Breastfeeding increases the risk of newborn readmission. Now what do we do?

Posted January 9, 2019 by Dr. Roy
Categories: Nutrition, Pediatric Insider information

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The Pediatric Insider

© 2019 Roy Benaroch, MD

An August 2018 paper in Academic Pediatrics found an unsettling conclusion: breast-fed newborns have about double the risk of needing to be hospitalized in their first month of life, compared to babies who were formula-fed. The numbers are solid, and they jibe with the real-life experience of many pediatricians, including me. So what should we do about it?

The study itself looked at about 150,000 healthy, normal newborns born in Northern California hospitals from 2009 to 2013. The study authors were able to collect data on how these babies were fed in the few days following birth from hospital records (dividing them into groups of all-breast, all-formula, and a mixed group that did some of both.) They were then able to track these babies over the first month of their lives to see which ones ended up hospitalized for any reason. Most of the hospitalizations were related to dehydration and jaundice, which are closely linked to inadequate feeding.

The good news is that relatively few of these babies ended up back in the hospital – whether bottle-fed, breast-fed, or both, most babies did great. But babies who were breast-fed were much more likely than formula-feeders to end up underfed and hospitalized. Among vaginal deliveries, the risk of rehospitalization was 2.1% for bottle-fed babies versus 4.3% for breast-fed babies (the risk for mixed feeders was in between.) That’s about double the risk. Mathematically, the “number needed to harm” was 45. That is, for every 45 babies exclusively breast fed, one extra baby would end up in the hospital. Not good.

Among Caesarian births, the differential was less, with an increased risk of hospitalization of 2.1% (breast) versus 1.5% (formula). Both of these numbers are lower than the risk of rehospitalization for vaginal deliveries, probably because c-section babies already spend an extra day or two in the hospital. This provides more time for good feeding to be established (whether breast, bottle, or both.)

Does this mean we should discourage breast feeding? Of course not. Most breast-fed babies do great, and there are some health advantages of breastfeeding. But we need to be honest with ourselves, and honest with moms who are trying to do the best thing for their babies. Nursing isn’t perfect. It’s not a perfect food*, and it’s not a perfect method. There are pros and cons to both nursing and formula feeding, and parents (and babies) deserve an honest appraisal.

Nursing moms also need support. That includes “technical support” (ie “How to do it”) but also emotional and medical support – which should include time for rest, and an honest evaluation of how both moms and babies are doing. There is a role for formula, both for moms who choose to use it and for situations where babies aren’t getting enough to eat. Families, pediatricians, nurses, and lactation specialists all need to work together, without guilt or finger-pointing, to help keep babies and moms healthy.

*Human breast milk is an inadequate source of vitamin D from birth, and an inadequate source of iron by 4-6 months of life.

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The safest peanut allergy policy for schools is …

Posted January 3, 2019 by Dr. Roy
Categories: Medical problems

The Pediatric Insider

© 2019 Roy Benaroch, MD

Peanut allergies can be a serious problem, and many exposures happen when our kids are at school. On average, there are probably about 5 peanut-allergic children in each of our nation’s 100,000 school buildings. What’s the best policy for schools to use to help protect these kids from potentially fatal reactions?

Different schools have taken different approaches, and as far as I can tell there is no authoritative national guideline to tell them what to do. So they’re “winging it.” Choices include:

  1. Having a 100% peanut-free school – no peanuts served, no peanuts allowed to be brought in.
  2. Not allowing peanuts to be served, but allowing kids to bring their own peanut-containing foods if they wish.
  3. Setting aside peanut-free classrooms.
  4. Setting aside peanut-free lunch tables.
  5. Having no specific policy, and hoping for the best.

Some schools have combined or blended these policies, and (hopefully) most also include an educational component for both teachers and students not to share foods. But the question remains: which of these really works to help prevent serious allergic reactions?

An August, 2017 study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology provides some clues. The study was done in Massachusetts, where school nurses are required to report any administration of epinephrine. Since epinephrine should always be used for serious allergic reactions, those reports are a good way to track what’s going on. The circumstances of every epinephrine administration were reviewed, and only those given for nut or peanut reactions were included in the analysis. The authors also surveyed all of the Massachusetts’ school nurses to compile feedback on each school’s peanut policies, to see which policies were most successful in reducing the need for epinephrine.

The results might surprise you. Self-designated “peanut-free” schools had higher rates of administration of epinephrine than schools without a peanut-free policy. Now, the numbers of reactions were small, here, and different schools defined or enforced their policy of “peanut-free” in different ways. Still, a “peanut-free” designation was no panacea. It did not make epinephrine unnecessary, and was associated with an increased rate of peanut reactions. The authors speculate that this may be because the “peanut-free” school label may lead to a false sense of security.

