Thursday, December 20, 2007
Keep safety in mind during the holiday season

By Anthony Policastro, M.D

Tis' the season to be jolly. Christmas is a time of joy and celebration. It is also a time to think about safety. There are some major areas for you to think about to keep your Christmas safe. I have revamped an old article to remind us of that. The first one deals with holiday travel. Many of us will soon visit our relatives. We should prepare for cold weather traveling. Cars can break down. When that happens in the winter, we need to be ready. You should check your wintertime car accessories. The first thing that you should ensure is warmth. A car that is stuck in the cold may lose its heater. You should have the appropriate amount of warm clothes and blankets available until help arrives. People sometimes do not bring a coat with them. They figure they are going straight from the house to the car so they do not need a coat. They do not expect to get stranded somewhere in the cold. You should dress appropriate for the weather. The second requirement is to have the right emergency equipment. Some of this takes the form of car accessories. This may be a window scraper, snow tires or proper coolant in the radiator. The rest is in the form of items for breakdowns. Flashlights are important. Warning flares or reflectors are useful. A shovel for snow is a good idea. Most people forget this one. A shovel that can also dig up dirt to put under the tires is even more useful. Whenever you travel, you should think about what you would need if you broke down. Once you do that, make sure you stock your car accordingly. Another auto related item is drinking and driving. Alcohol related car accidents increase significantly during the holiday season. If you are driving, don't drink. If you are drinking, don't drive. You also should remember to drive defensively. The other guy may not listen to these rules. If someone is driving like an idiot, he probably is drunk. Do not try to challenge him. Some of our relatives live at great distances. We may drive too far. This could make us tired. Do not drive when you are tired. Make sure you are well rested when you drive. Pull over if you become tired. One rule to follow is that you should not spend more than 12 hours per day driving. If you are going farther than that, you should allow more time. A lot of us have a tendency to speed. This is especially true on long trips. Speeding increases our risk for accidents. An important question to ask yourself is what does speeding actually accomplish. I drive home on River Road. I frequently have people pass me. There is only about a mile to the Woodland Ferry. The road ends there. If I am doing 40mph, It will take me 90 seconds to get there. If they do 60mph, they get there in 60 seconds. I wonder what they do with the extra 30 seconds they save. Even if I was traveling for 3 hours, it would make little difference. Someone going 10mph faster than I would get there 30 minutes sooner. I wonder how productive that extra 30 minutes would be when he/she arrives. Whatever it is will not be worth the risk they have of getting in an accident from speeding. Even staying home can be dangerous. Christmas tree fires can occur. If we decide upon a live tree, we should be careful. Cut off the base so the tree can take water in more effectively. Make sure the tree stays moist. Be careful about leaving lights on too long so the tree does not get too hot. This is especially true when it starts to dry out. Do not put candles or open flames near the tree. Do not put your tree up near the fireplace. A recent article showed that the number of house fires from candles has been increasing rapidly now that candles are in vogue. Do not place candles by anything flammable. Do not place them where they can be easily tipped over. Do not leave candles burning when away from the house for a period of time. Christmas plants are beautiful. They are also dangerous. Keep them away from young children. Holly, mistletoe and poinsettias are all poisonous. They all cause vomiting and diarrhea when eaten. Holly berries cause narcotic overdose symptoms. Mistletoe berries produce a digitalis poisoning. Poinsettia sap can irritate the skin. A third area of holiday safety considerations is gift giving. Safety gifts are a great idea. The best example is a bicycle helmet. Now that this is a law, it makes this gift an ideal Christmas present. Many pairs of in-line skates will be under the tree this year. It makes sense to also give the appropriate padding equipment. Studies have shown that the injury rate decreases with this equipment. It is important. Another gift idea is a cellular telephone. This would be a good accessory for your car when traveling. It would get you help very quickly. There are also some gifts that are bad ideas. One of these is the trampoline. The American Academy of Pediatrics has proposed that they be banned. They serve little exercise value. They are very dangerous. Paralysis from neck injury is common. Even trained athletes suffer these injuries. Untrained children are even more likely to be injured. My recommendation is to scratch it off your gift list. Another concern is buying an item that a child is not old enough to use. We do not allow children to drive cars until they are sixteen years old. This is based more on intellectual abilities than physical abilities. We should use the same logic for other dangerous gifts. Pellet guns and all terrain vehicles probably should only be given to a child who is mature intellectually. Age alone should not be the sole criterion. After a child gets seriously injured from one of these items, it will be too late to think about it. Many gifts come with instruction booklets. Most of these booklets have a section that lists safety instructions. The book will tell you to read that first. It is a good idea to do so. The Christmas holidays are made to spread joy and peace. We need to spread safety as well. Only if you are alive and healthy can you be joyful and peaceful as well.

