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New Zika Advice: Sex And Ways To Protect Yourself

Zika Test Tube

I’ll continue to monitor and track Zika news to share with you as I learn about it. My inboxes keep filling up with Zika questions even though I think the risks to our families, if you’re not pregnant or not thinking of getting pregnant, is low. That being said, if you’re thinking of having a baby now or in the next 6 months or if you are not using contraception and are sexually active, listen up.

Last Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) presented new guidelines for preventing the sexual transmission of the Zika virus. The news and recommendations regarding transmission and our behavior is evolving and changing rapidly as researchers, doctors and medical experts learn more about Zika. This science is not complete, but these guidelines best attempt to keep our population the safest it can be with the information we have. Here is a short rundown on the new guidelines.

New CDC Updates And Reminders About Zika:

Number one reason for this is that although daytime-biting mosquitos are the primary transmission of Zika virus (in areas with Zika — click here for info and world maps) sexual transmission of Zika has been documented here in the United States after travel/exposure —> infection). As of March 23rd, of the 273 travel-associated Zika infections documented in the US, 19 cases are in pregnant women and 6 were sexually transmitted.

The below info helps shape ways to protect yourself:

  • WOMEN: If a woman has been diagnosed with Zika (or has symptoms of Zika after possible exposure) it’s recommended she wait at least 8 weeks after her symptoms first appear before trying to get pregnant. As a reminder, symptoms of Zika include rash, red eyes, joint aches, overall feeling of being unwell. Secondary reminder, and one that makes this advice a bit of a challenge to interpret, only 1 in 5 who get Zika virus will have symptoms in the first place. Therefore, if we want to be really careful consider this: if you’ve traveled to a Zika-affected area you may want to wait 8 weeks after returning home before attempting to get pregnant, with or without symptoms.
  • MEN: If a man has been diagnosed with Zika (or has symptoms of the illness), he should wait at least 6 months from those first signs of the illness before having unprotected sex. This recommendation comes off news that the virus has been found live in semen 62 days. The 6 months is a conservative calculation.The CDC took the longest known risk period (about 2 months) and then multiplied that by 3 for conservative recommendations to ensure no transmission.
  • MEN WHO TRAVEL AND HAVE PREGNANT PARTNERS: Men who travel to areas with Zika outbreaks need to prevent transmission to pregnant partners for the rest of the pregnancy. CDC recommends: “Men who have traveled to or reside in an area with active Zika virus transmission and their pregnant sex partners should consistently and correctly use condoms during sex (i.e., vaginal intercourse, anal intercourse, or fellatio) or abstain from sex for the duration of the pregnancy. This course is the best way to avoid even a minimal risk of sexual transmission of Zika virus, which could have adverse fetal effects when contracted during pregnancy. Pregnant women should discuss their male sex partner’s history of travel to areas with active Zika virus transmission and history of illness consistent with Zika virus disease with their health care provider; providers can consult CDC’s guidance for evaluation and testing of pregnant women
  • The CDC is NOT recommending that that men and women living in Zika-affected regions postpone pregnancy all-together like other countries (think Ecuador).
  • Infectious Disease experts feel that a Zika virus infection in a woman who is not pregnant would not pose a risk for birth defects in future pregnancies after the virus has cleared from her blood (roughly about a week after infection is over).
  • They have also updated their Question/Answer page that is chalk full of helpful information.

Blood Testing For Suspected Zika Virus:

For Men, at this time, CDC advises that testing of exposed, asymptomatic men (men with no Zika symptoms but who have traveled) for the purpose of assessing risk for sexual transmission is not recommended.

