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Health and Wellness Archive

Tamiflu and You. Can it protect you from the bug the kids got at school?

Tamiflu is a prescription medicine used to treat the flu (influenza) in people 2 weeks of age and older who have had flu symptoms for no more than 2 days. Tamiflu can also reduce the chance of getting the flu in people 1 year and older. Tamiflu is not a substitute for an annual flu vaccination.”

Our 7-year old picked up something at school recently.  He was pretty sick two weeks ago and missed both Friday and Monday at school.  At the worst, he had nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever and felt lousy.  Minor symptoms persisted a couple days longer.  Then our older kids got it.  They also missed a 2-3 days of school last week and reported aches, pains and chills as well and didn’t fully recover for about 5 days.  Last Wednesday, my wife got hit pretty bad with “flu-like symptoms”, including fatigue that kept her in bed most of the day.

That morning, I ventured out to stock up on additional supplies.  Gatorade, ginger ale, Tylenol, soup, bread, etc.  While I was driving to the store, I happened to talk to Kecia and she mentioned I should inquire about Tamiflu, as it is apparently prescribed as a preventative.  Great idea!

So, I called my doctor’s office and talked to a nurse.  I stated I was wondering if it was still early enough for my wife to have Tamiflu or if it might be given as a preventative for me, as I was the only one yet to get it.  Apparently, even though they readily give antibiotics if you complain of a sneeze, doctors are not as lenient with Tamiflu.

The nurse grilled me about symptoms and other details, apparently skeptical that our family even had the flu.  Maybe they didn’t, though absent a blood culture, I’m not sure how they would completely rule it out.  She sounded doubtful, but said she would call be back.  I lingered in the store, hoping that the pharmacy could fill it while I was there.

A few hours later, back at home, she returned the call.  She was unconvinced and asked more about my wife’s symptoms.  So, I roused her from her death-like state and forced her to croak at the nurse about her condition.  The nurse said she doubted any pharmacy had any, since the flu season was over, but said she would talk to the doctor again and call back (my wife uses another physician at the same practice).

The call never came.  But on Friday, two days later, I got a call from the grocery store pharmacy that the prescription was ready.  Doh!  By that time it was too late for my wife, so I began taking it as a preventative.  It may have been too late for prevention, also, as I began to have symptoms just hours later.  Apparently, Tamiflu itself can cause similar side effects, so that’s a possibility, too.  Also, for any type of stomach flu or gastroenteritis, Tamiflu is not likely to be effective at all:-(

I had mild symptoms for about an hour or so.  A week has now passed and since then, nothing at all.  I figure that I must have been exposed in that time, but it’s now been two weeks since my youngest son first started exhibiting serious symptoms.  Perhaps it worked as advertised?

In any case, it made me wonder.  Here we have this drug that may help prevent or lessen the symptoms of the flu if taken soon enough.  Great.  But, it has to be taken just before or very early after you show the first symptoms.  Given that, just how likely is it that your doctor will actually prescribe it for you in time for it to be of any use?  With the way a lot of physician’s offices work these days, I’m thinking not very often!

Have any of you taken Tamiflu?  Do you think it helped?  How difficult was it to obtain?

What Are The Risks?

Parents worry.  We worry about the latest flu bug.  Worry about keeping household cleaners and other poisons out of the reach of our young kids.  Worry about a child getting a hold of matches.  Worry about SIDS.  Worry about falls on stairways.  Worry about handguns and assault weapons at schools or even from under a mattress at home.  Most parents spend the necessary time protecting their babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers from a host of potential dangers.  Unfortunately, for some children, the amount of time worrying about traveling in a car literally stops when the caregiver buys a carseat and quickly belts it into their vehicle.  Even then, perhaps only because it’s required by law, up to age 8 in most states.  Should they care more, or is it just another case of nanny state interference?

