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Daily Dose

Mumps Outbreak!

1:30 to read

The latest infectious disease outbreak is in the Boston area where several colleges have reported cases of mumps. Mumps is a viral illness that causes swelling of the salivary glands as well as other symptoms of fever, fatigue, muscle aches and headache.    Harvard University has been hit the hardest and has now documented over 40 cases this spring.  Boston is a city with numerous colleges all in close proximity, and there are documented mumps cases at Boston University, University of Massachusetts  and Tufts as well.  These Boston area colleges are all in close proximity and are merely a walk, bike or train ride away from one another, so these students, while attending different universities may all co-mingle at parties and athletic events.

Mumps is spread via saliva (think kissing), or from sharing food, as well as via respiratory droplets being spread after coughing or sneezing. It may also be spread via contaminated surfaces that will harbor the virus. People may already be spreading the virus for  2 days before symptoms appear and may be contagious for up to 5 days after their salivary glands appear swollen….so in other words there is a long period of contagion where the virus may inadvertently be spread. It may also take up to 2-3 weeks after exposure before you come down with mumps.

All of the students who have come down with mumps had been vaccinated with the MMR vaccine (mumps, measles, rubella).  Unfortunately, the mumps vaccine is only about 88% effective in preventing the disease. Despite the fact that children get two doses of vaccine at the age of 1 and again at 4 or 5 years….there may be some waning of protection over time. This  may also contribute to the virus’s predilection for young adults in close quarters on college campuses. Something like the perfect infectious disease storm!

In the meantime there are some studies being undertaken to see if adolescents should receive a 3rd dose of the vaccine, but the results of the study are over a year away.

In the meantime, be alert for symptoms compatible with mumps and make sure to isolate yourself from others if you are sick.  Harvard is isolating all of the patients with mumps for 5 days….which could mean that some students might even miss commencement.  Doctors at Harvard and other schools with cases of mumps are still on the watch for more cases …stay tuned.





Daily Dose

Get Your Flu Shot!

1:30 to read

I just had my flu vaccine!  Guess what - my arm didn’t even hurt this year.  I have also been reminding all of the pregnant mothers that I see to get their flu vaccines as well.  The current recommendation is that pregnant women receive influenza vaccine as soon as possible beginning after their 28th week of pregnancy (3rd trimester). 

When a pregnant woman receives her flu vaccine she is not only protecting herself, but also her baby.  Infants cannot receive a flu vaccine until they are 6 months of age…and for babies born during the fall and winter season, that means they will not be vaccinated until the following year. But when a mother has received a flu vaccine the infant is also getting protection via antibody that the mother passes to her baby across the placenta. 

In a 2014 study, the authors reported that “immunization of pregnant women with trivalent inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV3) was safe, immunogenic, and partially protected the women with a vaccine efficacy of 50% and their infants with a vaccine efficacy of 49% against laboratory-confirmed influenza illness during a 6-month follow-up post delivery ”. In other words, the infants in the study had just as much protection as the mother.

In a more recent study the authors now looked at how long the immunity lasted in the infants born to the flu vaccinated mothers. Surprisingly, the immunity was not as long lived as had been thought. The infants involved in the study were born an average of 81 days after their mothers were vaccinated with flu vaccine, and were monitored for influenza infection for about 172 days after birth.

Infants born to mothers who had a longer interval between vaccination and delivery had higher antibody titers. The infants’ antibody levels did drop off after birth and by 8 weeks of age the babies did not have significant antibody. Ideally, In order for babies to have better protection a mother would be vaccinated even earlier in her pregnancy, and studies are being done to look at this possibility.

Infants are especially susceptible to influenza and have a higher rate of complications as well as hospitalizations.  While the current recommendations for vaccinating pregnant women may not confer as much immunity to the newborn as was previously thought , there is very high protection for the first 8 weeks after birth. Any protection is preferable to none!.

Get your flu vaccine and if you are pregnant ask your doctor to give it to you as soon as you are in your 28th week.  The longer the baby is getting placental antibody the better!!






Daily Dose


1:30 to read

Fall is here and winter is just around the corner, which will usher in another “sick season”. I am already thinking about illness as I just finished reading a JAMA article about the overuse of antibiotics.  Did you know that the CDC estimates that “30% of antibiotic prescriptions in the U.S. are unnecessary”? 

