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Debate Around Flu Shots For Kids; New Videogame Helps Kids Make Good Food Choices

Aired October 29, 2005 - 08:30   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Vice President Cheney's now former chief of staff says he'll be cleared of all charges against him. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was indicted Friday on five counts in the CIA leak investigation including perjury and obstruction of justice. If convicted, Libby could face up to 30 years in prison and could be fined over $1 million.
Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric may soon demand a time table for U.S. troops to pull out. Associates of Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani says if the U.S. and its allies don't comply, he could call for peaceful street protests to put more pressure on Washington.

And coming up next on HOUSECALL, people are standing in line to get their flu shots, but which flu are they more worried about? Seasonal or avian? Plus, find out where the U.S. stands with its vaccine supply and what's steps you can take to stay flu-free. Betty and I will be back at the top of the hour.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning and welcome to HOUSECALL. I'm Elizabeth Cohen filling in for Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

There's been a lot of talk about flu lately, primarily avian flu, a bird flu that experts say has the potential to become dangerous to humans. It's already infected more than a hundred people primarily in Southeast Asia.

What hasn't been getting much attention is seasonal flu, a virus that kills more than 36,000 Americans every year. While everyone is at risk during flu season, the elderly and the very young are most vulnerable.

And as Christy Feig reports, it's children who often don't get the vaccine they need.


CHRISTY FEIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Five-year-old Joelle Fawcett is getting her flu shot. Over the past few years, pediatricians have stressed appearance of young children that their kids should be getting flu shots. That's because many children, especially babies and toddlers, don't have strong enough immune systems to fight the flu.

MARK WEISSMAN, DR., CHILDREN'S NATIONAL MED. CTR.: Children in particular, infants under two years of age, when they get sick with the flu, they seem to be at much greater risk of getting unusually sick and winding up in the hospital with their flu illness.

FEIG: Physicians also recommend that parents get their kids vaccinated because they're usually the first to contract the disease and then pass it on to family members. Just being a child and having contact with other children raises their chances of getting the flu. Daycare is a popular place not only to share a cookie, but share some germs.

ALLAN MORRISON, DR., INOVA HEALTH SYSTEMS: I've always felt as an infectious disease doctor that daycare is sort of the microbial swill, if you will, of childcare. And not in a derogatory way, but just the opportunity to come into contact with lots of different microbes.

FEIG: Although last year's flu outbreak was mild compared to two years ago, physicians warn it's too early to tell what this flu season will bring. Many recommend vaccinate early to give your child a healthy head start.

I'm Christy Feig reporting from Washington.


COHEN: Thanks, Christy.

Christy's piece raises an interesting question. Should we be vaccinating our children against the flu? There have been studies in the past few weeks that show that it might be a good idea.

Here to help us with that question is Dr. Julie Gerberding. She's the director of the Centers for Disease Control. Thanks for joining us this morning.


COHEN: I get this question from my mommy friends all the time. Should I give my child the flu shot?

GERBERDING: Well, certainly if your child is between the ages of 6 and 23 months, they really need to get the shot because it will keep them out of the hospital.

But we also know that kids of any age who have those kind of medical conditions that put them at high risk for complications, they really need to get a vaccination also.

COHEN: And how about a healthy child, who's older than 24 months? Does that child need a flu shot?

GERBERDING: Well, we don't have an official recommendation for those children yet, but many people choose to get them vaccinated.

And if your child is over 5 years of age, they can take that nasal vaccine, which is very safe, very effective. And they don't even have to get a shot. They did can just inhale a little in their nose and it'll do the trick. COHEN: That's very handy, speaking as a mother. That's very handy.

Our mailboxes inundated with flu questions. So let's get to our first question from Holly in Connecticut. She wants to know, "Is it true that some people can get the flu from the shot and become very ill?" Is this true, Dr. Gerberding?

GERBERDING: Absolutely not. The flu shot does not cause the flu. In fact, it's one of our safest vaccines. The biggest problem people have is usually some tenderness at the site of the vaccination, but flu shots absolutely don't cause the flu.

COHEN: No matter what people did think.

GERBERDING: No matter what they think. Sometimes coincidentally, you'll get another respiratory infection soon after you get the flu. And it does take a few days before the flu shot begins to kick in. So it's possible you could get it between the shot and the time that your immune system is in order, but it's not because of the shot.

COHEN: OK. Well, let's go to another question now. Shirley in North Carolina asks, "When is the best time to receive the flu shot? How long does the immunization protect you?"

Let's - doctor, let's talk about some people have the misconception that getting a flu shot too late is useless. Is that true as long as you get it during the flu season, is that OK?

GERBERDING: Yes, the first thing is that we're early in the season. So it's definitely not too late now. And we really want people to get out there and get their flu shots.

