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What Signals the Start of Flu Season?

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One might think that flu season starts with the arrival of vaccine in the local pharmacy or provider’s office.  Others might believe that flu season in the U.S. begins with the first case of lab verified flu.  While flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter months,  influenza activity can begin as early as September or October and last as late as May.

The CDC monitors certain key flu indicators (like outpatient visits of influenza-like illness, lab results and reports of flu hospitalizations and deaths). When these indicators rise and remain elevated for a number of consecutive weeks, than “flu season” is said to have begun.

In preparation for flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) kick off their annual flu vaccine campaign each September with a special press conference which emphasizes the importance of flu vaccination.

The reality is that influenza is difficult to predict. No one knows when it will peak, how many people will suffer or die, or even how effective the flu vaccine will be.

However, what experts do know is that the flu is inevitable, yet preventable.  Every year there is suffering, hospitalizations and even deaths, but much of that could be prevented if more people were protected through annual vaccination.  2017 Flu News LBE

 

Flu is a fickle and unpredictable virus. 

This was the message Dr. Bill Schaffner delivered during the news conference last week.  Since 2010, flu-related hospitalizations in the U.S. typically range from 140,000 to 710,000 each year, killing between 12,000 and 56,000 people each year.  While the exact number may differ drastically from year to year, this just highlights how dangerous and unpredictable influenza is.

Now is the ideal time to get a flu shot. You want to be vaccinated weeks before possible exposure, because it can take about two weeks post-vaccination for your body to build the proper immune response from the vaccine.

Everyone should consider flu vaccination – even healthy individuals.

Flu Fact of the Week

The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone 6 months and older.  It not only helps to reduce the risk of flu illness and serious complications for the person getting vaccinated, but it also helps to reduce the amount of flu circulating in the community.  By reducing the incidence of flu, we can help protect those who might be more susceptible to serious flu illness, such as young infants too young to get vaccinated, pregnant women and older individuals who may be more susceptible to flu infection, and individuals with certain medical conditions, like heart disease, asthma and diabetes, who are at increased risk of complications from flu.

Too often people mistakenly believe that if they are healthy they don’t need a flu vaccine.  Or, they don’t realize how dangerous the flu can be and consider it akin to a bad cold.  However, influenza is a contagious respiratory illness with no cure.  Once the virus takes hold, all we can do is treat the symptoms.  While antiviral drugs are recommended to try to lessen symptoms and shorten the time one is stick by a day or two, the reality is that influenza must run it’s course.  This is why Dr. Northrop could do nothing but watch while his otherwise healthy adult sister succumbed to influenza and died.

Why choose vaccination if it can’t guarantee you won’t get flu?  

We often hear people explain that they won’t get a flu shot because it doesn’t guarantee that they won’t get the flu.  While it is true that the flu vaccine isn’t a 100% guarantee, the annual flu vaccine is  typcially about 40-60% effective.  Therefore, getting your annual flu vaccine means you will reduce your chances of getting the flu by 40% to 60% as compared to someone who does not get vaccinated. It also means that flu vaccination can significantly reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalization and death (especially among children and older adults).

As an example, last year’s flu vaccine effectiveness was deemed to be approximately 42% effective overall.  While that may not sound overly impressive, it is estimated that flu vaccination last year prevented about 5.4 million cases, 2.7 million flu-related doctor’s visits and 86,000 hospitalizations last season.  But last year only about 46.8% of the U.S. population 6 months and older received a flu vaccine. Now imagine if more people had been vaccinated. The CDC estimates that if overall flu vaccination coverage had been just 5 percentage points higher, another 490,000 illnesses and 7,000 hospitalizations could have been prevented.

What determines flu vaccine effectiveness?  

Read more…

Updates from June 2017 Meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices

July 13, 2017 2 comments

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Recently, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) met to discuss several important developments concerning vaccines. As you may be aware, this impartial group of experts advises the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on all matters related to vaccine recommendations. In the coming years, the ability of the CDC and public health departments to implement the recommendations of this group may be under threat from proposed provisions within the health care reform bills and congressional budget cuts.

The activities of the ACIP are supported by staff at the CDC, which receives annual appropriations from the federal government to fulfill its duties.  This federal immunization funding is at risk of being drastically cut if the Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF) is eliminated. (Click here to see a breakdown of the impact of the elimination of the PPHF funds by state.) If Congress follows the recommendation of the President, funding will be reduced by another 14% beginning in Fiscal Year (FY) 2018.

The result is that CDC may no longer be able to fully support its immunization functions including:

  • ACIP staffing;
  • Vaccine purchase and supply management;
  • Vaccine safety monitoring;
  • Education initiatives;
  • Disease surveillance;
  • Outbreak response; and
  • Funding support for state, territory, and city immunization programs.

