Kids and the Immune System

girl getting a shotTHE IMMUNE SYSTEM
“Our immune system is a series of cells, tissues and organs that, throughout our lifetime, protects us from different invading pathogens and keeps us healthy and able to resist many repeated infections,” says Dr. Ashouri, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at CHOC. “When babies are infants, they get immune cells from mom through the placenta and breast milk, if they are breastfeeding. Over time, the baby’s system becomes mature and can fight off infections. A healthy lifestyle that includes getting enough rest, low stress and a balanced diet plus exercise helps to strengthen the immune system in people of all ages.”

BOOSTING BABY’S IMMUNE SYSTEM
“Breastfeeding is probably one of the best ways to help support a baby’s immune system when it’s developing,” explains Dr. Ashouri. “Getting babies the recommended vaccines at the scheduled times also helps to protect them from the different infections they are at risk for at that age. We recommend that parents and children also get a flu shot each year and are up-to-date with their Tdap vaccine to protect kids from pertussis (whooping cough). The
more people in the community who are vaccinated, the better it is for everyone. In pockets of areas where vaccine rates have fallen, there have been outbreaks of measles, whooping cough and other preventable diseases.”

KIDS AND COLDS
“Proper hand-washing is important to prevent the spread of colds and the flu virus and other types of infections. When kids can’t wash their hands, they should use a hand sanitizer to kill germs. Getting kids vaccinated against the flu also prevents kids from getting the flu,” Dr. Ashouri says. She adds, “Over time as the immune system recognizes certain viruses, it will get better at preventing infection, especially if the person has a balanced diet and good lifestyle. Taking vitamins won’t hurt either but they don’t replace a well-balanced diet.”

FAST FACTS

  • Number of infants who died in California’s 2010 Pertussis (Whooping Cough) outbreak. It was the worst outbreak in 60 years. More than 9,000 cases were reported: 10
  • Percent of the U.S. population that gets the seasonal flu (Influenza) each year: 5 to 20
  • Number of children hospitalized in the U.S. each year with respiratory infections: 500,000

View the full feature on Kids and the Immune System

Dr. Negar Ashouri
Dr. Negar Ashouri
CHOC Pediatric Infectious
Disease Specialist

PHYSICIAN FOCUS: DR. NEGAR ASHOURI

Dr. Ashouri completed her residency at CHOC, followed by a year as chief resident. After completing a fellowship in pediatric infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, she returned to CHOC. She is also a clinical instructor of Pediatrics at the UC Irvine School of Medicine.

Dr. Ashouri is involved in many research projects dealing with bloodstream infections and drug trials. She is also part of the Collaborative Antiviral Study Group. To further her research, Dr. Ashouri maintains an ongoing database of blood cultures and can frequently be found looking back through patient data and charts as she investigates how vaccines impact infections and specific risk factors for high-risk groups.

EDUCATION:
St. George’s University School of Medicine, Grenada, West Indies

BOARD CERTIFICATIONS:
Pediatric Infectious Disease

More about Dr. Ashouri

This article was featured in the Orange County Register on March 9, 2014 and was written by Amy Bentley.

How Effective are Hand Sanitizers?

SONY DSCThough old-fashioned hand-washing is the best way to keep hands clean and combat germs, gel hand sanitizers are a good alternative when soap and water aren’t readily available, a CHOC Children’s physician says.

“They certainly don’t take the place of proper hand-washing,” says Dr. Negar Ashouri, a CHOC infectious disease specialist. “That is still the best way to help prevent the spread of infection. But when you don’t have access to soap and water, hand sanitizers are a good alternative.”

Hand sanitizers can also supplement hand-washing, Dr. Ashouri says. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends scrubbing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. However, the average person doesn’t always wash their hands long enough or effectively enough to kill germs entirely. In addition, people don’t always use enough soap, or they don’t clean the entire hand.

If you coat the whole hand with the gel, alcohol-based hand sanitizers work well to help kill germs, she says. The CDC notes that alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of microbes on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.

Hand sanitizers should be alcohol-based and have a concentration of at least 60 percent alcohol to be effective. Dr. Ashouri says any brand is fine as long as it meets that level of alcohol concentration.

Also, she adds that it’s a myth that people build a resistance to gel sanitizers and that long-term use renders them ineffective.

Learn more about CHOC’s infectious disease division.

