National Immunization Awareness Month 2019

August is National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM) in the United States. This is the time of year when children and teenagers are heading back to school, toddlers are entering preschools or daycare programs, and many adults are heading into college or continuing their careers. Regardless of the situation, it is important to be aware of the need for getting vaccinated year round.

 

Vaccines are a vital part of healthcare at all stages of life and offers the best protection available against many potentially devastating illnesses. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages parents to follow an immunization schedule for babies and young children, protecting them from 14 life-affecting diseases. Pre-teens and teenagers should begin to innoculate against meningococcal diseases (meningitis or septicemia) and HPV (Human Papillomavirus, which can lead to cancer). Adults should continue to protect themselves with a yearly flu shot, tetanus updates, and later in life the shingles vaccine.

 

An important element of immunization awareness is to protect our populations through “herd immunity” — when a high percentage of a population is vaccinated they protect individuals who have not developed an immunity. Babies are protected by their mother’s immune system at birth and continue to be passed antibodies from their mother’s breast milk; however, surrounding infants with people who have been vaccinated further protects them from serious diseases. Some individuals may be allergic to certain vaccines, leaving them without the benefit of immunization and largely depending on herd immunity from the surrounding populations throughout their lives. Lastly, there are children and adults who are immunocompromised and shouldn’t be vaccinated.

No medicine can be considered 100% effective; the measles vaccine is 93-97% effective with one or two doses, respectively. Measles is so highly infectious that 90% of unvaccinated people who come close to an infected person will contract the virus. Being unvaccinated for infectious diseases is not only putting oneself in danger of serious illness and possibly death, but also the community at large.

Measles was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000, but that did not stop more than 1000 diagnoses being recorded in the first half of 2019  — the greatest number since 1992. The sharp rise in outbreaks is due to falling vaccination rates caused by the mass spread of misinformation, historical amnesia, and individualistic attitudes that encourage people to reject expert advice or only follow it selectively. The prevailing myth has been that vaccines cause autism and other developmental conditions, sparked by a 1998 paper by a doctor who has since been discredited and stripped of his clinical license. There have been dozens of studies that refute the association between vaccines and autism, but they have done little to quiet those who repeat lies and misinformation.

 

For those in need of assistance, our database of free, low-cost, and sliding-scale clinics has information on over 7500 clinics that offer immunization services. Search your ZIP code to find medical clinics near you that may offer free or low-cost immunizations. Pharmaceutical companies also offer Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs) such as Vaccine Patient Assistance Program. Call our toll-free helpline for more information at 1-800-503-6897 Monday through Friday 9am through 5pm Eastern Time.

Minority Mental Health Month

July has been Minority Mental Health Month since 2008. Back in May we addressed mental health awareness, but there are factors affecting mental health that are particular to minority communities. People of color, immigrants and their families, LGBTQIA people, and other underrepresented groups face unique struggles in regard to mental illness in the United States.

 

Everyone has stress and difficult emotions on occasion, and this is completely normal. Mental illness, however, is any condition that makes it difficult to function in daily life. It can affect relationships or job performance, and is caused by any number of complex interactions within the human brain. Mental illness can range from anxiety or mood disorders like depression, psychotic disorders like schizophrenia, eating disorders, or addictive behaviors. Minority communities are disproportionately affected and experience different levels of care compared to heterosexual/cisgender/white populations. Discrimination and implicit bias from healthcare providers is associated with higher rates of psychiatric disorders, substance abuse, and suicide in patients of color.

 

LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual) individuals often experience body dysmorphia, physical or emotional abuse, or feeling unsafe at school or work. There are many areas of the United States where finding sympathetic and appropriate help can be prohibitively difficult. Over 27% of transgender people in the U.S. report being denied healthcare. Recent studies have found that LGBTQIA people are 29% more likely to experience memory problems as compared to peers with similar characteristics such as age, gender, race and ethnicity, marital status, and income. Other studies have found that 71% of LGBTQIA people reported feeling sad or hopeless for at least two weeks within the past year, 39% have contemplated suicide, and 20% have attempted suicide.

