Vaccination – Myths that put children at risk

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A report by WHO in February 2016 shows that one out of every five African children are at risk for diseases like tetanus, pertussis, and measles because they  do not receive all of the basic vaccines they need. Widespread fears and myths often prevent communities from embracing vaccination as a life-saving weapon for their children.

 

Here are common myths that place children at risk for deadly diseases.

 

Myth 1: Vaccines have damaging and long-term side effects that aren’t known yet. FALSE

Vaccines are very safe. Vaccine reactions tend to be mild and include a slight fever and a sore arm. Severe side effects are rare.

Myth 2: Vaccines are not necessary because improved hygiene and sanitation will make diseases disappear. FALSE

Improving hygiene, hand washing, and clean water help protect people from infectious disease, but infections can spread no matter how clean we are. Without vaccination, diseases that have become almost extinct worldwide, such as polio and measles, will reappear.

Myth 3: Vaccines cause infertility. FALSE

In northern Nigeria and Uganda for example, there is widespread belief that vaccination in childhood causes infertility when they become adults.  There is no evidence to support this.

Myth 4: Giving a child several vaccines at a time can cause harmful side effects, and overload the child’s immune system. FALSE

Receiving several vaccines at the same time has no  negative effect on a child’s immune system.  Children   are exposed to hundred s of foreign agents   daily in food and the environment that trigger an immune response.

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Myth 5: I don’t put others at risk if I don’t vaccinate my children. FALSE

Worldwide, most outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases are started by unvaccinated children and adults. Not vaccinating your child puts infants and young children with immature immune systems at risk for severe disease.

Myth 6: Vaccines don’t work. FALSE

The scientific evidence clearly shows otherwise. Vaccines save at least 2 million lives a year. The truth is that because of the success of vaccination programs, most of us are fortunate to have never experienced the devastation caused by the diseases vaccines prevent.

Myth 7: Natural immunity from the disease is better than immunity through vaccines. FALSE

Natural immunity from getting an infectious disease will certainly prevent a child from getting the disease again but comes at a huge cost. The child is sick for days, with school absenteeism and lost working days for parents. More important, though is the significant risk of permanent disability such as paralysis, deafness, mental retardation and even death from the disease.

Myth 8: Vaccines cause Autism FALSE

More than 100 studies have shown that there is no link between vaccines and autism.

Myth 9: Vaccines contain mercury, which is dangerous. FALSE

Thimerosal, an organic, mercury-containing preservative is added in tiny amounts to some vaccines that come in multi-dose vials. Scientific evidence does not show that the amount of thimerosal used in vaccines causes any health risk.

Are you concerned about the cost of vaccination? Here’s what you should know:

It’s way more costly to treat a child who is sick with a vaccine-preventable disease. The cost of hospital admission and medicines can be crippling to the average low-income African family. There are also indirect costs, which include lost income from missing work, school, and childcare. You avoid these costs and the heartache of watching your child suffer by vaccinating your child.

 

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Vaccinations – The key to preventing childhood diseases

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Has your child received all the recommended shots for his or her age? If not, you may have a time bomb on your hands.

 

Measles, Tetanus, Whooping Cough, Pneumonia, Rotavirus Diarrhea, Tuberculosis, Meningitis, and Malaria, are the most common infections that cause death in children in Africa. Of the eight diseases, seven can be prevented through routine childhood vaccinations.

It’s quite easy to forget just how devastating these diseases and their complications are.

Polio, a viral infection affects the nervous system, and can cause crippling paralysis within hours. A focused worldwide Polio vaccination campaign, which started in 1988 has eradicated polio in most of the world.  Today, Polio remains endemic in only two countries – Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Measles causes a high fever, rash, and cold-like symptoms. It can lead to deafness, pneumonia, brain damage, and death. It spreads so quickly that a child who has not received the vaccine is likely to get the disease if exposed to it. The measles virus is highly contagious because it can remain in the air for as long as two hours after a person with the disease has left the room. Measles kills approximately half a million children each year in Africa.