An example of the critical activities conducted by the CDC includes support for the ACIP.  This committee of experts from diverse fields such as vaccinology, immunology, pediatrics, internal medicine, nursing, family medicine, virology, public health, infectious diseases, and\preventive medicine meets three times a year to review and discuss vaccine research and scientific data related to vaccine effectiveness and safety, clinical trial results, outbreaks of vaccine-preventable disease or changes in vaccine supply.

There are 15 voting members, 8 ex officio members who represent other federal agencies with responsibility for immunization programs in the United States, and 30 non-voting representatives of liaison organizations that bring related immunization expertise. All members volunteer their time and come from many leading professional and public organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, and the American Geriatrics Society. This is the only meeting to gather such a comprehensive group of experts whose aim it is to protect individual and public health.

The current health care reform discussions that are happening in Congress may have a direct impact on this Committee. Please continue to reach out to your Representatives and Senators to let them know the importance of keeping PPHF and CDC fully funded. (You can find your Members of Congress at http://whoismyrepresentative.com/ and some suggestive language to share here.) 

The value of the ACIP can not be overstated. During their most recent committee meeting in June, members discussed several important issues recapped in the summary below.

Read more…

101 Empty Chairs

June 23, 2017 1 comment

By Serese Marotta, Chief Operating Officer, Families Fighting Flu

Sadly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported that the 2016/2017 flu season has now claimed the lives of more than 100 children. 101 to be exact.  This statistic is hauntingly familiar – three of the past five flu seasons also claimed the lives of more than 100 children.

101 Pediatric Flu Deaths

Sometimes we forget what these numbers really mean.

It means that 101 families had to bury their beloved children; 101 families have to listen to the deafening sound of silence left by their lost loved ones; and 101 families now have empty chairs at their dinner tables every night.

I paint this picture because I know how these families feel. They’re probably thinking the same thing I did after my son died from the flu – how did this happen and what could I have done to prevent it? 

Unfortunately, unless flu has personally touched your family like it has mine, chances are you’re not all that worried about flu.  You may even think it’s just a bad cold. Well, as the mother of a child who lost her five-year old son to flu, I’m here to tell you, “Not so“.

According to the CDC, flu kills more Americans every year – up to 56,000 people – than any other vaccine-preventable disease.  Since 2004, when the CDC started reporting pediatric flu deaths, 1,466 children – many of whom were otherwise healthy – have lost their lives to flu.

Flu is that infectious disease that seems to fly under the radar. While everyone is focused on the latest outbreak of measles, mumps, pertussis or meningitis, flu is that one disease that we know we will have an outbreak of each and every year.  As prevalent as flu is, it still manages to creep up like a quiet thief in the night, stealing our loved ones right out from under our noses.  And yet when it does, we wonder why we never saw it coming.  Flu has killed millions of people worldwide – and it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

So what can we do to protect ourselves and our loved ones from influenza each year?  Annual vaccination.

Studies show that flu vaccination can reduce the likelihood of death and hospitalization from flu in people of all ages.  Yet, less than half of Americans get their annual flu vaccine.   Read more…

What Parents of Every Teen Should Know About Meningitis

The most important thing parents of teens need to know about meningococcal disease is that it can be very serious.  And by serious, we mean debilitating and often deadly.

Even with prompt medical treatment, about 1 in 10 people with meningococcal disease will die from it. Of those who survive, about 1 to 2 will have permanent disabilities such as brain damage, hearing loss, loss of kidney function or limb amputations.

The best thing parents can do to protect their children from meningococcal disease is to get them vaccinated against all of the preventable forms of the disease.

 What causes meningitis and meningococcal disease?

Meningitis refers to a swelling of the protective membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord.   While meningitis is commonly caused by a bacterial or viral infection, it can also be caused by injuries, cancer, certain drugs, and other types of infections.

Meningococcal disease is specific to any illness caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis (also referred to as meningococcus or meningococcal meningitis).  These types of infections can cause meningitis, but can also cause bloodstream infections (known as bacteremia or septicemia).

It’s possible to have meningitis without having meningococcal disease, and it’s possibly to have a type of meningococcal disease that isn’t necessarily meningitis.  The specific cause of illness is important to identify because the treatment differs depending on the cause.

  • Bacterial forms of meningitis can be extremely dangerous and fast-moving and have the greatest potential for being fatal. The long-term effects of bacterial meningitis can include multiple amputations, hearing loss and kidney damage. Many, but not all, forms of bacterial meningitis can be prevented by vaccination.
  • Viral meningitis has similar symptoms to bacterial meningitis, but for the most part is neither as deadly nor as debilitating. There is no specific treatment available for viral meningitis, but most patients fully recover over time.
Meningococcal Disease Facts

Who is at risk?

Read more…

March Madness Requires Both Shots To Defeat Meningococcal Disease

This guest post was provided by the National Meningitis Foundation (NMA) and first appeared on their Parents Who Protect blog.  

