Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Healthy Habits: Flu Prevention

The 2012 flu season has begun in earnest and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported quite a few influenza-associated pediatric deaths. Due to an increase in flu activity, the CDC is urging individuals to get vaccinated. My school has had quite a few students and staff impacted by the flu, including one death - so it's serious business.

With the flu shot more convenient and readily available to be administered in pediatric offices nationwide, the United States has actually seen influenza-associated pediatric deaths decrease from 282 during 2009-2010 to 34 during 2011-2012. The decrease in fatalities may be a result in the constant push for individuals to become vaccinated.

I had the chance to interview Dr. Omar Baker, Chief Officer of Clinical Operations, Riverside Pediatric Group, to discuss the importance of vaccination in protecting yourself, your children and their caretakers against this potentially fatal illness.

1) Why is it important to have kids vaccinated against the flu?

Influenza activity continues to increase in the United States and most of the country is now experiencing high levels of influenza-like-illness (ILI), according to CDC. During the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, ILI peaked at 7.7%. To date, CDC has received reports of 18 pediatric deaths this season.

One factor that may indicate increased severity this season is that the predominant circulating type of influenza virus is influenza A (H3N2) virus, which account for about 76 percent of the viruses reported.

Typically ‘H3N2 seasons’ have been more severe, with higher numbers of hospitalizations and deaths. Influenza vaccination offers the best protection we have against influenza with an efficacy of approximately 62-77% depending on the study cited, In general, the flu vaccine works best among young healthy adults and older children.

2) Some parents may be concerned about vaccines in general; how do you reassure them that they are safe?

The CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine each year. A flu shot cannot cause flu illness. The influenza viruses contained in a flu shot are inactivated (killed), which means they cannot cause infection. Unlike the flu shot, the nasal spray vaccine does contain live viruses. However, the viruses contained in the nasal spray flu vaccine are attenuated (i.e., weakened), which means they cannot cause flu illness.

3) What tips do you have for helping prevent the spread of flu in people who aren't vaccinated?

Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or possibly their nose. Parents of children cannot be reminded enough about the importance of good hand washing and avoidance of those with cold symptoms.

There are some people who should not get a flu vaccine without first consulting a physician. These include: People who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs, people who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination, children younger than 6 months of age, people who have a moderate-to-severe illness with a fever (they should wait until they recover to get vaccinated), people with a history of Guillain–BarrĂ© Syndrome (a severe paralytic illness, also called GBS) that occurred after receiving influenza vaccine and who are not at risk for severe illness from influenza should generally not receive vaccine.

About Omar Baker, M.D., C.O.C.O.

Omar Baker, M.D., joined Riverside Pediatric Group in 2011 and is Riverside's Chief Officer of Clinical Operations. He cares for patients at Riverside’s Headquarters in Secaucus six days a week. Dr. Baker is proud to carry on the family legacy of caring for Northern Jersey’s most valuable patients – its children, started by his father some 35 years ago. As one of Riverside’s bright young stars, Dr. Baker brings a stellar academic and training background along with an unparalleled passion to provide the best care possible to the children of Riverside families.

About Riverside Pediatric Group and Medical Group
Riverside Pediatric Group (RPG) is Northern New Jersey’s premiere pediatric group and host to free prenatal seminars for expectant parents. RPG embodies the “medical home,” a revolutionary concept in pediatric care recently endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The medical home approach encourages pediatricians to go beyond their conventional role, as “intermittent” providers of care at brief patient visits for isolated issues, and approach the patient as a whole. RPG collaborates with the parents in all decision-making and emphasizes preventative care and around-the-clock access to a child’s healthcare team. Offering the longest hours of any pediatric practice in the country – 8 a.m.-midnight, 7 days a week, 365 days a year – RPG provides the kind of high quality, state-of-the art equipment normally found only in emergency rooms or offices of sub-specialists. RPG’s sister organization, Riverside Medical Group, is the premier adult medical practice in Northern New Jersey, embracing the "Riverside" way and offering to young adults, parents and grandparents the unique care that RPG has been providing to the children of Northern New Jersey for over 30 years. Visit www.RiversidePeds.com or call (201) 863-3346.  “Like” us: www.facebook.com/RiversidePediatricGroup

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