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Flu shots for pregnant women protect babies, too

October 11, 2010

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Protecting infants against influenza is a pressing problem in public health. Babies under 6 months old are too young to be vaccinated against the flu, but they are vulnerable to the virus because of their still-developing immune systems. A new study finds that vaccinating women while they are pregnant can help their babies.

Angelia Eick of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health led the study conducted on two Indian reservations. Navajo and White Mountain Apache children have significantly higher rates of upper respiratory infections than children in the general population, so the researchers wanted to see whether vaccinating women while they were pregnant had an effect on their babies’ health.

Over three flu seasons, almost half of the more than 1,100 mothers were vaccinated against the flu while they were pregnant. A little more than half of all the babies had a flu-like illness, of which 14 percent were confirmed by laboratory testing. Infants whose mothers were vaccinated were 41 percent less likely to have lab-confirmed flu and 39 percent less likely to need hospitalization for a flu-like illness than babies of unvaccinated mothers.

The authors say vaccinated mothers may have been less likely than unvaccinated mothers to expose their babies to the flu, and more likely to pass on protection. At 2 to 3 months old, babies of vaccinated mothers had higher levels of antibodies against the flu in their blood than babies of unvaccinated mothers.

BOTTOM LINE: Babies whose mothers were vaccinated against the flu during pregnancy were less likely to become infected in their first six months of life.

CAUTIONS: The three flu seasons studied were relatively mild, so the researchers can’t say whether the results would be different during a more severe year. Also, the results might differ in other populations.

WHERE TO FIND IT: Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, online Oct. 4

Childhood cancer survivors not getting routine screening

More people are surviving childhood cancer, but sometimes the treatments that enabled them to reach adulthood make them more likely to be diagnosed with new cancers. A Canadian study reports that despite this increased risk, a large proportion of childhood cancer survivors are not getting recommended cancer screenings.

Dr. Paul Nathan of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto led a team that surveyed more than 8,000 adults who had been successfully treated for childhood cancer. They found that among people whose cancer therapy, including radiation, placed them at increased risk for breast, colorectal, or skin cancer, far fewer complied with recommendations to get tested regularly than survivors with an average risk of cancer.

Among high-risk survivors, fewer than half of women got annual mammograms, only 11.5 percent of men and women had colonoscopies every five years, and a little over a quarter had complete examinations every year to detect skin cancer.

BOTTOM LINE: Survivors of childhood cancer who are at high risk for a second cancer are not getting recommended screenings.

CAUTIONS: The researchers relied on patients’ recall of their screening tests, which is less reliable than examining medical records.

WHERE TO FIND IT: Annals of Internal Medicine, Oct. 4


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