Most people get their vaccination in November and December, but even in January, in some years February, it's not too late. If flu hasn't come to your community, there's still a chance for protection. And so, while we want people to do it early, just get it done.

COHEN: The flu shot isn't your only option for immunization. Jesus from Texas writes, "Is the nasal mist just as effective as the flu shots?" What are the pros and cons? You mentioned this especially maybe for children over the age of five.

GERBERDING: Right. The nasal mist is a very, very effective way of protecting yourself against the flu. The only problem is right now, it's only approved for children age 5 and older, up to age 49. So older people and younger people really aren't in the group yet where the indication is there for using the vaccine.

Now that could change, but it's also very important. This is only for healthy people, people who's immune systems are in good order.

COHEN: And is that because there's some concerns that it might get much older or much younger people sick? Is that the worry? GERBERDING: Well, it's a theoretical concern. In fact, some of the early data from new studies that are underway suggest that we'll probably be able to advance this vaccine to a greater population in the future. But right now to be on the safe side, we're just recommending it for healthy people in those age groups.

COHEN: Now for most of us, the flu shot is enough. But for some at risk groups, pneumonia vaccine is also recommended. Jim in New York is wondering if he qualifies.

He writes, "I'm a 60-year-old man. Should I get both flu and pneumonia immunizations?" Now we don't know Jim's medical history, of course, but as a rule, who should be getting a pneumonia vaccine along with that flu vaccine?

GERBERDING: Well, Jim, if you're 65 years of age or older, you absolutely should have a pneumonia shot. This is the pneumo vacs or the vaccination against certain forms of streptococcus pneumonia.

If you're younger than that, but you have a medical condition like a heart condition or a lung condition or a renal problem or any number of other chronic diseases, check with your doctor because you probably would benefit from that shot as well.

COHEN: We've got to take a quick break now. More of your flu questions, coming up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Should you be investing in alcohol wipes or a mask? We'll tell you what you can do to prepare for flu season. And find out what doctors say you need to do if you get the flu this year.

Which leads us to our quiz. How long are you contagious with the flu? Find out after the break.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Before the break, we asked how long are you contagious with the flu? The answer, you can pass along the virus one day before you start sniffling and sneezing and keep passing it on for seven days.

COHEN: The lesson there is stay home when you're sick.

The flu season is underway. We're still quite early on in the season. Only nine states are reporting any flu activity. Of all of the states, Idaho has the highest level of outbreak, but it's still considered very low. Sporadic incidents of the flu were reported by eight and more states - Alaska, California, Florida, Hawaii, New York, North Dakota, Oregon and Texas.

Talking with us about preventing and treating the flu is the director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Julie Gerberding.

Doctor, let's focus on other ways that we can prevent or treat the flu when we have the flu. We've got a couple of questions lined up along that order.

Let's take one from Susanne in North Carolina. She writes, "I'm a high-risk patient and recently received the flu vaccine. Should I take extra precautions such as staying away from crowds and wearing a mask?" Susanne, we're glad to hear that you've gotten your flu shot.

When people are at high risk, do they have to worry about some of the concerns that she mentioned?

GERBERDING: Well, she did the most important thing, and that is get the flu shot. So the biggest defense against this virus really is immunization.

But sometimes the vaccine isn't 100 percent effective. Or some years, we don't have such a good match between what's in the vaccine and the new strains that are circulating.

So if you want to protect yourself, it's probably very important to keep your hands clean, to wash your hands frequently so that you're not picking it up inadvertently, and try not to touch your eyes or your mouth. I know that's hard, but it's kind of good old-fashioned respiratory hygiene.

COHEN: Right. Well, that brings us to another important question about whether some common household products can help fight the flu.

Kathi from California asks, "How effective are alcohol wipes when we clean phones, et cetera when we're trying to keep flu germs away?"

Doctor, many - you know, in your house, you're sharing the phone with people in your house or at work. How effective are those swabs?

GERBERDING: Well, you know, the most important aspect of this really is hand hygiene. And that's because flu is usually spread by droplets directly from one person to another, or because you've touched one of your mucous membranes and then you've touched somebody else. And then they touched their mucous membranes.

Objects like telephones and things that you handle haven't really been a very important source of flu transmission. But of course, there's no harm in keeping your home cleaned up and periodically wiping those things down.

COHEN: We have another question now from Israel in California, who wants to know this. "Is the flu transmitted through the air or through contact with an infected person?"

Doctor, for example if I had the flu and I sneezed and I wasn't careful about covering it up, could I give the flu to you? Could it travel from me to you?

