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Feeding Babies Around the World

One of the joys of my job is meeting families from around the world.  I enjoy learning about child rearing traditions in different countries, such as traditional first baby foods. These first foods are often based on the starches most readily available in a given region. Other local foods may be added to the starch to make a porridge with increased nutritional value.

Here are some global feeding traditions I have learned about through conversations with parents and grandparents of children in our practice.  I have noticed that many of these traditions include an added source of iron, one of the most important nutrients for young children’s healthy development.

China

It is common to make a rice porridge called “congee”.  Rice is cooked in a large amount of water until it is fully disintegrated.  Meats as well as vegetables may be added, particularly as the baby gets older, to add additional nutritional value to the rice porridge.

Africa

Babies in some parts of Africa are fed a soft food known as “fufu”.   It is made from the flour of plantains, cassava or corn, depending on the region. This can be mixed with varying additional ingredients.  For example, a mother from Togo told me that parents there add a traditional dried fish to the fufu. A mother from Cameroon discussed the addition of dark green vegetable leaves, such as the leaves of the sweet potato plant. These are cooked with the fufu, providing additional iron and other nutrients.  

India

Families in India often give lentils to young babies.  This is particularly true in regions where families are vegetarian for religious purposes. At first, the lentils are boiled and the water may be removed, mixed with salt, sugar and clarified butter and fed to the baby. As the baby grows older, the mixture is made thicker and vegetables as well as rice are added.   A food commonly fed to babies is called “khichri”. It is made from lentils mixed with spices and salt and pressure cooked, making it very soft and easily swallowed. Legumes like lentils are an excellent source of both protein and iron.

Bolivia

A father from Bolivia described to me that, when his mother came to watch his baby, she brought with her ground black corn meal.  She had grown this black corn and ground it herself. She made the baby soup with vegetables and, sometimes meat, which she then thickened into a porridge using the ground corn meal.

As families feed their infants for the first time, it can be reassuring to note that there is no single “right” way to feed a baby. Across the world it is done many, many different ways!  By choosing mild starches with supplemental sources of vitamins and iron, babies learn to transition from milk to solid foods and receive the nutrients needed for healthy growth and development.

Safe Water Play for Kids

Years ago my family visited a lake in New York’s Catskill Mountains.  I was playing with my three-year-old daughter in the shallow water when I saw older children throwing rocks at a mother duck and her babies.  Horrified, I marched over to make them stop.  A few minutes later, ducks safely in the middle of the lake, I turned back to my daughter. She was lying motionless and facedown in the water!  I raced over and scooped her up.  Thank goodness she was fine, and had only been facedown for seconds.

I will never forget how still she lay with her face in the water.  There was no splashing or thrashing.  This, I learned, is typical.  While parents expect a child might alert them to distress in the water, this is often not the case.  Children drown quickly and quietly.  This is one of the many reasons for parents to be ever vigilant when it comes to water safety.

Drowning tragically remains a leading cause of death in children. For children ages 1-4, drowning kills more children than any cause other than birth defects.   Most infant and toddler drownings occur in bathtubs and buckets, toddlers most commonly drown in pools, and older children in rivers and lakes.

While playing in the water is one of the great joys of summer for kids, it is no time for parents to relax!  Rather, active engagement and  “touch supervision” at all times is needed to ensure safe water play.  Here are some guidelines to create the safest experience for your child when enjoying the pool, lake or beach:

All Eyes and Hands On Deck!
Always be within arms reach of your young child near any body of water. This is called “touch supervision”. Avoid distractions, such as talking on your cellphone, reading, chatting with neighbors or saving baby ducks. And never assume someone else is watching your child.

Life Jackets Always
Use a US Coast Guard approved life vest whenever your child is near a natural body of water or, if they are a weak swimmer, a pool. Toys, water wings, and other flotation devices are not life-saving.

Learn to Swim!
Start swim lessons when your child is developmentally ready, with a program appropriate for their age.  Water safety classes are not recommended for children less than one year.  For those ages 1-4 it is important that the class adheres to national YMCA guidelines. Traditionally, children over 4 are considered most ready to learn to swim. Even older children, however, need to have continued supervision at all times near the water.

