Category Archives: Children

CDC establishes new reference value for dangerous blood lead levels

Photo by Dr. Matthias Ripp via Flickr.

The Flint, Michigan water crisis remains a prime example of the importance of public health journalism. Without the dogged reporting and local medical research by a persistent pediatrician, thousands of children would likely continue being harmed by unsafe lead levels in the water. The crisis also spotlighted the fact that lead remains a significant health threat to children and one that disproportionately affects already vulnerable kids, particularly Black children, those living in poverty, and immigrant and refugee children.

Lead poisoning can cause brain damage, learning and attention difficulties, memory problems, reduced growth and development, and behavioral problems in children, and the effects are irreversible.

Two years after the water crisis began, the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act of 2016 authorized creation of the Lead Exposure Prevention and Advisory Committee (LEPAC), a committee that was officially formed in 2018 with four main objectives:

  • Reviewing federal programs and services available to lead-exposed people and communities.
  • Reviewing current research on lead poisoning to identify additional research needs.
  • Reviewing and identifying best practices, or the need for best practices, regarding lead screening and prevention of lead poisoning.
  • Identifying effective services for people and communities affected by lead exposure.

One of the biggest challenges of protecting children from lead poisoning is, as with many toxic chemicals, the lowest level of lead that can be tolerated without causing harm is unknown. It’s generally recognized that no “safe” level exists, but since it’s impossible to ensure children have zero lead exposure — it occurs naturally in our environment — we need a reference point to determine how much is too much. Until recently, the CDC had determined the blood lead reference value to be 5 µg/dL — the amount of lead in a child’s blood that indicates higher-than-average, and potentially dangerous, exposure.

But the Lead Exposure Prevention and Advisory Committee recommended in May 2021, based on their review of available evidence, that the reference value be adjusted down to  3.5 µg/dL, and the CDC has just adopted that recommendation and updated the reference value. That means children ages one to five who have at least 3.5 µg/dL of lead in their blood have higher lead blood levels than 97.5% of other U.S. children their age.

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Dallas, Baltimore children’s hospitals embrace high-tech features in behavioral health areas to promote calmness

Photo courtesy of Children’s Health

Children and teenagers presenting to emergency rooms with behavioral health crises sometimes wait hours to days for a bed in a psychiatric unit or facility. Children’s Medical Center in Dallas is trying to make that stay less stressful for patients and their families by incorporating technologies such as mood lighting, projected images of calming scenery and an interactive touchscreen allowing patients to draw, play music or games.

Also, this year, the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital in Baltimore opened a new inpatient psychiatry unit for patients ages 5-17 featuring nature themes, special lighting and patients’ choices of relaxing sounds. In both cases, clinicians aim to create more calming environments to help de-escalate behavioral and mental health crises.

The Dallas hospital opened three “Philips rooms” (named after Phillips, their health care technology partner) in their emergency department in June 2021. A fourth is scheduled to open in 2022.

The inspiration behind these rooms

Inspiration came partly from two memorable patient experiences, said Keri Kaiser, senior vice president and chief marketing and experience officer for Children’s Health, during a recent webinar hosted by Becker’s Healthcare. Kaiser was in the ED one day when she saw a young girl, who was extremely violent, being held in a bare room alone. She was in the custody of Child Protective Services and had no parents or guardians with her. Because of her aggression, staff limited their interaction while hoping to find a placement in a psychiatric facility. On another occasion, Kaiser’s friends told her that their daughter, who was being held in the ED, was physically safe but felt helpless being stuck in a bare room.

Shortly after, Kaiser and others with the health system were scheduled to visit Philips to see what technology advancements could be brought to the neonatal intensive care unit. The company has worked with hospitals to offer what it calls the “ambient experience” — a variety of room designs, dynamic lighting, image projection and calming sounds to make waiting areas, and procedure and recovery rooms more pleasant. As Kaiser viewed these options, she asked if they could also be used for behavioral and mental health patients in the ED.

Geneva Burnap, M.B.A., R.N., N.E.A.-B.C., a nurse, and senior director for emergency services at Children’s Health, said during the webinar that she initially got some pushback about creating these rooms, because behavioral health holds only made up 4.5% of their patients. But studying analytics, she and her colleagues found that some 20% of care hours were spent on these patients.

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CDC highlights case study on how schools could reopen safely

school busTo showcase how schools could reopen safely this year, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield, M.D., highlighted an effort in Rhode Island to reopen hundreds of child care programs, while keeping community spread of COVID-19 in check.

During a rare media briefing on Aug. 21, Redfield talked to reporters about how evidence continues to show that mask wearing, daily symptom screening, enhanced sanitation and keeping students in small controlled groups is a strategy that can limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Continue reading

NEA president to join webcast on re-opening schools

Lily Eskelsen García

Lily Eskelsen García

Lily Eskelsen García, president of the  National Education Association, will join AHCJ’s webcast, “Reporting on school reopenings in the time of COVID-19,” scheduled for Thursday.

She will join Enriqueta Bond, Ph.D., chair of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine advisory committee on Reopening K-12 Schools in the Time of COVID-19; and Tina Q. Tan, M.D., professor of pediatrics and pediatric infectious diseases attending physician at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. The webcast will be moderated by Bara Vaida, AHCJ’s core topic leader on infectious diseases. Continue reading

Tips for covering the latest news about antimicrobial resistance

Drug resistant pseudomonas aeruginosa

Photo: CDCDrug resistant pseudomonas aeruginosa

The danger of antibiotic resistance became clearer in November with the release of new figures showing that antibiotic resistance is among the top ten causes of mortality in the U.S.

This information is a news hook for all kinds of follow-up stories, from examining the effectiveness of local hospital antibiotic stewardship programs, to parenting articles on the potential dangers of antibiotics to children as we enter the winter season. Continue reading