Republican and democratic lawmakers: Grow up and do your jobs

Posted July 20, 2017 by Dr. Roy
Categories: Medical problems

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The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

Health – /helTH/ – The state of being free from illness or injury

Care – /ker/ – The provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, and protection of someone or something.

System – /’sistəm/ – A set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network.

It’s not keeping us Healthy, it doesn’t seem to Care, and it’s certainly no kind of System. What we’re got is more about hostile parties protecting their turf and income than a system that’s working together. The docs fight the insurance companies to get things covered; the patients fight the hospitals over inflated, inscrutable bills; the insurance companies fight the pharmaceutical companies over the eye-popping prices of new drugs. The people least suited to fight end up losing the most – that’d be the “patients.”

Meanwhile: the peeps we’ve hired to fix this mess are too busy trying to make each other look bad – which, by the way, is like shootin’ fish in a barrel these days, amirite? – to pass some kind of legislation to even begin to help fix this fine mess. Ever get hired to do a job that you don’t do for 2 or 4 or 8 or 20 years? Didja keep that job? Mind: boggled.

OK, in the spirit of angering everyone involved, so I can bask in the flames of democrats and republicans alike, I will now specifically criticize the approach of both parties. Those of you with strong loyalties may want to skip the next (democratic) or following (republican) paragraphs, lest you be exposed to a worldview that’s not aligned with your own. But for the few of you left who are still capable of seeing two sides of an issue, start here:

Democrats: Obamacare has problems. The insurance marketplaces in many places are collapsing, and premiums are going thru the roof. Even people who have “insurance” often have huge deductibles that they can’t afford. In short: just having “insurance” isn’t the same as “having access to health care.” Obamacare didn’t do a thing to rein in the biggest problem: health care costs too much, and too many people (sorry, “market stakeholders”) are chewing up huge slices of the pie without contributing anything useful to helping patients. I know you’re feeling hurt that you lost the last election, but can you please grow up, talk to the other side, and come up with some common ground to start to address the problems?

Republicans: The free market, alone, cannot save health care. The barriers to entry are too huge (it’s hard to become a doctor, harder to open up a company to manufacture medicines, and even harder to open up a hospital) – which means competition is artificially stunted, and won’t pop up automatically to reduce prices. Also, Emergency Departments are required, by law, to offer care to people who cannot pay – that’s morally the right thing, and don’t even think about removing this safety net. Health care choices are also difficult and fraught, and often made under the duress of pain and worry. People cannot be expected to call around to different ambulance companies to check their prices when they’re experiencing crushing chest pain. You have to admit: health care is unique, and you can’t depend on free market principles, alone, to fix it. The solution is going to include regulations and guidelines and (gasp) some guarantees of coverage, and might even require ways to rein in insco, hospital, doctor, and pharmaceutical profits. I know you’re feeling giddy that you won the last election, but can you please grow up, talk to the other side, and come up with some common ground to start to address the problems?

It’s not easy, I know – but at this point, it’s clear that members of both parties aren’t keeping their eyes on the ball. Your job isn’t about re-election, and payback, and “If you play with Susie than you can’t be my friend anymore.” This isn’t kindergarten, and we don’t really care who plays with Susie – we just want Susie and her family to have access to affordable, good health care. Congresspeople, it’s time to grow up and do your jobs.

Vaccines: We’re all in this together

Posted July 17, 2017 by Dr. Roy
Categories: Medical problems

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The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

When we work together, great things can happen.

Polio has been around since ancient times – there are depictions of it in art thousands of years old. Improved sanitation helped, but it was vaccines that have nearly eradicated polio from the world. This is a disease that paralyzed over 21,000 people in the US in 1952. There are still plenty of people around living with deformities and chronic pain from polio they suffered through years ago. Our children will never have to face this, because our parents and grandparents were sure to get us vaccinated.

Smallpox – gone.

Rinderpest – gone, too, though you may not have known what it was. It’s a neat story. Rinderpest was also known as cattle plague or steppe murrain, and may have been one of the biblical plagues. Our livestock no longer have to worry about it (I’m not sure they ever did, really. That’s livestock for you. But for farmers & pastoral nomads, rinderpest was a big deal.)

Measles – another ancient disease, and a serious one that continues to kill people – was almost eradicated from the western world. It’s no longer endemic (constantly circulating) in the USA, though pockets of certain populations can still support local outbreaks. And that exactly what happens, when vaccine rates fall. Measles cases rapidly return. It’s happening in Europe, and it’s happening in communities in Minnesota who’ve fallen for the lies of the antivaccine propagandists.

Have you or your kids had tetanus, lately? Diphtheria? No. And it’s not because you’re lucky. It’s, again, because our parents and grandparents got us vaccinated, and almost all of us continue to vaccinate our children.