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    What Parents Can Do to Prevent Ear Infections

    February is ear, nose and throat health month, and any parent whose child has had an ear infection knows how important this is.  Ear infections are common in babies and children, but they can be prevented by focusing on cold and flu prevention and family hygiene, a CHOC Children’s physician says.

    Frequent hand-washing by all family members helps cut down on the spreading of germs, and it’s also important to discourage children from rubbing their hands on their faces or in their eyes, says Dr. Nguyen Pham, an ear, nose and throat speciali20130425_2730st.

    “Try to do whatever you can to keep your child from getting a cold or the flu because they lead to ear infections,” says Dr. Pham. “It’s rare a child will get an ear infection without having a cold.”

    If a family member has a bad cold or cough, limit contact between the sick person and others at home. Keep children away from people who are sick to the extent possible. If a child has a bad cold, keep him or her home from school or daycare so the other children won’t be exposed.

    Also, parents should ensure their child gets the influenza, or flu, vaccine every year, Dr. Pham advises.

    “You can also get the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine,” he says. “This vaccine can lead to a reduction in frequent ear infections in some children. Parents can ask their pediatrician about this option.”

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studies have shown that vaccinated children get far fewer ear infections than children who aren’t vaccinated.

    Other things parents can do to prevent ear infections include avoiding exposing babies and young children to cigarette smoke (studies have shown that babies who are around smokers have more ear infections), and never putting a baby down for a nap or for the night with a bottle.

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    Protect Against the Flu to Keep Children’s Learning on Track

    Between fever and body aches, your child really suffers when flu-stricken – but the virus affects more than just your child’s health. Did you know that staying home with the flu affects your child’s learning, and has consequences for schools? Learn some more reasons why to protect against the flu in today’s guest post from Pamela Kahn, R.N., M.P.H., the Orange County Department of Education’s health and wellness coordinator.It’s no fun seeing your child laid low by the flu. As a parent, you do everything that you can to relieve the fever, body aches, chills, cough and stuffy nose that come with the flu, and to get your child back to normal again.

    You aren’t the only one rooting for your child to stay healthy. The flu can have a profound impact on your child’s school. Infectious disease accounts for millions of lost school days a year. According to the Centers for Disease Control, school-aged children are the group with the highest rates of flu illness, and they tend to be the ones who spread the flu.

    A recent study showed that about half of school absences during January and February were related to respiratory and intestinal flu-like sickness. In fact, school nurses report that during flu season they often see more than 16 students per day in their offices, and send home on average five sick students each day.

    Students with influenza miss more school days than their healthy peers. It’s important to remember that students who miss too much school are less likely to succeed academically. Further, students aren’t the only ones at school affected by the flu: Teacher absenteeism costs time and money, as well as possibly having a negative effect on your student’s learning.

    The flu season may also affect school finances. With absenteeism, the Average Daily Attendance rate (money schools receive from the government)  for students during the flu season can decrease by as much as 2 percent, costing the school much-needed dollars.

    The effect of widespread flu vaccination protects not only your child, but the whole community because school-aged children can easily share the virus with classmates, teachers and other school staff. Children who are not vaccinated were 2.9 times more likely to get the flu compared with vaccinated children.

    So, while good nutrition, plenty of rest, exercise, and reducing stress  all strengthen kids’ and parents’ overall disease resistance, being vaccinated against the flu has been shown to both decrease the rate of influenza infection and increase rates of school attendance, which is good for your child, their teacher and their school.

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    Protect Against Respiratory Synctial Virus

    The flu is not the only virus you may want to protect your family from this season. Other bugs such as respiratory synctial virus (RSV), which causes cold-like symptoms, will be making the rounds.

    RSV is common from fall to spring and can lead to serious illness, especially in infants and older adults. Infants and young children may experience a fever, reduced appetite, runny nose, cough, and wheezing. Older children and adults may have a runny nose, sore throat, headache, cough, and a feeling of general sickness.

    The virus spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes, sending respiratory droplets into the air. These droplets can end up in other people’s eyes, mouths or noses, where they can cause infection.

    To help prevent the spread of RSV, people who have cold-like symptoms should:
    • Cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
    • Wash their hands often with soap and water for 15–20 seconds
    • Avoid sharing cups and eating utensils with others
    • Refrain from kissing others

    To learn more, please visit the CDC website at: http://www.cdc.gov/features/rsv/index.html

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