Diphtheria, which starts as a severe throat infection, can cause paralysis, breathing difficulties, heart problems, and death.

Tetanus (Lockjaw), a bacteria found in soil and dirt infects a cut or wound, or often, a baby’s umbilical cord after birth. Tetanus can cause severe muscle spasms, breathing difficulty, heart problems, and death.

Pertussis (Whooping Cough), spreads from person to person through coughing or sneezing. It causes long bouts of coughing that make it difficult for a child to breathe, eat, or drink, Pertussis can lead to long-term lung problems, seizures, brain damage, and death. Pertussis kills approximately 133,000 children each year in Africa.

Haemophilus Influenzae Type B (Hib) can cause pneumonia; meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain); infections of the joints, skin, brain damage, and death. It is most severe in infants under one year of age.

Pneumococcal disease can lead to pneumonia, sepsis

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Rotavirus, a virus you’ve probably never heard about, is the number one cause of severe diarrhea in infants and young children worldwide.

 

Tuberculosis (TB) is airborne and highly contagious particularly to persons with weakened immune systems.  It usually infects the lungs, but other parts of the body, including the bones, joints, and brain, can be affected.

 

Hepatitis B, an infection of the liver can be transmitted from an infected mother to her newborn during childbirth.  It can also be passed from person to person through blood or body fluids or sexual contact. It can cause chronic liver damage, liver cancer, and death. It is second only to tobacco in causing human cancer.

 

Meningococcal Meningitis, an inflammation of the lining of the brain spreads through coughing or sneezing. It causes an intense headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, stiff neck, lethargy, delirium, convulsions, coma, and death.

 

Yellow fever is spread by mosquitoes and can be deadly. It causes jaundice; high fever; general muscle pain; a backache; chills; a headache; loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, bleeding from the mouth, nose, eyes, or stomach. Shock, liver and kidney failure, are its major complications.

 

Mumps is a viral infection can cause a headache and fever, is most commonly known for swelling of the glands of the neck. Less commonly known is that it also causes swelling and inflammation of the testicles in males. It can lead to male sterility, deafness, meningitis, and brain damage.

 

Rubella (German Measles) causes a fever and a rash on the face and neck. In pregnancy, it can cause miscarriage and severe birth defects. Like measles and mumps, rubella spreads from person to person very quickly, through coughing, sneezing, or just talking.

 

Chickenpox (Varicella) is a very contagious disease. It causes a rash and fever and is spread by coughing, sneezing or direct contact. A common complication in children is a bacterial infection of the skin. Among its serious complications is inflammation of the brain, pneumonia, and death. If a woman has this disease while pregnant, it can cause birth defects and stillbirth.

 

Hepatitis A is also an infection of the liver, but different from hepatitis B. Hepatitis A usually is spread by close household contact and sometimes by eating food or drinking water containing the virus.

 

Vaccination Works – A Mother’s Story

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Vaccination is by far one of the greatest success stories of the twentieth century, surpassing the discovery of penicillin and the landing on the moon. Think about it – by giving someone portions of viruses or bacteria, you stimulate the body’s immune system into making chemicals that fight those germs. Brilliant!!

 

Simply put, vaccination saves lives. Worldwide, it prevents 2 to 3 million deaths every year.

 

You don’t have to look very hard, to find stories of lives affected by the development of vaccines. Here’s one mother’s story – my story.

 

Picture an eager young doctor in an inner city medical center in the New York metropolitan area, training to specialize in pediatrics. The training was physically, mentally and emotionally taxing. As a new mother and doctor, it was heart wrenching to watch children die. To be the person breaking the horrible news of a child’s death to a parent, was to be an unwilling participant in a tragedy that changed lives forever.