For men and for women, regardless of pregnancy status, get tested if you develop two or more of the following symptoms during or within two weeks of travel to an area of active Zika virus transmission OR within two weeks of unprotected sex with a man who tested positive for Zika virus or had symptoms of Zika infection during or within two weeks of return from travel to an area with Zika transmission: Read full post »

Zika, Dengue And Mosquitoes: Info For Women And Men Who Want Babies

zika cdc infographic

Image c/o CDC

 

Zika virus scares continue to worry expecting parents and pregnant moms. In addition, we’re now just learning about a state of emergency in the big island of Hawaii because of the rising cases of Dengue virus, a virus also transmitted by mosquitoes. Shifting lifestyle advice for growing families will continue as researchers and public health officials learn more. We should expect that the recommendations for travel will change and evolve this summer. As of today, news reports from Brazil coupled with public health officials new knowledge and evolving medical research from around The Americas has clarified a number of things for pregnant moms and families thinking about having babies. Some things we DO know:

  • What is Zika: Zika virus is predominately spread by mosquitoes. It is a virus causing joint aches, red eyes, rash and overall yuck feelings in about 1 in 5 people who get it. Typically the virus causes mild symptoms and goes away on its own even in the minority of people who have symptoms. The virus typically clears the blood stream a week after symptoms show up but we know it can remain for longer periods in other bodily fluids (urine, semen). Zika has been around for decades but warmer climate and travel has spread the mosquitoes and the virus around the world. Then it caused a massive outbreak in Brazil (over a million people estimated to have had the virus). During the same period a surge in cases of birth defects worried health officials about a possible connection of serious side effects from the virus during fetal development.
  • zika map voxWhere is Zika: Outbreaks of Zika have been reported in over 30 countries, including some cases (not outbreaks) in the United States. Zika is often found in small pockets of countries who have reported cases (costal areas, low-lying areas with standing water) and not ubiquitously throughout the entire landscape. It’s not a risk everywhere you go in Central America but it has touched every country. Further, even though we expect to have cases of Zika in most parts of the US over the upcoming months, you’re simply not likely to get Zika in most parts of the United States for a few reasons: mosquitoes that carry and transmit Zika typically only live in the gulf coast and Southeastern US, our measures to control mosquitoes in the US are effective, and many of us who live in warm climates where mosquitoes live spend the majority of the day in air-conditioning and have access to repellent if outside.OUTBREAKS ARE NOT EXPECTED here in the US but we certainly have no guarantee. Here is a nice infographic from Vox depicting the distribution of mosquitoes who can potentially transmit Zika in the US.
  • Birth defects from Zika: The long-term effects from Zika remain unknown, however there are serious concerns about Zika virus and the association of a constellation of symptoms on developing babies, specifically life-altering brain and neurologic changes (microcephaly and developmental delays & changes in the eye). More evidence connecting Zika as the culprit has unfolded in recent weeks. Zika has been found in the brains of babies with microcephaly, it’s been found in the placenta of women who have miscarried, and it’s been found in affected babies eyes. These findings don’t yet prove a cause-and-effect relationship between Zika and these defects but it is more data to construct the case. It is unknown exactly how Zika could cause such devastating changes to a developing baby (for example, researchers cannot yet prove that it’s the virus itself versus our own immune response to the virus that causes devastating side effects in developing babies).

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Zika Virus And Pregnant Moms

mosquitoIt’s January, 2016. News stories have inspired significant anxiety about Zika virus. It’s a scary topic because news about the outbreaks are just unfolding and this affects an already anxious group, PREGNANT mamas and expecting families. I want to share with you real time information and data to try to alleviate anxiety and educate the best I can. I suspect with time some of this will change. I’ve curated the most common questions and answers directly from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) below. The most alarming information coming from these outbreaks are the effects of Zika on pregnant women and their babies. First things first, Zika virus will only affect an unborn baby who is exposed to Zika in utero if mom is infected WHILE she is pregnant. Meaning, women not pregnant who get Zika can have Zika virus, clear the virus from her bloodstream (typically about 1 week after illness resolves) and not transmit Zika to future babies. If you are pregnant, there is no question it makes sense to think carefully about travel. That babymoon just can’t be the priority if it will put you at risk. Zika is potentially dangerous to a baby during any trimester or pregnancy or at the time of delivery.