The CDC reported that the majority of these misused antibiotics were prescribed for viral upper respiratory infections including the common cold, bronchitis and sinus and ear infections.  Which gets me back to “sick season” and the busy pediatric office.

Parents frequently bring their child in for one of the many viral upper respiratory infections that a child has, especially in the first 5 years of life, and “assume” that they will receive an antibiotic. In fact, I am still amazed that with all of the news about “superbugs” and emerging antibiotic resistance, some parents continue to “push” for a antibiotic because their child has had a fever, cough and runny nose for several days.  

The head of the CDC recently stated, “antibiotics are lifesaving drugs and if we continue down the road of inappropriate use, we will lose the most powerful tool we have to fight life threatening infections”.  In other words, we doctors need to be very judicious when deciding to prescribe an antibiotic and patients need to ask questions as to the necessity for taking an antibiotic.  It seems much too often I hear a parent say to me, “I am sick as well, so I went to the doctor who gave me an antibiotic for my cough and congestion, why aren’t you going to give an antibiotic to my child?”.  They often follow this statement with, “I felt so much better after being on an antibiotic for several days….”, but I actually think many of them felt better as they were getting better on their own and not due to the antibiotic.

In this JAMA article it was noted that “prescribing rates were highest in children age 2 years and younger. (who also get the most viral URI’s in a year) . There were also distinctions in prescribing practices by region of the country with the West having a lower rate of antibiotic prescribing than the South. 

So…looking forward to “sick season” I may be quoting this summer JAMA article when I once again explain to a parent, or a child….that their fever, cough and cold is due to a virus and that there is not the need for an antibiotic. In fact, a parent might want to boast, “my child has never been on an antibiotic”...which is a good thing. Save the prescription for a time when it is really warranted, and at the same time “pay it forward” by helping to prevent even more antibiotic resistance in this country.

Daily Dose

School & Infectious Disease

1:30 to read

I received an email this week from a patient…subject line: “potential exposure to Herpangina”.  In the body of the email was the following:

Dear Parents,

We want  to inform you that a case of Herpangina disease has been reported for a child at ….. room #112.  This is a contagious disease that  is spread by direct contact with another person or contaminated objects.  Herpangina is an illness caused by a virus, characterized by small blister-like bumps or ulcers that appear in the mouth, usually in the back of throat or the roof of the mouth. The child often has a high fever with the illness. We have attached further information about this common childhood illness published by Children’s Hospital in Boston. Our teachers are carefully disinfecting their room to help prevent further spread of the disease.

The mother of the child that sent me the email was “freaked” out and “worried” about  sending her child back to pre-school.  

My question is this, when did it become a “rule” to notify parents in a pre-school or day care setting that there were viral illnesses circulating?  It certainly seems unnecessary to me to send notification of EVERY childhood illness that occurs and for most of my families only serves to cause anxiety.  Some of the schools in our area post a sign on the entry that says something to the effect:  “there are cases of diarrhea, RSV, hand foot and mouth and fevers being reported in children that attend this school.”  Really, is it that surprising or necessary? Seeing that many of the numerous viral illnesses that children get these days are spread via respiratory droplets and contact with surfaces, such as toys and tables that everyone touches (computers too), children are exposed to things all of the time.  Do you go to work and ask your co-workers in a conference room..have you had diarrhea, a cough or a sore throat in the last day?

I understand notifying parents of illnesses, such as meningitis, measles, mumps…even chickenpox that are infectious and may be serious or life threatening. Thankfully, there are very few cases of these illnesses to report, now that the MAJORITY of children receive vaccines to these diseases. 

By putting these emails, texts and notices out for every parent to become alarmed about…and then to come to the doctor out of concern that their child  “may get sick….even before they have a symptom”,  serves no purpose. Herpangina and Hand Foot and Mouth are very similar viral illnesses, and both are caused by enteroviruses. It is at times hard to distinguish one illness from the other. But, with that being said, the treatment is solely symptomatic. In other words, treat the fever, make your child comfortable and don’t let them go back to school until they are fever free for 24 hours.  