Home Pool Safety
Ensure that all home pools are surrounded by a four-sided fence that is at least 4 feet high with a self-locking gate.

Never let your child play on a pool cover. They are unsafe and should be fully retracted prior to pool use.

Remove toys from the pool after use, as they can tempt a child to jump in. Inflatable pools should ideally be emptied when not in use.

Never dive into a pool’s shallow end or into an above ground pool.

Learn CPR
In the event of an emergency, providing CPR until an ambulance arrives can be life-saving.

Follow these measures and enjoy the safest summer fun with your child!

Safest Sleep for Your Baby

Safest Sleep for Your Baby

The American Academy of Pediatrics first recommended that babies  sleep on their backs in 1992.  This campaign, known as “Back to Sleep”, was a major breakthrough in protecting babies from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS.

SIDS describes the sudden death of an infant less than one year of age that remains unexplained after a thorough evaluation and autopsy.  This has sometimes been referred to as “crib death”.  Two to four months of age is the highest risk period for SIDS, with more than 90% of cases occurring before 6 months.

In the 1980’s, before Back to Sleep, more than 1 out of every 1,000 babies in the United States would die from SIDS.  After the Back to Sleep Campaign was launched, this number steadily decreased until the risk had been cut in half!  Since the early 2000’s, however, the rate has stayed the same.  Approximately 3500 babies still tragically die from SIDS every year in the U.S., more than from any other cause between one month and one year of age.

Thankfully, there are steps that every parent can take to protect their baby from SIDS.  More than 95 percent of cases occur when one or more risk factors are present, many of which are modifiable.

Some risk factors are maternal.  Maternal smoking and late or no prenatal care both increase the risk for SIDS.  It is important to avoid smoking before and after delivery, and to ensure good prenatal care.

There are also infant and environmental risk factors for SIDS. Special care should be taken with premature babies, who are at higher risk.  Here are steps parents should take to ensure safe sleeping:

  1. Always place a baby on the back for sleep, whether for naps or at night.
  2. Use a firm, flat mattress with a tightly fitted sheet. Do not place any other bedding/pillows/bumpers or stuffed animals in the sleep area.
  3. Place the baby in a sleep area designed for infants (bassinet/crib/portable crib) in your room close to your bed.
  4. Do not place the baby in your bed. Sharing a room, but not a bed, is recommended ideally for the first year of life.
  5. Never place the baby on a couch or armchair for sleep, as these are extremely high-risk locations for infant sleep.
  6. Breastfeed your baby and ensure up to date vaccinations.
  7. Avoid overheating your baby.
  8. Consider using a pacifier during sleep.
  9. Do not use a car seat/swing/sling for routine sleep.
  10. Use a “wearable blanket” or thin swaddling blanket to keep your baby warm.      Once your baby can roll (usually around 4 months) swaddling is no longer recommended.
  11. Avoid products that claim to reduce the risk of SIDS, such as wedges, positioners and heart or breathing monitors.
  12. Place your baby on his or her tummy while awake and you are watching (“tummy time”).

Many parents worry that babies are at higher risk of choking when they are on their backs.  In fact, the opposite appears to be true! Babies cough up and swallow fluids easier when on their backs.

At about 6 months of age, many babies can roll from their back to their stomach.  When babies do this on their own, parents do not need to worry about turning them onto their backs during the night.

Every parent can take steps to ensure the safest possible sleep for their baby.  Making the baby actually sleep is the subject for another article!

How we beat Rotavirus

How we Beat Rotavirus

As a pediatric resident in 2000, winter meant Rotavirus. Every winter, miserable babies with fever, severe vomiting and watery diarrhea would fill our hospital wards. Anxious parents would watch and wait as we treated their weakened babies with intravenous fluids to prevent severe dehydration.

The babies I treated were not alone.  Before the vaccine, almost one in sixty-five babies were hospitalized for Rotavirus in the United States.  That meant 50,000 hospitalized babies, 500,000 seen in physicians’ offices and 160,000 treated in emergency rooms for the illness every year.  In countries with limited medical resources, Rotavirus is deadly.  In fact, it is more fatal than any other single infection, killing about 1,400 children every day.

