The State of the ImmUnion in Maine: Tweens, Teens and Vaccines

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Posted on August 15th, 2016


Maine has made great strides in stepping up the state’s vaccination rates for infants, babies and young children to at or above national levels. But when it comes to adolescents, we still have some catching up to do. At Vax Maine Kids, we’re working hard to make sure parents know how to protect their children from several serious illnesses that can strike during the teen years.

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By Gabriel Civiello, MD in collaboration with VaxMaineKids

Healthcare providers all across Maine are celebrating the recent rebound in vaccination rates for our youngest children. In fact, our childhood immunization rates rank among the highest in the country. According to the 2014 National Immunization Survey, over 85% of Maine toddlers are up-to-date on their recommended vaccinations, and kindergarten non-medical exemption requests fell to 3.9% during the 2014-2015 school year.

The trends aren’t quite as positive for Maine’s preteens and teens, however. Nationwide, as children grow into their preteen and teen years under immunization becomes much more common—and Maine is no exception. In fact, Maine’s vaccination rates for the tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap) vaccine and the meningococcal vaccine are below the national average and the lowest in New England. Following the national trend, human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine rates are at least half of the rates of the other adolescent vaccines. Continue reading

Six Tips for Setting Limits on Screen Time for Kids During the Summer

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Posted on July 19th, 2016

iStock_000015419421XSmallSchool is out, schedules have loosened up, and parents and kids alike are turning to phones, tablets, gaming systems, TV and movies for summer entertainment. But the experts agree that too much time spent on digital devices can hold back a child’s development. So what can Maine parents do to balance screen time with real-world summertime adventures? Continue reading

Want a Better Vacation? Prevent Illness!

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Posted on June 24th, 2016

Summer vacation begins at most Maine schools this week, college students are leaving campuses, and many families are packing up for fun family trips over the break. No matter where you plan to go, a little advance planning will help you return safe, healthy and happy. By preparing your family with necessary medications, immunizations, and other preventive techniques, you can help ensure that illness isn’t one of your souvenirs.

Traveling with kids is a wonderful way to expand their horizons while strengthening family relationships. Whether you are on a camping trip or a cruise ship, the time you spend together away from your daily routines can be magical and create treasured memories. Travel exposes us to new sights, traditions, people, ideas … and germs. Several cases of travel-associated infectious disease among Mainers are reported each year. Don’t let a preventable illness interrupt a fun family getaway! As soon as you decide on your travel plans, give your family doctor or travel clinic a call. Current immunizations, preventative medications, and other recommendations for your travel destination can keep your family travels on track.

Staying Healthy During Domestic Travel
If your family will be traveling within the U.S., you will want all your recommended routine vaccinations to be up-to-date. Places where large numbers of people from around the world congregate, such as airports, train stations, tourist attractions, water or theme parks, restaurants, hotels, and summer camps can increase the risk of exposure to many bacteria and viruses.

Although vaccines can help prevent infection from some of these germs, there are many for which vaccines are not available. In addition to timely vaccination, hand hygiene and food and water safety can help protect your family’s health. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention post some of the larger current disease outbreaks, most outbreaks are confined to individual cities or regions. You can check with the state or local health department at your travel destination about current risks, especially if someone in your family has underlying medical conditions.

Staying Healthy During International Travel
International travel is so exciting—and can require more advanced planning. In addition to all of the recommended routine vaccinations, the CDC may recommend additional protections based on each traveler, what you will be doing, and where you will be going. You can search recommendations based on your destination here and find current travel alerts here. Keep in mind that some countries require certain vaccines for entry. Be sure to carry your immunization records with your other important documents, like passports and plane tickets, in case you need medical attention during your travels. Continue reading

The ABCs of Hepatitis: A Primer for Maine Parents

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Posted on May 27th, 2016

May is Hepatitis Awareness Month, and a good time to encourage Maine families to get vaccinated against Hepatitis A and B and for those at risk for hepatitis to get tested. That’s why we’re helping Maine parents study up on the different types of viral hepatitis (Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C), their causes and symptoms, and the available vaccines.