GERBERDING: Absolutely. We are exactly in the zone where we could transmit. And especially if we're coughing or sneezing. And that's why, you know, cover your nose when you cough or sneeze is one of those kind of respiratory hygiene practices again, that will help prevent those droplets from gaining entry into the air.

COHEN: And it could travel in the air to someone sort of much farther away. Or it's usually a distance like this?

GERBERDING: It's usually close distances, close contact. That's why in families, it spreads so fast, or in schools it spreads so quickly.

In some cases, the droplets can be transmitted through larger volumes of air. That's probably less important, but we worry about that in hospital settings and other conditions where we've got especially vulnerable people.

COHEN: OK. Well, coming up, don't get -- if you don't get the flu shot, let's say, and you start feeling sick, find out what you can do to fight the flu.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What treatments are best to end or at least shorten the misery? Plus, when is it time to see your doctor? Information you need to know after the break.

First, this week's medical headlines in "The Pulse".


CHRISTY FEIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The race of the patients that a hospital commonly treats may be directly related to the health outcomes of victims of heart attacks. That's according to a study in this week's Journal of the American Heart Association.

Researchers studied the records of more than 1 million patients and found that 90 days after suffering a heart attack, death rates for both black and white patients were higher in hospitals that primarily treat African-Americans.

And McDonald's announced a change in its food packaging. Calorie and fat information, which has been available on the company Web site, will begin to appear on the labels of most of the menu items beginning in February. The move comes at a time when obesity rates in the U.S. are on the rise. The CDC reports 30 percent of adults are obese.

Christy Feig, CNN.



COHEN: Welcome back to HOUSECALL. We've been talking about prevention, but we want to talk now about treatment. The biggest question is, do you have the flu or do you have a cold?

So here's a breakdown. The flu usually gives you a splitting headache. A high fever lasting up to four days, plus severe aches, pains, and fatigue. A cold usually means sneezing, a stuffy nose, and at most, mild versions of those aches and pains.

Well now that you know the symptoms of the flu, Christy Feig tell us what you can do if you get sick.


CHRISTY FEIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Joan Horviak did something this year she's never done. She got a flu shot. Last year, Horviak's mother Diana was hospitalized with influenza. This flu season, they decided to get vaccinated.

JOAN HORVIAK, GOT HER SHOT: I don't think you can ever be too young to take preventative measures.

FEIG: Even though the federal government suggests people get their flu shots, most Americans don't. Their excuses range from lack of time to fear of needles. Others are uncertain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Since this is a little different a composition of flu shot, are people having any problems?


FEIG: Doctors say to not worry.

ALLAN MORRISON, DR., INOVA HEALTH SYSTEMS: So there's a lot of folklore surrounding the notion of flu shots making you sick. And we have no evidence that that occurs, other than pain at the site, a little bit of itching, something that can be taken care of with simple medications over the counter.

FEIG: Yet according to the CDC, 200,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized with the flu every year. So what do you do if you get the flu?

See your doctor immediately.

MORRISON: There are several medications that are FDA approved, that if started within the first 24 to 48 hours after the onset of symptoms, of first symptoms, can be highly effective.

FEIG: If you already have full blown symptoms, doctors say stay in bed. Don't come to work and infect others. And don't try to fight it with cold medication. It doesn't work.

Treat the fever. Drink liquids, especially water so you don't' dehydrate. When using tissues, make sure to throw them away promptly and cover your mouth when you cough.

And doctors say the best way to avoid getting or passing along viruses is to wash your hands thoroughly and often.

Reporting from Washington, I'm Christy Feig.


COHEN: Thanks, Christy.

We're talking with Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Now we have one of our most popular questions for you now. This one is from Babu in Texas. He writes, "What is the best treatment for the flu?" Now some of that depends on when you realize that you have the flu.

GERBERDING: Now there are two options, really. One is you can use the symptomatic treatments that we're all familiar with, the kinds of things you can get over the counter, along with rest and staying home from school or work.

But it's also possible for people to take a specific anti-flu drug. And there are several of those that are available now from the various manufacturers.

These drugs really reduce the symptoms and reduce the duration of the illness. But the trick is you have to start them within 48 hours of your illness to get the best benefit.

However, we do have one very important message to people who are at high risk for flu complications, especially older people or people with those chronic medical conditions. For those people, no matter when you get the flu, if you think you have it, contact your physician because some of those patients need those medications regardless of the timing of their symptoms.

COHEN: And that actually brings us to our next question, which is as we've talked about, the flu can be deadly and have complications. And that's something Jill in Michigan is worried about. She asks, "At what point do you stop self-medicating the flu and seek medical treatment?" When do you go to your doctor?

GERBERDING: Well, again, if you're a healthy person, it's very unusual that you'll develop serious complications. But if your fever is lasting for more than 48 hours, if you're not able to keep down fluids so that you're at risk for dehydration, or if your headache is out of proportion to the flu that you would usually have, those are reasons to check in with the medical provider and make sure you're not developing a complication.

