Friday, February 14th, 2014
A new study has linked routine well-child visits–which are advised and recommended at least on an annual basis–with an increased risk that children will be exposed to flu or flu-like germs in the waiting or examination rooms. The study, published in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, emphasized that the findings, which translate to more than 700,000 potentially avoidable illnesses and a $492 million pricetag each year, underscore the importance that doctor’s offices follow existing infection control guidelines.
“Well child visits are critically important. However, our results demonstrate that healthcare professionals should devote more attention to reducing the risk of spreading infections in waiting rooms and clinics. Infection control guidelines currently exist. To increase patient safety in outpatient settings, more attention should be paid to these guidelines by healthcare professionals, patients, and their families,” said Phil Polgreen, MD, MPH, lead author of the study, in a statement.
Researchers from the University of Iowa used data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s (AHRQ) Medical Expenditure Panel Survey to examine the healthcare trends of 84,595 families collected from 1996-2008. Included in the analysis were demographic, office-based, emergency room, and outpatient cases records. After controlling for factors, such as the presence of other children, insurance, and demographics, the authors found that well-child visits for children younger than six years old increased the probability of a flu-like illness in these children or their families during the subsequent two weeks by 3.2 percentage points.
This incremental risk could amount to more than 700,000 avoidable cases of flu-like illness each year and $492 million in direct and indirect costs, based on established estimates for outpatient influenza.
In a commentary accompanying the study, Lisa Saiman, MD, notes, “The true cost of flu-like illnesses are much higher since only a fraction result in ambulatory visits and many more cases are likely to result in missed work or school days. Furthermore, these flu-like illness visits are associated with inappropriate antimicrobial use.”
The authors stress the importance of infection prevention and control in ambulatory settings, suggesting pediatric clinics follow recommended guidelines that include improving environmental cleaning, cough etiquette, and hand hygiene compliance.
“Even with interventions, such as the restricted use of communal toys or separate sick and well-child waiting areas, if hand-hygiene compliance is poor, and potentially infectious patients are not wearing masks, preventable infections will continue to occur,” said Polgreen.
Is your kid too sick to go to school? Take our quiz to find out.
Image: Pediatrician’s office, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, May 9th, 2013
Every mother has been faced with what to do with a baby’s pacifier that has been tossed onto the floor. Do you rinse? Wash carefully with hot water? Or, do you just suck it for a moment to clear away the debris, and hand it back to your baby? A new study published in the journal Pediatrics has found that the latter method may actually have some health benefits. The New York Times has more:
In a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, scientists report that infants whose parents sucked on their pacifiers to clean them developed fewer allergies than children whose parents typically rinsed or boiled them. They also had lower rates of eczema, fewer signs of asthma and smaller amounts of a type of white blood cell that rises in response to allergies and other disorders.
The findings add to growing evidence that some degree of exposure to germs at an early age benefits children, and that microbial deprivation might backfire, preventing the immune system from developing a tolerance to trivial threats.
The study, carried out in Sweden, could not prove that the pacifiers laden with parents’ saliva were the direct cause of the reduced allergies. The practice may be a marker for parents who are generally more relaxed about shielding their children from dirt and germs, said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases expert at Vanderbilt University who was not involved in the research.
“It’s a very interesting study that adds to this idea that a certain kind of interaction with the microbial environment is actually a good thing for infants and children,” he said. “I wonder if the parents that cleaned the pacifiers orally were just more accepting of the old saying that you’ve got to eat a peck of dirt. Maybe they just had a less ‘disinfected’ environment in their homes.”
Studies show that the microbial world in which a child is reared plays a role in allergy development, seemingly from birth. Babies delivered vaginally accumulate markedly different bacteria on their skin and in their guts than babies delivered by Caesarean section, and that in turn has been linked in studies to a lower risk of hay fever, asthma and food allergies. But whether a mother who puts a child’s pacifier in her mouth or feeds the child with her own spoon might be providing similar protection is something that had not been closely studied, said Dr. Bill Hesselmar, the lead author of the study.
In fact, health officials routinely discourage such habits, saying they promote tooth decay by transferring cavity-causing bacteria from a parent’s mouth to the child’s. In February, the New York City health department started a subway ad campaign warning parents of the risk. “Don’t share utensils or bites of food with your baby,” the ads say. “Use water, not your mouth, to clean off a pacifier.”