Zika virus is unusual in a couple ways: only 20% of people who get it know it — meaning most people infected won’t develop any symptoms. Secondly, we don’t have a vaccine and we don’t yet have an anti-viral to protect pregnant moms and their babies from side effects. So, unlike infections caused by influenza and polio, or rubella or mumps, we have to change our social determinants of health — basically pregnant moms have to take precautions with where they go and how they expose themselves. I’ve found this CDC Q/A extremely helpful.

What Is Zika Virus Disease?

CDC: “Zika is a disease caused by Zika virus that is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week.”

Like mosquitoes all over the world, the mosquitoes that carry the virus and spread it to people breed in open ponds/pools of water. The ones that carry Zika tend to bite and infect primates and humans during the day. These little buggers can get the virus from an infected person and then bite another person and transmit it during outbreaks.

What Are The Symptoms Of Zika?

CDC: “About one in five people infected with Zika will get sick — symptoms from being ill. For people who get sick, the illness is usually mild. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected. The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Symptoms typically begin 2 to 7 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.”

Remember, 80% of people who get Zika won’t have any symptoms. So heading off to a country with an outbreak and coming home feeling fine doesn’t ensure you haven’t been exposed. This is key in protecting those at risk. We can’t make a lot of assumptions of who has it and who doesn’t.

How Is Zika Transmitted?

CDC: “Zika is primarily transmitted through the bite of infected Aedes mosquitoes. Aedes mosquitoes, which spread the virus, live in every Western hemisphere country but Canada and Chile. It can also be transmitted from a pregnant mother to her baby during pregnancy or around the time of birth. We do not know how often Zika is transmitted from mother to baby during pregnancy or around the time of birth.”

Research will likely evolve through these outbreaks. What we know is that unborn babies are at most risk for serious complications. They are dependent on their moms making great decisions during pregnancy. Holy moly, it’s always a lot of pressure but this sure is another one for us to bear.

More on who is at risk, what to do if you’re planning a trip to Mexico for a babymoon, and ways to prevent getting Zika:

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Good News & Bad News: Whooping Cough

Two new Pediatrics studies are out this week teaching us more about the effectiveness of the whooping cough vaccine. Lots to learn about how we protect babies and reminders here why we’re immunizing moms during EVERY pregnancy:

  • First, the good news: traditionally we have been trained to tell parents that the first shots we give during infancy aren’t fully protective for infants but rather the beginning of creating immunity against the diseases they prevent. However, a study conducted by researchers at the CDC looked back at cases of infants with pertussis from 1991-2008 and they found evidence that babies who received their whooping cough shot as early as they could, at the age of 6 weeks, were less likely to be hospitalized and/or die from the infection. Wonderful news! The first evidence out there that even that first shot, when given as early as possible, helps protect very young infants who are most at risk from whooping cough. New parents can increase protection, even during outbreaks like we’re having right now, by getting their babies immunized on-time and as early as possible.
  • The not so good (but important) news: the effectiveness of the Tdap shot given to young teens (explained more below) doesn’t always provide long-lasting protection and wanes significantly in the years after the 11-year-old booster dose is given. New research out found after 1 year, about 70% of teens are still protected from the booster, but by 4 years after the shot only about a 1/3 of them are. More:

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E-Cigs And A Free App To Help Quit Smoking

Last week a proposal was introduced that would give Washington State the toughest e-cigarette laws in the country. If passed, House Bill 1645 would significantly raise the taxes on e-cigarettes, ban the sale of flavored vaping liquids, ban online sales to Washington residents and require producers to list ingredients on labels. And while opponents of the bill argue that e-cigarettes are “healthier” than tobacco, there’s no denying the dangers of having such a highly addictive substance in arm’s reach to children and teens in an unregulated manner. Washington isn’t the only state taking action. This week California released a campaign calling out marketers of e-cigs for targeting teens. Teens are using e-cigs more and more with 1 in 5 high school sophomores here reporting having used them in the last month. E-cigarettes and e-hookahs may carry an illusion of safety they don’t warrant.

