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Did the Flu Take Down the Packers & the Steelers in the NFL Playoffs?

January 23, 2017 Leave a comment

In the final weeks of NFL play, as the Green Bay Packers competed against the Atlanta Falcons and the Pittsburgh Steelers took on the New England Patriots, rumors circulated that several NFL players may have had the flu.  

screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-1-34-51-pmSome sources say the players had fallen ill with a flu-like bug, though it’s unclear what that’s supposed to mean.  It seems likely that a doctor’s exam, along with a flu test, could confirm, with relative certainty, whether these players were in fact suffering from influenza.

Some sources reported that the players have had the “stomach flu, which is confusing since there is really no such thing as a “stomach flu“. With flu, some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-1-41-49-pmis more common in children than adults.  It is much more likely that these symptoms alone suggest gastrointestinal issues that are often referred to as stomach bugs, which again, should not be confused with influenza.

Then there’s the reference to the “24-hour flu in a report from ESPN Staff Writer, Jeremy Fowler.  The article leads with a statement that up to 15 people in the Pittsburgh Steelers facility suffered a setback from a “24-hour flu bug”.  To clarify, the flu is never a 24 hour ordeal.  Rather, the flu can last as long as 5-10 days.

In an interview on NFL.com, we hear sportscaster Charley Casserly and former general manager of the NFL’s Washington Redskins saying,

“Some of the best games I had players play in was when they were ill.  They had the flu. Hey, I don’t know what it is, but the flu, the flu could be good.  It could be good for those players.  A lot of them play well.”

I’m guessing Casserly doesn’t know much about the flu.  He has probably never had it himself or he wouldn’t suggest that players could play well while suffering with it.

This varied media coverage of these high-profile athletes and their suspected illnesses is just another example of how the public continues to be misinformed about the flu.

The flu is a serious illness, that kills and hospitalizes thousands of people in the U.S. each year.  Yet the majority of people I talk to, day after day, are unfamiliar with flu symptoms and the dangers of flu.

Yesterday I had dinner with a good friend – a friend who was only in town because she had traveled four hours to bring her college-aged son back to campus after he had been home suffering with the flu for over a week. She explained that she had never had the flu, nor had either of her two college-aged children.  Therefore, she had never even considered the need for a flu vaccine.  She then went on to explain that she never knew how bad it could be, until she saw her son lying in bed for days. He was very ill and lost 10 pounds in one week.  As he describes it, “It was the most awful thing and I’ve never been that sick ever.Read more…

I Lost My 20 Year Old Child to Flu. Don’t Think It Can’t Happen to You.

November 15, 2016 16 comments

brittandersen2Losing your 20 year old healthy child to flu is something no parent ever expects to happen.

by Franki Andersen

Seven months ago, I lost my beautiful daughter, Brittany Danielle Andersen, at the age of 20.  I’m sharing her story so that parents and young adults will know that the flu doesn’t just take young kids and old people.  It takes whomever it wants at any age.

brittandersen1As a mother, there is nothing worse than seeing your child sick and hospitalized.  When Britt was young she loved to sing, dance, play on her swing set and dress up.  But we had a few medical scares in those early years.  In fact, she was on life support four times between the ages of 18 months and 6 years due to repeated bouts of strep throat that would effect her lungs. But then, after a surgery to remove her tonsils and adnoids, she never got sick again, and I was grateful that those hospital days were behind us.

That was, until she fell ill with influenza A earlier this year.

It was a Thursday, March 24th and she said her throat was itchy so she picked up some TheraFlu before I dropped her at her dads’ house. I talked to her later that evening to see how she was feeling, and I could hear how the sore throat had altered her voice.  But she said that she was fine.

The next day, her father dropped her off before work. She stood in the doorway for a minute and when I asked her if she was coming in, her reply was “I don’t quite feel like myself”.

I asked her if she had breakfast and she said no, so she had some toast and juice before going to lie down.  I propped her up with some pillows so she was sitting upright on her bed and about fifteen minutes later I checked in on her and asked how she was. Her reply was simply “Ok” but that obviously wasn’t true because those were the last words she ever said to me.

brittandersenselfie

This was the last photo taken of Britt.

Around 11:45, I heard a weird rattle coming from her room. I went in and found her lying on her back.  When I tried to wake her, I noticed white saliva coming out of her mouth. I called 911, and when they got there, they could not get a pulse.  They worked on her for what seemed like eternity and then put her in the ambulance.  I followed the ambulance to the hospital and at 2pm they told us they got a pulse back.

