Real World Health Care Blog

Tag Archives: flu

Get Your Flu Shot Now to Stay Healthier Later

So you think you’re too busy to get your flu shot? It’s easy to put off, but taking the time to do it sooner rather than later could prevent you from getting sick while helping to protect those you care about – during the holidays and beyond. That’s why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state and local health departments as well as other health agencies are raising visibility around National Influenza Vaccination Week (NIVW), from Dec. 8-14.

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

With the flu season beginning in the fall and not peaking until January-February, it’s certainly not too late to get your influenza shot. In fact, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that everyone 6 months of age or older receive it, including:

  • Children
  • Seniors 65 and older
  • Pregnant women
  • American Indians and Alaska Natives
  • Those with underlying health conditions like asthma
  • Those living with conditions including chronic lung disease, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, cancer and diabetes

Although the effectiveness of flu vaccination varies each year, the CDC reports that recent studies demonstrate the evidence-based public health benefits. The Mayo Clinic agrees, calling flu shots your best defense against the flu, enabling “your body to develop the antibodies necessary to ward off influenza viruses.”

“The single best way to protect against the flu is to get vaccinated each year,” said CDC’s Anne Schuchat, M.D., Director, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “Today, flu vaccines are available in more convenient locations than ever. The few minutes it takes to get a flu vaccine can save you from experiencing several unproductive days due to influenza. The most common side effects are mild and short-lasting, especially when compared to symptoms of influenza infection.  Flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness.”

Despite evidence that the influenza vaccine is an effective tool, some still fear that getting their shot might put them at risk for experiencing severe side effects. No more than one or two cases per million people vaccinated acquire Guillain-Barré syndrome, an outcome much lower than the risk of developing severe complications from influenza. From 1976-2006, in fact, estimates show that far more people died from flu-associated deaths in the U.S. (3,000-49,000) than from negative reactions to the vaccines that protect against influenza.

To build awareness and support of NIVW and encourage people to get their shots, the CDC is making a rich variety of online tools and resources available to a wide spectrum of patients, educators and providers, such as:

Partnering with Reckitt Benckiser, Inc., the makers of LYSOL® Brand Products, the CDC is also spotlighting the Ounce of Prevention Campaign, which seeks to empower consumers and professionals with practical tips and information around effective hand hygiene and cleaning habits to prevent infectious diseases like the flu.

Click here to see if the vaccine is available in your area. To find a nearby location to get the vaccine, check out HHS’s “Flu Vaccine Finder” on Flu.gov, enter your ZIP code and share the widget to let your family members, colleagues and friends know where they can go too. HHS also provides a series of informative YouTube videos that cover prevention strategies, share tips for identifying symptoms and provide recommended treatment practices.

You can also make a powerful statement by taking the pledge to get vaccinated for the 2013-14 season, commit to taking a friend with you and in the process spread the word by clicking here. To get the latest updates on flu vaccination efforts, follow the CDC on Twitter (@CDCFlu and @CDCgov) and “like” them on Facebook.

Now tell us if you’ve gotten your flu shot. Where did you go? How long did it take? What ways could providers and health care stakeholders more effectively remind patients to get vaccinated?

August Health Awareness Days Provide Opportunities to Take Action

As young people across the country go back to school, patient advocates and government stakeholders are leveraging awareness days to help communities learn about health issues impacting children, prevention strategies and efforts to improve care. Here are some examples:

Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month
Each August organizations including the Envision Foundation underscore the need for screenings and examinations to promote early detection, intervention and prevention of vision problems in children.

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

Vision disorders in children cost Americans more than $5.7 billion in direct and indirect expenses each year, while the overall cost of vision problems nationwide soars to an estimated $139 billion (includes long-term care, productivity loss and medical bills), according to Prevent Blindness America. Treating eye disorders and vision loss early in life helps protect children from developing chronic, lifelong conditions that become more expensive to treat because of long-term, indirect costs that increase as populations age.

“The beginning of a new school year is an exciting time in a child’s life,” Hugh R. Parry, President and CEO of Prevent Blindness America, said in a statement.  “By working together with parents and educators, we hope to give all our kids a bright and healthy start!”

National Immunization Awareness Month
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Public Health Information Coalition (NPHIC) highlights the need to improve national immunization coverage levels throughout August. To communicate the importance of immunizations now and throughout the year, NPHIC also developed a toolkit tailored to various populations including babies and pregnant women, pre-teens and teens, young adults, and adults. The toolkit seeks to:

  • Encourage parents of young children to get recommended immunizations by age 2.
  • Help parents ensure older children, preteens and teens have received all recommended vaccines by the time they return to school.
  • Remind college students to catch up on immunizations before they move into dormitories.
  • Educate adults, including health care workers, about vaccines and boosters they may need.
  • Urge pregnant women to get vaccinated to protect newborns from diseases like whooping cough.
  • Raise awareness that the next flu season is only a few months away.