Most parents get it, that vaccines protect not only our children, but everyone else’s children – especially babies too young to get their immunizations, or children who have cancer or other immune problems. Elderly people, adults on medicine for their psoriasis or rheumatoid arthritis, or in chemotherapy – all of us, in every community, benefit when parents vaccinate their children.

And when parents don’t vaccinate, bad things quickly happen. The diseases will wait, patiently, until we let our guard down and invite them back into our homes. They’re not busy. They’re waiting.

There’s a choice, here. Live in fear – fake fear, made-up fear, fear based on lies and propaganda and the same stuff that tries to fool you into e-mailing your bank routing number to a Nigerian prince. You’re not getting that $26 million (or $43 million), and your doctors and the CDC and governments all over the world are not trying to poison your children. Honestly. Let us protect your kids. Great things can happen when we all vaccinate. Protect your children, your community, and yourself.

Bonus! Another example – great things can happen when we all work together. Or, in this case, sing together. Listen, it’ll give you goosebumps.

Most kids with penicillin allergies aren’t actually allergic

Posted July 6, 2017 by Dr. Roy
Categories: Medical problems, Pediatric Insider information

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The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

It’s a common problem: an infant or child has a rash or another symptom while taking antibiotic, so he’s considered “allergic.” The chart is so marked, and the child isn’t allowed to take that antibiotic anymore. But a new study adds to growing evidence that many children thought to be allergic actually aren’t. They could take that same drug again, and they’d do fine.

This isn’t a minor issue. Second like drugs used when there’s a reported allergy tend to be less effective or more broad-spectrum, leading to more side effects. And some kinds end up with a whole lot of alleged allergies, making it difficult to treat them with anything.

In the current study, the authors looked at children (age 4 to 18) showing up to an Emergency Department with a history of any penicillin allergy (this includes amoxicillin, Augmentin, and other penicillins.) Parents were asked to fill out a questionnaire about their child’s previous reactions, and most of the common reactions reported were considered “low risk” for true allergy – symptoms like any rash (hives or not hives, any rash), itching, diarrhea, comiting, runny nose, nausea, cough, headache, dizziness, or allergy suspected based only on a family member being allergic. If a child’s symptoms were one or more of these items, they were considered “low risk” to be truly allergic. When 100 of these “low risk” patients had formal allergy testing, ALL of them tested negative. Not one of them was allergic to penicillin.

Reported “high risk” symptoms included facial or lip swelling, difficulty breathing, wheezing, throat swelling, skin blisters or peeling, or a drop in blood pressure. These children were not tested for penicillin allergy, and were presumed to be really allergic.

This was a small sample – despite their “100% not allergic” finding, I don’t think anyone’s prepared to say that all amoxicillin rashes can be disregarded as non allergic. But it’s clear that most children (and adults) labeled as penicillin or amoxicillin allergic are not allergic, and could safely try the medication again. If you or your child is thought to be allergic, talk with your doctor about the exact reaction, and see if either a rechallenge or a referral to an allergist would be a good idea.

 

 

Mixed messages: Where should babies sleep?

Posted June 12, 2017 by Dr. Roy
Categories: Pediatric Insider information

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The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

A new study about the best place for babies to sleep – in their own rooms, or sharing a room with their parents – contradicts current AAP guidelines. But hopefully, in the long run, it will help more parents and babies get a better night’s sleep overall.

The most recent “safe sleep” guidelines were published in 2016. They stressed evidence-based recommendations for the safest way for babies to sleep: put down on their backs for every sleep, and on a firm, flat surface. Since bed sharing is has been shown to increase the risk of SIDS (especially in younger babies), it was also recommended that babies sleep on their own surface, designed for infants. And babies were supposed to sleep in their parents’ bedroom for at least the first six months of life, and ideally for 12 months.

It’s that last recommendation that I’ve never been completely happy about. The recommendation is based on three studies from the 1990s, all from Europe (where almost all babies slept in parents’ rooms, and, at the time, on their tummies.) In the aggregate, these studies showed fewer SIDS cases in babies sharing a room with their parents. But: there were very few SIDS cases to compare, and the one study that separated out babies by age at death showed that babies less than 4 months were safer in their own rooms (and less than 4 months is the peak time for SIDS.)  So the evidence, then, wasn’t very strong – but it was the best evidence at the time, and the AAP decided the “share room with parents” idea deserved to be a recommendation.

I also think the Academy was swayed by room sharing’s making nursing easier, which is true. Breastfeeding is associated with a decreased SIDS risk.