 

As our obsession with basketball’s March Madness has progressed to the Final Four, our efforts to encourage “both shots” in the fight against meningococcal disease remain at center court.

While March is a time when basketball steals the headlines, it’s also a time when meningococcal disease steals our children.  In fact, while meningococcal disease can strike at any time of year, the number of cases peaks in the winter and early spring. Unfortunately, for many National Meningitis Association (NMA) members, such as the member of Moms on Meningitis (M.O.M.) and Together Educating About Meningitis (T.E.A.M), March is a time when we remember those we lost to meningococcal disease.

And there have been plenty of others who never got their “shot” at life.  

NMA March Madness Infogram

The higher incidence of meningococcal disease in March can be seen in the headlines of the last few years.

In March 2014, a Drexel University student died after visiting Princeton University, which was nearing the end of an outbreak that impacted eight students. In 2015, the University of Oregon was battling an outbreak of meningococcal disease with two additional cases appearing in March. In 2016, students at both Penn State and Rutgers University were hospitalized with meningococcal disease in March. This year there were cases on three college campuses by mid-March: Wake Forest UniversityOld Dominion University, and Oregon State University. There has also been an outbreak, at an elementary school in Virginia.

To rise to the challenge of this other recurring “March Madness”, we must increase our efforts to raise awareness of meningococcal disease and its prevention.

There are two kinds of vaccines that students need to be protected from meningococcal disease, the MenACWY vaccine and the MenB vaccine.

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends meningococcal vaccination against serogroups A, C, W and Y for all children at 11-12 with a booster at age 16 (MenACWY).
  • CDC recommends permissive use of meningococcal vaccination against serogroup B at ages 16-23, with a preferred age of 16 to 18 years (MenB). (Click here for more information.)

It’s important that students remain vigilant and be able to recognize the symptoms of meningococcal  disease including headache, fever, stiff neck, and a purplish rash, so that you can promptly seek medical attention.

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This March, let’s get on the ball and take “both shots” to prevent the other March Madness.

The National Meningitis Association is a nonprofit organization founded by parents whose children have died or live with permanent disabilities from meningococcal disease.  Their mission is to educate people about meningococcal disease and its prevention.  To stay informed about meningococcal disease and how to prevent it, follow The National Meningitis Association on Facebook and Twitter and be sure to subscribe to their Parents Who Protect blog.

 

 

Make Sure Your College Student Has These Shots Before Returning To Campus

iStock_000078067721_Double.jpgTeens and young adults have a tendency to believe they’re completely invincible.  But their lifestyle – which often involves high levels of stress, inadequate amounts of sleep and close living quarters – can put them at an increased risk of certain infections such as flu, mumps, meningitis and HPV.  As students return to class after winter break, they’re  reunited with classmates, roommates, and professors who may have been exposed to infectious diseases during their travels to other states or other countries.

While it’s impossible to prevent every cough and sniffle, parents can help protect their kids by ensuring they’re up-to-date on all their recommended vaccines.

So what are all the vaccines that are recommended for teens and young adults?  

And wouldn’t they be required for school anyway?

Vaccine requirements vary by state and don’t necessarily include all the vaccines that the CDC recommends. Therefore, as winter break come to an end, parents should review their students’ immunization records and arrange for them to get any missing shots before they return to class.

Here are a few of the diseases that students should be protected against.

Influenza

Influenza is a dangerous viral infection that causes hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths each year in the U.S., even among health people of all ages.  For the best protection, the CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months receive an annual influenza vaccine.

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Unfortunately, while flu vaccination rates are typically the highest among children, rates tend to drop among teens and young adults. If your college student hasn’t already received their annual flu vaccine it’s not too late.  Bring them to their healthcare provider or local pharmacy to get them protected before they return to campus. Although it can take up to two weeks to develop antibodies post-vaccination, flu season often extends well into Spring, so students will benefit from protection for many months to come.

Mumps

Mumps may not be considered “common” in the U.S. thanks to a 99% decrease in mumps cases once mumps vaccination began in 1967, but there have been several mumps outbreaks on college campuses in the past year, and approximately 4,258 cases across 46 states and DC in 2016.

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This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise when you consider that crowded environments, such a large classes and dormitory living can all contribute to the likelihood of outbreaks.  Also, since mumps is spread primarily through saliva, coughing and sneezing, teen behaviors such as kissing or sharing plates, utensils, cups, lipstick or cigarettes, are all factors that can increase the likelihood of transmission. Read more…

Stories of Polio, Meningitis, HPV, Hepatitis and Pertussis Top 2016 List

December 28, 2016 Leave a comment

Every Child By Two’s online platforms have reached over 11 million people with evidence based vaccine messaging in 2016.  As we look back at the record number of views and shares there have been on Shot of Prevention blog posts this past year, we’re especially grateful to our blog readers, contributors and subscribers.  