The only policy that was associated with a decreased rate of epinephrine use was setting aside peanut-free tables in eating areas. Perhaps that’s because this kind of policy is easier to enforce.

Peanut-restrictive policies are an important part of protecting allergic kids, but they may have some downsides. Peanut-allergic children may be socially excluded or suffer bullying. And non-allergic kids may rely on peanut products as a healthy and inexpensive part of their diet. Whatever policies are pursued, they should be guided by the best evidence – what really works, and what best promotes the overall health of all of a school’s students?

Blanket policies may be less effective than a combination of several elements. Schools at every grade need to teach their students and faculty about food allergies and how to avoid exposures. And every food-allergic child needs an individualized plan that considers their risk of a life-threatening reaction along with their own ability to monitor their food intake. Epinephrine should be readily available in classrooms and eating areas (without requiring each individual child to have their own personal devices – that’s wasteful and expensive and awkward.) I know, that’s complicated and takes work. Schools prefer an easy-to-spell, one-sized-fits-all approach. Kids deserve better.

Acute Flaccid Myelitis – what parents need to know now

Posted November 16, 2018 by Dr. Roy
Categories: Medical problems

The Pediatric Insider

© 2018 Roy Benaroch, MD

You’ve probably seen it on the news – a rare, polio-like illness is causing cases of paralysis in children. Here’s the latest info, based on our best current knowledge from the CDC.

AFM is a sudden illness that causes weakness in one or more extremities – one arm or (less likely) a leg, or any combination of arms and legs. The words in the name express the key features: it’s acute, beginning over hours or sometimes a few days; it’s flaccid, meaning the affected body parts are floppy and weak; and it’s a myelitis, meaning the disease occurs in the spinal cord. The muscles are fine, the brain is fine, but the area of the spinal cord that carries signals to the muscles becomes inflamed and stops working. You can see distinctive changes on an MRI scan of the spine to help confirm the diagnosis.

The first cases of what was later named AFM were reported in California in 2012. The CDC started closely tracking cases of AFM in 2014, when a surge of reports about the illness began to appear in the United States and overseas. Since then, we’ve seen a striking pattern, with most cases occurring in the late summer and early fall, August through October. In the US, we’ve also seen an unexplained pattern where most cases occur in spurts every other year – in 2014, 2016, and now again in 2018. 2015 and 2017 had far fewer cases.

Over 400 cases of AFM have been reported in the US over the last four years, including about 80 in 2018 so far. Most states have reported at least one case, including Georgia. There doesn’t seem to be geographic focus in any area. Overall, the rate is less than one in a million people – AFM is a very rare disease. Almost all cases of AFM have occurred in children, at an average age of 4-6 years.

Several different viral infections have been found in children with AFM, though it’s unclear that these viruses were the cause of the symptoms. The most-commonly associated viruses are from a family called “enteroviruses”, including one that has been implicated in groups of acute severe respiratory disease called enterovirus D68. Other viruses have been investigated including West Nile or Japanese Encephalitis viruses, herpes viruses, and adenoviruses. Most commonly, no specific viral infection is found. The cause of most cases of AFM is unknown.

Still, it seems most likely that a viral infection is the trigger, because of the seasonality of the disease and its propensity to strike children rather than adults. Similar symptoms were once seen with the polio virus, and multiple tests for polio have been performed in  children reported with AFM. But it’s never been found — polio itself is not the cause AFM in the United States or abroad. The CDC is continuing to investigate the possibility of one or more viral triggers, an inflammatory condition triggered after a viral infection, or a possible environmental trigger as causes of AFM.

Children with AFM typically have a preceding illness with fever, runny nose, cough, vomiting, or diarrhea 1-2 weeks prior to the beginning of AFM symptoms. Often these common viral symptoms have resolved by the time AFM begins, with its rapid onset of limb weakness. There may be near-complete paralysis (inability to move the limb), or varying degrees of weakness. Sometimes, symptoms including stuff neck, headache, or pain in the limbs accompanies the weakness. It’s also sometimes possible for AFM to affect the nerves in the upper neck and head, causing a face or eyelid droop, difficulty swallowing or speaking, or a hoarse or weak voice.

Children with AFM need to be hospitalized. Many tests need to be done to narrow down the diagnosis and rule out other causes of weakness (including blood tests, a lumbar puncture, and MRI scans.) Children with AFM can develop weakness of the muscles that help them breathe, and may need to be treated in an ICU. Neurologists, infectious disease specialists, and public health officials will all help guide care.

