There’s news today about three different vaccines–HPV for boys, varicella vaccine (against chickenpox) and flu vaccines.
The common thread? Public health officials repeat the recommendations to get them.
First, a study in today’s Pediatrics shows why the 2009 H1N1 pandemic was so lethal in previously healthy children. If those children were simultaneously carrying MRSA, a common staph infection, they were eight times more likely to die. The New York Times summarizes the story.
The authors conclude the study with this plea, ”New therapies for treating severe influenza and new treatment strategies for MRSA pneumonia complicating influenza are urgently needed for children.”
The Times also stresses the importance of prevention.
“There’s a nice message here about vaccines: that even otherwise healthy children are still at risk, and they are at risk of death,” said Dr. Lisa Saiman, a professor of clinical pediatrics at Columbia. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the flu vaccine for everyone over the age of 6 months, and stresses that pregnant women, children younger than 2 and people over 50 are at especially high risk of having serious flu-related complications.
Next, HPV for boys. Richard Knox at NPR does a great job outlining why it might be easier to convince parents to vaccinate their sons instead of daughters. It has to do with the double standard about sexual activity. Knox interviews Dr. Don Dizon, a Brown University oncologist who speculates that sexual activity,”is something that’s almost expected of boys.”
Parents may disagree that sexual activity is expected of their sons, but it’s harder to disagree with the spectrum of protection the HPV vaccine provides. For girls, the vaccine protects against cancers of the cervix, vagina and vulva. For boys, penile cancers. But it also protects both sexes against other, sometimes more common, cancers. From Knox’s report:
But both sexes get anal cancer linked to HPV — sometimes without ever having had anal sex. That’s because the virus can migrate from the genitalia. And even though anal cancer is thought to be mainly a risk among men who have sex with men, more women get it than men.
But Dizon worries most about cancers of the head and neck — devastating, often disfiguring and hard-to-treat malignancies that used to be strongly linked to smoking and alcohol abuse.
“There’s an epidemic of head and neck cancers, and we are seeing this increase in … nonsmokers,” he says. “And it’s being tied to HPV.”
Finally, a woman in Nashville was caught selling varicella laden lollipops at $50 each. Varicella is the virus that causes Chickenpox. She was advertising on Facebook pages created for people wanting to have “Chickenpox parties.” Presumably, these parties are for parents who prefer their children get the disease instead of the vaccine.
Kimberly Curth and an investigative team at WSMV-TV in Nashville reported the story which was later picked up by NPR (with a great headline,”What Not to Buy Online.”) Curth reached one of the people who posted the ads, Wendy Werkit, and the two had this exchange:
Kimberly Curth: “Have you been shipping it in the past? Contaminated bodily fluids to other states? ”
Wendy Werkit: “I’ve shipped suckers.”
Kimberly Curth: “Okay, tell us about that those, lollipops, right?
Wendy Werkit: “Yes, they were sucked on by my kids.”
Kimberly Curth: “And why would you do that?
Wendy Werkit: “So that other peoples’ kids can get chicken pox.
If Werkit shipped the contaminated suckers over state lines, Curth reports, she has potentially violated federal law and could be criminally charged.
Chicken Pox has long been seen as much more benign than other childhood illnesses such as polio or measles. But in the years before the varicella vaccine was introduced, about 150 people died a year from Chickenpox. After the vaccine was widely implemented, death rates among children 19 and younger declined by a whopping 97%.
The Centers for Disease Control recommend a two-dose regimen. In addition to the dramatic drop in deaths, the vaccination is almost 100% effective in preventing serious disease.