Whether you have shared a post, shared your story, or shared your expertise, know that our growth and success would not have been possible without your support.  Thanks to you, people are referencing our content before making important immunization decisions for themselves and their families.  In these final days of 2016, we hope that you will revisit these top five posts from the past year and share them with others in your social networks.  Together, we can continue to engage more people in these important immunization discussions.

 

1. My Polio Story is an Inconvenient Truth to Those Who Refuse Vaccines


Judy Post Polio with SisterIn 1949, Judith contracted polio along with 42,000 other people in the U.S. Judith survived five months in the hospital and multiple surgeries, but sadly 2,720 people died from polio that year.  As Judith bravely shares her story, she explains that it represents an inconvenient truth to people who are in denial about the risks of polio. She is continually shocked by people who refuse vaccines, who refuse to believe she ever suffered with polio, or who actually believe the polio vaccine is part of a government or “big pharma” conspiracy.  By sharing Judith’s story we hope to encourage continued polio vaccination and support of polio eradication worldwide and applaud people like Judith who are courageous enough to speak out in support of vaccines.  To read Judith’s story, click here.

 

2. How My Vaccinated Daughter Died From Meningitis and What I’m Doing About It  


EmilyStillmanEmily Stillman was pronounced brain-dead just 30 hours from the onset of a severe headache.  What they though was a migraine turned out to be meningococcal disease. In this post Emily’s mother Alicia explains that although Emily received a meningococcal vaccine, the MCV4 vaccine she received only protected her against meningococcal serogroups A, C, W and Y.  It did not protect her against serogroup B, which is what caused Emily’s death.  Since Emily’s death, a MenB vaccine has been approved for use.  However, most parents still don’t know it exists and therefore, most students are still not protected.

As the Director of The Emily Stillman Foundation, Alicia Stillman helps educate people about the importance of “complete and total” protection against all serogroups of meningococcal disease.  This means ensuring that teens and young adults receive both meningococcal vaccines; the MCV4 vaccine that protects against serogroups A,C, W and Y, as well as a MenB vaccine series.  To learn more about fully protecting our youth against meningococcal disease, read Alicia’s guest blog here.

 

3. Questioning Whether to Get Your Child the HPV Vaccine? Read This


hpv-fact-vs-fiction-series-1Although the HPV vaccine is one of the most effective ways we have to prevent numerous types of cancer, it is still being grossly underutilized.  As a result of persistent but inaccurate myths circulating on the internet, some parents are more fearful of the HPV vaccine than the human papillomavirus itself.  This is causing them to refuse or delay HPV vaccination for their children.

In this popular blog post, we highlight ten critical facts that address the most common misconceptions about HPV infection and the vaccine that can help prevent this very common infection. To learn more, be sure to read the post here.

 

4. Understanding Why Your Baby Needs a Hepatitis B Vaccine at Birth  


 

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There are many misconceptions about hepatitis B and how the infection is transmitted.  Because of this, many parents don’t consider their children to be at risk of infection and so they question the need for a hepatitis B vaccine at birth.  In this post, the Prevent Cancer Foundation explains the connection between hepatitis B and liver cancer and discusses ways in which infants and children can unknowingly contract hepatitis B.  Their Think About the Linkeducation campaign suggests that vaccinating infants before they leave the hospital is a critical first step in protecting your newborn from a virus that can lead to cancer later in life.  To learn more about Hepatitis B and the vaccine to prevent it, click here.

 

5. Barbara Loe Fisher is Right.  She’s Also to Blame. 


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Back in the 1980’s, Barbara Loe Fisher claimed that the whole cell pertussis vaccine (DTP)  was dangerous and causing too many adverse events.  Her complaints prompted the development of the more purified (acellular) pertussis vaccines that we use today; DTaP for infants, and Tdap for adolescents and adults. While studies have shown that these newer vaccines are not as effective as the old whole cell pertussis vaccine, they are the best protections we have against the dangers of pertussis.

Unfortunately, those who need protection the most are those who are too young to be vaccinated.  Infants are at high risk of severe complications from pertussis, to include hospitalization and death, but babies don’t begin receiving pertussis vaccine until two months of age.  After newborn Calle Van Tornhout contracted pertussis from a hospital nurse at birth, she died at just 37 days of age.  Callie’s death has had her home state of Indiana considering a bill that would mandate pertussis vaccination among health care workers.  But Barbara Loe Fisher is opposed to that as well.  To read more about the history of pertussis vaccines, click here.

 

If you have suggestions for topics you would like us to address in 2016, or you would like to contribute a guest post for publication, please email shotofprevention@gmail.com.  

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Thanks again for your continued support and best wishes for a happy and healthy new year!