The CDC also makes a wide array of resources available for those who want to learn more about the importance of immunizations or spread the word.

Neurosurgery Outreach Awareness Month
The American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) is among the organizations that underscores why the beginning of the school year is a great time to educate communities about strategies to prevent sports-related head and neck injuries like concussions. AANS provides tools to help others more effectively identify symptoms of potentially serious head/neck injuries and take preventive steps to ensure safety, also offering the following tips:

  • Buy and use helmets or protective headgear approved by the American Society for Testing Materials for sports 100 percent of the time.
  • Remain abreast of the latest guidelines and rules governing sports with a high prevalence of head injuries including cheerleading, volleyball, and soccer.

“Concussion awareness, understanding the symptoms of a potential concussion or other traumatic brain injury, is critically important in all sports,” AANS Public Relations Committee chair Kevin Lillehei, MD, FAANS, said in a statement. “Educating the public is one of the best weapons we have when it comes to combating these types of injuries. That is why it’s so important to raise awareness in the community and explain just what some of the effects are that these injuries have.”

Psoriasis Awareness Month
Sponsored by The National Psoriasis Foundation each year, Psoriasis Awareness Month is dedicated to “raise awareness, encourage research and advocate for better care for people with psoriasis.”

The most common autoimmune disease in the US affecting 7.5 million Americans, Psoriasis occurs when the immune system sends out faulty signals that speed up the growth of skin cells and produce red, scaly patches that itch and bleed. About 20,000 children under 10 are also diagnosed, often experiencing symptoms that include pitting and discoloration of the nails, severe scalp scaling, diaper dermatitis or plaques.

As part of Psoriasis Awareness Month, NPF is creating a community of “Pscientists” to “answer real‑world questions about psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.”

Spinal Muscular Atrophy Awareness Month
Although it’s considered a “rare disorder” with approximately 1 in 6000 babies born affected by it, Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) is a motor neuron disease that causes voluntary muscles to weaken and in some cases can lead to death, according to the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Types I, II and III belong to a group of hereditary diseases that weaken the voluntary muscles in the arms and legs of infants and children, contributing to breathing issues, difficulty eating and drinking, impaired mobility and orthopedic complications.

Families of SMA, which has coordinated activities around SMA Awareness Month since 1996, and the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), are two national organizations that support those living with SMA. Click here to learn about events this month, community networks and research projects for treatment and therapies.

What activities are taking place in your community to support one or more of these awareness days? What could the institutions in your neighborhood, workplace or at your school be doing year-round to more effectively engage populations about critical health issues?

Categories: Access to Care

Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month Underscores Efforts to Identify Causes and Develop Treatments

That’s right. Children get arthritis too. In fact, according to the Arthritis National Research Foundation (ANRF), nearly 300,000 children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with juvenile arthritis (JA) – one of the most common childhood diseases in the country.

Linda Barlow

Linda Barlow 

When Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA) first shows its symptoms in a child’s body, many parents write off swollen joints and fever as the flu, or think a sudden rash might have occurred from an allergic reaction. The symptoms might even recede slightly before showing up again, sometimes delaying diagnosis. 

Because a child’s immune system is not fully formed until about age 18, JRA can be especially virulent, compromising the body’s ability to fight normal diseases and leaving children open to complications that can adversely affect their eyes, bone growth and more.

Both the Arthritis Foundation and the ANRF are on the forefront of combatting this disease by supporting research into causes and treatments.

The ANRF’s Kelly Award is one example of how the organization dedicates part of its research effort toward treatment of JRA. The $75,000 grant is given annually to a researcher focused solely on JRA treatment and cures. For the past two years, the award went to Dr. Altan Ercan at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, whose work has the potential to provide novel targets for new therapies.

Another example is the Arthritis Foundation’s partnership with the Childhood Arthritis and Rheumatology Research Alliance (CARRA). Through the partnership, the Foundation is working to create a network of pediatric rheumatologists and a registry of children with the disease, allowing researchers to identify and analyze differences and similarities between patients and their responses to treatment. Ultimately, the registry will help researchers cultivate personalized medicine, the ultimate weapon in battling the disease. The CARRA Registry has been launched at 60 clinical research sites and has enrolled 8,000 patients.