What a relief, I thought and collapsed into a chair. 

They then life-flighted her to Sioux Falls, SD.  When I arrived there the head nurse and lung doctor told me that she was not stabilizing.  They had maxed out all the blood pressure meds they could give, and nothing was working. They said the word septis, which I was unfamiliar with at the time, and they told me I would need to “make a decision”.

At 6:30 am on Saturday, March 26th, 2016 I made that decision and my daughter was taken off of life support.

Read more…

How Social Networks Can Influence Flu Vaccination Decisions

December 12, 2015 1 comment

This blog post initially appeared as part of the NFID inaugural 2015 National Influenza Immunization Week (NIVW) Blog Relay.

nivw-graphic-twitter-1 

As a communications specialist and mother of five, I’m extremely passionate about immunization education and the power of social networks. Everything that I do as the social media manager for Every Child By Two (ECBT) is done in support of their goal to provide people with evidence-based information about vaccines so that they can make well-informed immunization decisions for themselves and their family.

Since Every Child By Two’s social media platforms (including the Vaccinate Your Family Facebookpage, @EveryChildBy2 and @ShotofPrev Twitter accounts, and Shot of Prevention blog) reach more than 7 million followers, we are committed to educating the public about a broad array of issues. This includes news about outbreaks of preventable diseases, new vaccine developments and recommendations, vaccine safety and efficacy studies, and steps our readers can take to advocate for strong, science-based immunization policies.

Vaccinate Your Family

However, each year-right around this time of the season-we are typically focused on one important issue: influenza (flu). 

It’s been five years since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced a universal flu vaccine recommendation in which they recommended everyone six months of age and older should get an annual flu vaccine.

Less than half of the US population received flu vaccine in the past season…clearly, we still have work to do.

While vaccination rates continue to rise each year, common flu vaccine myths that keep people from vaccinating persist and are often shared among social media networks. Therefore, one of the most important things we can do to prevent the spread of flu (besides getting vaccinated, of course) is to use our own social media influence to counter the prolific misinformation and refer people to reputable immunization resources.

There are several ways that Every Child By Two is working to do this:

Highlighting the Dangers of Flu

fluWith the introduction of our new Vaccinate Your Family program, families can now go to ECBT’s social media platforms, or the new Vaccinate Your Family website, to obtain information about influenza vaccines recommended for pregnant women, children, adolescents, and adults.

Studies show that people are more motivated to protect themselves from a vaccine-preventable disease when they have a clear understanding of the risks of the disease, which is why the new website houses scientifically-accurate information on influenza vaccines for each stage of life; details about the burden of influenza; and personal stories from those who have been affected by flu.

By combining compelling disease statistics with personal stories, we have been able to create powerful infographics and blog posts that are being shared in record numbers.

For instance, earlier this week, our Shot of Prevention blog posted 147 Kids Died From Flu Last Year. My Scarlet Was One of Themin which
Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 4.25.47 PM.pngRebecca Hendricks explains how little she knew about flu before her precious daughter
Scarlet died last season. Her honesty and disbelief over the dangers of the flu, along with her resolve to prevent further tragedy by encouraging others to get vaccinated, has clearly resonated with people. In just a few short days more than half a million people saw her Facebook post and thousands continue to share it daily. In January this year, Joe Lastinger’s story, Our Life Without Emily: Flu, Fear, Guilt and Regret,was similarly popular among social networks.

pht_luke2These personal stories, as well Luke’s story of a teen athlete who spent a month hospitalized due to influenza, are all part of a bigger strategy to elevate the message that flu is dangerous, and sometimes even deadly.

In these examples, the power of the personal story is helping us to reach new audiences with an important message. However, the same tactic is often used on social media to perpetuate inaccurate flu vaccine myths. This is why we must consistently accompany these personal stories with evidence-based information and create a conversation about the safety and benefits of flu vaccination.

Educating People About the Benefits of Flu Vaccines

Every Child By Two’s social media engagement allows us to interact with people in real time and address questions and concerns.

During the NFID inaugural 2015 National Influenza Immunization Week (NIVW) Blog Relay, guest bloggers, including several prominent medical professionals, answered common questions like “Can a flu vaccine give you the flu?”, “Do I need a flu vaccine each year?”, and “Should pregnant women be vaccinated against flu?”  These medical professionals are experts on the subject of immunizations. However, they do not have the physical capacity to speak to every person who has questions and concerns. This is why we ask that you join us in elevating accurate evidence-based information across your own social networks.