There isn’t solid evidence that any specific treatment is effective, since good clinical trials of therapy haven’t been performed yet. It’s been difficult to study AFM because it’s so rare, and the disease progresses quickly. In addition to supportive care, many people with AFM have been treated with intravenous immunoglobulin, steroids, and plasmapheresis. Though some children with AFM have recovered quickly, many continue to have lasting paralysis requiring long term care.

So what should parents do about this? First, there’s no need to panic. The press and Facebook like to stir up trouble with blaring headlines and clickbait titles – but remember that AFM is really rare, with about 100 or so cases a year occurring across the entire country. Polio caused about 15,000 cases of paralysis a year in the 1950’s before a vaccine was introduced. We’ve come a long way, and your children are, overall, far safer than children have ever been from infections, environmental illnesses, and trauma.

Some common-sense steps can probably help. Most cases of AFM seem to have a viral trigger, so avoiding infections is a good idea. Teach your children to practice good handwashing, and keep them out of group care when they’re ill. Though we don’t have a vaccine to prevent AFM, vaccines can prevent the neurologic complications of other infections like influenza, measles, and mumps – so be sure to keep your child fully vaccinated. And seek care immediately if your child becomes weak in one or more limbs.

And, please, support your public health community and the scientists who work to keep your children safe. There’s always another new health challenge out there (Ebola, Zika,  SARS, and MERS, to name a few.) We need to keep our public health infrastructure strong to help tackle AFM and whatever the next challenge turns out to be. Go science!

More info from the CDC’s AFM home page, the October 2018 CDC press briefing, and the November 2018 webinar for clinicians

Allergy Myths – don’t be fooled!

Posted October 18, 2018 by Dr. Roy
Categories: Pediatric Insider information

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The Pediatric Insider

© 2018 Roy Benaroch, MD

Allergy issues are a big problem – both food and environmental allergies cause quite a bit of misery, and sometimes serious health problems, too. But there are a lot of myths swirling around the world of allergy, too. It’s time for a pop-those-myths listicle!

#1 WRONG: Food allergies are common

Many people think they’re allergic to foods, but rigorous studies using the best, most reliable diagnostic tools find food allergies to be present in about 2-8% of the population. Most of these reactions are mild. True, life-threatening food allergies are quite rare—in the United States, about 150 people die each year from food allergies, which is only a little higher than the number of people struck by lightning.

But: food allergy rates are rising, and we don’t want to be too complacent. When allergies do occur, they can be serious. The best approach is good, science-based prevention, evaluation, and treatment.

 

#2 WRONG: Most reactions to food are allergies

An allergy refers to a specific kind of reaction, most commonly hives or wheezing. Other, more common reactions include lactose intolerance (an inability to digest milk sugar, leading to abdominal cramps and diarrhea) and gastroesophageal reflux related to spicy or acidic foods. The distinction is important because rare, very serious allergic reactions can occur. If the reaction was not allergic in nature, it will not be life-threatening if exposure occurs again.

 

#3 WRONG: Most reactions to medicines are allergies

The most common adverse reaction to a medication is a rash, but these are usually not caused by allergy (the only common truly allergic rash is hives, which are raised, itchy areas that move about the body.) Most people labeled as “allergic” to penicillin are not in fact allergic, and can safely use this medication. Only a careful history and exam can determine this—there is no accurate test to confirm or refute true drug allergies. If you or your child is thought of as drug allergic, review the exact circumstances with your physician to see if it is a good idea to try the medication again (do NOT do this on your own!)

 

#4 WRONG: People who are allergic to a medicine should never take it again

Certainly, if a life-threatening reaction occurred you need to be very careful. And be much, much more wary of medications given as a shot or intravenously (I’m not sure anyone has ever died as a result of an allergic reaction to oral penicillin.) But unless the reaction was a true allergic reaction, usually manifested by hives or wheezing, a medication can usually be given safely in the future (again, do NOT do this on your own!)

 

#5 WRONG: People with egg allergy shouldn’t get a flu or MMR vaccine

Flu vaccines are safe in people with egg allergy – great studies have proven this. People with egg allergies can get routine flu immunizations, and are not at elevated risk of reactions (this is reflected in current guidelines – if anyone tells you differently, they’re not keeping up with the science.)

And egg allergy was never a contraindication to MMR. That was a myth. MMRs can safely be given to anyone with egg allergies.