The Arthritis Foundation has also committed to providing more than $1.1 million in funding this year to researchers investigating a wide range of topics, including: 

  • Exploring how environmental and genomic factors might play a role in triggering juvenile arthritis; 
  • Collecting data and evaluating the efficacy of standardized treatment plans; and 
  • Developing and testing a smart phone app to help children cope with pain.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, there is no single test to diagnose JA. A diagnosis is based on a complete medical history and careful medical examination. Evaluation by a specialist and laboratory studies, including blood and urine tests, are often required. Imaging studies including X-rays or MRIs may also be needed to check for signs of joint or organ involvement.

“When joint pain, swelling or stiffness occurs in one or more of your child’s joints for at least six weeks, it’s important not to assume these symptoms are temporary, and to get a proper diagnosis from a pediatric arthritis specialist,” says Arthritis Foundation Vice President of Public Health Policy and Advocacy, Dr. Patience White. “Early medical treatment of juvenile arthritis can prevent serious, permanent damage to your child’s joints and enable her to live an active, full childhood.”  

Management of JA depends on the specific form of the disease but can include:

  • Care by a pediatric rheumatologist.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to control pain and swelling.
  • Corticosteroids such as prednisone to relieve inflammation, taken either orally or injected into inflamed joints.
  • Biologic Response Modifiers (BRMs), such as anti-TNF drugs to inhibit proteins called cytokines, which promote an inflammatory response. These are injected under the skin or given as an infusion into the vein.
  • Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs such as methotrexate, often used in conjunction with NSAIDs to treat joint inflammation and reduce the risk of bone and cartilage damage.

One promising therapy in the fight against juvenile arthritis has been recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration – Actemra (tocilizumab) – from Roche. Used to treat polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis (PJIA), the medicine can be used in children ages 2 and older. It is also approved for the treatment of active systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis (SJIA).

How can organizations like the Arthritis Foundation and the ANRF increase awareness that arthritis happens to children, and build support to advance development of research and therapies?

Real-Time Health Alerts Join Twitter to Expand Access to Public Health Information

Is Twitter now monitoring your allergies or sleeping patterns?

Linda Barlow

Linda Barlow

In today’s era of real-time information, Twitter has emerged as a leading go-to source for the latest in news, entertainment and more. Now, Twitter is joining Everyday Health, Inc. to create HealthBeat, the first global real-time health alert and news offering. The partnership seeks to provide relevant health information and breaking news to the Twitter community in real time, offering promoted Tweets linking to Everyday Health’s news, expert advice, videos and tools that users can put into action.

HealthBeat will scour the 2 million daily health-related tweets in the U.S. to identify impending outbreaks and other health crises.

“We’ll be looking at the key health terms flaring up every day, and when something is indexing in an abnormal way, we’ll let Twitter know and we’ll supply content about what to do,” said Everyday Health President Michael Keriakos, in an interview published in Ad Age.

For example, Keriakos noted that HealthBeat could have been used to provide vaccination information to residents affected by a whooping cough outbreak in South Central Los Angeles two years ago.

Not only will the partnership provide important information relating to public health, it will also serve as a targeting mechanism for advertisers who are being sought by HealthBeat to promote content around broad health topics like allergies, flu season and insomnia.

While HealthBeat touts itself as the “first global real-time health alert” service, there are other online services – like Google’s flu tracker — that provide similar information on a regional or national level:

  • Launched in 2010, Health & Safety Watch is a Canadian-based web portal and iPhone app that lets users customize the type of alerts they want to see. It also indicates when an advisory or warning is over, for example, when a local water quality issue has been resolved.
  • In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides alerts about health issues travelers may face when going abroad as well as alerts about disease outbreaks at home.
  • Also in the U.S., a service called HealthMap, developed out of Boston Children’s Hospital, offers an online portal called The Disease Daily, and a mobile app called Outbreaks Near Me.

“The sooner we get a signal of an infectious disease outbreak, the sooner we can devise an appropriate response, and hopefully, the negative impacts can be mitigated,” explained Anna Tomasulo, MA, MPH, HealthMap Program Coordinator, Boston Children’s Hospital.

According to Tomasulo, HealthMap has other tools that help prevent health problems.

“Our Vaccine Finder takes a person’s zip code and provides information on where they can access vaccines nearby,” she says, noting that the project started with flu vaccines but has since been expanded to other vaccines including human papillomavirus (HPV), measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), Varicella and more. “A questionnaire helps users determine what vaccine is most appropriate and provides a list of participating pharmacies within a given radius that provides the vaccine the user needs. Such vaccines help prevent costs associated with illness and potential hospital stays.”

So are HealthBeat, HealthMap and other real-time alert programs providing an important public health service? Are these alerts helpful or will they cause undue concern?

Categories: Access to Care