By Corrie Pikul
Here's what you should know about four retro diseases that are still around -- and a fifth that's back with a vengeance.
1. The Cough That's Tough To Kick: Whooping Cough (Pertussis)
In the early 1900s, about 200,000 children in the United States got whooping cough each year, and about 9,000 died as a result, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). After a vaccine became widely available in the 1940s, reported cases dropped to about 900 annually. However, last year, more than 41,000 cases were reported to the CDC -- the most since 1955.
Why it’s still around: Throughout the 1990s, the U.S. switched from using a vaccine that contained the entire bacterium (which posed a higher risk of side effects) to a less potent "acellular" version. Experts now suspect the newer vaccine is wearing off faster.
What you can do: Talk to your doctor about a booster shot of Tdap (for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis), especially if you haven't had one in 10 years, you're in contact with infants or you're pregnant. The "whoop" occurs when the infected person tries to suck in air to fill their lungs, but you can be sick without the sound, says Alison Patti, a spokeswoman for the CDC's bacterial diseases division. Watch for a cough that gets worse at night and won't go away (in China, pertussis is known as "the 100 days' cough"). If you think you have it, make an appointment to see your doctor, because antibiotics are most effective when taken early.
2. The Jet-Setting Rash: Measles (Rubeola)
This virus is so contagious that it can be spread by a sneeze, a cough or even the breath of a close-talker. Before a widespread vaccination program began in the 1950s, an estimated 3 to 4 million Americans were infected each year, and 400 to 500 died from the disease. Measles was so common that most people contracted it by age 20, developing a fever, cough and runny nose, then a head-to-toe rash (measles can also lead to pneumonia and encephalitis). The CDC states that 220 confirmed cases of measles were reported in the U.S. in 2011, compared with a median of 60 cases the year before.
Why it’s still around: Thanks to MMR vaccinations (protecting against measles, mumps and rubella), the United States had all but eradicated measles. Unfortunately, the virus still kills nearly 200,000 people around the world, and it's managed to hitch a ride with travelers and infect vulnerable and unvaccinated people here in the U.S.
What you can do: Make sure you and the children in your life are vaccinated, because those who aren't can not only get sick but can also pass this disease along to babies, elderly people and other kids who haven't had the entire course of vaccines. You may have heard that the MMR vaccine can cause developmental disorders, but these claims are unfounded: Large studies of thousands of children have found no connection between this vaccine and autism. Another recent study addressed concerns about the number of vaccines children receive early in life, and concluded that this was also unrelated to the risk of developing autism.
3. The Rich-People Affliction That's Now Affecting Commoners: Gout (Gouty Arthritis)
This painful form of arthritis was once seen as a disease of the aristocracy because the condition that causes it -- a build-up of uric acid in the blood -- is associated with consuming large amounts of port wine, meat and other indulgences. Over time, the "disease of kings" has spread to suburban royalty. Rates have doubled in the past 20 years; it now affects about 4 percent of American adults, says N. Lawrence Edwards, MD, CEO of the Gout & Uric Acid Education Society and professor of medicine, rheumatology and clinical immunology at the University of Florida.
Why it’s still around: While genetics play a big role, the risk of developing gout increases in those who are overweight or diabetic. Flare-ups can be triggered by consuming alcohol, red meat, shellfish, organ meats and high-fructose corn syrup -- basically, the modern American diet. Another reason we’re seeing more cases of gout: We’re living longer. Older people, who are more likely to have age-related medical conditions like high blood pressure, are also more likely to experience flare-ups.
What you can do: Try to maintain healthy weight and keep your blood pressure in check, says Edwards, as hypertension, kidney disease, blood disease and diabetes all tend to be associated with gout. Doctors can also prescribe drugs to lower your uric acid level.
4. The Swelling Virus That Keeps Popping Up: The Mumps (Epidemic Parotitis)
The mumps used to be a common illness that was the leading cause of deafness among children. Good immunization coverage means that this virus is now rare: An estimated 212,000 cases occurred in 1964, while only 454 cases were reported in 2008, says the CDC. However, outbreaks continue to occur: Six thousand cases of mumps were reported in 2006, and 3,000 in 2009. In February 2013, more than a dozen Loyola University Maryland students came down with the fevers and swollen salivary glands associated with the mumps, putting state officials on high alert.
Why it’s still around: Most Americans receive a one-two punch of the MMR vaccine as children, and studies have shown that this double dose is about 88 percent effective. However, the rate of unvaccinated children in the United States has been slowly creeping up, and other countries don't follow the same vaccination guidelines. Sporadic outbreaks can occur in places where people spend a lot of time in close contact -- like colleges.