 

People of color are less likely to use psychiatric medications or administer them to a child in their care, even when they have equal access. Aside from a lack of diversity, experts say that this is possibly due to a lack of cultural competence in the fields of healthcare and psychiatry. This can be exacerbated by the media depicting police shootings, immigrants being detained, and racial profilings having PTSD-like effects on young people of color — to say nothing of one’s individual experiences of racism, isolation, being silenced or stripped from their sense of belonging. Mental health services can also be more expensive: over 30% of medical expenses faced by communities of color can be associated with health inequities.

Immigrants, their families, and many people of color have been facing increased pressure even in the midst of Minority Mental Health Month. For much of July, there has been media coverage of overtly racist messages from President Trump and his supporters. Trump telling rival women of immigrant families holding elected office to “go back to where [they] came from” has deeply rooted origins of discriminating against people who do not appear “American” enough (i.e., European-descended white) and characterizing communities of color as “infested” has a disgraceful history going back to American slavery. There have been raids targeting immigrant families in recent weeks, which have included the arrest of U.S. citizens who had been racially profiled and held for weeks in concentration camp conditions. Witnessing these exchanges and events brought by people in positions of power can be intensely harmful to those who have experienced similar bigotry.

 

Thousands of immigrant children have been separated from their parents/families under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, and face an increased risk of profound physical and mental health problems. Psychologists who have visited detention centers worry that the conditions in these prison camps will add to the trauma families have already endured, though the impact is difficult to predict as no research has been done on children who have been forcibly separated from their families due to the inherent ethical concerns. The observable realities are tragic: parents have committed suicide after being told they’ll never see their children again; children have been abused, neglected, and denied sanitary conditions or healthcare; dozens of people have died, including five children so far in 2019. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is ill-equipped to screen or treat mental illnesses from anxiety to schizophrenia. Just reading of events such as these can be the cause of real mental and emotional anguish for countless people in America, with and without citizenship.

There are many ways one can support immigrant families in detention. The most commonly available method is to call your elected representatives in Congress and local governments to tell them not to support the inhuman treatment happening at the Southern border, and register to vote.

 

If you are looking for a LGBTQIA-friendly medical center, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has an interactive map with locations of over 1600 healthcare facilities in the United States. The HRC also has information on finding insurance for transgender-related healthcare, which can be a challenge for many transgender people even after the ACA. Beyond these resources, there are questions any underrepresented person can ask their healthcare or mental health providers to get an idea as to how well they can help and understand you:

  • Have you treated other LGBTQIA people/people of color/immigrants/refugees?
  • Have you received training in gender/cultural competence or on LGBTQIA/people of color/immigrant/refugee mental health?
  • How do you see our sexualities/gender identities/cultural backgrounds influencing our communication and my treatment?
  • How do you plan to integrate my sexuality/identity/culture/beliefs and practices into my treatment?

Your mental health provider will play an important role in your treatment, so make sure you can work with this person and that you communicate well together. Mention your beliefs, experiences, values, and cultural characteristics. Make sure that they understand them so that they can be considered in the course of your treatment.

NeedyMeds has Diagnosis Assistance Programs listed for various forms of mental illness. We also have information for over 5,000 free, low-cost, or sliding-scale clinics throughout the country that offer counseling or mental health services. Search your ZIP Code for mental health clinics near you, or call our toll-free helpline for information at 1-800-503-6897 (open Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm ET).

 

We encourage everyone to educate themselves, strive to understand the difficulties people around us live with, and to replace stigma and bias with hope and support. If you or someone you know is suffering from a mental health condition, it is important to know that no one is alone in their struggle. Call for assistance, whether help is needed immediately or long-term.