Lastly, your child is going to catch a lot of these viruses, no matter what you do when they go out to play, shop or go to school. Each time they catch a viral illness it actually helps them to build antibody in order that their immune system may get stronger and stronger. I think the better note is….as winter comes children will get more coughs, colds and viral infections…if you think you child is not feeling well or running a fever, please keep them home from school for the day.  It is just a normal part of childhood…we don’t need any more anxiety in this world.   


Daily Dose

Your Child's Check Up

1:15 to read.

How many times have I talked about my clever patients. I continue to be amazed at how smart my patients are…and how much they teach me….as well as how they make me laugh.  

I was seeing a young lady the other day who was complaining of a cough. She was about 11 years old. She was not one of my regular patients, as she was a patient of a partner of mine who was out of town, so she came to see me about her cough.  

So..I started asking her and her mother about her cough and quickly realized that she was more than capable of answering my questions ( the best kind of patient to have).  Her mother was great and deferred to her, as her daughter was doing such a good job with her history.  I asked her if the cough was problem during the day or night or both? She replied “during the day”. I asked her if the cough was worse when she was playing or exercising during the day? The answer was “no”.  I then started asking her about the quality of the cough…(I also had the benefit of hearing her cough while I was getting her history).  I then asked her if the cough was dry or if it was wet and “gunky”?  I was not sure if the would understand if I asked her if it was “productive”?  

Surprisingly , she looked at me and said , “do you mean do I produce phlegm?”.   There are many parents that don’t understand that word!!  Then realizing that she was quite bright and knew words that I swear I learned in med school (okay maybe undergrad biology?), I asked her if she could spell phlegm. Of course, she immediately spelled the word correctly!!  

She was delightful patient and is another example of “kids say the darnedest things”.  We had a great conversation and it was so helpful to be able to get a good history from her. The history is just as critical as the physical exam in diagnosing a patient… so a good communicator makes a doctor’s job a lot easier.

The only time she was not communicative…when I told her she needed her flu vaccine, and YES it was a shot! Sorry, but this is to keep you healthy.

Daily Dose

MMR Vaccine Update

vaccine, virus, health, parenting

Although there is more and more data to confirm that childhood vaccines are safe, and DO NOT cause autism….there  continues to be some parental concern surrounding the timing of a child’s vaccines.  The majority (read as all of my patients) receive their vaccines according to the CDC guidelines…and for the most part my patients realize the importance of vaccines and how many lives have been saved as more vaccines are given to children today than 25 years ago.  

But, when it comes time for the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine, there are still a few parents who express concerns and some who would “like” to defer the vaccine to a later date when their child is “older”….typically after their child reaches the age of 18-24 months. Concerns are not only about safety, but also about efficacy of the vaccine at a younger age.   There have been several recent studies that should help to allay fears and actually reassure parents that giving the vaccine at 12 months of age is preferable and may have even have fewer side effects, if any, than when given when the child is older.

A study from Finland (which uses the same MMR vaccine)  looked at whether the antibody response (protection) from the MMR vaccine was any different when given at 12 months vs 18 months of age.  This study showed that the antibody response and protection from the MMR vaccine was similar when given at 12 months vs 18 months. Good news for giving it younger and protecting the child earlier.

Another study looked at the risk of febrile seizures after the MMR vaccine. This study reported that the risk of a seizure was more than 6 times higher during the 7 - 10 day interval after the MMR vaccine among children who were 16-23 months, as compared to those who were 12 -15 months. fact, delaying the vaccine actually put a child at more risk for a seizure than if given earlier.

These studies point to the win-win in giving the MMR vaccine to children at their 1 year old well child visit.  Not only does it provide earlier protection against measles, mumps and rubella ( a new outbreak of measles in the Amish community in Ohio was just reported), the chance of your child having any adverse effects are actually even lower. 

But remember, while this study showed “twice the risk” for delaying the vaccine…it is still a VERY LOW number, out of 10,000 kids there may be 4 extra febrile seizures.  While that number may seem insignificant,  when your child is one of the 4 to have a seizure it is significant. This is coming from a mother whose child had a febrile seizure (unrelated to vaccines) and who is a pediatrician.  It was even frightening for me to watch my child have a febrile seizure and I knew what was happening. While most febrile seizures only last 1-2 minutes he of course decided to have a prolonged seizure, (always doctor's kids). I am happy to report that he is of course totally fine and never had another febrile seizure…as most children “outgrow” febrile seizures during the pre-school years. 

