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Timing the flu vaccine

flu vaccineEvery year, researchers study the effectiveness of the current flu vaccine, but how long does the vaccine provide protection?

People generally can expect a flu vaccine to remain effective for about six months, according to information presented at the 2015 International Conference of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

To find out how long the flu vaccine remained effective, researchers measured vaccine protection declines using data from more than 1,700 people throughout the course of four flu seasons, beginning in 2010 and ending in 2014.

“Previous studies have found that protection from contracting influenza declines over time following influenza vaccination due to decreasing antibody levels,” said Dr. Jennifer Radin, the Naval Health Research Center epidemiologist who presented the study. “However, we found during this study that those who received the vaccine had moderate, sustained protection up to six months post-vaccination, the duration of most flu seasons. This means flu vaccination reduced one’s risk of a doctor’s visit by approximately 50-70 percent.”

Researchers said the study results suggested that getting vaccinated early in the fall, before influenza begins to spread, may prevent the greatest number of flu infections.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that the seasonal flu vaccine be administered to all age groups each year as soon as it becomes available.


Checking up on doctors

A national medical board licensing organization has launched a free online tool to provide consumers with background information on the nation’s doctors.

The Federation of State Medical Boards announced last month that its Docinfo site was up and running. The website provides information on more than 900,000 physicians, including disciplinary, licensure and medical specialty information, plus data on thousands of physician assistants regulated by state medical boards.

The Docinfo tool originally was launched more than a decade ago but recently was redesigned to enable simple navigation. Consumers simply provide a doctor’s name and state to access a report stating whether or not the doctor has been disciplined by a state medical board; the state(s) in which the doctor is licensed and the city and state of current practice; where he/she went to medical school, and specialty certification information.

The report also includes a link to the appropriate state medical board website for specifics on any disciplinary action that has been taken.

To check out the site, visit docinfo.org.


Polluted GPAs

Children who live in areas where motor vehicle emissions are high tend to have lower grade point averages (GPAs) than students residing in less polluted areas.

That was the finding of a University of El Paso study that used the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Air Toxics Assessment to measure nearly 2,000 fourth- and fifth-graders’ exposure to air pollutants like diesel exhaust around their homes. Researchers compared the toxic air measurements to students’ school performance and found those who were exposed to high levels of vehicle emissions coming from nearby roadways had significantly lower GPAs than other students.

Study co-author Sara Grineski cited two possible explanations for the finding.

“Some evidence suggests that this association might exist because of illnesses, such as respiratory infections or asthma. Air pollution makes children sick, which leads to absenteeism and poor performance in school,” she said. “The other hypothesis is that chronic exposure to air toxins can negatively affect children’s neurological and brain development.”

Results of the study were published in Population and Environment.


Underage bingers

In a recent report, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urged parents and pediatricians to have a conversation about alcohol with children before they take their first sip – a situation that in some cases will require broaching the subject when kids are very young.

According to the AAP, more than one in four students have had more than a taste of alcohol by eighth grade and one in nine eighth graders has been drunk at least once. By the end of high school, 66 percent of students have consumed more than a sip of alcohol, and 50 percent of 12th-graders have been drunk.

The AAP report specifically addresses binge drinking, which is particularly dangerous for young people.

“We must approach drinking in children, particularly binge drinking, differently than we do in adults,” AAP spokesperson Dr. Lorena Siqueira said. “Given their lack of experience with alcohol and smaller bodies, children and adolescents can have serious consequences – including death – with their first episode of binge drinking.”

For girls aged 9-17 and boys aged 9-13, three or more drinks in a two-hour period is considered binge drinking; for boys aged 14-15, the cutoff is four or more drinks in two hours, and for boys 16-17, five or more drinks.

The report revealed also that:

• Between 36 and 50 percent of high school students drink alcohol, and 28-60 percent have reported binge drinking.

• In high school, boys are more likely than girls to binge drink.

• Children begin to think positively about alcohol been the ages of 9 and 13.

• One-third of fatal vehicle accidents involving alcohol involve 15-20-year-olds.

Siqueira said that when it comes to teenagers and alcohol, early prevention has proven to be more effective than later intervention.

Musical pain relief

A team of scientists in the U.K. said they have proven that music is a powerful pain reducer.

Researchers at Queen Mary University analyzed the results of 73 randomized, controlled trials that compared the impact of music on post-operative recovery to standard care or other non-medical interventions. The data they reviewed involved almost 7,000 patients.

The scientists concluded that there is a connection between music in the operating room and a significant post-surgery reduction in pain, anxiety and the need for pain relief medication. Even when patients were under general anesthetic, music was effective during recovery, they said.

“We have known since the time of Florence Nightingale that listening to music has a positive impact on patients during surgery, by making them feel calmer and reducing pain,” said Dr. Martin Hirsch, one of the study’s authors. “However, it’s taken pulling together all the small studies on this subject into one robust meta-analysis to really prove it works.”

The researchers said now they are hoping hospital staff will determine how patients can safely bring their own music with them so they can listen before, during and after surgery.

“There is now sufficient evidence to demonstrate music should be available to all patients undergoing surgery,” study co-author Jenny Hole said. “Patients should be able to choose the type of music, and timing and delivery may be adapted to different settings depending on the medical requirements and teams involved.”

The findings were published last month in The Lancet.


On the calendar

“Try a New Fitness Style!” is from 6-7 p.m. on Mondays, Sept. 21 and 28 and Oct. 19 and 26 at Middendorf-Kredell Library, 2750 Hwy. K in O’Fallon. BJC HealthCare in conjunction with the St. Charles City-County Library District presents new and unique fitness classes to “try out.” Admission is free; registration is required. Call 928-9355, or visit bjcstcharlescounty.org.

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“Sports Injury and Concussion Prevention” is from 6-7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, September 23 at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital, 10 Hospital Drive in St. Peters. Dr. Brandon Larkin, a pediatrician and sports medicine specialist, provides information on how to keep an athlete safe. Admission is free, and registration is required. For more information or to enroll, call 928-9355.

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The AARP Smart Driver Course is from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 1 at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital, 10 Hospital Drive in St. Peters. The classroom course for drivers aged 50 and older helps refine existing driving skills and develop safe driving strategies. The fee is $15 for AARP members and $20 for non-members, payable at the door. Registration is required. Call 928-9355.

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“Matter of Balance” is from 1-3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays from Tuesday, Oct. 6-Thursday, Oct. 29 at Spencer Road Library, 427 Spencer Road in St. Peters. OASIS community health facilitators present information designed to help keep older adults on their feet. The fee is $10 per participant and includes an instructional book and light refreshments. Registration is required. Call 928-9355, or visit bjcstcharlescounty.org.

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“Staying Home Alone,” a St. Louis Children’s Hospital parent-child program that helps determine whether a child is physically, mentally, socially and emotionally ready to stay home alone and helps prepare the child for doing so, is from 6:30-8 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 12 at the Middendorf-Kredell Library, 2750 Hwy. K in O’Fallon. The fee is $25 per family.  To register, call 344-5437.

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