HEALTH

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.

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.

 

The ABCs of health for your child – Part 2

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The ABC’s of child health are the health basics you need to pay careful attention to at home on a daily basis. Never mind the academics, if your child is unhealthy he or she can’t learn.

The ABCs

  • Healthy Nutrition
  • Fitness
  • Dental Health
  • Emotional Health

 

Get them moving…moving…

Studies show that if you get your child interested in any form of exercise activity when they are young, exercise and fitness are more likely to become a habit that lasts a lifetime. An hour daily of exercise should be the goal for your child. For younger children, playing outside with siblings or other neighborhood kids is all the exercise they’ll need. More structured exercise such as formal sports activities is a good way for older children to get their hour a day. Participating in sports also teaches them useful life skills like teamwork, discipline, and strategic thinking. Give them a choice and whatever type of activity you settle on, make sure it’s fun. If they enjoy it they’re more likely to stick with it.

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Useful fitness tips:

  • Make time to be active as a family.
  • Exercise together with your child
  • Limit sedentary activities to less than 2 hours per day – television, computer and video games
  • Be a role model

Good Reasons to Smile

Like other aspects of health the road to good dental health for your child is prevention. It starts with teaching good brushing habits and avoiding certain foods.

  • Brush twice daily
- you’ll be surprised how many adults don’t even practice this—
  • Avoid candy, juices, soft drinks
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  • Soft baby brush once baby teeth are in —
  • Only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste is needed for 2 to 3 year olds —
  • Brush for them until 8yrs
- let them brush in the morning, you brush for them at night—
  • Dental checkups at least once yearly from age 2 – 3 (whenever they can sit still)

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Emotional Health


In African culture, the emotional health of a child is an area that’s often neglected. African parenting style is usually authoritarian, not because it works best but because it’s the only way that’s been modeled for us. This translates into a society with authoritarian leadership in every sphere that does not tolerate dissenting views, differing opinions or encourage “out of the box” thinking.

If 50% or more of your interaction with your school-aged child consists of scolding and correction, it’s time to re-evaluate your parenting style. If you’re often raising your voice when you talk with your child, perhaps it’s time to do things differently.

There are 5 Love languages – something every person needs to make them feel loved – Words of affirmation, Quality time, Receiving gifts, Acts of service, and Physical touch. For most people, one of these is primarily what makes them feel loved, and to a lesser extent one of the other four.

All children need to be affirmed – “that’s great honey”, “you did a great job”, “mummy loves you”- many times throughout the day. Your child needs quality time with you and lots and lots of hugs and kisses regardless of age. The occasional gift won’t hurt either!

 

Tips for parents
—

  • Be expressive of your love & acceptance as often as possible
  • Remember your child has pressures
  • Doing 15 minutes daily of an activity your child enjoys can reduce their stress level
  • Keep marital conflicts out of sight and hearing of your child — 
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  • Listen and listen some more!
  • Don’t overreact

Children who have a clear sense of personal competence and feel loved and supported generally do well. Remember that children’s temperaments vary in their ability to cope with stress and daily hassles, learn to be very patient.

 

The ABCs of health for your child – Part 1

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As parents, our responsibility to nurture our children requires a holistic approach – taking into consideration the whole child. Healthy living for your child requires that you place equal importance on your child’s physical, developmental, emotional and social wellbeing.

Africans, like Asians, are known for placing a lot of emphasis on the academic development of their children. This parental focus on academics is not necessarily a bad thing but can become an obstacle to the overall wellbeing of a child, if other areas of development are ignored.

The ABCs

  • Healthy Nutrition
  • Fitness
  • Dental Health
  • Emotional Health

In addition to well child doctor visits to make sure his overall development is on track, your child should receive all the recommended vaccinations. The ABC’s of child health are the health basics you need to pay careful attention to at home on a daily basis.

Helping Kids Eat Healthy


Good nutrition is essential to good health for all kids whether they’re babies or teenagers.

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Infants

  • Breast milk only until 6 months of age + vitamins
  • Begin Iron-fortified cereals, pureed fruits and vegetables at 6 months
  • Add lean meats and eggs when the above are well tolerated (8 months)
  • Begin table foods at 9 months (avoid small hard foods that can choke the baby)
  • Continue breast milk until 12 months if possible

Toddlers (1 – 3 years)

  • Growth and appetite come in spurts at this age so they’re often picky eaters
  • 4 -5 servings of fruit and vegetables daily for fiber and valuable nutrients
  • Fiber is essential for digestive health and is good for the heart
  • 2 – 3 servings of whole milk daily for calcium
  • Avoid the juice trap – it’s mostly sugar. Give Water! Water! Water!
  • Avoid the junk food trap because you’re desperate for him to eat anything!

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Elementary school age (4 – 10 years)

  • Eat most nutritious foods from all 5 food groups
  • 4 -5 servings of fruit and vegetables daily for fiber and valuable nutrients
  • 2 – 3 servings of low fat milk daily for calcium
  • Avoid the sugar trap – juice, soft drinks, candy, cookies, cakes, starchy foods
  • Watch out for fats and salty foods
  • Water! Water! Water!

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Preteens and Teens (11 – 18 years)

  • More calcium needed at this age for bone mass
  • Menstruating girls need more iron, boys need more protein for muscle mass
  • 4 -5 servings of fruit and vegetables daily for fiber and valuable nutrients
  • 2 – 3 servings of low fat milk daily for calcium
  • Avoid the sugar trap – juice, soft drinks, candy, cookies, cakes, starchy foods
  • Watch out for fats and salty foods
  • Water! Water! Water!

In the next blog post we’ll review fitness, emotional and dental health for your child.