Hepatitis is a short- or long-term inflammation of the liver, a vital organ that helps us get nourishment from food, eliminates toxins and wastes from the body and keeps our blood clotting normally. Hepatitis is a very serious and life-threatening condition because if left untreated, it can cause the liver to fail or liver cancer to develop later in life.

Hepatitis can be caused by certain diseases, by heavy drinking, and by bacterial and viral infections. There are three main types of infectious viral hepatitis: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. If a patient with virial hepatitis is diagnosed within six months of getting infected, their illness is called acute hepatitis. If someone has hepatitis for longer than six months, they have chronic hepatitis.

All forms of hepatitis are serious and Maine parents should take them seriously. By getting all the available hepatitis vaccines on schedule and being screened if you are pregnant or at risk, you can keep your family healthy and hepatitis-free. Continue reading

The Power to Protect: A Maine Mother’s Story

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Posted on April 20th, 2016

April 16th-23rd, 2016 is National Infant Immunization Week, the CDC’s national celebration of the safe, healthy start vaccines give babies. But you don’t need to have a baby (or even know a baby!) to do your part. When you are fully vaccinated, you help protect Maine’s little ones from dangerous, life-threatening diseases. And as one Maine mother’s story shows us, that’s a big deal.

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Even when parents carefully follow the CDC’s recommended vaccine schedule, they need help from their family, friends and neighbors to keep their children healthy. Infants can’t get all the vaccines they need immediately after birth. As their bodies grow, they rely on the immunity of the children and adults around them to keep infections away. When everyone who can get vaccinated is vaccinated, dangerous diseases can’t spread easily in our community. It’s powerful protection, and it’s called herd immunity. Like buffalo circling around their young when wolves are on the prowl, high herd immunity prevents outbreaks and keeps diseases like pertussis, influenza, measles and more away from small children.

When there are holes in that herd immunity, our most vulnerable community members can get hurt. Babies haven’t yet completed all the recommended doses of the critical DTaP vaccine. This means they are not fully vaccinated against pertussis, or whooping cough—a serious illness making a real recurrence in Maine. Pertussis is highly contagious, and because its early symptoms can mimic a cold, infected people spread it without knowing. Most infants acquire pertussis from a well meaning adult who is unaware that they have it. People like Luanne and her husband, first-time parents of an infant son living in southern Maine.

For more, see Scarborough physician Dr. Erin Dawson-Chalat’s guide, “How to Protect Your Child from Whooping Cough Continue reading

Poison Prevention at Home: Keeping Kids Safe from Poisonous Substances

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Posted on March 22nd, 2016

MHBFBro9M_print.inddKids are naturally curious, and kids are quick. Up to age five, a child’s exploration of the world often includes tasting the things they discover, and this can lead to childhood poisonings. Adult medications look like candy to little eyes. Many cleansers and cosmetics come in attractive colors and pretty packaging. Accidents happen, even in carefully childproofed homes with attentive caregivers. Here’s how Maine parents can keep poisonous household substances out of their children’s reach—and why they should always keep the phone number for the Poison Center hotline close by.

This week is National Poison Prevention week across America. We’ve talked about the importance of preventing lead poisoning in Maine’s children, and we also want to help parents keep common household items that can poison children out of their reach. As poison prevention advocates remind us, kids act fast. More than two million poisonings are reported to poison control centers across America every year. Over 90% of these poisonings happen at home. And while poisoning continues to be a leading cause of death for adults, most reported poisonings happen to children under the age of six years old.

  • The toll free Poison Help Line phone number is 1-800-222-1222. Post it by your home phone and program it into your cell phone today. You can also text 85511 or go to the Northern New England Poison Center website to live chat with a poison control specialist. Make sure your family and babysitters know where the number is and understand when it should be used. If you suspect that someone in your home has been exposed to poison, do not wait for symptoms to appear – call the Poison Center right away. Highly trained nurses are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for free, confidential calls to talk you through symptoms and recommend the best course of treatment, fast. Calls are free and confidential, and interpreter services are available. The Poison Center is also available for questions, so do not hesitate to call.

If you think your child may have been exposed to a poisonous substance, call the Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. If your child is not breathing or is exhibiting other life-threatening symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately.