What House Bill 1645 Proposes

  • Instill a 95% tax on vaping products similar to tobacco product taxes
    • Right now only North Carolina and Minnesota have imposed taxes on E-cigarettes
  • Make it illegal to sell flavored liquid nicotine or other vaping fluids
  • Ban internet sales to Washington residents
  • Require ingredients list on all labels

Curbing An Urge To Smoke: An App For That

Supporters of e-cigarettes and those fighting against regulation often claim the devices are helpful in helping tobacco users quit, so-called harm reduction. I certainly won’t and can’t argue with anecdotes that this is useful for those wanting to quit. While this concept hasn’t been entirely disproved or entirely proven, there is still a lot we don’t know about vaping and the effects of liquid nicotine. If you or someone you know wants to quit tobacco, there are some new digital resources available to help you kick the habit. The good news is we can be hopeful that dual-pronged approaches may help those wanting to quit earnestly succeed. Download this app?

3-23 smartquit

Image courtesy: Washington Department of Health

Washington State residents have access, for a limited time, to a free app called SmartQuit. Sponsored by the Department of Health, the app is a tobacco cessation program that proved three times more effective than trying to quit on your own, according to a recent study from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. SmartQuit users create a personal plan to become aware of their urges to smoke, they then learn new ways of thinking about those urges to suppress the desire to smoke. The Washington Department of Health is offering the app for free to a limited number of users. Because the funding is limited, please don’t download unless you’re serious about using the app as the number of free downloads will run out. Consider it? If you or someone you know does, report back on your opinions?

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Peanuts During Infancy To Prevent Food Allergy

Photo from Edwart Visser Flickr Creative CommonsThere’s new data out to support stronger recommendations for introducing peanuts during infancy. Like hemlines, it may seem like this data keeps changing. As time, the science and our understanding of risk unfolds we’ve seen shifts in advice about starting solids that have left many parents wondering what really is best when starting foods and wanting to decrease risk for food allergy.

Briefly, and in general, it’s best to start a variety of foods for your child during infancy, starting around 4 to 6 months of age. In fact its now believed that it may be protective to introduce things like wheat, egg, soy, fish, and peanuts even before a child takes their first step around a year of age. The 2013 recommendations (that exclude information about peanuts) are explained in this post, “When Should I start Baby Food?”

The recommendation to share diverse foods during infancy that includes fish and eggs may feel new to you. For example, when my babies were born (mid-2000’s) advice and consensus suggested that avoidance of peanuts until after a year of age was best — the thought that avoidance of peanut during critical development may be protective against severe allergy development. Now, concomitant with a doubling in food allergies, we face an utter and potentially embarrassing reality — perhaps medical advice and our work to improve allergy risk by restricting foods in  infancy did just the opposite. Perhaps avoidance was exactly the wrong thing to do. Maybe we’ve engineered part of the problem.

This kind of advice can feel intense when raising children. “Do this, don’t do that, do this now, don’t do this now!” Doing the right thing is what we all want but doing right can remain elusive, especially when recommendations shift. I remember a fellow pediatrician questioning my eating a peanut butter sandwich while I was pregnant with my second son. She couldn’t believe I’d made that choice. At the time I remember not only feeling judged but a little terrified too. Perhaps I’d not take the data seriously enough? Oh goodness, I thought, as I diligently didn’t introduce “high allergy” foods until toddlerhood for my boys. Today I realize that wasn’t all that right either. It can feel like another hemline change for sure and yikes these sure are shorter skirts!

Fast forward 7 years to 2015. A New England Journal of Medicine study out this past month systematically evaluated risk for development of peanut allergy in children who were at higher risk for developing the allergy in the first place. And they started with infancy and introduced peanuts early in some of the babies. Researchers found if infants were introduced to peanuts early in life (between 4 and 11 months of age) their risk of peanut allergy at age 5 years significantly decreased.

The early introduction of peanuts significantly decreased the frequency of the development of peanut allergy among children at high risk for this allergy.  ~ New England Journal Of Medicine

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The Inconvenience Of Prepackaged Baby Food

dv2159103Feeding a toddler is hard work because of all sorts of normal shifts that happen after the first birthday. But new data out this past month (see below) reminds us how pre-packaged baby food isn’t the best food source, despite package claims. Whole food, the food your family eats, and the fresh stuff is the way to go.