The “ideally until 12 months” part of the recommendation was especially problematic. SIDS rates are very low past 6 months, making conclusions about the effect of sleeping location for older infants tenuous at best. 12 months is also peak time for separation anxiety, and a terrible time to first put your child alone to bed. The AAP decided to extend the “ideal time” in parents’ room to 12 months to be extra cautious, but I’m not sure they considered the overall burden this could place on many parents and children in terms of overall quality of life.

Now, a new study throws a wrench into this “same room” recommendation. Researchers tracked the sleep habits of babies who slept in their parents’ rooms, versus their own rooms, and the results aren’t terribly surprising. Room sharing at 4 and 9 months is associated with less sleep for babies, and fewer long stretches of sleep. Babies seem less able to “consolidate” or organize their sleep into longer stretches if they’re sharing a room with parents. And: room sharing makes it more likely that babies will end up in known unsafe sleep positions – like sleeping directly in their parents’ beds. But wasn’t room sharing supposed to be safer?

It’s a mixed message, but it reflects that the evidence for this room sharing recommendation has never been very strong. With this new study, parents should feel more comfortable, and less guilty, if they choose to put babies in their own rooms to sleep.

Nevus sebaceous – what we don’t know about their management

Posted June 5, 2017 by Dr. Roy
Categories: Pediatric Insider information

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The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

Trupti sent in a quick question, to which I’ve written an honest but worthless answer. Such is medicine, sometimes. But honestly is always the best policy, right?

“Hi Dr. Roy, can you please shed more light on nevus sebaceous and its management?”

Nevus sebaceous – also called “nevus sebaceous of Jadassohn” or “sebaceous nevus” – is a fairly common skin patch. And by fairly common, I’d say I see a new one of these on my patients maybe once a year. They’re usually found on the head or neck, often noted at or shortly after birth. I’ve also heard they can arise later, but I don’t think that’s too common. They look kind of waxy and bumpy, with a yellow-brown or yellow-pink color, and if they arise in the scalp they stand out a little more because they don’t grow hair.

Really, the only management decisions are whether to have the removed, and when. Do they have to be removed? The answer here is a clear and definite “maybe.”  Derm textbooks and many docs who trained in the past will tell you that many of these will turn into cancer, so they ought to be lopped off, excised, and fully extirpated with extreme prejudice. This is based on older studies that found cancer rates up to 10-30% — and, yes, if that were true I’d say get them off. But more-recent studies since the 1990s have found much lower rates of cancer, perhaps less than 1%. Those older studies had mis-classified pathology findings as basal cell carcinomas, when in retrospect they were benign. We honestly do not know exactly how many of these will develop into cancer over a child’s lifetime, though cancerous transformation certainly isn’t common when kids are young.

There still isn’t a consensus in the dermatology literature about this. Though some authors recommend prophylactic removal because of this cancer risk, others do not. Here’s a table from a 2012 review – note that newer recommendations tend to be less surgery-happy, but they’re still all over the place:

 

OK, so that’s clear now. Another reason to consider removal is cosmetic – and especially if one of these is on the face or the side of the neck, you’d probably want to consider removal for your child. That’s something to talk w/ a plastic surgeon or dermatologist about. Removal of one of these will always leave some kind of scar, and you want an honest assessment of what it will look like afterwards – there’s no such thing as a no-scar removal.

As for when to take them off, well, there’s no consensus about that either. In early childhood they’re smaller, so hypothetically easier to remove, but it’s harder to use safe local anesthesia in younger children. You could wait to see how it develops through adolescence, but if it gets much bigger a more extensive, possible multi-staged, procedure is going to be needed.

Bottom line: we don’t know if these should be taken off, or the best time to do the procedure. I know, clear as mud – aren’t you glad you asked, Trupti? You should talk with your child’s doc, and get the opinions of a few knowledgeable plastic surgeons to help make the best decision. Good luck!

Mosquito prevention and treatment: A quick guide for families

Posted May 19, 2017 by Dr. Roy
Categories: Pediatric Insider information

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The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

 

Mosquitoes are more than an itchy nuisance. Though uncommon, serious diseases such as West Nile Encephalitis and dengue fever can be spread by mosquito bites in the USA. Our newest worry, Zika virus, is especially dangerous to pregnant women and their unborn babies — and there will almost certainly be US cases this summer.  Itchy mosquito bites can be scratched open by children, leading to scabbing, scarring, and the skin infection impetigo. Prevention is the best strategy.

Try to keep your local mosquito population under control by making it more difficult for the insects to breed. Empty any containers of standing water, including tires, empty flowerpots, or birdbaths. Avoid allowing gutters or drainage pipes to hold water. Mosquitoes are “home-bodies”—they don’t typically wander far from their place of birth. So reducing the mosquito population in your own yard can really help.