If your sputum changes and you get something that would suggest the onset of pneumonia, that would be another reason to see your physician. Because some people do develop more serious complications. We don't want them to wait. We want them to get checked out.

COHEN: And of course, the best thing, of course, is to get a flu shot so you hopefully don't get sick in the first place.

GERBERDING: Absolutely.

COHEN: And coming up, we'll tell you where - how you can figure out where you can get a flu shot in your neighborhood.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: More of your flu questions answered ahead. Plus, the government says a new food pyramid for kids will help battle obesity. Not everyone agrees. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a silly little gesture that's not going to have any impact on children's nutrition.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Find out why after the break.


COHEN: Welcome back. Now our weekly look at the fight against childhood obesity. Millions of American children are overweight. And experts say it's leading to an epidemic of obesity-related diseases among kids.

In an effort to reduce the problem, the USDA unveiled the first ever food pyramid specifically for kids, but not everyone was impressed.


COHEN (voice-over): In this video game, Sam Baldwin needs to find the right fuel to launch his rocket. And USDA Secretary Mike Johanns was there to lend him a hand.

The new interactive computer game is called "My Pyramid Blastoff." It's based on a child-friendly version of the new food pyramid that the USDA released earlier this year. The aim is to help kids make healthier food choices.

MIKE JOHANNS, USDA SECRETARY: They can have the foods that they enjoy, but they also need to build into that foods like vegetables and fruits and whole grains, and then also build into that a level of activity.

COHEN: Daily physical activity is a key component. Children are encouraged to exercise one hour every day.

JOHANNS: Stay active, get off the sofa, turn off the TV, get away from the computer for a while. Get out there, ride your bike, play football, play baseball.

COHEN: But not everyone thinks this new pyramid is going to help.

MICHAEL JACOBSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CSPI: This pyramid is a flop in terms of being something useful that will actually change kids' diets or educate them.

COHEN: The non-profit consumer advocacy group, Center for Science in the Public Interest, says the government could do more if it wanted a big impact.

JACOBSON: It would get junk foods out of schools, get junk food advertising off of television, mount major media campaigns to encourage kids to eat the good foods, fruits and vegetables and not to eat the junk.

COHEN: Childhood obesity rates are skyrocketing. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 9 million children between the ages of 6 and 19 are overweight. And all sides agree this trend could be deadly.

JOHANNS: We don't want this generation of young people to be the first generation that lives fewer years than their parents.

COHEN: Elizabeth Cohen, CNN.


COHEN: And for that reason every week you can turn to HOUSECALL for the latest information of childhood obesity. One way to fight the battle of the bulge, no matter what your age, is to hit the gym. But as our Holly Firfer discovered, getting a good workout is all about your form.


HOLLY FIRFER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Having perfect form while exercising is key to getting the most out of your workouts. Fitness trainer Lee Martin shows us some dos and don'ts.

LEE MARTIN, FITNESS TRAINER: When performing a seated row, do not use momentum. You're not getting the most out of the exercise. Ensure you're seated straight up, pulling through the muscles in the back, and squeezing the shoulder blades. This is the perfect form.

FIRFER: Another popular exercise that people often do incorrectly are lunges.

MARTIN: Lunging improperly can lead to many problems. Putting all your weight forward can bring serious injury to your knee. For perfect form doing lunges, step, stop and drop. Drop the weight straight down, ensuring that the front knee does not go beyond itself. This is the perfect form.

FIRFER: Keep those tips in mind when working out. And as with any workout, you will maximize your results by focusing on a perfect form.

Holly Firfer, CNN, Atlanta.



COHEN: If you're looking for a flu shot in your area, point your browser to Just put in your zip code and it provides a list of providers in your hometown.

And for the latest on this year's flu, how to prevent and treat it, click on CDC's Web site at Now we've been getting a lot of e-mails. And we got a lot of e- mails saying can you predict? How bad is this year's flu season going to be? So you must get that question a lot, too.

GERBERDING: We do get that question. And the only thing we can predict with certainty about flu is that it's unpredictable. We just can't tell at the beginning of the season, like we are now, how bad it's going to be and when it's going to peak.

COHEN: So no way to predict?

GERBERDING: No, most important thing is get your flu shot.

COHEN: That's right.

Well, thank you so much. We've run out of time, but thank you Dr. Gerberding for being with us this morning.

Tune in every weekend for another edition of HOUSECALL. And e- mail us your questions at Remember, this is the place for answers to your medical questions.

Thanks for watching. I'm Elizabeth Cohen. Stay tuned for more news on CNN.


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