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Thursday, October 30th, 2014
If you click on news sites, watch the news, or read the paper (yes, some people still do), you’ve likely found it impossible to avoid being bombarded with scary details about the lethal and virulent virus’s spread—and efforts to contain it in this country following a shaky start. In some ways it’s understandable: If you’ve seen Contagion or the most recent Planet of the Apes reboot—in which fictional deadly viruses wiped out large swaths of the population—it’s not hard to envision ebola as a plague with no cure and the potential to kill thousands.
Now for a reality check: As of this writing, do you know how many people have been diagnosed on U.S. soil? The answer is five. How many have died? One—the man who inadvertently brought the disease with him from Liberia. Despite this, there has been widespread panic leading to school closures (in Ohio and Texas) and hesitance by many to fly or take a cruise, even though no one other than healthcare workers who were treating Thomas Duncan.
What should you really be concerned about? Influenza. This virus has been around a lot longer. It’s far more familiar and a lot less intimidating to us. But at this point (and for the foreseeable future), it’s also a lot more dangerous. The flu kills more than 30,000 Americans every year. About 20,000 children under age 5 are hospitalized each year because of influenza complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And last season, more than 100 flu-related pediatric deaths were reported.
These numbers are truly scary—largely because the vast majority of these tragic deaths are easily preventable. All it takes is an annual flu vaccine. You can take your child to the pediatrician’s office (often, a nurse can administer it without a separate doctor’s appointment) or your local CVS. Get one too while you’re at it.
Don’t put it off, as too many parents do. Only 57 percent of kids are vaccinated each season, and only about 40 percent of adults. Those are crazy statistics when you consider that one out of six people will get the flu. True, the vaccine isn’t foolproof, since strains of the virus vary from year to year. But if your child gets it despite being vaccinated, her symptoms—high fever, body aches, chills, headache, sore throat, coughing, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea—are likely to be far less severe. And it’s safe for anyone older than 6 months, even for those with severe egg allergies.
If you fear that getting a shot will lead your panicked kid into a full-blown tantrum, take heart: A nasal spray is now the preferred vaccine delivery method for healthy children 2 through 8. (If you’re squeamish—and not pregnant—you can go with an inhalation instead of an injection as well.) Kids and adults with an underlying medical condition, such as asthma, need to stick with the shot. It’s not that bad, though, especially compared to suffering through a miserable week or two this winter (or worse).
You can’t do anything about ebola, and for now there’s little reason to worry. But you can fight the flu—and you owe it to your family to do so.
Photo of family lying in bed due to the flu via Shutterstock
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asthma, complications, ebola, flu, influenza, nasal spray, vaccines | Categories:
Babies, Health, Must Read, News, Parenting, The Parents Perspective
Friday, June 6th, 2014
Editor’s Note: This guest post was written by Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is also the Chair of the Democratic National Committee. She has been working to help implement he President’s new Environmental Protection Agency regulations on carbon emissions, in order to reduce child asthma that has resulted from carbon pollution.
As the mother of three children, there is nothing more important to me than ensuring that we leave the next generation a world that is safe and prosperous. Making sure that our children have clean air to breathe is an essential part of that mission.
This week, the Environmental Protection Agency took an important step in the right direction. Under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the EPA released new guidelines that will, for the first time ever, limit carbon emissions from existing factories. While the EPA has regulated dangerous toxins like arsenic, mercury, and lead for years, they still allowed power plants to release as much carbon pollution as they wanted. That was not responsible, and it was not smart.
Illnesses like asthma that affect millions of children are aggravated by air pollution, and in the past three decades, the percentage of Americans with asthma has more than doubled. For any mother who knows how helpless it feels to see her child struggling to breathe during an asthma attack, it is encouraging to know action is being taken to help alleviate this health crisis. The rules will help us avoid up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children by 2030.
Hundreds of scientists have made clear that climate change is no longer a distant threat but an imminent and dangerous reality. These tough new rules will regulate the sources of carbon emissions that not only pollute the air we breathe, but contribute to climate change. If there is something we can do to prevent our children from getting sick, to reduce the number of times they end up in a doctor’s office or emergency room, and to mitigate the devastating effects of climate change in their lifetimes, then we have a moral obligation to do it.
There is no question that now is the time to act.
The common sense changes will put us on the right track towards a cleaner and brighter future for generations to come. However, if we are serious about leaving our children a planet that’s not polluted or damaged, we must recognize these new EPA rules are just the beginning. We must do more.
Addressing the biggest challenges we face as a nation, and as a planet, requires bold solutions. And yes, bold solutions can be difficult; they require tough choices, and there will always be those that oppose progress and the change that comes with it. But as a Member of Congress, and more importantly, as a mother, I am committed to doing what is necessary and what is right for our children. As President Obama said, we must work together towards “a future where we can look our kids in the eye and tell them we did our part to leave them a safer, more stable world.”
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Wednesday, November 13th, 2013
(How cute is the baby in this photo?!)
A few weeks ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics held its annual conference, this time in Orlando. Each year, roughly 8,000 doctors from around the United States (as well as other countries) attend this four-day meeting in order to share the latest research and help pediatricians manage their practices more effectively. Several reporters and editors go as well, myself included. I think of myself as a fly on the wall–it’s a phenomenal opportunity to learn about the issues that resonate most strongly with doctors and to hear firsthand what they encounter when they’re interacting with children and their parents. I come away with all kinds of story ideas, leads on experts, and blog fodder. I’ve got a steno book full of notes (yep, I’m old-school) that I’ll put to use all year, but in the meantime, here are some of the findings that jumped out at me.