Rotavirus is hard to control because it is extremely contagious. The virus gets taken in by mouth and is then excreted in the stool.  It lives a long time on surfaces like toys and changing tables, so young children who are constantly touching objects and putting them in their mouths are easily infected. The illness lasts days or weeks and can spread like wildfire through childcare centers. That’s why affected babies cannot return to childcare until all diarrhea is resolved.

This places a great deal of stress on parents.  The first stress of caring for a sick baby, and the second stress of prolonged absence from work.

In August 1998, a vaccine against Rotavirus, called RotaShield, was introduced to protect against this serious viral infection.   What happened over the ensuing decade is a remarkable story.

The RotaShield Story

Every vaccine undergoes extensive testing prior to introduction to the market to ensure that it is safe.   Sometimes, however, very rare side effects can only be detected once a vaccine or drug is given to hundreds of thousands of people.

Rotashield administration began in fall 1998, and by July 1999 about 800,000 children had received the vaccine.  It was only then that a concern emerged that more children may be getting a rare blockage of the intestine, called intussusception. Because the condition is so rare, it was hard to know if there was truly an increased number of cases.

It turns out that the vaccine was associated with about 1 extra case of intussusception per 10,000 vaccinated infants. This information led to the vaccine being taken off the market less than one year after it was introduced.

Scientists went back to the lab to try and develop a safer vaccine.  It took seven years!  Finally, in 2006, a new vaccine called RotaTeq was introduced, and a second vaccine, Rotarix, came out in 2008.

These vaccines have been a remarkable success story. While mild disease can still occur, severe Rotavirus infection in children has been virtually eliminated. Between 2007-2011, the vaccines prevented more than 176,000 hospitalizations, 242,000 emergency room visits, and 1.1 million outpatient visits.  I have only seen a couple of cases since 2006, versus dozens I saw every year in the early 2000’s.

A great deal of research has been done to determine if the new vaccines cause any increase in intussusception.  It is believed that the vaccine causes a very small number of extra cases, about 1 in 100,000 infants, primarily in the first week after vaccination. In summary, the risk of severe infection, about one in sixty five, far outweighs the risk of the vaccine.

The Rotavirus vaccine is a great success story of protecting babies from one of childhood’s most dangerous infections.  I don’t miss Rotavirus!

Pediatrics

July 2001, VOLUME 108 / ISSUE 1

Intussusception, Rotavirus Diarrhea, and Rotavirus Vaccine Use Among Children in New York State

Hwa-Gan H. Chang, Perry F. Smith, Joel Ackelsberg, Dale L. Morse, Roger I. Glass

Pediatrics

September 2016, VOLUME 138 / ISSUE 3

Intussusception Rates Before and After the Introduction of Rotavirus Vaccine

Jacqueline E. Tate, Catherine Yen, Claudia A. Steiner, Margaret M. Cortese, Umesh D. Parashar

http://media.chop.edu/data/files/pdfs/vaccine-education-center-rotavirus.pdf Accessed 11/15/2017

Flu Season is Coming!

Flu Season is Coming!

Keira was a 9-month-old baby girl when she came to my office last November.  I walked in the room, took one look at her and felt my pulse quicken.  This baby was sick.  She had a fever of 103, was lying weak in her mother’s arms, was extremely congested and coughing frequently.   She had classic influenza.

I placed Keira on oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and saw her every day that week as her parents and I carefully monitored her breathing and hydration.  After five days of high fever, during which her parents anxiously pushed fluids and fever reducers, her temperature finally broke and her energy returned.  We had kept her out of the hospital and she was a happy, healthy baby again.  But it took her exhausted parents another week to recover!

Colds, many with fevers, affect kids all the time.  While most viral upper respiratory infections are mild and self-limited, influenza, or the real “flu”, is another story.

Influenza is a serious illness.  Affected people get high fever, muscle and headaches, sore throat, congestion and cough.  Fever can last five to seven days and affected patients feel much more sick than with most viral infections. Some groups are at greater risk of more serious illness, hospitalization or even death.

The elderly, those with chronic disease like asthma, diabetes or immunosuppression, and young children less than five, but particularly those less than two, are at highest risk.  People in these groups are more likely to develop a serious, and potentially life-threatening infection.