 

#6 WRONG: Allergy testing can tell you if a child is allergic to something

Hoo boy, doctors misunderstand this one, too. The way to know if a person is allergic is entirely in the history: do symptoms of allergy occur upon exposure? If they do, that’s allergy; if they don’t, that is not allergy. If the history is clear, the diagnosis is nailed, done, confirmed, and set. No tests are needed; in fact, tests are quite likely to confuse the picture.

Allergy tests are for when the history is not clear, to help separate exposures that are “likely” from “less likely”, so that further history can be explored and attempts at avoidance attempted to see what the response is. Allergy testing, either with blood tests or skin testing, is far too inaccurate to be used in any other way.

Be especially wary of web-based labs that promise extensive “sensitivity” testing to investigate vague symptoms like weight gain, abdominal pain, low energy, fatigue, and behavior problems. These symptoms are not caused by allergy, though fraudulent testing will inevitably lead to false positives and incitements to purchase detoxifying supplements. This is expensive quackery. Stay away!

 

#7 WRONG: Hives are usually caused by allergies to foods

In adults, this might be true; but in kids, hives are more often triggered by minor infections than by food exposures. Sure, if there are hives you ought to think about potential new foods, and if there is a correlation you ought to look into that. But in the majority of cases in pediatrics, isolated or even recurrent episodes of hives are not from food allergies.

 

#8 WRONG: Specific allergies run in families

“Don’t give him penicillin! Mom’s allergic!” While the predisposition to allergies, asthma, and hay fever run in families, it isn’t to the same specific trigger. Junior has a mom with shrimp allergies? That means that he might more likely have food allergies of his own, but not more likely to shrimp than to peanut or egg or anything else. Same for medication allergies.

 

#9: WRONG: The best way to avoid food allergies is to avoid or delay giving the food.

This is an old myth that won’t die – but it’s completely wrong. In fact, it’s backwards. One of the best ways to prevent the development of food allergies is to start complementary foods between 4-6 months of life, and to quickly give a wide variety of all foods (avoid honey and anything that’s a choking hazard.)

 

If your physician is telling you myths from the above list, it’s time to ask for a referral to an allergist to get the best information. If it’s an allergist tell you one of these myths, well, I’m stumped.

Adapted from an earlier post

Join the fight – learn how to help prevent suicide

Posted October 15, 2018 by Dr. Roy
Categories: Pediatric Insider information

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The Pediatric Insider

© 2018 Roy Benaroch, MD

Suicide is among the most common causes of death of teens and young adults, and the rates are rising. Unfortunately, people at the most risk of suicide may not be able to get themselves the help and resources they need.

I’ve written and taped a short, 45 minute lecture series, A Practical Guide to Suicide Prevention, to help family and friends recognize the warning signs of suicide risk, and to help people learn the best steps to take when someone is in danger. It’s part of The Great Courses Plus streaming service, and you can watch or listen to the audio as part of a free trial.

If you do join The Great Courses Plus, please check out my other courses. I have three audio/visual series titled Medical School for Everyone. They’re all presented as medical mystery cases for laymen to figure out. While figuring out the mysteries, you’ll learn about medicine, physiology, therapeutics, and how doctors think through solving diagnostic mysteries yourself. The feedback has been great – I think you’ll enjoy the courses! You can watch them via the free trial on The Great Courses streaming service, or buy them individually (with a no-hassle money back guarantee) from The Great Courses. Links below!

Next year I have a new course coming out called A Skeptic’s Guide to Health, Medicine, and the Media. It’s going to be great – look out for it around February 2019.

My courses:

A Practical Guide to Suicide Prevention – via The Great Courses Plus

Medical School for Everyone: Grand Rounds Cases – medical mysteries for you to solve! From The Great Courses Plus streaming, from The Great Courses to purchase, or from Amazon

Medical School For Everyone: Emergency Medicine – mystery cases from the Emergency Department. From The Great Courses Plus streaming, from The Great Courses to purchase, or from Amazon

Medical School For Everyone: Pediatric Grand Rounds – mystery cases from the world of pediatrics! The Great Courses Plus streaming, from The Great Courses to purchase, or from Amazon

Support for HPV vaccination continues to grow

Posted September 24, 2018 by Dr. Roy
Categories: Guilt Free Parenting, Medical problems

Tags: , , ,

The Pediatric Insider

© 2018 Roy Benaroch, MD

Two new studies have added to the enormous weight of evidence in support of HPV vaccination.