Infant hunger matches their rapid growth; we’re used to our babies ravenous and near consistent basis from day one yet as infancy progresses feedings space out and form meals. By a year of age most children go 4 hours or more between eating. Toddlerhood is a completely different story; growth slows after a year of age and toddlers start to test limits in profound ways. Food is no exception. It can be tempting to reach for whatever’s convenient that you know your kid will eat (fish crackers, anyone?) but in the long run making good nutritional choices for whole food regularly will exceed the nutritional detriments of pre-packaged “toddler” food.  In fact, a new policy statement released by the AAP this month is urging parents (and schools, daycares etc.) to take a “whole diet” approach to kids’ nutrition, namely focusing on a mix of foods from the five food groups and avoiding highly processed foods. Read more about the policy here from my friend Dr Claire McCarthy. These “fresh is best” ideas aren’t new to you I suspect but the data about food being marketed to us (and our children) is: Read full post »

Legal Doesn’t Mean Safe: Marijuana

Legal never has meant “safe” but the two words may at times overlap in our minds. When it comes to marijuana I’d suggest there is quite a bit of confusion right now about safety, recreational and medicinal use, and the effects of use on our population. In general, as laws change and access to marijuana increases we have a responsibility to be clear about what is known.

The adverse effects of marijuana in children and teens have been well-documented. Marijuana use can impair memory, decrease concentration, and change problem-solving capacity. It’s not good for the lungs nor long-term health; teens who use pot have a higher likelihood of drug addiction later on in life, the risks increase the earlier they start using. Research also finds that teens who use marijuana are less likely to finish high school, are more likely to use other (illicit) drugs, and have an increase in suicide attempts compared to those who don’t. The more they use, the more the effect. I can’t help but think about what a mom to a teen said to me recently in clinic, “marijuana is everywhere now.”

One in 5 high school students says they have used marijuana in the last month and up to 1 in every 16 students says they use it every single day. Who are we if we ignore these numbers?

As legal may mean “safe” to some a strong statement from pediatricians everywhere from The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) was released today to set the record straight. The two things to know:

  1. Research has found marijuana has adverse effects on teen health. It’s now known that the brain isn’t fully developed until the mid-20’s raising real concerns about what the drug does while the brain is still forming. The effects of marijuana change how teens think in school, how safe they are on the road, and potentially how they act for a lifetime (lifelong addiction risks increase with use, teens who use are less likely to finish high school, teens who use have higher suicide risk).
  2. Use Coupled With Criminalization Can Change Lives For Good: Legalization for medical and recreational use may imply marijuana is benign; for children and teens this is untrue. History shows that teens, especially those of racial minority groups, are incarcerated at higher rates secondary to possession or use of marijuana. A criminal record can have lifelong negative effects — the AAP is advocating to decrease marijuana crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, study effects of legalization in states like WA or Colorado, Alaska or in DC, and strictly limit access to and marketing of marijuana to youth. The big concern here as well is that policies that lead to more adult use will likely lead to more adolescent use. Decriminalization is especially important in states where recreational use is legal for those over 21 years of age.

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Pre-Vacation Tanning?

This girl in a tanning bed should provoke the same response in you that a photo of a 5 year-old smoking a cigarette would.

This girl in a tanning bed should provoke the same response in you that a photo of a 5 year-old smoking a cigarette would.

More than a million people go indoor tanning every day and research says the average city has more tanning salons than they do Starbucks or McDonalds (I’m wondering about Seattle though since coffee shops truly dot every block). I’m also guessing the tanning industry is somewhat seasonal; if we did the research on which week people go tanning, we’d find a bump during winter break, yes?

The pre-vacation tan is often used as a handy excuse for hitting the indoor tanning salon this time of year. There’s no such thing as a “safe” tan since tanning is a reflection of damage to the skin cells — a tan is the body’s response to damaged DNA in the skin cells. However, vacationers (lucky you!) often feel that getting a tan before they go to the equator will protect them. Instinct here is wrong.