  • Childproof your kitchen cabinets, bathrooms, laundry rooms and garage today. The best way to treat an accidental poisoning is to prevent it. Take some time this week to walk (or crawl) through your home. What doors, drawers or closets are within your child’s reach? Small children love to pull pots and pans out of cupboards, or pull measuring cups out of drawers. You don’t want them reaching for household cleansers, medicines, bug sprays, detergents or air fresheners. All storage areas for potentially poisonous household items should be stored well out of a child’s reach or have child safety locks. You can get more information about common hazards and poisoning prevention here.

Laundry and dishwashing detergent pods are a particular concern because of their candy colors, teething-toy consistency, and ability to squish easily and squirt detergent. Almost 12,000 children inhaled or ingested a laundry or dishwashing detergent pod last year. If you decide to use pods at home, store them out of reach of children, always put them away after every use, and make sure the lid or package is closed tightly. Continue reading

Let’s Get the Lead Out! How Maine Parents Can Protect their Children from Lead Poisoning

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Posted on February 29th, 2016

139913791As the headlines coming out of Flint, Michigan have reminded us, lead poisoning remains a significant risk for children growing up in places with older housing stock and aging infrastructure—places just like Maine. Between 1999 and 2014, almost 500 Maine children tested positive for lead poisoning, and only half of Maine’s children are tested at all. Lead poisoning can cause lifelong behavioral and health problems even at trace levels of exposure. Because lead is so toxic, Maine parents should talk about lead testing with their children’s provider and know how to keep their children protected from lead exposure at home.

Lead is still a significant health threat to children in Maine.
Lead poisoning isn’t just a problem in Flint. It’s a problem in Fryeburg, and Freedom, and Freeport. Every day, thousands of children all over Maine come home to the single biggest environmental threat to their health: lead. The fight against lead poisoning is our fight, too.

Once considered a miracle metal, lead was added to paint, gasoline, cosmetics and even food for hundreds of years. It wasn’t until very recently that scientists began to understand just how much damage lead exposure could do—and how much damage it had already done.

Continue reading

Winter Activities for Maine Families

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Posted on December 17th, 2015

The winter solstice arrives this Tuesday, December 22, signaling the official start of winter. While it has been unseasonably warm so far this season, Maine families know that snow, ice and colder weather are surely on the way. It may take a bit more effort to stay healthy and active during the winter months, but it’s worth it. Our favorite wintertime activities strengthen children’s fitness levels, boost their immunity and brighten their moods. They’re also a lot of fun!

FUEL UP WITH FRESH LOCAL FOODS
Thanks to greenhouses, cold frames, root cellars and the hardy ingenuity of Maine farmers, your family can eat delicious and healthy local produce, eggs, milk, meats and cheeses, homemade preserves, honey and baked goods throughout the long, dark winter months.

Winter Farmer’s Markets have sprung up all over our state. If your family enjoys visiting your local farmer’s market in warmer weather, chances are that market moves into a cozy indoor location during the winter. The Maine Federation of Farmer’s Markets (MFFA) Winter Markets 2015-2016 guide lets you browse markets by county.

Winter community supported agriculture (CSA) shares deliver boxes of winter goodness at regular intervals, right from your favorite local farm. The Maine Organic Farmer’s and Grower’s Association (MOFGA) maintains a list of Maine farms offering winter CSA shares. Continue reading

Comfort Recipes to Nourish the Whole Family

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Posted on November 20th, 2015

As we inch closer to winter and the temperatures get colder, it can be more challenging to stay healthy. Influenza season has begun (have you had your flu shot?), the sound of coughs and sneezes can be heard everywhere, the outdoor exercisers are few and far between, and the farmer’s markets with colorful fruits and vegetables are ending. And let’s not forget that the holidays are approaching, which often means celebrating with food – heavy, rich food and lots of it! Luckily our guest blogger, Corinne Cook, is here to share some healthy recipes to nourish and comfort you and your family during the colder months. Happy, healthy holidays from all of us at VaxMaineKids!

By Corinne Cook, MSM, RD, LD

Healthy foods that are not only nutritious but are also comforting are especially important this time of year. So when the family is all gathered around the dinner table celebrating the spirit of the seasons, it is nice to remember that the foods we love to indulge in can be healthy too. These foods can range from warm roasted vegetables to flavorful whole grain salads to sweet treats we all know and love. Today we are going to explore the many delicious recipe options we can all enjoy as tasty additions to our holiday meals. We will also review some food safety tips to help you and your guests avoid illness.