Every year in the United States, about 100-120 children die from influenza. 80% of pediatric deaths occur in unvaccinated children over six months.  Between 2010-2014, half of pediatric deaths occurred in children with at least one high-risk medical condition like asthma, but only one third of these children had been vaccinated.  In 2016, 104 children died, half of whom had no high-risk medical condition.

The flu shot is the best way to prevent the flu.  The shot is reformulated every year to cover the strains that are expected to circulate in the upcoming year.  How well the shot works varies due to the unpredictable nature of influenza each season.  Generally, the shot cuts medical visits for flu by 50-75%.

The only shot available today is the injection, as the nasal spray was found to be ineffective against current strains of the virus.  It is given to children over six months of age, and kids less than nine years old need two doses separated by four weeks the first year it is given. The shot should be given as soon as it becomes available, ideally before the end of October.
The shot is safe for pregnant woman at any time during pregnancy.  It also can be safely given to people with a history egg allergy, even those who have a severe reaction to eggs.

The most common side effects to the shot are pain and swelling at the injection site. Some children will feel drowsy, have muscle or headache or loss of appetite.  It is important to remember that the flu shot does not contain live influenza virus.  It cannot, therefore, cause influenza.  People who have had a previous severe allergic reaction requiring use of epinephrine following a flu shot should not receive the shot again.

When I talk to parents about vaccinating their children for influenza, I think of Keira, and how sick she was that November.  The shot may not be 100% effective, but 50-75% protection is a whole lot better than none!

Lyme Disease 101

LYME DISEASE 101

18-month-old Ryan came to my office in July after a family trip to Maine.  He had developed a round red rash, was diagnosed with Lyme Disease and treated with Amoxicillin.  He completed his treatment, his rash resolved and that was that.

As Lyme Disease has become increasingly common, it has become a cause of confusion and concern.  What is Lyme Disease?

BASIC FACTS

Lyme Disease is named after the town of Lyme, Connecticut, where it was identified in the 1970s.  It is caused by a bacteria, Borrelia Burgdorferi, and is carried by the Ixodes Scapularis, or “deer tick”.

Ticks generally become active in the spring. They live in the leaf litter of forest floors, on grasses and plants seeking warm bodies to feed on.  Once attached, it takes about 36-48 hours for an infected tick to pass the bacteria to its “host”.

Lyme is increasingly common in the Northeastern U.S. Its range has also expanded into Canada as a result of warming temperatures. Young children are particularly vulnerable.  There are three different phases of the illness:

Early Localized Lyme

About 80% of infected people get a bull’s eye rash at the site of the tick bite within one month, sometimes with fever and flu-like symptoms. The rash enlarges over days to a large size.  Early Lyme is treated with oral antibiotics for 10-21 days.

Early Disseminated Lyme

Some people get sick weeks to months after the tick bite.  They can then present with multiple round rashes, headache and stiff neck (meningitis), weakness of facial muscles, or (rarely) slowing of the heart rate.  People with this stage of Lyme need longer courses of oral or intravenous antibiotics.

Late Disseminated Lyme

Some people won’t have symptoms for months to years after a tick bite.  The most common symptom of late disease is pain and swelling in one or a few joints.  Patients with Lyme arthritis need to be treated for one month with oral antibiotics.

Post-Lyme Disease Syndrome

A small number of people can have persistent symptoms such as headache, fatigue and joint pain, which persist within the 6 months after treatment of confirmed Lyme. Others with confirmed Lyme arthritis can have persistent joint pain after completing therapy. It is important to note that persistent symptoms are rare, gradually resolve, and the vast majority of people treated with antibiotics make a full recovery.

Testing for Lyme Disease

Blood testing for Lyme is not helpful for the early stage of Lyme, when diagnosis is made by exam and tests can be falsely negative.  Blood testing of patients with specific late Lyme symptoms is important to confirm or rule out the diagnosis.

What is “Chronic Lyme Disease”?

There is growing conversation regarding “Chronic Lyme”.  This term has come into use by advocacy groups such as the International Lyme and Associated Disease Society. It describes a condition of nonspecific symptoms that are attributed to persistent infection.  “Chronic Lyme”, however, has not been clearly defined and is not recognized by established medical organizations.