Not only can we work together to address concerns quickly, but we can also refer them to reputable sources for more information and suggest they continue the conversation with their healthcare professional.

Share all the informative posts from the NFID inaugural 2015 National Influenza Immunization Week (NIVW) Blog Relay. Subscribe to our Shot of Prevention blog, follow Vaccinate Your Family on Facebook, and @ShotofPrev on Twitter.

Together we can elevate our voices in support of flu vaccination.

Thank you to NFID for including us in their NIVW Blog Relay.  Follow NFID on Twitter (@nfidvaccines) using the hashtags #FightFlu and #NIVW, like NFID on Facebook, join the NFID Linkedin Group, and subscribe to NFID Updates.

147 Kids Died From Flu Last Year. My Scarlet Was One of Them.

December 7, 2015 46 comments

Rebecca Hendricks, Every Child By Two‘s newest parent advocate, decided to share this guest post on Shot of Prevention after connecting with us on our Vaccinate Your Family Facebook page.

I never imagined that jumping on Facebook to catch up with friends would have me reliving the worst day of my life.

12336412_1734258090136116_829364839_nMy five-year old daughter, Scarlet Anne Taylor, died as a result of influenza last season.

She was the first child out of 147 who would die from flu in the 2014-2015 season.  She passed away on December 19, 2014, in Tacoma, WA, just 48 hours after the onset of symptoms and within 4 hours of when she arrived at the hospital.

It all happened so quickly that I still struggle with the reality of it all.  One day she was sent home from school with a fever, the next day she was pronounced dead before we even knew the cause.  It wasn’t until I received a call from the medical examiner a week and a half later that I would come to learn that my daughter had died from influenza (H3N2).

I was on Facebook back in October when I saw this chilling post on Every Child By Two‘s  Vaccinate Your Family Facebook page.

Last week marked the official end of the 2014-2015 flu season. Sadly, the season was marked by 146 pediatric deaths. Of those 146 children, we know the vaccination status of 123 of them – 14 were ineligible for vaccination due to age, 15 were vaccinated, and 94 were unvaccinated. As we begin the 2015-2016 season, we urge every one to get a flu vaccine. No matter what your age, the flu can be dangerous and even deadly. A flu vaccine is your best defense. 

(Sadly, another death was reported to the CDC  following this post, which brought the total number of children who died in the 2014-2015 season to 147.)  

To be completely honest, prior to Scarlet’s death I was not aware of the dangers of the flu, the symptoms of the flu, or the fact that influenza could be deadly to an otherwise healthy child.  I thought the flu shot was a way for pharmaceutical companies to make money. I thought the vaccine was more likely to give you the flu than prevent it.  I thought the vaccine wasn’t necessary because everyone who got the flu got over it. I thought it was no big deal.

To say I was mistaken is an understatement.  

In the months since Scarlet’s death I can’t help but wish I had known more.  If only I had identified her symptoms as influenza sooner.  If only I had known how dangerous the flu could be.  If only I had gotten my family vaccinated.  Is it possible that I could have done something that may have saved her life?

12285905_1734258000136125_398305480_nAs I approach the anniversary of Scarlet’s death, I think of the sweet, beautiful and vibrant child that once graced this earth.  Only a parent understands the absolute love you have for your child and the monumental desire that roars like an open fire inside you to protect them at all costs.

I still feel her presence everywhere, but mourn the fact that I can no longer see her.  Touch her.  Or protect her.

Whatever you imagine it might be like to have your child die, multiply that a zillion times, and you’re still not even close. The medical examiner should have written a death certificate for me as well, because when Scarlet died, a part of me died too.

I almost feel like less of a mom now. Or just not entirely whole anymore. Incomplete.

The shape of my family has changed. It’s been almost a year since Scarlet left us and yet I still find myself questioning how I’m supposed to respond when people ask me how many children I have.  I have 3 kids now. But I had four.

Just a few weeks ago, we went to a restaurant and I ordered four kid’s meals. Then it suddenly occurred to me… Read more…

Flu Doesn’t Discriminate So Be Sure To Vaccinate

September 22, 2015 2 comments

Make Sure You are Covered tEach year statistics remind us that anyone can suffer, die or be hospitalized as a result of the flu. That is why influenza vaccine is recommended each and every year for everyone six months of age and older, with rare exceptions.

Sure, some people will think this recommendation doesn’t apply to them.  Maybe they consider themselves healthy and not at risk for flu.  Maybe they’ve been lucky enough never to have suffered with the flu, and just don’t realize how bad it can be.  