 

It was the mid-eighties, and it seemed as though every child from newborn to 3 years old admitted to the hospital for fever was suspected of having meningitis, an infection of the membrane covering the brain. The pediatric wing of the hospital had an entire ward filled with babies with hydrocephalus, a complication of meningitis in which fluid collects in the brain unable to drain out through normal channels. These children looked like aliens from science fiction, with massive heads, twice, even three times the usual size. They often had seizures and were also usually deaf or blind or both, as a result of meningitis. Destined for long-term medical care facilities, they would never live out the hopes and dreams of their parents.

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The Supreme Court upheld mandatory vaccination in 1922 and the list of vaccines expanded gradually with the development of new ones. By the mid-eighties, diseases like tetanus, diphtheria, and measles were routinely prevented by vaccination. Meningitis was still a problem, though. There were no vaccines against the three bacteria responsible for 80% of all childhood meningitis Hemophilus Influenzae type B (HIB), Pneumococcus, and N. Meningitidis.

 

In 1984, a remarkable breakthrough came with the release of the first vaccine against HIB and pediatricians the world over cheered. It could only be given to children 24 months and older. Meningitis due to HIB and Pneumococcus has the most devastating consequences in children from 6 months to 2 years old, and so the recommended timing for giving the new vaccine wasn’t ideal. The medical community, however, was confident that the data would show it was safe and effective in younger children and indeed, by 1986 the HIB vaccine was licensed for use beginning at six weeks old.

 

It was in this setting that our 21-month-old daughter started preschool. A bit early you might think, but our little girl was quite smart. Six weeks after starting school, our daughter woke up one morning with a high fever and a right eye swollen shut. As a pediatrician in training, I had treated this many times and knew immediately that she very likely had Periorbital Cellulitis, a severe bacterial infection that could lead to meningitis.

 

We rushed her to the medical center where I worked and within an hour our little angel was admitted to the same pediatric floor that I worked. The diagnosis was one I was all too familiar with, “22-month-old female with Periorbital Cellulitis, Suspected Meningitis”. I had suddenly gone from being the “angel” in a white doctor’s coat that fixed children ailments and comforted their parents to being an anxious parent of a very sick child. The role reversal was frightening.

 

A blood test confirmed that she had HIB infection, but the lumbar puncture test for meningitis was thankfully negative. The bacteria had not yet infected the covering of her brain. After three harrowing days of high dose antibiotics, the infection cleared from her blood, and we were allowed to take our little one home and continue treatment orally for another week.

 

You might ask why, when there was HIB vaccine available, didn’t she get the vaccine. The answer is that this happened in November 1985 when she was 22 months old, and she wasn’t eligible to receive the HIB vaccine since she wasn’t yet 24 months old. Within five years of the use of the HIB vaccine, the occurrence of HIB infection dropped sharply in the U.S. and by 1995 new pediatric interns would never see a case of the disease.

 

If our daughter had been born five months earlier, she would have gotten the HIB vaccine in August, a month before she started preschool. By Providence, she did not develop meningitis. She could well have been another statistic, a footnote for medical researchers and historians.

 

Vaccination works, it saves lives.

Improve your Mental and Emotional Health

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“Wellness, is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” – World Health Organization.

Wellness is an active process. A process of becoming aware of what is good health and making choices to achieve it. For most people it’s easier to focus on physical health. Problems with physical health are more obvious than poor mental or emotional health. It’s important though that you pay just as much attention to your emotional health. The mind-body connection is a powerful one and should not be ignored. Problems with physical health often have their origin in poor emotional health.

People who are emotionally healthy are:

  • Able to cope with and adjust to the recurrent stresses of everyday living in an acceptable way.
  • They handle their emotions appropriately and control their behavior.
  • They build strong relationships
  • They have a positive outlook to life that allows them to bounce back from adversity.

This ability to recover is known as resilience.