I did a quick inquiry of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s WISQARS database on the leading causes of death.  For the most recent decade of data, 2001- 2010, I took a look at the top killers of children ages 1 to 8 years old.  Here’s what I found:

#1 cause of death overall: Motor Vehicle Traffic, 8,640 deaths

#2 cause of death overall: Malignant Neoplasms, 7,745 deaths

#2 cause of death from unintentional injury: Drowning, 5,697 deaths

Some Other causes of untintentional fatal injury combined:  Fires/burns (3,123), suffocation (1,682) , falls (520),  poisoning (438) , influenza (1,651), firearms (278 unintentional + 859 homicide).  Total = 8,551 deaths.

ALL other causes from unintentional injury combined, other than motor vehicle crashes, drowning and fires: Total = 6,692 deaths.

As you can see, car crashes take more lives than many other causes of fatal injury, combined!  The numbers are staggering in comparison, yet we never hear about outbreaks, sprees or epidemics of car crashes.  Sadly, the #1 killer claims its victims quietly, one, two or three young lives at a time.  There are rarely front page stories.  There are no headlines on the six o’clock national news.  Yet, this killer continues to claim the lives of more children each year than all the causes that mainstream media fear mongers place daily into every worrying parent’s mind.  Most of these deaths are to children who are not using an appropriate child restraint at all.  Misuse contributes to injuries for many of those who are using a child restraint system.

The vaccine is proven.  The CDC calls the fight against this killer, “A winnable battle.”  The effectiveness of this vaccine varies from 54% for children to 71% for infants.  So, why do many parents choose not to protect their children, according to best practices set by the pediatricians that  they trust?  We wish we knew!  Some argue against these safest practices, citing a variety of reasons why the burden is simply to great.  We think the burden is essentially nothing at all in terms of time, hassle or money, especially compared to the burden of having a child become a statistic.

What do you think?  Possible cure to a quiet epidemic?  Or is your freedom to parent your child being unfairly restricted by the government?  Is keeping your toddler rear-facing too expensive or too time-consuming?  Or do you try to follow the advice of major organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the NHTSA or Safe Kids USA?  When you are with other moms or dads, does talking about carseat safety elicit the same interest as school shootings or the latest flu strain?

Is Your Carseat Toxic? Don’t Panic!

You’ve probably already seen the headlines.  “Hazardous Flame Retardants and Chemical Additives Found in Over Half of 2011 Child Car Seats…”

I almost hesitate to link to the article or mention the organization that did the tests, because the study seems very incomplete.  It provides little information on their methods, it doesn’t mention if they have correlated these findings to actual exposure/poisoning risk, and it also doesn’t even mention how they propose these chemicals are being introduced to children.  The same was true the last time they did such testing and the new results appear to have the same flaws.

After all, your child doesn’t drink or eat using a carseat, the two most likely methods for exposure.  The skin of the arms and legs often contact the fabric cover and the child could possibly chew on a harness system component, but other than that, there simply isn’t much direct contact to the shell plastics, metals and other components.  A more likely method is that some of these chemicals could be released into the air and inhaled, but the press release doesn’t discuss this in any way.  Plus, similar chemicals are likely to be in vehicle upholstery and interior components anyway.

The reality is that all of these chemicals are present in many household items that your child can contact.  Silverware, appliances, many pajamas, furniture upholstery, carpeting (and other flame retardant fabrics) and lots of other common products.  The question is this: can the chemical be leeched from the product at all and if so, is it likely for it to be ingested or absorbed in a quantity large enough to cause an exposure issue?  The answer for many items is simply “No”. 

Of course, I don’t have the answer in regard to carseats, but it doesn’t appear the study provides any useful information on this, either.  That is because the study only seems to discuss the mere presence of chemicals based on their testing.  The presence of a toxic chemical is only one requirement for exposure.  The study doesn’t discuss at all if these chemicals can migrate out of the materials in question or if there is a possible method in which enough exposure would result in any real risk to a child.  Without this information, the results seem nearly useless to me.