What you can do: There's no cure for the mumps. It's usually a mild disease in children, but adults may experience complications like meningitis and encephalitis, as well as swelling and inflammation in the ovaries or testes and breasts. Check your immunization records. You can also ask your doctor to perform blood tests that can assess your current immunity.
5. A Bug That Needs To Be Taken More Seriously: The Flu (Influenza)
The flu is an expected winter hazard, but his season was long, intense and especially severe for seniors -- the worst for them that it's been in about a decade, says a CDC spokesperson.
Why it’s hitting so hard: This was the earliest start to the flu season since 2003–2004 (it hit the first week of December instead of the usual January or February), and according to a CDC representative, the dominant strain -- influenza A (H3N2) -- is typically associated with a higher rate of hospitalizations and deaths, especially in older people.
What you can do: The CDC recommends that everyone get vaccinated every year. The flu vaccine takes about two weeks to kick in, so it's best to get it early in the fall, before the season takes off. While effectiveness varies, the vaccine can lower your risk of getting sick and having to go to the doctor by about 60 percent, and if you do get the bug, it can help you avoid a related illness that could land you in the hospital. (And although you've heard this advice a million times before: Wash your hands! It's one of the best ways to stay healthy.)
As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.
Earlier On HuffPost:
Chance Of Having Twins Skyrockets
In January, the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/04/chances-of-having-twins_n_1183674.html">Centers for Disease Control and Prevention</a> reported that the numbers of twins in the U.S. has jumped in the last three decades: In 2009, 1 in every 30 babies born in the U.S. was a twin, compared to just 1 in every 53 in 1980. Why? Chalk it up to more and more couples using assisted reproductive technology, as well as an increase in women waiting to have kids until their 30s when the odds of having twins increases,<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/04/chances-of-having-twins_n_1183674.html"> AP said.</a>
U.S. Autism Rate Up
In March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new figures on autism spectrum disorder in the U.S. and they were up: <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/30/autism-rate-increase-repo_n_1390721.html">1 in 88 children</a> is now believed to have autism, compared to the previous estimate of 1 in 110. Experts attribute much of the increase to better screening and diagnosis, AP reported, but that does not mean the findings aren't cause for concern. "Autism is now officially becoming an epidemic in the United States," Mark Roithmayr, president of Autism Speaks, said at a news conference.
1 in 13 Women Drink During Pregnancy
A <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/19/alcohol-during-pregnancy-_n_1686953.html">Centers for Disease Control and Prevention</a> survey from July found that 1 in 13 pregnant women in the U.S. drink alcohol. And of those who said they drank, 1 in 5 admitted to going on at least one binge -- having four or more drinks at once. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/22/drinking-alcohol-pregnant-effects-children_n_1822880.html">A study</a> that came out a month later found that drinking during pregnancy has long-lasting effects on children's size.
Batteries Can Pose Serious Risk To Kids
More and more kids are swallowing batteries, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found, sending thousands of children to the ER each year. Between 1997 and 2010, nearly 30,000 kids up to age 4 were taken to the emergency room for battery related injuries, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/30/swallowed-batteries-kids_n_1844412.html">MyHealthNewsDaily reported</a> in August. More than half of the cases involved small, circular button batteries.
AAP Throws Support Behind Circumcision
In August, the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/27/new-circumcision-guidelin_n_1826069.html">American Academy of Pediatrics</a> -- the U.S.' major pediatrics organization -- revised its policy on infant male circumcision, saying that the health benefits outweigh the risks. But the new guideline stopped short of recommending it routinely, stating instead that it should simply be available to parents who choose it for their sons. To the great surprise of no one, the policy was an immediate source of debate, with one "intactivist" leader <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/27/new-circumcision-guidelin_n_1826069.html">telling HuffPost</a> that the AAP had failed to address what she called the "real risks and harms of circumcision."
Breastfeeding Is On The Rise
Also in August, the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/02/breastfeeding-rates-cdc_n_1734381.html">Centers for Disease Control and Prevention</a> announced that more moms in the U.S. are breastfeeding their babies. Some 47 percent of moms breastfed their babies for at least six months in 2009 (the latest year for which there is data). That's up from 44 percent the year before. "The headlines 10 years back were, 'Mothers don't breastfeed enough; Is something wrong with mothers?'"Dr. Alison Stuebe, an OB-GYN and assistant professor of maternal and child health at the University of North Carolina <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/02/breastfeeding-rates-cdc_n_1734381.html">told HuffPost</a>. "We've recognized that this is crazy. Let's fix the system rather than going after moms.'"
