On the Pulse

Flu outbreak spreads to Washington state; what parents can do

Flu cases in Washington state are already at higher-than-average levels, and experts say we have yet to hit the flu season’s peak. In the last few weeks, health officials have reported a spike in influenza activity. Seattle Children’s is seeing an increase in emergency department visits for flu symptoms. In the past week, 62 infants, kids and teens tested positive Flu vaccine kidfor flu, which is three times more than the number of cases seen in the first week of December.

Across the United States, 47 states are reporting widespread influenza activity, and at least 18 children have died from the flu this season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Washington state, at least six people have died, including a 12-year-old boy.

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Researcher explores clues to birth defects on international scale

Research in South America on a rare ear defect could help pinpoint risk factors for some of the most common birth defects in the United States.

Some 120,000 babies in the United States are born each year with birth defects, according to the March of Dimes. The most common birth defects are heart defects, cleft lip and cleft palate, Down syndrome and spina bifida.

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Building Hope, Part 2: Early Look at the New Emergency Department

Seattle Children’s Emergency Department (ED) is an extremely busy place. In 2012, our ED team saw over 36,000 patients. Visits have increased 30 percent since 2003. We exceed recommended capacity every day during our busy season, from November to March.

ED Lobby: The new ED has more space and additional treatment rooms to reduce wait times and shorten lengths of stay.

ED Lobby: The new ED has more space and additional treatment rooms to reduce wait times and shorten lengths of stay.

To handle current volumes, the team cares for emergency patients in three distinct and physically separate spaces – an often inconvenient and inefficient situation for families and staff.

However, on April 23, our ED will move into its new home in Children’s Building Hope expansion. The new ED increases capacity, expands the size of patient rooms, provides adjacent radiologic access and enhances staff visibility and communication. It also improves the way patients and families flow through the space and how caregivers respond to their needs.

“Our current Emergency Department wasn’t built to accommodate the number of patients we’re seeing today,” said Tony Woodward, MD, MBA, chief of emergency services at Seattle Children’s. “A larger facility with more treatment rooms and improved clinical workflow will reduce wait times and make a trip to the ED a far less stressful experience for patients and their families.” Read full post »

Research inspired by a pet rat provides clues on causes of ear malformations in kids

Eric Turner, MD, PhD, of the Center for Integrative Brain Research at Seattle Children’s Research Institute has his sister and her pet rat to thank for his most recently-published study which identified a new kind of gene mutation which causes ear malformations in rats and mice. Findings from the study are expected to help researchers identify the gene mutations which cause these types of malformations in humans.

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Talking to your teen about HIV

Of the 50,000 people infected with HIV each year, 25 percent are teens or young adults ages 13 to 24, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Parents need to talk to their teens about how to protect themselves from HIV – even if it’s uncomfortable, says Yolanda Evans, MD, MPH, of Seattle Children’s adolescent medicine division.

HIV ribbon

“Teens and young adults are more likely to get a sexually transmitted infection than older adults,” Evans says. “It’s critical that teens have the facts about HIV and how to prevent it.”

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5 New Year’s resolutions to keep kids healthy in 2013

Five doctors at Seattle Children’s offer their top tips for keeping kids healthy in the new year. Their suggestions range from protecting kids against the flu and environmental toxins, to helping them get the rest they need to succeed.

Make one of these your family’s 2013 New Year’s resolution:

1. Protect your whole family against the flu

Doug Opel, MD, MPH, general pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital, says “It’s not too late, but don’t wait” to get a flu shot. Opel advises parents to vaccinate their children and themselves against the flu, a contagious virus that infects the nose, throat and lungs, and can cause fever, cough, sore throat, muscle aches, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea.

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Developmental Delays Found in Children with Deformational Plagiocephaly

More developmental monitoring of children with skull deformation needed, researchers say

Top of head of child with deformational plagiocephaly (drawn by Huang MHS)

As many as 30 percent of all infants may have deformational plagiocephaly, also known as positional plagiocephaly, which is characterized by asymmetry and flattening of the head caused by external pressures. In previous studies, infants and toddlers with this condition have been shown to experience delays in development compared to unaffected children.

Researchers at Seattle Children’s Research Institute wanted to find out if these developmental delays persisted as children grew older. The researchers studied the development of 224 children with deformational plagiocephaly from infancy ( months, on average) through 36 months of age, comparing them to 231 unaffected children. This is the first scientifically rigorous study to examine development in preschool-age children with deformational plagiocephaly compared to a control group of kids without the condition.

Results of the study were published today in the journal Pediatrics. The findings indicate that children with deformational plagiocephaly continued to score lower on development measures than unaffected children at age 36 months.  Differences between children with and without deformational plagiocephaly were largest on measures of language and cognition, and smallest on measures of motor skills such as balance, jumping and running. Read full post »

Celebrating the holidays at Seattle Children’s Hospital

For families with sick babies and kids, the holidays can be a particularly difficult time. At Seattle Children’s, staff, volunteers, family members and the community find creative ways to bring the holidays to the hospital.

Here’s a sampling of some of their efforts this year:

HAM’ing it up with Santa Claus

Staff at Children’s have a unique connection to the man at the North Pole. With the help of a HAM radio, patients tell Santa their Christmas wishes and ask their most pressing questions.

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Coping with Safety Concerns As Kids Go Back to School

Following the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut that has shocked the world, many families may feel uneasy as their children return to school this week. Not only has the tragedy made some parents question their children’s safety at school, but children and teens may also find it difficult to return to their normal routine as they remain concerned about the events that took place.

Seattle Children’s pediatrician and blogger Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson provides helpful advice in her Seattle Mama Doc post about how parents can support their children as well as themselves in the next few days and weeks ahead.

Below you will find a brief sampling of Dr. Swanson’s helpful tips for parents. For the complete list, visit her Seattle Mama Doc post, “Going Back to School Monday.”

  • Remember your child’s school is safe – Random shootings are an anomaly and it is important to remind yourself that this tragedy was an exception.
  • Get the information you need – Reach out to your child’s school to ensure there are good safety measures in place.
  • Step back from media reports – Any overwhelming informational stream can increase anxiety and heartache.
  • Listen to your children before you speak – Ask what your children have heard and how it makes them feel. If your children don’t speak about it, begin the conversation and ask open-ended questions.
  • Discuss the safety measures you take in your own home and at school to protect your children from harm.
  • Check in with your child when they get home from school – Ask open-ended questions to see what they’ve learned or how they’re feeling and continue to check in over the next few weeks. Read full post »

Ban on mercury in vaccines would hurt children in developing countries

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) today reiterated its concern that a proposed mercury ban by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) could have devastating effects on the world’s most vulnerable children. The proposal includes a ban on thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative used in vaccines in many developing countries.

The AAP and the World Health Organization said that the proposed ban would threaten access to vaccines for children in poor countries – where the risk from vaccine-preventable diseases remains high.

Ed Marcuse, MD, MPH, associate medical director for quality improvement at Seattle Children’s Hospital and member of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Vaccines and Related Biologics Advisory Committee, said that the serious health risks that would result from a ban on thimerosal in vaccines far outweigh the potential environmental benefits.

“The proposed ban would have the potential to enormously increase the cost of vaccines, making them inaccessible to many of the world’s children,” says Marcuse.

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