Despite the study’s findings, parents should exercise common sense when cleaning pacifiers that have been dropped into very germ-laden situations, such as a garbage can or bathroom floor.
Image: Red pacifier, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, April 17th, 2013
E. coli and salmonella are feared and avoided by families everywhere, who take great pains to make sure their kitchens are clean, and that food is safely stored and prepared. But a new study reveals some surprising spots–like refrigerator water dispensers–where germs lurk in disturbing concentrations. From The New York Times:
The report found that some of the areas people considered most likely to be contaminated, like microwave keypads, were not, while some they had never thought of, like refrigerator water dispensers and the rubber gasket on most blenders, were among the worst.
The findings suggest that many people who try to keep a tidy kitchen may be overlooking some of the more problematic areas, said Lisa Yakas, a microbiologist with NSF International, a nonprofit public health group that published the report. The goal of the study, Ms. Yakas said, was not to frighten the public, but to provide some insight on the best ways to reduce the spread of food-borne illness in the kitchen.
“What we really wanted to do was to just make them more aware of these places that they might not have even thought of,” Ms. Yakas said.
Research suggests that the kitchen is a particularly important place to practice good hygiene. Nearly 10 million cases of food poisoning occur in the United States every year, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five outbreaks of food-borne illness are caused by food that people eat in their homes. Leafy vegetables and other plants are responsible for more than half of all cases, and about a third of all the fatal cases are caused by contaminated poultry.
Most healthy adults can fight off such infections. But the elderly, the very young and people who are pregnant or have compromised immune systems have a higher risk of complications.
“Any one of these populations could be represented in your home at some time, so it’s important to protect them,” Ms. Yakas said. “As a mom with two little kids at home, it’s something that I worry about.”
For the new study, the researchers took swabs of a variety of common kitchen items in the homes of 20 families living in the suburbs of Detroit and Ann Arbor, Mich. They also asked people in the homes to rate the items that they thought were most likely to be contaminated and most in need of regular cleaning.
The microwave keypad was the area they considered the dirtiest. But it was not. Instead, the researchers found that refrigerator ice and water dispensers, spatulas, blender gaskets – the rubber seal at the base of the blender that helps prevent leaks – and refrigerator meat and vegetable compartments had the highest germ counts.
Water and ice dispensers, which provide moist environments that can breed micro-organisms, were often found to contain yeast and mold. That can be a particular hazard for people with allergies.
Image: Refrigerator water dispenser, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, November 27th, 2012
A new study by the ABC News program 20/20 has revealed the 10 most germ-ridden spots in a typical American restaurants, revealing information that families will want to take into consideration next time they go out to eat. An ABC reporter went undercover into 10 restaurants in 3 states, taking swabs of various surfaces and submitting them for laboratory analysis.
See the ABC News report for the full list, but here are a few that are of particular note for families:
- Ketchup bottles: Though they are low on the list (#9), the bottles do rank.
- Tabletops: The reporter discovered that some parents actually change kids’ diapers at restaurant tables, leading to major germiness.
- Menus: Staph bacteria and the germs that cause strep throat were found on multiple restaurant menus.
- Seats: These ranked #1 on the list, because restaurants rarely sanitize them.
Image: Menu, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, March 27th, 2012
A new study published in the journal Science is reporting that when mice are exposed to germs early in their lives, they are ultimately healthier and better able to fight infections than mice that were not exposed to germs. The findings are being touted as encouragement to parents who worry about their children getting sick during toddlerhood and their early school years, concluding that those sniffles and bugs are actually teaching young immune systems to react–but not overreact–to potentially dangerous infections. Medical ethics professor Arthur Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania writes on MSNBC.com:
Parents are constantly being told to make their kitchens spotless, to kill 99.9 per cent of the germs lurking in their bathrooms and to wash themselves and their babies all the time.
This world of purity sounds good but it does not fit how we are designed. We are meant to encounter some microbes and dirt when we are young. It is how we built our immune systems. We need a certain amount of grunginess as kids to be healthy adults.
As the Harvard study shows, filth can be good — at least in tiny amounts when you are very young.
Image: Taking a child’s temperature, via Shutterstock
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