More Kids Taking Antipsychotics
The number of kids and teens being prescribed antipsychotics has soared, an August study in the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/09/antipsychotics-adhd-study_n_1760602.html">Archives of General Psychiatry</a> found. Psychiatrists now prescribe the drugs in one out of every three office visits with children, and increasingly for off label use -- namely, the treatment of ADHD. The latter in particular, experts <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/09/antipsychotics-adhd-study_n_1760602.html">told HuffPost</a>, is cause for serious concern: "Although antipsychotic medications can deliver rapid improvement in children with severe conduct problems and aggressive behaviors, it is not clear whether they are helpful for the larger group of children with ADHD," study author Dr. Mark Olfson, a professor of clinical psychiatry at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, said.
Laughing Gas Safe For Delivering Moms
Nitrous oxide, otherwise known as laughing gas, is a good way for women to manage some of the pain that accompanies labor, a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/13/laughing-gas-delivery_n_1881496.html">Cochrane review</a> from September said. Though it's not at all popular here in the U.S. -- only 1 percent of women use laughing gas during birth, compared to the 60 percent of women who have an epidural during vaginal delivery -- the review concluded that it is both effective and safe for mom and baby.
Sleep Training is Safe
Though sleep training can be a source of contention among parents and parenting experts alike, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/10/infant-sleep-training_n_1865767.html">an Australian study</a> published in September concluded that two of the most popular methods are perfectly safe. "Controlled comforting" (basically a modified form of cry-it-out) and "camping out" (when parents sit in the room with their babies and pat or comfort them, but do not feed or cuddle them to sleep), did not have any impact -- good or bad -- on children when researchers looked at them at age 6.
Birth Complications Up In the U.S.
They're still rare, but severe complications from birth are on the rise in the U.S., <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/24/us-birth-complications_n_2008771.html">Reuters reported</a> back in October. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that between 1998 and 2009, the rate of major complications, including things like severe bleeding and kidney failure, essentially doubled. Though <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/24/us-birth-complications_n_2008771.html">experts stressed</a> that most women who give birth are perfectly fine, there has been an increase in women giving birth at older ages, as well as women who are obese or have certain health conditions that up their risk, such as high blood pressure.
Boys Entering Puberty Earlier And Earlier
Research published in October in the journal <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/20/boys-puberty_n_1987979.html">Pediatrics</a> showed that boys in the U.S. are entering into puberty at ever earlier ages: On average, boys are starting puberty six months to two years sooner than previous data showed. The study, which is among the first to look at the issue of early-onset puberty in boys, found that white and Hispanic boys now start to show signs of puberty when they are 10, while African American boys may start to show signs when they are 9 years old. What exactly this means isn't yet clear, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/20/boys-puberty_n_1987979.html">study researchers said</a>, but it flags an issue that warrants further investigation.
Kids See 'Startling' Amounts Of Background TV
A lot of parents limit the amount of TV their kids watch each day, but <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/01/children-tv-exposure-study_n_1923719.html">research published in October</a> found that many are nonetheless exposed to a lot of it -- in the background. The study, which ran in the journal <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/01/children-tv-exposure-study_n_1923719.html">Pediatrics,</a> found that kids are generally exposed to at least 4 hours of background TV per day (meaning it's on in the same room they're in, even if they're not watching directly) and children under the age of 2 are exposed to 5.5 hours every day.
Antidepressants May Carry Risks For Pregnant Women
A November study in the journal <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/08/antidepressants-pregnancy_n_2094155.html">Human Reproduction</a> caused quite a stir when it suggested that SSRIs, a type of antidepressants, may increase the risk of complications when taken during pregnancy. Problems include risk of miscarriage, birth defects, neurobehavioral problems and more, the study researchers said. But there was significant push back from many mental health experts who rushed to write letters to the editor saying that the study ignored the many risks of untreated depression.
Preterm Births Hit 10-Year Low
In November, the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/13/us-preterm-birth-rate-hit_n_2118244.html">March of Dimes</a> released its annual preemie birth rate report card and, overall, the news was good: The U.S. preterm birth rate was the lowest it has been in a decade, dropping to 11.7 percent. While that is certainly welcome news, the U.S. still has a long way to go, March of Dimes experts <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/13/us-preterm-birth-rate-hit_n_2118244.html">told HuffPost.</a> Overall, the country still only earned a "C" and only four states (Vermont, Oregon, New Hampshire and Maine) earned an "A."
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