 

Samaritans 24/7 Crisis Services via call or text: (877) 870-HOPE (4673)

The Trevor Project (LGBTQIA crisis support): 1-866-488-7386 or Text “Trevor” to 1-202-304-1200

Trans Lifeline (transgender crisis support): (877) 565-8860

The Steve Fund Crisis Text Line (crisis support for people of color): Text STEVE to 741741

 

National Cleft & Craniofacial Awareness & Prevention Month

July is National Cleft & Craniofacial Awareness & Prevention Month. Cleft palate or craniofacial defects affect thousands of infants, children, teens, and adults in the United States each year — 4400 infants are born with a cleft lip with or without a cleft palate and 2650 are born with a cleft palate alone. While some people are born with congenital anomalies, others are burned or otherwise injured in accidents or diagnosed with various diseases that affect the mouth, head, neck, or skin.

 

Craniofacial defects are conditions present at birth that affect the structure and function of a baby’s head and face. Treatments and services for children with craniofacial defects can vary depending on the severity of the defect, the presence of associated syndromes or other birth defects, as well as the child’s age and other medical or developmental needs. Children with certain craniofacial defects are at a greater risk for physical, learning, developmental, or social challenges. Recent studies suggest that the healthcare use and average medical cost for children with craniofacial conditions are much higher than children without these abnormalities.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies preventable causes that one can be aware of. Women who have diabetes or report using certain fertility medications before becoming pregnant have shown to be at higher risk of having a baby with various craniofacial conditions. Other risks include smoking while pregnant or shortly before becoming pregnant, or having or being treated for thyroid disease while pregnant. The CDC’s suggested next steps include controlling one’s diabetes with proper diet and insulin application, and preventing exposure to tobacco or alcohol while pregnant.

 

Other than congenital abnormalities, injuries from fires, accidents, and animal attacks can result in craniofacial malformations. Diagnoses of orofacial or skin cancers can also lead to disfigurement. Changes to one’s face can negatively affect a person’s mental health. Acquired facial trauma can cause psychological issues from body image to post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms along with depression and anxiety.

Stigma of individuals with craniofacial conditions and injuries have always harmfully affected the lives of those who look different. The persistent presence of the internet and social media has made abuse more constant for people of all ages, from public figures to young children. Even adults can have difficulty dealing with abject cruelty, and that can be nothing compared to what young people who have not developed the experience or coping mechanisms to tolerate personal attacks from one’s peers in a healthy way. Cyberbullying makes young people twice as a likely to self-harm or attempt suicide.

 

With so many different anomalies and the relatively simple ways to prevent these expensive and difficult conditions, as well as the harmful stigma people face, it is easy to see why awareness is so important. NeedyMeds has information on assistance based on diagnosis of Cleft Lip and/or Palate as well as Craniofacial conditions. There are also a number of camps and retreats available for children with craniofacial deformities. For more information, call our toll-free helpline at 1-800-503-6897.

Save on your Durable Medical Equipment & Diabetic Supplies

The NeedyMeds Drug Discount Card is adding a new benefit for patients! The NeedyMeds Drug Discount Card can now be used to save 40% on durable medical equipment and diabetic supplies. Our new partnership with My Virtual Doctor allows patients to buy hundreds of items online at a discount when you enter a NeedyMeds Drug Discount Card ID at checkout. You can now use your NeedyMeds Drug Discount Card to save on:

  • Diabetic supplies — needles, syringes, meters, test strips, lancets and more;
  • Splints and braces for ankle, knee, wrist, back;
  • Catheters and incontinence supplies;
  • Bathroom safety supplies — commodes, grab bars, bath benches and more;
  • Compression stockings;
  • Mobility devices such as canes, crutches, walkers, wheelchairs;
  • Footwear — inserts, socks, slippers;
  • Bladder control pads;
  • and more!

For over 10 years, the NeedyMeds Drug Discount Card has been helping patients afford their prescriptions. To date, we have saved patients over $280 million on the price of their medications. The free NeedyMeds Drug Discount Card can be used anywhere in the country at over 65,000 participating pharmacies including all of the major chains, to save up to 80% on the cash price of your prescriptions. There are no income or age restrictions. There is no activation or registration needed and no personal information is taken when using our card.