1. Not enough kids are wearing bike helmets. In one study, only 11 percent of children involved in bike accidents had been wearing one.
2. Asthma often goes hand in hand with allergies. We report on this all the time, but the numbers are pretty startling: Between 60 and 80 percent of kids with asthma will also have allergic rhinitis.
3. Apps for babies may have a big drawback. Studies are underway looking at “poking” apps (such as ones where your little one pops bubbles on the screen); researchers suspect that they may cause kids to be behind later, when it’s time to grasp pencils. We’ll be following this for sure.
4. Every family should have two non-negotiable electronics-free zones. They are the dinner table (or wherever your family eats together), and your child’s bed. The doctor who led this talk said that banning electronics from the bedroom simply isn’t realistic anymore, but every parent ought to be able to keep them out of your child’s actual bed.
5. Melatonin may help kids sleep, but only to a point. In a session about alternative approaches to developmental disorders, the doctor said that melatonin can be helpful in making kids fall asleep faster, but it doesn’t necessarily make them sleep longer.
6. Tics are more common than you may think. Between 10 and 20 percent of school-age kids have them, and they typically appear in kids between the ages of 2 and 6. Luckily, they tend to go away, but if they persist for more than a year (which admittedly sounds like a long time), your pediatrician should refer you to a specialist.
7. Pot is addictive. (By the way, the session on marijuana was packed.) It’s a common misconception that you can’t become addicted to marijuana, but loads of research says otherwise. And when it comes to “medical marijuana,” we need to be careful, since no studies have included kids or adolescents. Speaking of older kids, more of them now smoke pot daily than they smoke tobacco, and that trend is expected to continue.
Use this handy quiz to decide whether your kid is too sick for school. Plus, find out which 12 sick kid symptoms you should never ignore.
Image: Pediatrician with baby via Shutterstock.
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Monday, September 30th, 2013
My children, who are in kindergarten and third grade, were born at the very end of the summer, so their annual well visits always dovetail nicely with back-to-school checkups. But because I was late to book their appointments this year, and because Saturday-morning slots are hard to come by, we have to wait until mid-October to see the pediatrician. I definitely know two topics I want to bring up. Is my younger daughter’s constant “What?”s just a habit she’s gotten into, or is anything wrong with her hearing? (She seems to hear me fine when she’s in the way-back seat of our car and I’m whispering something to my husband that I’d rather my kids not hear…) And is my older daughter’s vision okay, even if she puts on my glasses and says she sees “much better”? (I only question it because she freely admits she prefers how she looks with glasses.)
I really wish I could’ve had these matters resolved before school started. In our September issue we ran a story called “Is Your Child Ready to Learn?” that thoroughly outlined all of the ways that a child’s health and ability to learn are entwined. The story was a part of a partnership we have with a wonderful organization, Children’s Health Fund, which is dedicated to providing top-quality healthcare to children who don’t have access to it. The experts at CHF gave us a list of the most crucial questions every parent should ask–and bring up with the pediatrician if there’s any concern.
1. How well can my child see? I was really surprised to learn that between 5 and 10 percent of preschoolers and 25 percent of school-age children have a vision problem, according to the American Optometric Association. But less than a third of children have their vision tested before they start school. By age 4, your child should be screened annually. Definitely mention it to your doctor if you notice that your child holds books really close to his face or sits super close to the TV or computer screen or squints even when the light isn’t bright.
2. Could she have a hearing problem? Children who’ve gotten frequent ear infections are especially vulnerable to temporary hearing loss, which can last three months or longer. As with vision screens, your child should be checked each year starting by age 4 at latest. If your child has any kind of speech delay, or if she seems to ignore you when you call her name, or turns the volume way up, or says her ears hurt or that she hears noises, these are all red flags worthy of your doctor’s attention.
3. Is he overly stressed? You may not think to bring up issues like anxiety with your pediatrician, especially in the course of a typical 15-minute checkup. But your doctor needs to know if there’s anything worrying you about your child’s mental health. Perhaps you’re not even sure if your child’s stressed. Some possible physical signs are frequent headaches, stomachaches, nail biting, hair-pulling, and bedwetting.
4. What does she eat? Not surprisingly, children who don’t get enough to eat are at high risk for poor school performance, since they’re just too distracted by their hunger to concentrate well. But children who are overweight or obese (which is a third of all kids in this country) are also at risk because if they don’t get proper nutrition, their brain simply won’t function the way it should. Even a child with no weight or hunger issues can be affected by poor nutrition if she doesn’t get enough fruits or veggies or if she refuses to eat entire food groups. If you suspect your child’s diet isn’t adequate, tell your doctor so you can work together on strategies to improve it.
5. How’s he sleeping? It’s no shock that there’s a direct link between how much sleep a child gets and how well he does in school. Research has proven that sleep-deprived kids have more behavior problems: They’re easily distracted, often argumentative, frequently overactive (a way to help them stay awake), and may be misdiagnosed with ADHD. Tell your pediatrician if your 5- to 11-year-old doesn’t get at least 10 hours of sleep each night, or if you notice any other red flags, including snoring, restless sleep with sweating, or mouth breathing.
6. Could she have asthma? This is the most common chronic disease in childhood and often develops before a child turns 5. One misconception about asthma is that it causes a child to wheeze. That’s not always true. For many kids, the only symptom is a chronic cough–either at night, or when the weather is cold, or as a result of exercise. Let your doctor know if you notice any of these signs, particularly if there’s a family history of asthma or if your child had eczema as a baby (which is often a sign that asthma will come later).
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asthma, Children's Health Fund, diet, hearing problems, learning, mental health, obesity, overweight, school, sleep | Categories:
Health, Must Read, The Parents Perspective