Patients falsely diagnosed with this condition may have illness that goes untreated, such as a thyroid abnormality or cancer.  Dangerous therapies may be prescribed by “Lyme literate” doctors who charge large amounts of money for treatments that are not approved or covered by insurance, such as prolonged courses of antibiotics or “malariotherapy” (injecting malaria to “burn off” Lyme bacteria).

Be Cautious, Not Scared

Prevention is the best approach.  Wear long pants, socks and shoes, apply insect repellent and perform thorough tick checks in the evening.  If infection does occur, Lyme disease is generally easily recognized and treated.  Persistent symptoms are rare and resolve over time.  Be cautious, but don’t let Lyme Disease take away your family’s enjoyment of the outdoors!

The Dirt on Artificial Turf

The Dirt on Artificial Turf

If your child plays sports, you know them well.  Those little black crumbs that you have poured out from her soccer cleats, vacuumed off the floor or pulled off of his skin.

Artificial turf has become a part of every day life for today’s young athletes and their parents, both at home and on the field.

With all this exposure, parents have rightly wondered, what is in this stuff?  And is it safe?

What is an artificial turf field?

Today’s artificial turf fields have come a long way since 1960’s  Astroturf.
Since the 1990’s, artificial fields have been improved for safety, playability and durability.  They are made of three basic layers:

  1. The top layer is a long-pile “carpet” of plastic artificial grass fibers.
  2. A second layer of infill material lies within the carpet, to support the “grass” and provide cushioning. It can be made of sand, recycled rubber crumbs (“crumb rubber”) or an alternate material.
  3. Underneath is a woven backing holding the carpet in place.

Underlying drainage systems prevent these fields from becoming waterlogged.

What are the benefits of artificial turf over natural grass?

  1. Waste Reduction– Scrap tires are a major waste disposal challenge. According to the Rubber Manufacturers Association, in 2007, artificial fields kept 300 million pounds of tires out of landfills. However, infill must be replaced every 5-10 years.
  2. Improved hours of playability– It has been estimated that an artificial field offers 2,000-3,000 playable hours, versus a natural field’s 300-816 hours.
  3. No need to mow, water or fertilize-According to a University of California Berkeley study in 2010, a 1,000 square foot natural field requires 70,000 gallons of water each week and 15-20 pounds of fertilizer each year, plus herbicides and pesticides. New natural fields, however, can require less input.
  4. Increased access to sports– Artificial fields can be placed on historically contaminated soils, increasing access to field spaces.

What are the health concerns for artificial turf?

  1. They are hot. Artificial fields are much hotter than natural grass. This increases risk of injury like heat blisters, or illness like heat-stroke.
  2. They contain numerous concerning chemicals. Artificial turf made from recycled tires contain numerous concerning chemicals that can irritate the nose and throat, cause nervous system and organ damage or cause cancer.

To date, limited research shows that these fields do not present dangerous exposure levels, but studies are small and involve no long-term follow up of exposed children.

There therefore remains some uncertainty about how much these chemicals enter the bodies of active children. Additionally, risk may depend on environmental conditions and field age.

  1. New fields appear to have similar rates of injury as natural grass, though the types of injury may vary.
  2. Artificial turf may have lower concentrations of bacteria but cause more skin abrasions that could lead to infection. The sum of these effects is not certain.
  3. The risk is low from new fields, but older and aging fields remain a concern.

What are the environmental concerns for artificial turf?

  1. Contamination of waterways. These fields can leach toxic zinc into waterways, harming aquatic life.
  2. Heat island effect. These fields may retain even more heat than paved surfaces, worsening the “heat island” effect of cities and communities.
  3. Displacement of natural environments. Natural environments offer many physical and psychological benefits. Artificial fields can reduce these natural settings.

Summary

Limited research shows that new artificial turf is probably safe, though uncertainties remain. Further research and improvement of natural and artificial fields should further reduce health and environmental risks.

Play Outside to Protect Kids Eyes

Play Outside to Protect Kids Eyes

In the 1960’s, a dramatic increase in nearsightedness, or myopia, was noticed in an Inuit community in northern Alaska.  While virtually none of the parents or grandparents in the community had vision loss, approximately 58% of their children needed glasses. A 1969 study noted that, with the introduction of American education requirements to the region, the children were spending their days in school, while their parents had not.  The authors hypothesized that this environmental change may have led to decreased vision in the children.