But our luck can change at any moment.

We can’t predict if, or when, we may be exposed to flu. We can’t predetermine how long it may be before we recover, or if we will suffer complications.  And we certainly can’t explain why an otherwise healthy individual could end up hospitalized or dead from flu.  But we can share stories of those who’ve been afflicted by flu, and reinforce the messages delivered by the CDC and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) at a special press conference last week:

Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent the flu.

Marla Dalton, NFID Executive Director, receives a flu vaccine during the NFID News Conference

Marla Dalton, NFID Executive Director, receives a flu vaccine during the NFID News Conference

By getting your flu shot you can protect yourself, while also helping prevent influenza from spreading in your community. Such a simple gesture can actually save the lives of infants who are too young to be vaccinated, cancer patients who have a compromised immune system, or those who struggle with asthma, diabetes, or heart disease.  A recent study even provided evidence that adult flu vaccination helped reduce the amount of flu among the elderly.

So this flu season, consider how dangerous influenza can be for people of all ages, and get vaccinated to protect yourself, as well as your friends, family, co-workers and neighbors.

What last year’s statistics tell us.

Dr. Anne Schuchat, Assistant Surgeon General, US Public Health Service; Director, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory DIseases, CDC, receives an annual flu vaccine.

Dr. Anne Schuchat, Assistant Surgeon General, US Public Health Service; Director, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory DIseases, CDC, receives an annual flu vaccine.

Not only is the flu very unpredictable, but the circulating strains can vary, and the populations that seem to suffer the most can also fluctuate from year to year.

Last year’s statistics tell us that the 2014–15 influenza season was moderately severe, but it was especially severe in adults over the age of 65. We’ve also learned that the majority of influenza A (H3N2) viruses that were circulating last season had drifted from the virus component contained in the vaccine.  This impaired the efficacy of the vaccine, and may have resulted in the public questioning the value of the vaccine.  However, as Dr. Frieden explained at last week’ press event,

“Overall, the flu vaccine is usually 50-60% effective.”  He went on to say that, “It doesn’t matter which flu vaccine you get, just get one.”

Flu is a threat to everyone, regardless of age.

Flu in Infants:

Severe complications from flu are most common in children under the age of two.

Unfortunately, infants who are under six months of age are not able to be vaccinated for flu.  That is why the best way to protect babies of this age is to ensure that everyone around them stays healthy and flu-free!  That includes mom and dad, brothers and sisters, grandparents, caregivers and even daycare and healthcare providers.

Flu in Pregnant Women:

The best way a mother can protect her infant child is to get vaccinated herself during her pregnancy. Infants born to mothers who received the influenza vaccine during pregnancy have a lower risk of contracting flu or being hospitalized due to flu.  That’s because the mother’s immunity transfers to the baby through the placenta to help protect her baby before the baby is old enough to be vaccinated.

Pregnant women also experience changes in their immune system, heart, and lungs during pregnancy that make them more prone to severe illness from flu. By getting vaccinated, an expectant woman can reduce her risk of hospitalization as well as  premature labor and delivery. [Read the story of Leslie Creekmore to understand the risk of flu in pregnancy.]

Last flu season, 32% of women who were hospitalized with flu between the ages of 15-44 years of age were pregnant. You can help reduce this statistic by encouraging flu vaccination among the pregnant women you know. Read more…

New ACIP Recommendations for Meningococcal, Influenza and HPV Vaccines

March 10, 2015 3 comments
Photo Credit: James Gathany, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Photo Credit: James Gathany, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

written by: Amy Pisani, MS, Executive Director, Every Child By Two

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) conducted an abbreviated meeting on February 26, 2015 due to the threat of a winter storm in the Atlanta, Georgia region.  The ACIP, which consists of 15 voting members who have expertise in vaccinology, immunology, healthcare and public health, makes recommendations to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding vaccinations approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  The recommendations pertain to the timing and intervals of vaccines which are included on the childhood, adolescent and adult immunization schedules.   At this February meeting, the ACIP conducted three important votes which altered or created new recommendations for meningococcal vaccine, influenza vaccine and HPV vaccine.  