War and disasters have a large impact on mental health and psychosocial wellbeing. Economic downturns and difficult life events can also affect emotional health. For much of Sub-Saharan Africa, daily life is stressful. There is a lack of the basic services, benefits and rights that the developed world takes for granted.  Political instability, insecurity and economic recession worsen the situation. All these conditions cause an increase in anxiety, depression, substance abuse and community violence.

We all need to be resilient!

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Good mental or emotional health allows you to cope with difficulties. You feel good about yourself and find meaning and joy in life. It helps you to remain focused, and work productively.  You’re able to maintain good relationships whether times are good or bad.

Research shows some key factors for improving mental and emotional health and building resilience:

  1. Connect with others– “share your burden”.  The best way to reduce stress is by interaction with people who care about you and are supportive. Your situation may not change but by talking about your problems, you lighten the load. Avoid social media “relationship building”. It is only a temporary distraction and is not a substitute for the real thing.
  2. Get active. Exercise not only boosts your mood by releasing endorphins in your brain but it has direct benefits for your physical health. It improves memory, alertness and productivity. 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily is all it takes!
  3. Manage stress. Deep breathing relaxation techniques are helpful; meditation; get enough sleep; spend at least 15 minutes daily on something you enjoy such as reading, playing a game, singing, playing with your children; Drop activities that waste your time and don’t improve your life in any way; make time for relaxation.
  4. Healthy eating. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and sugary snacks and other forms of stress eating. Choose healthy stress-busting eating options instead. Green leafy vegetables, fresh fruit, beans and fish are all good choices.
  5. Help others. Research shows that people, who help others feel enriched, have greater self-esteem and are happier. It also takes the focus off your problems for a while.

 

Tips on dealing with your emotions:

  • Express your feelings in appropriate ways – Share them with people close to you. Before they become overwhelming and difficult to control.
  • Think before you act – Take a deep breath, count to 10 or even 20; leave the room and get some fresh air; go for a walk.
  • Strive for balance in your life –Make time for activities you enjoy. Everyday, write down something that you’re grateful for. Focus on the positive things in your life.

 

Stress Eating – a pitfall to avoid

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Have you ever wondered why you crave “comfort” foods when you’re stressed? The sweeter, the greasier, the saltier, the food the better! Chocolates, cookies, cakes, donuts, ice-cream, and greasy fried foods – nothing, is off limits when you’re stressed. Of course, alcohol and caffeinated beverages also play a big role in the mix of “stress busters” we’re drawn to.

 

The human body responds to danger by releasing a hormone, cortisol which signals the various body systems to prepare for fight or flight. Your heart races, your breathing quickens, and energy is made available to your muscles to prepare for action. When the danger has passed, your body is able to shut off this cascade of responses.

 

Your body sees stress as a danger and reacts accordingly. The problem with chronic stress is that this “flight or flight” response doesn’t shut off and the body thinks it needs energy to prepare for this on-going danger. To provide this energy, your brain signals you to eat high sugar and high fat foods.

 

In the short term, you actually feel better but in the long term these unhealthy “comfort” foods impact your health negatively. You gain weight around your abdomen, you feel tired instead of energized and in the worst-case scenario, you can develop chronic conditions like depression, diabetes, hypertension, stroke or heart disease.

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Helpful strategies to combat stress eating include:

  • Identify your emotions. Reflect about what triggers, or prompts, may be causing some of your stress eating habits.
  • If you’re anxious, burn energy by going for a walk or dancing to your favorite song; if you’re exhausted, have a soothing cup of decaffeinated tea or a bath.
  • Eat slowly and only when you are hungry
  • Plan your meals and control your portion sizes
  • Get rid of unhealthy foods in the home and don’t buy junk food from the supermarket

 

Psychologist Susan Albers has some additional tips to prevent stress eating:

 

  1. Replace your cravings with healthy alternatives.
  • If you’re dying for a sugar rush, eat a small orange instead. Peeling the orange and smelling the citrusy scent creates a “meditative moment” to help calm you. In addition, the high vitamin C content of an orange strengthens your immunity in times of stress.
  • If you’re craving something fatty, eat low calorie nuts like pistachios, which are rich in fiber, healthy fats and help regulate blood sugar. Make sure you get the nuts with the shell, the process of cracking the shell slows you down.