Data finds that those who indoor tan before their trip are careless while on the trip, thinking they are protected, and in the end have more sun exposure and ultimately more sunburn than those who don’t.

People may visit a tanning salon to prepare the skin for a sunny vacation, the “prevacation tan”, thinking that a “base tan” will protect against subsequent skin damage during the vacation. This leads to extra radiation before the vacation and also afterward, because people may use fewer sun-protection precautions during the vacation because of a mistaken belief that the tan will protect them. The “prevacation tan” results in minimal protection (an estimated SPF of 3) and provides virtually no protection against sun induced DNA damage. ~ Pediatrics, April 2013

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More Data That Laundry “Pods” Carry Risk

pod photo croppedLaundry detergent pods continue to cause trouble — increasing convenience yet posing risks to young children. New data out today confirms what we’ve seen since their introduction. These cute, colorful and entirely convenient laundry packets (typically called “pods”) were introduced in the U.S. in 2012 and quickly made measuring out laundry detergent a thing of the past. Unfortunately we’ve also seen that these pods grab the attention of young children. Beautiful design gone wrong. As you’ve likely heard, or witnessed yourself, young children can be drawn to the pods (often these packets of detergent look like a preschooler’s toy or a piece of candy) and because of young children’s unique method of exploration (infants/toddlers/preschools use their mouths as much as their eyes & hands to explore) they may be at risk for injuries if the detergent pods are in arm’s reach. New research out today from Pediatrics documents an ongoing onslaught of children exposed to laundry pods, more than 17,000 children in less than two years. Some in the media have translated the volume of calls to poison control — a call every hour in this country — secondary to exposures to these packets of concentrated detergent.

Single-Dose Detergent Concerns

The first warnings about the dangers of laundry pods came out in May of 2012.  The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) started getting calls about children getting in to the capsules and ABC news did a subsequent story warning parents about the risks. Several factors make the pods a serious risk for young children: they’re appealing to the eye (look how fun and colorful the Tide pods look in the photo above) and small in size.  They also have a thin membrane (built to dissolve quickly in the wash) and are full of highly concentrated soap. It’s unclear exactly why this concentrated liquid causing so many new symptoms (vomiting, coughing, or rarely severe breathing problems and severe symptoms like changes in level of alertness or seizures). Dr. Suzan Mazor, an emergency physician at Seattle Children’s, adds she’s seen several eye abrasions, which happen when children accidentally squirt the pod contents in their eyes. She adds, “These ultimately heal just fine but can be painful and distressing to the children and parents.” The ingestions have been serious enough at times to send children to the ICU and need mechanical ventilation. With the beautiful curiosity of a toddler coupled to the lack of judgement, you have a recipe for this “pod” problem. Here’s a look at it by the recent study numbers:

  • 17,230 – Children under the age of 6 exposed to laundry pods (between Feb. 2012 – Dec. 2013), the majority being ingestions. The AAPCC reports that 8,915 exposures have already been reported in 2014 (data through end of September, 2014)
  • 645% -The increase in exposures to laundry packets between March 2012 – April 2013
  • 74% – The percentage of children exposed to detergent packets who are under age 3 years. Clearly toddlers are the most vulnerable group when it comes to these packets of detergent
  • 80% – The percentage of ingestion for the reported cases. This translates out that 8 of 10 children who have an exposure put these pods in their mouths. About 7% of children have injuries to their eyes, and the remaining 3% are a combination of skin injuries and damage caused by inhalation into the lungs
  • #1 – #1 household product ingested in Italy. This isn’t just a US problem. In Italy, where detergent pods have been available since 2010, the product is the number one most commonly ingested household product
  • 56% – More than 1/3 of kids vomit after an ingestion. For overall exposures, 48% percent of children exposed to pods vomited, making it the most common side effect. After vomiting comes coughing  or choking (13%), eye irritation or pain (11%), drowsiness or lethargy (7%), and eye redness (6%)

pod poison timeline

What Parents Need to Know:

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