Plus, the study even admits that it, “…did not test for all hazardous flame retardants, particularly chlorinated flame retardants (CFRs), and seats may contain other chemical hazards.”   So, they blatantly ignored non-Bromine based flame retardants based on Chlorine that can also be toxic, even though they list Chlorine as a hazard elsewhere in the study.  That seems quite incomplete and potentially very biased, because nearly all carseat cover fabrics are treated to meet the required federal flame retardant standard.  (A few, like Orbit Baby in their G2 products, use Oeko-Tex certified fabrics that apparently do not use chlorinated or brominated flame retardant treatments).

Given that this study on carseats does not appear to have been published and peer-reviewed in a respected scientific or medical journal, I would be very hesitant to use it as a basis for a purchase of a child safety seat.   Sadly, some of the headlines today do misleadingly mention a peer-reviewed study.  That study is related to flame retardants in general, and again, it only addresses their existence in products like foam, not the actual exposure or risk.  Interestingly, that peer-reviewed study discusses the toxic risk of chlorinated flame retardants in detail, even though this carseat study claims that it did not measure for them at all!  Also, there is no independent verification of results.  Many carseats and covers, especially infant seats, are produced in the same few factories in China and the Far East.  If I was concerned about chemicals, I would also be wondering why some models from the same manufacturer tested one way, while nearly identical models made in the same facility had different results.

What we do know for certain is that motor vehicle crashes remain a top killer of children 1-14 years old.   Parents should still purchase a carseat based on how well it fits their child, fits their vehicle and how easy it is to use correctly on each trip.  I don’t want to diminish the risk of toxic chemicals to children.  I am concerned about them, too.  There may indeed be a risk to children from chemicals in car seats (and many children’s products), but this study seems completely inadequate to specify those risks.  Personally, for me to make a choice based on the presence of such chemicals, this study would have to go a lot farther and not have the flaws I described.

If you are concerned about the flame retardant chemicals present in nearly all carseat covers, there are a couple simple alternatives.  When you buy a carseat, let it sit outside in the sun for a few days.  That will allow for the most volatile chemicals to outgas before being enclosed in the car.  Next, washing/scrubbing with certain cleaners can help reduce or remove the flame retardant present in the fabric cover.  Of course, this may be contrary to some manufacturer’s washing instructions and, if so, could possibly ruin your cover.  It will certainly diminish the ability of the fabric to resist burning, causing a real risk to a child in a serious crash if fire is present.  Ultimately, like everything, it’s a tradeoff.  The very small, but very real risk of serious burns vs. an unspecified risk due to a possible chemical exposure indicated by an incomplete and questionable study.  It’s another tough choice for a parent, but I do not believe it is any cause for the panic many media outlets are creating.  Please leave us a comment and let us know which you would choose!

For those still interested to see the press release, you may find it here.

Guest Blog: Burning Down the House

Earlier this week I inadvertently created a plume of green toxic smoke in my kitchen. As fun and interesting as that sounds, it’s not actually the topic of this post. It did, however, lead someone to remind me about the time I left carrots cooking on the stove while I ran some errands. I realized that we, understandably, spend a lot of time talking about the number-one killer of children (car accidents), so why not also take a minute to talk about the number-one cause of residential fires (unattended cooking)?

Now of course I didn’t intend to leave my carrots on the stove. I had planned on running to the craft store and then out to dinner, so I put some carrots on the stove to boil for my one-year-old to chomp on at the restaurant. I set the timer and went to do some other things.

Why Rear-Facing Is Better: Your RF Link Guide

Here’s a list of concrete reasons why we recommend rear-facing past age 1 and 20 lbs.  That old recommendation that many pediatricians still hold onto stresses the bare minimums of when to turn a child forward-facing.  Who wants the minimum for their child?  It’s best practice to rear-face to the limits of the child’s convertible carseat: check the label for the rear-facing weight limit and make sure there’s at least 1″ of carseat above the top of his head.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended since 2002 that after age 1 and 20 lbs., children should ride in a rear-facing convertible seat until reaching the weight limit of that carseat. They’ve just amended that policy (3/2011) to recommend rear-facing to age 2 or until they reach the “highest weight or height allowed” by that convertible carseat.  (http://www.medpagetoday.com/Pediatrics/GeneralPediatrics/25435)