 

  1. Use your non-dominant hand to eat – if you’re right-handed, eat with your left hand, and vice-versa. It slows you down and makes you more mindful of your food — an important aspect of healthy eating. This is one of the easiest and most effective tricks.

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Healthy stress-busting eating options:

  • Complex Carbohydrate – whole grain cereals, whole grain bread
  • Oranges
  • Spinach
  • Fatty Fish (Salmon, Catfish, Mackerel, sardines)
  • Pistachios, other nuts and seeds
  • Black Tea
  • Raw veggies
  • Low-fat Milk

 

Develop strategies to calm and distract yourself when you’re stressed. Limit your intake of alcoholic and caffeinated beverages, they worsen the effects of stress. Exercise daily – at least 30 minutes of moderate exertion. Exercise not only improves fitness and helps you lose weight, it has the marvelous additional benefit of boosting your mood by raising endorphin levels in the brain.

Alcohol – Is that your poison of choice?

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Alcohol is the most widely used drug in the world. It is also the most abused drug in the world.

The generally accepted use of alcohol for celebrations and relaxation makes one unaware that it is a particularly harmful substance even in moderate quantities. Car crashes and liver disease are not the only problems due to heavy drinking. Drinking too much, like smoking, damages just about every organ in your body.

 

When is a drink, one drink too many?

What exactly constitutes “excessive” drinking? Well, let’s first define what is globally accepted as a “drink”.

 

A “drink” is one shot of liquor, a five-ounce (150ml) glass of wine or 12 ounces of beer (half a bottle of beer), all of which contain the same amount of alcohol – 14gms of pure alcohol.

 

Excessive drinking comes in two forms:

  • Binge drinking, the most common form of excessive drinking, is having many drinks during a single occasion (women – 4 or more drinks; men – 5 or more drinks during a single occasion)
  • Heavy drinking is regularly having several drinks over time (women – 8 or more drinks per week; men – 15 or more drinks per week)

 

If you take up to 1 drink per day (women) or up to 2 drinks per day (men) you’re already a moderate drinker.

 

The WHO estimates that over 2 million people each year die from the effects of drinking,  through illness, overdoses or accidents. Unlike smoking, which has mostly long-term health effects, drinking too much causes immediate and long-term health problems.

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There are immediate effects of excessive alcohol use that put you at serious risk for:

  • Injuries, such as motor vehicle accidents, falls, drowning, and burns
  • Violence, including homicide, suicide, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence
  • Alcohol poisoning, a medical emergency that results from high blood alcohol levels
  • Risky sexual behaviors, including unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners – can result in unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV
  • Miscarriage, stillbirth or birth defects (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) among pregnant women

 

Long-term effects of excessive drinking

Liver damage is the most widely known effect of excessive alcohol use. The liver is one of your most important organs, with many vital functions essential for life. Alcohol causes liver inflammation that is reversible in the early stages but becomes irreversible over time leading to chronic liver disease, liver failure, liver cancer and death.

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Other long-term health problems from excessive drinking include:

  • Brain damage – causing learning and memory problems, including dementia, poor school performance, and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety
  • Cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Digestive problems including the risk of severe life-threatening bleeding from the stomach
  • Cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, colon and breast.
  • Reproductive problems including male impotence, infertility, disrupted menstrual cycle, repeated miscarriage, stillbirth or premature delivery
  • Social problems, including lost productivity, family problems, and unemployment.
  • Alcohol dependence, or alcoholism.

 

Drinking too much can also weaken your immune system, making you more prone to infections like pneumonia and TB. Drinking a lot on a single occasion reduces your body’s ability to fight infections for up to 24 hours after getting drunk.