Bottom line,  with these studies in hand…you should feel reassured that immunizing at 12 months is  preferable, safe and prevents serious illnesses.  

Daily Dose

Coxsackie Virus is Going Around

1.15 to read

Coxsackie virus is rampant once again! I have seen too many kids to count (TMKTC) with symptoms of coxsackie virus and the classic skin rash associated with “hand, foot and mouth disease”.  Many parents are telling me that their day care centers are having outbreaks which is what typically happens at this time of year.   

Like many viruses, coxsackie can make some children quite miserable, while others have very few symptoms but never the less are contagious and shed the virus to others. Viruses are just plain ‘ole contagious, even with the best precautions to help prevent spreading the illness. Best prevention continues to be hand washing! 

The classic symptoms of “hand, foot and mouth disease” are a fever, sore throat, and a rash which looks like small red spots or even a bit of a blister, occurring on a child’s palms, soles and often in their throats causing pain. We are also seeing many children who have a rash on their buttocks, and legs as well.  The rash is often confused for a diaper rash if there are no other associated symptoms.   

Coxsackie virus typically lasts from 3 -7 days.  While some children are terribly cranky and uncomfortable and will even drool rather than “swallow their own spit”, other seem to not even notice the rash on their hands or feet.  The treatment is totally symptomatic, which means acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever and discomfort and keeping your child hydrated.   

Most kids don’t have a great appetite when they have a sore throat (do you?), so I am a big believer in popsicles, Slurpees, ice cream, fozen yogurt, shaved ice.....the list is long. You just want to make sure your child is hydrated during the illness so “food rules” get thrown out for a few days.  If they have a fever they need to stay home until they have been fever free for 24 hours, and they may then return to school,  day care, and other activities. 

Thankfully, adults rarely get this illness, as we have developed some immunity over the years.  Interestingly, there was just an article about a trial of coxsackie virus vaccine given to children in China which proved to be quite successful in preventing serious coxsackie disease......stay tuned for more about this in the coming years.  

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Daily Dose

Zika Virus

1:30 to read

If you are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant in the near future you need to be aware of the Zika virus.  This virus is spread via the Aedes mosquito (as is West Nile Virus, Dengue fever and Chikunguyna), and has been found in Africa, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands , South America and Mexico.  The Zika virus was also just confirmed in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean in December.  There are new countries confirming cases of Zika virus almost every day, as the Aedes mosquito is found throughout the world.  

When bitten by a mosquito that has the Zika virus, only about 1 in 5 people actually become ill.  The most common symptoms are similar to many other viral infections including fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis.  For most people the illness is usually mild and lasts for several days to a week and their life returns to normal.  Many people may not even realize that they are infected. 

Unfortunately, if a pregnant mother is infected with the Zika virus, the virus may be transmitted to the baby.  It seems that babies who have been born to mothers who have been infected with the Zika virus may have serious birth defects including microcephaly (small head) and abnormal brain development. There have been more than 3,500 babies born with microcephaly in Brazil alone…and just recently a baby was born in Hawaii with microcephaly and confirmed Zika virus. In this case the mother had previously lived in Brazil and had relocated to Hawaii during her pregnancy.  The virus to date has not been confirmed in mosquitos in the United States.

Because of the association of the Zika virus and the possibility of serious birth defects, the CDC has announced a travel advisory stating, “until more is known and out of an abundance of caution, pregnant women in any trimester, or women trying to become pregnant, should consider postponing travel to the areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing”.  

Should pregnant women have to travel to these area they should follow steps to prevent getting mosquito bites during their trip. This includes wearing long sleeves, staying indoors as much as possible, and using insect repellents that contain DEET.

Researchers are continuing to study the link between Zika virus and birth defects in hopes of understanding the full spectrum of outcomes that might be associated with infection during pregnancy. There will be more data forthcoming.

At this point the safest way to avoid being bitten is to stay away from the countries who have had confirmed cases of the Zika virus.  But as the weather warms up in the United States and mosquitos become more abundant there is concern for Zika virus to be found here.  It only takes one infected mosquito to bite one person who then contracts the virus….should that person be bitten by another mosquito, that mosquito may acquire the infection and so it spreads.  There is not known to be human to human transmission of the virus.


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Why everyone including pregnant moms need their flu shot.

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