Most biting mosquitoes are active at dusk, so that’s the most important time to be vigilant with your prevention techniques. Light colored clothing is less attractive to mosquitoes. Though kids won’t want to wear long pants in the summer, keep in mind that skin covered with clothing is protected from biting insects like mosquitoes and ticks. A T-shirt is better than a tank top, and a tank top is better than no shirt at all!

Use a good mosquito repellent. The best-studied and most commonly available active ingredient is DEET. This chemical has been used for decades as an insect repellant and is very safe. Though rare allergies are always possible with any product applied to the skin, almost all children do fine with DEET. Use a concentration of about 10%, which provides effective protection for about two hours. It should be reapplied after swimming. Children who have used DEET (or any other insect repellant) should take a bath or shower at the end of the day.

Other agents that are effective insect repellants are picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, and IR3535 (also known as ethyl butylactylaminopropionate. Tasty!) These are probably not more effective than DEET, but some families prefer them because of their more pleasant smell and feel. Other products, including a variety of botanical ingredients, work for only a very short duration, or not at all. The CDC has extensive info on these products here.

There are also yard sprayers or misters, devices that widely spray repellants or pesticides. I couldn’t find much in the way to independent assessments of these products, but there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t work. Still, I’m leery about the idea of spraying chemicals all over the place, when we know that DEET sprayed on your child is effective and safe for both child and environment.

About “Organic” or “Natural” insecticides or repellants – those are just  marketing words. Organic compounds are no more or less likely to be dangerous to people or the environment than non-organic compounds; likewise, “natural” in no way implies that something is safe or effective (or even “natural” in the sense that most people mean that term.) These words are tossed around as part of the typical salad of meaningless marketing-speak on labels. Ignore them.

There are also devices that act as traps, using chemicals or gas to attract the mosquitoes from your yard. Although I don’t have much independent confirmation that these work, they are probably environmentally friendly and safe.

Some children do seem more attractive to others to mosquitoes, and some children seem to have more exaggerated local reactions with big itchy warm welts. To minimize the reaction to a mosquito bites, follow these steps:

  1. Give an oral antihistamine like Zyrtec or Claritin, or old-school oral Benadryl (do NOT use topical Benadryl. It doesn’t work, and can lead to sensitization and bigger reactions.)
  2. Apply a topical steroid, like OTC hydrocortisone 1%. Your doctor can prescribe a stronger steroid if necessary.
  3. Apply ice or a cool wet washcloth.
  4. Reapply insect repellent so he doesn’t get bitten again.
  5. Have a Popsicle.
  6. Repeat all summer!

Updated and adapted from previous posts. Reduce reuse recycle!

Is 24% the correct goal for c-section rates?

Posted May 17, 2017 by Dr. Roy
Categories: Pediatric Insider information

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The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

Yesterday I wrote about a recent Consumer Reports article about c-sections and how to avoid them by choosing a hospital with a low c-section rate. I’m not convinced that’s the best way to choose a hospital.

In their piece, Consumer Reports quoted an overall “goal” for c-section rates of 23.9%, as determined by the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (That’s right, the USDHHSODPHP. Yes there will be a quiz.) I was kind of flip in my dismissal of that number – I may have said something about it being “made up” or “pulled from the USDHHSODPHP’s nethers” – because to my knowledge there’s no data supporting an exact c-section rate that’s ideal for maternal and baby health.

In the spirit of pretending to be a journalist, I looked into that number a bit further. And it turns out I was right. It really was pulled out of USDHHSODPHP’s nethers.

Here’s where it comes from, see for yourself: MICH-7.1, a goal to “reduce cesarean births among low-risk women with no prior cesarean births.” They took the 2007 rate –estimated at 26.5% — and reduced it by a target of 10%. Not 11% or 5% or 15%, but 10%, because that’s a nice number. And that’s it. Our current official goal rate of 23.9% is exactly where we were, reduced by a nice round percentage.

The number has nothing to do with healthy babies or moms – they didn’t even try to figure out what c-section rate results in the best health outcomes. Or even the lowest cost, or the best patient satisfaction, or anything like that. It’s just an arbitrary number that could as easily been set higher or lower. I mean, if a 10% reduction is good, why not 15%? Or 41.5%?

Why this matters: women are trying to make good decisions for their own health and the health of their babies. Arbitrarily telling them that c-sections are bad and that hospitals that do fewer of them are good is, well, silly and paternalistic and insulting. We can admit that we really don’t know the perfect percentage for a c-section rate, which means it’s OK that it’s not the same at every hospital. Whether you get a c-section should depend on your health, your baby’s health, and a frank and honest discussion with your OB or midwife about the risks and benefits of a vaginal or c-section delivery. Let’s leave the USDGGSODPHP out of it.