 

If you drink alcohol while pregnant you’re more likely to have a baby die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Alcohol is also well known for causing birth defects known as FAS or Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Babies born with FAS are much smaller than other babies, have abnormal facial features and may have brain damage. They often have behavior, developmental and learning problems, impaired motor skills, poor muscle tone and coordination.

 

The facts tell us that nothing good comes out of drinking too much – it’s a poison. You can reduce the risk of these short- and long-term health problems by limiting the amount of alcohol you drink. DON’T DELAY, START TODAY.

 

Smoking – It really can kill you

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No rational person would knowingly put 250 harmful chemicals in their body, right? You would think so, but that’s exactly what you do when you smoke!

 

Do you know that tobacco smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals – yes, 7,000 different chemicals. Research so far, shows 250 of them to be extremely harmful to humans while the data is unclear on many of the others. Of the 250 chemicals, 69 are known to cause cancer.

So, maybe you don’t smoke, but do you know someone who does? Perhaps you even live with that person and are exposed to second hand smoke. You may be a parent with children who will one day become adolescents who face peer pressure to smoke. Regardless, this is life-saving information because, even though smoking in Africa is lower than in the developed world and Asia, there is a relatively high smoking prevalence among African youth. The expected population growth and economic development in Africa over the next few decades will cause the smoking habit to rise rapidly if we don’t focus now on prevention.

Nicotine, the most potent chemical in tobacco, is a drug of addiction and is as addictive as heroin and cocaine. That’s why it’s so hard to quit cigarette smoking – it is an addiction.

 

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The health dangers of smoking

 Smoking doesn’t harm only the lungs but is harmful to just about every organ in the body and damages your overall health. Even second hand smoke (what you inhale from being around a smoker) has been classified as a carcinogen, a cancer-causing agent. Whether you smoke, chew or sniff tobacco, it is dangerous to your health.

 

  • Smoking is a leading cause of cancer and death from cancer – lung, mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, bladder, stomach, liver, colon, and blood cancers, are among the many cancers caused by smoking
  • Smoking causes chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD) which is responsible for more than 30% of all smoking-related deaths
  • Smoking weakens the immune system, increasing the likelihood of lung infections like pneumonia and TB
  • Smoking damages blood vessels by thickening and narrowing them causing diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels – heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke
  • Smoking makes you more likely to develop diabetes
  • Affects bones – Osteoporosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Affects eyes – Macular Degeneration and Cataracts, both can cause blindness
  • Smoking causes erectile dysfunction

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Women who smoke are at higher risk of Infertility problems, miscarriage, premature babies, small babies, and babies born with cleft lip or palate. The babies are also at greater risk of dying from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Children exposed to tobacco smoke are more likely to develop repeated ear infections, colds, pneumonia and bronchitis. Exposure to smoke over time prevents their lungs from developing normally. If they have asthma, they’re also likely to have more frequent and severe attacks.

The good news in all of this dismal information is that there are immediate and long term benefits if you stop smoking:

  • Long term, quitting smoking reduces the risk of cancer and many other diseases, such as heart disease and chronic lung disease caused by smoking.
  • Within a few weeks, your heart rate and blood pressure, which are high when smoking slowly begin to return to normal levels and your circulation improves
  • Within one year after you stop smoking, your risk for a heart attack drops significantly
  • Within 2 to 5 years after stopping smoking, your risk for stroke could fall to about the same as a nonsmoker’s

A word for parents…teach your children the dangers of smoking from a very early age and maintain open communication so that your teenager can come to you with concerns about peer pressure.

The government can do its bit to protect people from tobacco smoke through clean indoor air laws, warning people of the dangers of tobacco use through mass media campaigns and package warnings or even by banning advertising and marketing of tobacco products. Some corporations and employers even offer help to smokers to quit.

If you smoke, only you can make the decision to stop. DECIDE TO STOP NOW – IT COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE AND THOSE OF YOUR LOVED ONES!