During the half century since that study, nearsightedness has been spreading dramatically across the world.  In Europe and the U.S., the prevalence has doubled, and now affects about half of young adults.  In Asia, meanwhile, the rate has skyrocketed. Up to 90% of teens and young adults are near-sighted in China, while in Seoul the prevalence is over 95% of in some groups.

What is the cause of this increase? 

For years, we have learned that too much time staring at books and screens hurts kids’ eyes.  Parents today warn their children not to stare too long at screens, and our parents told us not to watch too much TV.  It now appears, however, not to be the books or screens that cause the problem.  It is being indoors.

Starting in the 2000’s, researchers started looking at children with normal vision and following them over time for the development of myopia.   A study in California found, almost accidentally, that kids who spent more time outside had a lower risk.  Another study in Australia found the same result.

Studies were then done on children in China and Taiwan. Groups of children were assigned to outdoor classes or mandatory outdoor recess and compared to children who spent these time periods indoors over the course of one to three years.  In both studies, kids who were outside more had a lower chance of developing nearsightedness. The more time outside the better the protection.

In these studies, it didn’t matter if the kids were playing sports or reading books in an outdoor class under a tree.  As long as they were outside, they were protected.

How does being outdoors protect eyes?

The light that we experience outside is generally much more intense than the light we experience indoors.  Light intensity can be measured in “lux”.  Generally, indoor classrooms and offices provide about 500 lux, while sitting outdoors provides closer to 10,000 lux.

It is thought that the higher light intensity is needed to stimulate normal eye development in childhood.  Lower intensity light disrupts healthy eye growth and leads to decreased vision in adulthood. It is thought that about 3 hours of time outdoors is needed to protect the eyes.

“Go outside and play!”

 Time outside is good for kids’ hearts, muscles, minds, and, it turns out, their eyes. Parents in 2017 have yet another reason to continue the age-old mantra to our children- “Go outside and play”!

Reference

“The myopia boom- Short-sightedness is reaching epidemic proportions. Some scientists think they have found a reason why”. Nature, News Feature. Elie Dolgin, 18 March 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Safety

Summer Safety

The school year is coming to an end and summer vacation is almost upon us. Summer break is a great time for kids to be active and reconnect with the outdoors. It’s important, however, to take steps that keep kids safe, whether it’s during trips to the beach, hikes in the woods or afternoons at the pool.

Sun Safety

Direct exposure to the sun’s rays helps kids produce much needed Vitamin D.  During the peak hours, however, it’s important to protect against sunburns.  Sunburns are not only painful, they can increase the risk of some skin cancers later in life.

The best way to protect children is through seeking shade and wearing lightweight clothing with a tight weave that covers the body.  Wide-brimmed hats that shield the face, ears and neck are ideal, as are sunglasses with at least 99% UV protection.

For children older than 6 months, sunscreens, when used correctly, are another important part of skin protection. The best sunscreens are “broad spectrum”, protecting against both UVA and UVB rays, and should be SPF 15-30.  Higher levels of SPF do not necessarily work better, and have higher concentrations of chemicals.

Thick white creams should be used, rather than sprays or dry powders that are often inhaled.

Look for sunscreens containing active ingredients zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, rather than oxybenzone.   Oxybenzone may have mild effects on the hormone system and are best avoided.  A good guide to safe sunscreens for kids is produced by the Environmental Working Group and can be found on their website, ewg.org.

Insect Protection

Mosquito and tick bites are part of life outdoors, and usually are just a nuisance. Sometimes, however, insect bites can become infected, can transmit diseases like Lyme or West Nile Disease, or cause allergic reactions.

As with sunburns, the best protection is lightweight clothing that covers the body.  Screens on windows and nets over strollers keep insects away, while avoiding perfumes and flowery clothing may also limit attracting insects.

When you expect your child to be amongst biting insects, insect repellents can be valuable.  DEET containing products are the most effective.  DEET has a long history and has been shown to be quite safe, even in babies down to 2 months of age.

Products of 15-20% DEET are best.  Avoid concentrations over 30%, which are not more effective.  They should be applied directly to exposed areas of skin or to overlying clothing, but not onto irritated skin, the hands of young children or directly onto the face.  It should be applied only once per day and washed off in the evening.

