Archive for February, 2009

Flu and your Tweens and Teens

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

As  you know from previous posts, the CDC has this year recommended for the first time that all children ages 6 months to 18 years be immunized against influenza. This is an annual vaccine – last year’s immunization will not protect against this year’s strains of flu. The reports this week of the deaths of a 10 year old NY girl and 12 year old boy in Massachusetts are stark reminders of the importance of the vaccine – and that it is STILL NOT TOO LATE to immunize for this flu season. It appears that this season will follow the trend of past seasons with flu cases peaking in Feb and March.  Take the time to take your kids to the doctor if they haven’t gotten their flu vaccine yet this year. It could be life-saving.

I have the pleasure of collaborating with former American Idol finalist Brooke White in spreading the message about flu prevention in teens. For more about this important program (and about winning a Brooke White concert for your kids’ school), see:

Much more on stragtegies for protecting your family from the flu in Chapters 3, 7, and 9 of Germ Proof Your Kids – The Complete Guide to Protecting (without Overprotecting) Your Family from Infections (ASM Press, Washington, D.C., 2008)

Running into a jam with peanut butter

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

Now that a likely source for the latest nationwide foodborne Salmonella outbreak has been identified (a Georgia peanut butter manufacturing facility), we can ask ourselves what we have learned from this experience that might prevent future outbreaks. Unfortunately, the answer is that we’ve only again reaffirmed what we have already known about the risks of foodborne illness.

Commercial food products are under the supervision and regulation of the Food and Drug Administration. For all of the good people and good intentions of this agency, the FDA is woefully understaffed and underfunded. Their responsibility for monitoring prescription and over-the-counter drug safety consumes a disproportionate share of their resources and personnel – and no one wants to shortchange drug oversight. It is impossible for the FDA to carefully monitor every food manufacturer and distributor in the country with more than cursory inspections. Although such inspections did turn up past problems at the Peanut Corporation of America, Salmonella was not detected in those facilities until the Centers for Disease Control, also a federal agency, was already charged with tracking this latest outbreak.

Lest we forget, peanut butter has previously been linked to Salmonella outbreaks, along with tomatoes, spinach, and a host of other food products. Lest we also forget, most foodborne outbreaks arise in our own kitchens rather than from commercial products. Attention to home hygiene is paramount, as reflected in numerous previous posts on this GERMBlog. 

This too shall pass, and our kids will again be able to eat PB&J sandwiches for lunch. Unfortunately, that won’t help the 8 patients who have already died during this latest lapse and the more than 500 who have been sickened.

For much more about food safety, kitchen hygiene, and Salmonella, see Chapters 2, 3, and 9 in Germ Proof Your Kids – the Complete Guide to Protecting (without Overprotecting) Your Family from Infections (ASM Press, Washington, D.C., 2008).