The only rule is that you can’t combine insurance with the NeedyMeds Drug Discount Card. So if you’re uninsured, you can use it any time you are purchasing a medication. If you have health insurance, the card can fill in the gaps in your coverage. For example, if you have any medications not covered under your insurance or if you have a high co-pay or deductible, you could try using the card instead of your insurance. You can also use the card on any over-the-counter or medical supplies your doctor writes as a prescription, as well as human-equivalent pet prescriptions you can pick up at a pharmacy.

 

There are many ways that you can make use of the NeedyMeds Drug Discount Card. You can order a plastic card on our website, download a printable PDF, or as a smartphone app. If you’re an individual, you can use the card yourself and share it with your family and friends! One family could use the same card and it never expires. For more help finding information, check our website or call our toll-free helpline Monday-Friday 9am-5pm Eastern Time at 1-800-503-6897.

The Sun – America’s Leading Cause of Cancer

by Mark A. Kelley, MD

This blog that we are sharing for National Stay Out of the Sun Day originally appeared on HealthWebNavigator.

 

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Here are some facts:

    • Over 3 million Americans are treated for skin cancer every year.
    • One in five Americans will develop skin cancer during their lifetime. 
    • Skin cancer is preventable and easy to detect.  
    • When caught early, this cancer is usually curable. 
    • Some types of skin cancer can be fatal.  

 

Skin cancer is caused by sunlight damage to the skin. The only way to prevent it is to stay out of the sun, or block the sun’s rays.

People with fair skin are more vulnerable to skin cancer. Those with dark complexions have some natural protection since their skin filters out some of the sun’s rays. Nonetheless, people of color can still get skin cancer. 

The sun’s ultraviolet rays can damage the DNA of skin cells. These cells may grow abnormally and eventually become cancerous. This transformation may evolve slowly over many years or may occur earlier in life, particularly if sunlight exposure has been intense.  

 

Sunlight can also lead to another problem premature wrinkling of the skin. Sun worshippers believe that a tan is healthy. In reality, a suntan is a sign of the skin injury. If it continues, the damage can destroy the foundations of the skin, and make it look like leather. Tanning also triples the likelihood of developing the most dangerous form of skin cancer, melanoma. 

A melanoma starts as a pigmented skin lesion. Early detection and removal can cure this malignancy. However, if untreated, melanoma can spread to other parts of the body and cause death.

The other types of skin cancer are less aggressive and spread slowly to the surrounding tissue. The most common are basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma. These cancers are rarely fatal and in early stages, are easy to remove. If ignored, they can invade deeply and widely, making surgical removal challenging. 

 

To prevent skin cancer, protect your skin from sunlight: 

  1. Limit your exposure to the sun. The sun’s rays are most intense between 10 am and 4 pm.
  2. If you must go out in the sun, block the sun’s rays with “cover-up” garments and/or with sunblock.
  3. Use sunblock that has sun protection factor ratings (SPF) of 15 or more. An SPF of 15 means that it would take you 15 times longer to get sunburn with the sunblock, compared to none at all
  4. Follow the directions for applying and reapplying the sunblock product. Sunblock can lose its effectiveness after a few hours. It can also be removed by perspiration or swimming.
  5. Avoid indoor tanning salons. Research has shown that those using tanning beds have an alarming increase in skin cancer including the most deadly form, melanoma. Click here for more information.

 

Screening for Skin Cancer

The benefits of routine skin cancer screening are controversial. However, most experts agree that anyone with a suspicious skin lesion or with a history of skin cancer should seek medical advice. Click here for details.

 

More information on skin cancer can be found at the National Institutes of Health and the Skin Cancer Foundation.

 

It is important to know the dangers of sun and heat exposure, and that there are resources available for those in need. NeedyMeds has information on national Diagnosis-Based Assistance programs (DBAs) offering testing for those at risk for skin cancer as well as financial assistance for those already diagnosed.