabilities such as memory problems, learning disabilities, and a permanent loss of basic functioning.
What increases the risks?
Lack of Swimming Ability: Many adults and children report that they can’t swim. Swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning among children. See the link at the bottom for more on swim lessons.
Lack of Close Supervision: Drowning can happen quickly and quietly anywhere there is water. This includes bathtubs, swimming pools, pet water bowls, and buckets. This is why non-swimming times account for most drowning accidents.
Location: Most children 1-4 years of age drown in home swimming pools. More than half of the drownings among those 15 years and older occurred in natural water settings, such as lakes.
Failure to Wear Life Jackets: Most boating deaths are caused by drowning, with 88% of victims not wearing life jackets.
Alcohol Use: Among adolescents and adults alcohol use is involved in up to 70% of deaths associated with water recreation.
Seizure Disorders: For persons with seizure disorders, drowning is the most common cause of unintentional injury death, with the bathtub as the site of highest drowning risk.
How can you recognize drowning?
Movies show people splashing around and yelling for help as they drown.
Don’t let that fool you. Movies are not reality.
Signs of drowning:
Head low in the water, mouth at water level
Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
Head tilted back with mouth open
Hair over forehead or eyes
Not using legs – Vertical
Hyperventilating or gasping
Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder
Trying to roll over on the back
Most drowning victims are silent. They don’t splash to get your attention. Watch this video from Inside Edition that captures several drowning victims:
Teach water safety
Learn how to swim and teach your children to swim as well. If your child(ren) are good swimmers, be sure to still have rules about pool use and limit pool access. Even strong swimmers can drown. See the link in the resources below for infomation on swim lessons.
No one should swim alone. If your children are not able to follow that rule, the pool should not be accessible to them. Gates and alarm systems can be used to limit access to home pools and hot tubs.
Not all teens are safe swimmers, but they don’t often fess up to their friends. They are also at risk of making impulsive decisions to drink alcohol near water, forego their life vest on a boat, jump off a cliff into water, or other things that could put them at risk. Talk to your teens about safety – in and out of the water! Encourage teens to learn CPR.
All pools should have a 4 foot fence around all sides. This includes below-ground pools as well as portable pools. It is much less safe to use the house as one of the borders, since young children can escape out the door and into the pool, but if you must use your home, take precautions. Install an alarm system to alert you if the door to the pool area is opened. Use a pool or spa cover when the pool or spa is not in use.
A short word on portable pools. They can include inexpensive blow up pools and larger pools. Portable pools present a real danger to young children because they are often not seen as a threat. Portable pools account for 10% of the total drowning deaths for children younger than 15 . They should be drained, covered, or fenced to protect children. Don’t leave them in the yard unattended.
Ask neighbors to put a proper barrier around their pools or hot tubs.
Ensure any pool or hot tub (spa) you use has anti-entrapment safety drain covers.
Have life saving equipment such as life rings, floats or a reaching pole available and easily accessible.
It’s not just pools that are risks…
Bowls and buckets
Keep pet water bowls out of reach of young children.
Drain any buckets of water after they’re used.
Close bathroom doors and toilet lids to keep young ones from playing in the water.
Monitor young kids and those with seizure risks in the bath the entire time. Do not leave the room even for a few moments.
Don’t read or check your phone when you’re watching kids in the tub, just like at the pool.
Drain the bath tub before young kids even get out. This not only helps your kids not climb back in (a common reason to need stitches when kids slip trying to climb in), but it also prevents them from drowning in left over water.