Merk issues a recall for Hib vaccine
Delaware's Division of Public Health (DPH) announces the voluntary recall of 10 lots of Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine and two lots of a combination Hib and Hepatitis B vaccine nationwide following a recent announcement by the manufacturer, Merck & Co. Inc. Nearly one million doses of vaccines distributed starting in April 2007 are being recalled. DPH's Vaccines for Children (VFC) program received 17,020 doses of Hib vaccine from March to the present. Of this number, 2,250 doses were from the affected lots. According to the CDC, children who received this vaccine do not need to be revaccinated and the situation does not present a health threat to them - no adverse effects, such as redness and swelling around the injection site, have been reported. However, individual reactions can occur with any vaccine. Parents are advised to contact their health care provider if such a reaction occurs. The recall is a precautionary measure initiated due to the presence of Bacillus cereus bacteria on vaccine manufacturing equipment, during routine testing. No contamination was found in the vaccine doses produced during this time. Haemophilus influenza type b vaccine prevents meningitis, pneumonia, epiglottitis (a severe throat infection), and other serious infections caused by the bacteria Haemophilus influenza Type B. In the U.S., it is recommended for all children under 5 years old and is usually given to infants starting at 2 months old. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises health care providers to immediately discontinue use of any of the affected lots and follow Merck's instructions for returning recalled the vaccines. The VFC program will promptly contact providers who ordered these vaccines to inform them of the recall and the next steps. As a result of this recall, health care providers who only use Merck Hib vaccines may have reduced supplies, depending on when it was manufactured. Merck produces approximately 50 percent of the nation's Hib vaccine supply, and it is not yet known when they will resume full production of the vaccine. Sanofi Pasteur produces the other 50 percent of the national supply and is working with CDC to address the situation. The CDC does not anticipate outbreaks of disease due to an interrupted vaccine supply because of the high levels of vaccine coverage in the U.S. In 2006, nearly 94 percent of U.S. children 19-35 months of age were vaccinated against Hib.ÊThis has resulted in a dramatic decline in transmission of this disease; however, it has not gone away completely.ÊÊ Parents with questions about Hib vaccine may contact DPH's immunization program at 1-800-282-8672.

Depression support group in Laurel
The Mental health Association in Delaware will be sponsoring a Depression Support Group in Laurel on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month. The meetings begin at 7 p.m. The MHA encourages anyone dealing with a depressive disorder to attend. Register in advance by calling 1-800-287-6423.
  • Peer support groups sponsored by Mental Health Association of Delaware are not intended to replace professional mental health treatment. MHA does not publish support group locations; locations are provided with registration.

  • Alzheimer's holds training
    The Alzheimer's Association Delaware Valley Chapter is sponsoring a training program for family caregivers at LifeCare at Lofland Park in Seaford on Friday, Jan. 18 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The program includes a medical overview; legal and financial issues; challenging symptoms, daily care issues; and information on getting the help you need. The session is free and lunch will be provided, but pre-registration is required by Jan. 11. For more information or to register, call Jamie Magee, branch office coordinator, at 854-9788.