From Pediatrics, September 2018, “Primary Ovarian Insufficiency and Adolescent Vaccination”. This study looked at almost 200,000 young women enrolled in the Kaiser health system from 2006 to 2014, looking at rates of ovarian failure in women who had received vaccines versus women who didn’t. The study was triggered by concerns about ovarian failure related to HPV vaccination – concerns that continue to swirl on Facebook and other social media sites. The study showed that HPV vaccine didn’t trigger ovarian failure, even after an exhaustive search allowing for an association at any time period after vaccination. It just isn’t there. And ovarian failure wasn’t caused by other teen vaccines, either.

And, from Pediatrics August 2018, “Legislation to Increase Uptake of HPV Vaccination and Adolescent Sexual Behaviors”. Another concern that’s been raised is whether encouraging HPV vaccination interferes with “safe sex” or abstinence messaging. By encouraging a vaccine to prevent a sexually transmitted infection, are we giving permission to our children to have sex? This study looked at that question through the lens of how the individual States have approached HPV vaccine legislation. Some states have passed specific laws to encourage HPV vaccines; others have not. It turns out that adolescent sex behaviors, including having sexual relationships and using condoms, isn’t affected by how strongly their states encourage HPV vaccines.

 

Neither of these specific studies is a slam-dunk – and that’s the way science can be. We accumulate more and more evidence as time goes by. But they add up to what we can say with confidence: HPV vaccines are safe, and HPV vaccines can help protect your children from cancer. It’s a compelling story, and something parents ought to feel good about. There is no reason to hesitate – make sure your children are protected and up to date.

 

Key studies on HPV vaccination

A huge, comprehensive review of studies from May, 2018 showed that “There is high-certainty evidence that HPV vaccines protect against cervical precancer in adolescent girls and young women aged 15 to 26.” (Earlier review here) This study from August 2018 documented dropping cancer rates after the vaccine was introduced. The vaccine is working, and it’s saving lives.

A 2010 review of post-licensure studies showing good safety profile, and another large study of 600,000 doses in 2011 didn’t find any important safety concerns. Another 2012 study found no significant problems after almost 200,000 doses. These are big, reassuring studies that all say the same thing: HPV vaccination is safe.

Studies showing HPV vaccines do not cause chronic fatigue, autoimmune diseases, complex regional pain syndrome or postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. These and other studies looking for specific diseases or conditions caused or worsened by HPV vaccines have all been reassuring – these vaccines aren’t associated with these or any other worrisome health conditions.

Don’t waste your money on “food sensitivity” tests

Posted September 20, 2018 by Dr. Roy
Categories: Guilt Free Parenting, Pediatric Insider information

Tags: , ,

The Pediatric Insider

© 2018 Roy Benaroch, MD

Ah Facebook. Where else could I stumble on a video of a baby hippo taking a bath, or Toto’s Africa performed on solo Harp? But among the shares and silliness and talent, there’s a dark side to Facebook. It’s become a fast way for quacks to push their scams and empty your wallet.

Just today in my feed I received a “promoted” post about a “Food Sensitivity Test”. I’m not going to link directly to the company – feel free to do a Google or Facebook Search, you can find them along with dozens of other companies that push a similar product. What they’re selling, they claim, is an easy, at-home test that will reveal your “food sensitivities”.  They say their test won’t diagnose allergies (which is absolutely true), but it will help you find out which foods might be causing things like “dry and itchy skin, other miscellaneous skin problems, food intolerance, feeling bloated after eating, fatigue, joint pain, migraines, headaches, gastrointestinal (GI) distress, and stomach pain.”

This is absolute nonsense. Their test can’t in any way determine if any of these symptoms are possibly related to food. What they’re testing for in your blood, they say, are IgG antibodies that react to each of 96 different foods in your body. But we know that these IgG antibodies are normal – all of us have some or most of these if we’ve ever eaten the food. IgG antibodies are a measure of exposure, not a measure of something that makes you sick or makes you feel ill. Having a positive IgG blood test for a food means that at some point you ate the food. That’s it. Nothing more.

This isn’t something that we just now discovered. IgG antibodies to food have been a known thing for many years. We know why they’re there and we know what they do. And we know testing them is in no way indicative of whether those foods are making you sick. Recommendations from the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology, The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, and the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology all unequivocally recommend against food IgG testing as a way to evaluate possible food sensitivities. The testing just doesn’t work to reveal if a food is making you sick.

But that doesn’t stop quacks from direct-marketing on Facebook. If you’re offered IgG-based food sensitivity testing, either through the mail, at a physician’s, or at a chiropractor or naturopath, I’ll tell you exactly what it means: Save your money and run the other way. Whoever is pushing the test is either deliberately deceiving you or doesn’t understand basic, medical-school level immunology. It’s a scam.

More details about the (lack of) science behind IgG food testing