Healthy Recipes to Try
Carrot-Ginger Soup is a warming and welcoming comfort on a cold autumn or winter day. This sweet and savory, smooth and silky soup is filled with antioxidants, vitamins A,C, and K, B vitamins, as well as minerals such as potassium and manganese, antioxidants, and fiber. This soup makes a delicious and nutritious starter or side dish to any holiday meal. It also makes a great main dish – try pairing it with a salad!

Hearty and seasonal staples such as butternut squash, celery root, potatoes and parsnips all combined with herbs and seasonings make Roasted Root Vegetables a scrumptious accompaniment to a meat or other main event. This delectable side dish is packed with vitamins A and C, B vitamins, minerals such as iron, calcium, and potassium, as well as fiber.

Fresh kale, fennel, red onion and beets gently blended with tart and sweet cranberries alongside hearty quinoa are all combined with a sweet and tangy maple dressing, which make this Quinoa Salad come alive with flavor. This delightful side salad is packed with protein, vitamins A, C, and K, minerals such as iron, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium, powerful antioxidants, as well as fiber. Try serving cold for a refreshing crunch, or serve warm alongside your favorite main dish.

Apple and Berry Granola Crisp combines fresh berries and crunchy apples with all natural honey. It is topped with low fat/low sodium granola streusel for a deliciously sweet and healthy dessert loaded with vitamins A, C, E, and K, minerals such as potassium, manganese, and iron, as well as antioxidants and fiber. Baking this dish will also fill your home with a lovely aroma.
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Reinforcing Our Efforts to Keep Maine Immunization Rates on the Rise

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Posted on October 9th, 2015

The state of Maine received a great deal of attention recently following the release of results from the 2014 National Immunization Survey (NIS) by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These data indicate a notable rise in our toddler immunization rates, placing us among the states with the highest childhood immunization coverage estimates. Additional CDC data show a reduction in Maine’s kindergarten vaccine exemption rates in the 2014-15 school year. Although we are optimistic, we and our partners must continue to advocate for policies and activities proven to increase childhood immunization coverage. Kudos to Maine’s healthcare providers, public health partners, insurers, parents, and, most importantly, our blissfully unaware children who contributed to this great accomplishment!

Portrait of happy diligent pupil looking at her classmate at lesson

According to the 2014 NIS, an estimated 85% (± 5%) of Maine’s children between the ages of 19 and 35 months were up-to-date on a combined series of 7 recommended vaccines that protect against 11 diseases, including measles, mumps, rubella (German measles), hepatitis B, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, varicella (chickenpox), Haemophilus influenzae B (Hib), and pneumococcal disease. This is a significant increase from Maine’s estimated rates in 2012 (73%) and 2013 (71%), and it is significantly higher than the 2014 national rate (72%) and the 2014 rates of 30 other states. Additionally, the NIS results indicate that Maine’s estimated coverage for individual childhood vaccines is high, with statistically significant increases for ≥1 dose of hepatitis A vaccine from 2012 (70%) to 2014 (84%) and for ≥3 doses of hepatitis B vaccine from 2013 (85%) to 2014 (94%).

This trend is supported by a CDC assessment that shows a reduction in kindergarten exemptions from school required vaccines in Maine from 5.5% in the 2013-2014 school year to 4.4% in the 2014-2015 school year. Current Maine law requires kindergarteners to be immunized against pertussis, diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, polio and varicella before they start school. However, the law includes a provision allowing parents to request vaccine exemptions for their children for any, or all, of the required vaccines due to philosophical, religious or medical reasons.

These data are encouraging because increased childhood immunization coverage means better protection for the whole community. When a high enough percentage of a population is immune to a disease, everyone in the population is protected against the disease, even those who cannot be vaccinated – this is known as “herd” immunity,” or community immunity. The population can be a school, a town, a county, or even the whole state. When the threshold for herd immunity is reached, the chance of cases or outbreaks of the disease occurring in the population is decreased. Continue reading