Friday, January 30th, 2015
One family’s story might give you a different and more personal perspective on a continually debated issue: vaccines.
For the past four and a half years, Carl Krawitt and his wife, Jodi, have had to do something that no parent ever wants to do—watch their 6-year-old son, Rhett, battle leukemia. And after finishing numerous rounds of chemotherapy treatment, doctors say Rhett is in remission.
But now another battle has begun— the battle to keep Rhett as healthy as possible, despite being unvaccinated. Rhett cannot be vaccinated until his immune system is strong enough, which could take months. And if Rhett contracts a disease, he is at a higher risk for complications and even death.
While Rhett can rely on the power of herd immunity, it’s not guaranteed when he lives in Marin County, California, which has the highest rate of children in the Bay Area who have been opted out of immunizations. In fact, Rhett’s elementary school has a 7 percent personal belief exemption rate, which is nearly three times more than the statewide average.
In light of the current measles’ outbreak on the west coast, Carl is speaking up for his son — by requesting that his elementary school bans all unvaccinated students, except for those who, like his son, cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. “It’s very emotional for me,” he told NPR. “If you choose not to immunize your own child and your own child dies because they get measles, OK, that’s your responsibility, that’s your choice. But if your child gets sick and gets my child sick and my child dies, then…your action has harmed my child.”
And Rhett is not alone in having a weakened immune system. According to oncologist Dr. Robert Goldsby, “there are hundreds of other kids in the Bay Area who are going through cancer therapy, and it’s not fair to them.”
However, at this time, Marin County doesn’t have any confirmed or suspected cases of measles, so no immediate action can be made without approval from county health officers. However, “if the outbreak progresses and we start seeing more and more cases, then this is a step we might want to consider,” said Matt Willis, Marin County’s health officer.
We want to hear from you—let us know what you think! Is Carl Krawitt’s request to ban students fair? Or do you think it goes too far?
Caitlin St John is an Editorial Assistant for Parents.com who splits her time between New York City and her hometown on Long Island. She’s a self-proclaimed foodie who loves dancing and anything to do with her baby nephew. Follow her on Twitter: @CAITYstjohn
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Tuesday, June 10th, 2014
Most children who get multiple X-ray and CT scans because of heart disease don’t face a significantly higher risk of developing cancer later in childhood because of the scans’ radiation, according to new research conducted by Duke University cardiologists. Some kids–especially girls–do face a higher risk of cancer than others, so doctors are urged to take steps to reduce the radiation exposure from the scans. More from NBC News:
It’s an issue because children are three to four times more likely to develop cancer from exposure to ionizing radiation like that given in an X-ray or computed tomography (CT) scan. “Radiation exposure in childhood is of particular concern because children have immature developing organ and tissue structures,” Hill’s team wrote in their report, published in the journal Circulation.
These kids got an awful lot of imaging — 13,932 X-rays, CT scans and other procedures before, during and after surgery. The X-rays didn’t deliver much radiation at all, Hill’s team found.
The big culprits are cardiac catheterization exams and CT scans. They can deliver up to 1,800 times more radiation than a standard X-ray. Children who got many of these complicated and time-consuming scans did get enough radiation to triple their risk of cancer, Hill found.
On average, children don’t have a high risk of cancer, though, so even doubling or tripling that very low risk still doesn’t make them very likely to develop cancer.
“Even though their risk is threefold greater, it is not necessarily a high risk,” Hill said. “I think it is important for parents to understand that there is a small amount of risk.”
Doctors can and should do their best to minimize radiation exposure, Hill said. New technology can help with this, as can techniques that make it necessary to use the shortest possible burst of radiation.
Image: Chest X-ray, via Shutterstock
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Monday, November 18th, 2013
Children who undergo treatment for cancer may be at greater risk of developing heart disease later in childhood, as well as in adulthood, according to a new study presented to the American Heart Association. Researchers recommended that pediatricians monitor heart health carefully in their patients who have undergone cancer treatments. More from The New York Times:
Scientists have known for some time that survivors of childhood cancer are several times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease as adults, a result of the toll that lifesaving radiation and chemotherapy treatments can have on the heart. But the new study, presented at an American Heart Association conference over the weekend, is among the first to show that the risk is elevated while the survivors are still children.
