School is in Session and So Too Are Germs

calculusWhile many parents don’t remember much algebra or calculus, most know all too well that school + kids = sick days.

And with more than 200 cold viruses identified,  it’s no wonder parents feel like they are fighting a losing battle when it comes to keeping their kids healthy.

Kids will be exposed to germs and inevitably get colds, even with the best preventive measures, and that’s OK,” said Jessica McIntyre, MD, family physician at Loyola University Health System and assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

According to McIntyre, young children will get between 7 and 8 colds a year and school-age children will average 5-6 colds a year. Kids tend to get more colds during the school year because they are in an enclosed classroom surrounded by other children who are sharing these very common viruses.

Parents sometimes worry that they have done something wrong to cause frequent colds, or that their child is not healthy. Actually, cold viruses help build a child’s immune system and are an unavoidable part of growing up,” McIntyre said.

smackdown_school_germs-e1317828551255Nevertheless, we bring you some tips to help keep your child’s sick days to a minimum

  1. You’ve taught your kids their ABCs –  now teach them their CCCs?
    a. Clean – wash your hands and make sure your kids wash their hands frequently
    b. Cover – cover your cough and sneeze, preferably with a tissue, but if one is not available, cough or sneeze into your elbow
    c. Contain – stay at home if you are sick; germs are one thing that aren’t good to share
  2. Family flu vaccines. Everyone who is 6 months or older should be vaccinated. Talk to your physician about which type of vaccine is right for your family members.
  3. Have your children wash their hands as soon as they get home from school.
  4. Change into “home clothes and shoes.”  It helps keep germs, allergens and dirt out of the house making it easier to keep clean. Plus, you won’t be searching the house for shoes that were kicked off under the couch.This is especially beneficial if you have a young infant at home
  5. Wash their lunch box daily. Lunch boxes carry more than veggies and fruit to and from school. They also carry A LOT of germs. If they’re dishwasher safe, run them through the sanitizing cycle at the end of each day. If not, spray them down with vinegar and water and wipe them clean before packing a new lunch
  6. Backpacks are another huge germ culprit. They make their way onto tables, beds and desks and can transfer nasty germs to all of these surfaces. Wash backpacks once a week to minimize the spread of germs.
  7. Reduce consumption of sugary foods before and during school. Consuming just a teaspoon of sugar weakens the immune system for up to 4 hours. To help the body fight germs, make sure to offer a low sugar breakfast and low sugar lunch. Avoid processed foods as much as possible. They are generally loaded with sugars.

big-stinky-germsAnd if you’d still like to do more to keep your little darlings safe, there is some evidence that certain  products can be effective in cold prevention if taken regularly:
(i) Probiotics: 1 gram mixed with milk twice daily
(ii) Vitamin C: 1 gram daily
(iii) Zinc sulfate: 15 mg syrup or 10 mg tablet daily

Despite all that, if they do develop a cold, don’t stress about it!  Everyone gets sick sometimes. And while we all hate to see  kids feeling bad, just remember, when they get sick their bodies are building up their ability to fight future infections.

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Universal Flu Vaccine One Step Closer

For the millions of people around the world who suffer each winter from flu, and especially for those with weak immune systems, such as, children, the elderly and pregnant women there is promise of a new “super vaccine.”

Scientists from Switzerland’s Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) just announced that they have isolated and identified a human antibody – F16 –  that can knock out all influenza A viruses. Tests in mice showed it was effective.   This represents an exciting step forward in the hunt for a universal vaccine.

Currently, in what amounts to little more than a scientific lottery, virologists have to play catch-up as they develop a new flu vaccine cocktail each season to match the often-changing strains of the virus.

F16, could help change all that. “The antibody works not only by neutralizing the virus, which we knew, but also by recruiting killer cells to the virus-infected cells,” said Antonio Lanzavecchia, director of IRB.

By observing the human immune response to the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic he became convinced that it would be possible to design a vaccine that prevails over mutation.   “We found some people with antibodies to multiple viral sub-types.” Antibodies, which are produced by white blood cells, bind to specific target sites inactivating viruses or flagging them for destruction by other immune cells.  To test the cross-reactivity of influenza antibodies, the team screened B cells from eight human donors who had been infected with or immunized against different flu strains.  After looking at 104,000 B cells, they hit the jackpot!

Our FI6 antibody is the first one ever found that reacts to all 16 of the influenza A subtypes,” said Lanzavecchia.

Finding antibodies to all strains of one group was exciting,” says immunologist, Patrick Wilson from the University of Chicago, Illinois, who was not involved with the study, “but getting one to both groups is stunning.”

The F16 antibody is not a vaccine, but it could be an instruction manual for making one.  And although the scientists admit that making a new vaccine may take years, they hope that the antibody itself might be used as a treatment in the meantime. So far, tests in animals have shown that when the antibody binds to the virus, it stops it from infecting mammalian cells.

Once tested in a human system, the antibodies should work even better.  However, even reducing the viral load by 10% could help stop people getting sick.

SRxA’s Word on Health looks forward to having one less thing to worry about in winter.

Return of the Andromeda Strain?

The discovery of an exotic, infectious virus reveals leads to treatments for common lung diseases. Sounds like the plot of a new sci-fi novel turned movie?  Beautiful scientists battling a new superbug from outer space!

Not so, this one is all home grown and 100% non-fiction. According to the CDC, there have been three recent outbreaks of monkeypox in the United States.

Monkeypox is a rare viral disease that occurs mainly in the rain forest countries of central and west Africa. First discovered in laboratory monkeys in 1958, it has since shown up in rodents, squirrels, mice, rats, and rabbits. In 1970, monkeypox was reported in humans for the first time and in June 2003, the first documented infection occurred in the United States, most likely from imported pet prairie dogs.

Monkeypox infections in humans have been on the rise. Up to 10% of those infected, die of the disease. It can be caught from infected rodents, pets and monkeys and is thought to be transmitted by respiratory droplets during direct and prolonged face-to-face contact. Researchers attribute the rise of monkeypox infections to the end of smallpox vaccinations, which provided protection due to the similar nature of the two pox viruses.

Signs and symptoms of infection include fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, a general feeling of discomfort, and exhaustion. Within 1 to 3 days (sometimes longer) after the appearance of fever, the patient develops a papular rash. Death, when it occurs, is generally due to pneumonia.

But until now there have been few studies to look at how monkeypox infection damages the lungs. In the latest study, researchers at the Oregon National Primate Research Center infected macaque monkeys with the virus and followed the course of infection in the lungs of individual animals.

What they found was not only does the infection from monkeypox virus increase production of inflammatory proteins, it also decreases production of proteins that keep lung tissue intact and lubricated.

Going into this study, we thought monkeypox caused disease primarily by inducing inflammation in the lung, and that leads to pneumonia,” said lead author Joseph Brown, a systems biologist at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “We were surprised to see how badly the virus wrecked the structural integrity of the lungs.”

The results suggest that inflammation contributes to disease but it may not be the main component. Interfering with the structural proteins may play a major role.

Ultimately, this type of research could have wider implications than viral infection. “This study serves as a great reference for pulmonary diseases,” said co-author Josh Adkins. “It opens up the doors for other lung fluid studies.”

If these results can be reproduced in people, doctors might be able to give surfactants – lubricating chemicals that aid in gas exchange – to help the lung function in patients with altogether more common diseases such as bronchitis, emphysema or even flu.

As always, SRxA’s Word on Health will keep you informed of all developments.