Products containing 20% Picaridin may work as well as 10% DEET.  Essential oil products may be valuable for shorter times against some but not all insects, and may cause allergic reactions.

Permethin products kill ticks on contact, and can be applied to clothing or camping equipment.  You can also buy clothes containing permethrin. However, it can stay on clothes even after washings, and should not be applied directly to the skin.

Never use a sunscreen and insect repellent combination product.  Sunscreens need to be applied much more frequently than insect repellent, and combining the chemicals may reduce the efficacy of the sun protection.

All in all, keep kids skin protected with clothes and hats, appropriate sunscreens and safe insect sprays when needed. Then go have fun!

Taking a Shot Against Cancer

Taking a Shot Against Cancer

Smoking cigarettes and getting sunburns are well known risks for cancer. Many people don’t know, however, that some viruses can cause cancer.

The Hepatitis B virus, which is spread by sharing contaminated needles (IV drug use), unprotected sex or childbirth, can cause liver cancer. It is recommended that all children receive the Hepatitis B vaccine for lifelong protection against the virus.

Another virus that causes cancer is the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. According to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, twenty million Americans are currently infected with HPV, and 6 million are newly infected each year, half of whom are 15-24 years old. Most of the time, HPV goes away on its own and does not cause any health problems.

Sometimes, however, it sticks around. There are about 100 different strains of HPV that can cause different health problems. Some strains, called “low- risk”, can cause genital warts. These warts are raised bumps that can be treated with topical therapies. About 1 in every 100 sexually active adults has HPV warts at any time in the US.

Other strains of the virus are more dangerous. These can cause cancer, including cancers of the genital tract in men and women, as well as cancer of the throat, tongue and tonsils (“oropharynx”). These cancers can take years or even decades to develop.

HPV cancers are not rare. According to the CDC, between 2008-2012, about 38,793 HPV-associated cancers were diagnosed every year in the US, with about 59% occurring in females. The most common types were cancers of the cervix and oropharynx.

Treatment of HPV-related infections also costs a lot of money. About 8 billion dollars is spent yearly in the US on HPV, more than any other sexually transmitted infection except HIV.

The good news is, because these cancers are caused by a virus, they can be prevented by a vaccine!

The first vaccine against HPV came out in 2006 and protected against 4 strains of the virus. In 2014, this vaccine was improved to cover 9 strains, including those responsible for most cancers. These vaccines are recommended for boys and girls. Another vaccine protects against 2 strains of the virus and is recommended for girls only.

The HPV vaccine is given as a 2 or 3 shot series, starting at 11 or 12 years of age. It can be given as young as 9, and as late as 26 in females and 21 in males. Younger people have a stronger response to the vaccines. As a result, adolescents who receive the first dose before their 15th birthday need only 2 shots at least 6 months apart. When begun on or after the 15th birthday, adolescents require a 3 dose series.

HPV vaccines are highly effective and result in strong immunity to the virus and lower risk of cancer. The CDC estimates that 28,500 of the annual 38.793 HPV cancers would be prevented by the HPV-9 vaccine.

HPV vaccines have also proven very safe. As of 2014, more than 67 million doses had been distributed and millions more have been administered since then. There have been no associations with serious side effects. The most common side effects are soreness at the injection site, as well as redness and/or swelling. Some adolescents feel light-headed immediately after receiving HPV, as well as other vaccines. For that reason, it is best to be given the shot while lying down, and to remain seated for 15 minutes after the shot.

Some families have heard that the HPV vaccine is dangerous or risky. This is untrue and unfortunate, as young people have missed the opportunity to be protected from HPV cancers as a result.

The HPV vaccine is just a shot against a virus, like many other vaccines. Like the Hepatitis B vaccine, this shot protects children from cancer, a chance parents don’t get very often. Pediatricians strongly recommend that parents choose this shot against cancer for their kids. They will be grateful you did!

References and Further Reading
https://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/default.htm
http://www.chop.edu/news/feature-article-get-answers-your-hpv-questions
https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/vaccine-preventable-diseases/Pages/Human-Papillomavirus-(HPV).aspx