The research looked at 319 boys and girls under the age of 18 who underwent chemotherapy treatments for leukemia or cancerous tumors. At the time of the study, the participants were a minimum of five years past the time of their diagnosis.
When the children were compared with 208 siblings of similar ages, the researchers found a nearly 10 percent decrease in arterial health and other signs of premature heart disease.
Image: Baby undergoing treatment, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, October 3rd, 2013
Each week of the government shutdown, around 30 children will be prevented from receiving treatment for cancer and other illnesses through clinical trials, the National Institutes of Health announced this week. More from ABC News:
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John Burklow, a spokesman for the National Institutes of Health, estimated that 200 patients would experience these delays each week of the shutdown. Since 15 percent of these patients are typically children, and 33 percent of these children have cancer, that means the patients facing delays would include about 30 children per week, 10 of whom have cancer, he said.
Federal health programs are down thousands of employees, which hampers clinical trials and disease outbreak surveillance.
The NIH, for example, has had to furlough 14,700 employees – or 75 percent of its staff – as a result of the shutdown, Burklow told ABCNews.com. He expressed surprise that calls were even getting through, because he said his phone system had gone down this morning.
“Unfortunately, almost everybody is gone,” he said of his office. His staff in the media office has shrunk from 38 to one.
More than 1,400 ongoing clinical trials will continue at the NIH Clinical Center, which is the largest research hospital in the world, but it won’t be able to enroll any new patients in these trials or start any new trials during the shutdown, Burklow said.
“There are four new protocols [clinical trials] ready to start next week, and they won’t be starting during the shutdown if we’re still shut down,” he said.
As a result of the shutdown, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has furloughed 9,000 employees, rendering it unable to track multi-state disease outbreaks, said CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds. These currently include the disease stemming from the brain-eating amoeba Naegleria fowleri, which killed a 4-year-old in Louisiana a few weeks ago, and the stomach bug cyclospora, which has sickened 643 people in 25 states since June.
“The vast majority of the CDC is actively in the process of shutting down,” she said. “We’ve gotten really good at trying to find outbreaks, but our strong network is getting weaker. … This is spotty.”
The seasonal flu program will also be shut down, which could affect the CDC’s ability to warn populations most at risk for becoming sick and its ability to create next year’s flu shot, Reynolds said.
Thursday, September 26th, 2013
Cancer remains the number one cause of childhood death, but there is reason for optimism in the face of new treatments and better diagnostic tools, a new statistical analysis has found. More from ABC News:
National Cancer Institute statistics show that in the U.S. the combined, an overall five-year cancer survival rate for children under 19 with cancer has increased from 62 percent in the mid-1970s to 84 percent today. For the most common type of childhood cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the cure rate is now over 90 percent.
“We’ve made amazing progress on pediatric cancers in just one generation. It’s the biggest success story in cancer right now,” said James Downing, M.D., co-chair of the American Association for Cancer Research’s special conference on pediatric cancer; and scientific director at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
Downing said one of the reasons such great strides have been made in pediatric cancer is that treatment protocols for younger patients tend to be vastly different from adult protocols. With adult cancer, there is a tendency to take breaks in treatment and back off if it gets too intense, he said. But many pediatric oncologists are aggressive about having their patients push through treatment until there is a cure — sometimes for up to three years without a break.
Another reason for the high success rate is that up to 60 percent of pediatric cancer patients are treated as part of a research trial, compared to just 5 percent of adults, Downing said. Such trials offer access to cutting-edge treatments and a chance for oncologist to confer with a team of oncologists, other specialists and researchers.
But Downing said he thinks the biggest advances in treatment have come from the sequencing of the human genome.
“DNA sequencing of tumors helps us define the mutations that underlie pediatric cancer to help us attack cancers where we are not yet winning and will be a major catalyst to make progress in the next several years in how to treat those cancers,” he said.
Downing admitted there are some unique challenges when treating young ones stricken with cancer.
Most cancer drugs were developed for use with older, more mature bodies so proper dosages and side effects can be tricky, he said. The cancers seen in children are vastly different from the ones seen in adults, so they aren’t always as completely studied or well understood. And it’s also difficult to know whether the chemotherapy, radiation and surgery children receive might lead to health problems later in life.
“Our challenge is to cure them so they can reduce long-term complications and live a normal life,” he said.
Image: Child undergoing chemotherapy, via Shutterstock
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