Meningococcal Serogroup B Vaccine

Two new vaccines to protect against meningococcal serogroup B, which has been spreading through college campuses in recent years, were recently approved by the FDA. The Trumenba vaccine is developed by Pfizer Pharmaceuticals and requires three doses and the Bexsero vaccine has been developed by Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics requiring two doses.  The ACIP has previously recommended one dose of MCV4 vaccine at ages 11-12, and a booster at age 16 to protects against the A, C, W and Y strains of meningococcal bacteria   Nearly 80% of teens between the ages of 13 and 17 have received at least one dose of the MCV4 vaccine, which is fairly remarkable considering the fact that it is recommended, but not mandated for use within states nationwide.  However, because of the complicated nature of the virus, the new meningococcal serogroup B vaccine would require a separate series of shots, in addition to those recommended for MCV4 vaccine.

The serogroup B strain of meningococcal is considered the most common cause of meningococcal disease  among adolescents here in the U.S. with a fatality rate of 12 percent in 11-19 year olds and 17 percent in 20 year olds over the last 14 years.  While the number of meningococcal cases have declined since 1996, many advocates believe that the aggressive nature of this disease, which often kills or maims it’s victims within hours, necessitates a broad recommendation for the vaccine.  However, the ACIP discussion at the February meeting was limited to recommendations for those at high risk for serogroup B infection, with a follow up vote anticipated at the upcoming June meeting where the Committee will review data and make a determination on whether to recommend the vaccine for a broader population. Authors note-  added June 2015: At the June ACIP meeting the following recommendation was made “A serogroup B meningococcal (MenB) vaccine series may be administered to adolescents and young adults 16 through 23 years of age to provide short term protection against most strains of serogroup B meningococcal disease. The preferred age for MenB vaccination is 16 through 18 years of age.”

Several advocates traveled to the meeting to provide their testimonials.  These included parents of those lost to the disease as well as survivors who have suffered amputations and serious life-long health consequences of this invasive disease.  Dr. Mary Ferris, who helped lead efforts to contain the 2014 meningococcal outbreak at University of California’s Santa Barbara campus, provided compelling testimony regarding the impact of the outbreak on the university.  Ferris noted that four cases, one of which led to the amputation of a student, spread panic throughout the campus and the local community.  Students were banned from volunteering at the on-campus daycare and attempts were made by the local community to close the campus entirely.   Dr. Ferris urged the Committee to consider the broadest recommendation Read more…

Our Life Without Emily: Flu, Fear, Guilt and Regret

December 12, 2014 166 comments

By Joe Lastinger, Board Member, Families Fighting Flu

1525360_10151953693783780_1550060010_nMy daughter, Emily, should have started high school this year full of excitement and potential. Her teachers would ask her, “Are you Chris’s little sister?” or “Are you Andrew’s little sister?” In my head I imagine her earning high marks in advanced classes, joining student council, playing volleyball and basketball and having a great group of close friends. Now I realize that it might not have turned out that way. It’s quite possible that Emily would have entered high school at the peak of her teenage rebellion and might not even be on speaking terms with her mom and me. We will never know, because she died suddenly and tragically from influenza when she was only 3½-years-old.

Emily died from influenza in 2004. She died in our bed, in her pajamas, watching cartoons – just hours before we were scheduled to take her back to her pediatrician to have her looked at again.   Doctors have terms to describe how children like Emily can be so sick and not necessarily appear so…it’s called “compensation”. Children, we learned, can sometimes compensate for illness…until they can’t anymore.

If I had to describe how my wife and I thought about influenza – “the flu” – before Emily died from it, I would compare it to lice. I know that seems like a silly comparison, but chances are most parents at one time or another have had the unpleasant experience of dealing with lice. It’s a nuisance, cleaning hair, searching for nits, laundering, etc. You hope that the rest of the family doesn’t get it. You are kind of mad that it happened at all. It messes up your family’s busy schedule. You worry that other parents aren’t being diligent and will end up re-infecting your kids (well, at least we did). Maybe you wonder who started this whole mess to begin with.

But, we couldn’t have been more wrong. Influenza kills tens of thousands of people in the U.S. every year. You don’t have to be old, sick or immune compromised. Influenza kills healthy adults and children (like Emily) every year. We’ve spent the last decade working to reduce the number of kids that die every year from the flu. Much of this work has been through Families Fighting Flu, a non-profit advocacy organization we played a small role in getting started, and some of it has been on our own through state and regional efforts in Texas.

The year 2015 will mark a decade that my wife and I have been working to reduce (eliminate, really) the number of childhood deaths attributed to influenza. Ten years without Emily in our lives. Ten years working to make sure that what happened to us doesn’t happen to other parents.  There have been successes (universal vaccine recommendations) and failures along the way (people still aren’t taking advantage of vaccinations that are widely available). Recently, I’ve been reflecting on what I have learned over that time and thought I would share a few insights. Read more…