Staph, Colds and Condoms: Moms Tackle Children's Health

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This week's Mocha Moms discuss the nationwide increase in staph infections and are joined by special guest Dr. Marilyn Corder, a pediatrician. They also weigh in on a middle school in Maine that wants that to distribute contraceptives to its students, and a recent FDA warning regarding cough medicine and children.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up: up close and personal with one of our listeners. She's getting some advice from our Money Coach. But first, they say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few Mocha Moms. We visit with members of this mother support group each week for their common sense and savvy parenting advice.

Health topics have been so much in the news lately. The FDA recommended that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines not be given to children under six. Then there's that middle school in Maine where officials decided to make contraceptives available to students at a school-based clinic.

And staph infection outbreaks are making headlines. As my old boss used to say, don't panic. It's too late to panic. So let's get some information. I'm joined by Mocha Moms Jolene Ivey, Cheli English-Figaro and Davina McFarland.

We're also joined by an expert, Dr. Marilyn Corder who is a pediatrician and a professor of pediatrics to help us figure all this out.

Welcome ladies, moms.

Ms. DAVINA McFARLAND (Mocha Moms): Hey, Michel.

Ms. JOLENE IVEY (Mocha Moms): Hi, how are you?

MARTIN: And we're pleased to be joined by a special guest, Dr. Marilyn Corder. She is a Washington area pediatrician and professor of pediatrics. She's going to help us figure all this out. Welcome to you.

Dr. MARILYN CORDER (Pediatrician, Washington, D.C.): Thank you.

MARTIN: Let's start with staph infections. What should we be worried about? What should we do?

Dr. CORDER: Well, staph is not new. Staph is as old as we are. And if you were to take a culture and put a Petri dish in front of you from your hands and your skin all over, you'd find 1,000 colonies of staphylococcal infections. The problem now is that we don't wash up enough - hand washing, hand washing, hand washing. And that's so very important.

We also, in the medical community, have prescribed tons of antibiotics over the course of time. And those bacteria, including staph, as simple as it is, can become very sophisticated and become resistant.

So because of those two issues of not good hand washing and antibiotics over the years, we now have developed - we call it methicillin-resistant staph infections.

MARTIN: Questions from the moms? Davina?

Ms. McFARLAND: Is staph the same as strep?

Dr. CORDER: No, as a matter of fact they're twins.

Ms. McFARLAND: Okay.

Dr. CORDER: They're not the same. They often go hand in hand together. That's why we call them twins in the medical community.

Now let me just take you back a little bit. In toddler land, how staph used to be a nuisance, there's something called impetigo. And some people call it impetigo. And what it was, if you imagine the toddler who had a drippy nose, and on that lane of drippiness, you'll see a little red knot, a little reddish blotch, and then we call it the crusty, yellow, exudate - which is puss -around it. That's staph. And what you did for that, you'd take the child in the bathroom and suds and suds and suds it up, rinse it off, and put a little Neosporin on it. You're done. You're gone. And those three, those two steps are the steps that treat staph skin infections.

The problem was when the toddlers would go up and share a bottle, share a kiss, is steaming with staph, and then you'll like oh, okay. You know, this is transmitted, and then you can see it bubbling under your skin. So that's why when that young person has visible impetigo, or what we call crusted staph, you would try to remove them from the environment until it dries up - usually two or three days.

MARTIN: I want to move on to our next story. A Food and Drug Administration panel voted last week to recommend that cough and cold products not be used for children when they are under the age of six. In fact, they've asked that the products aimed at children under two be taken off the market. Now I'm saying this is confusing to me, because - now maybe I'm naïve. But if you shouldn't be using them for kids under six, why were they made available?

Dr. CORDER: You have a 12-year-old, and you say, okay, this is the dose for 12 years old. Half of that is 6 years old, so half the adults. Half of that is a 2-year-old. But it doesn't work like that because those little organs, their kidneys, their liver, the things that, the brain where those medications are metabolized are not as easy as a division and a division and a division.

So it's never FDA-approved, and on the label it says consult your doctor. No one ever does. You know, and if you say half a teaspoon or a fourth of a teaspoon, well, that child who's been coughing all night the night before, you know, if half a teaspoon is good, why don't I added up three-fourths teaspoon to really help them, not knowing that the drugs in those medications can do much more harm. The other things that you do - rest, fluids, temperature check, giving Tylenol helps just as much - and steam in terms of vaporization.

MARTIN: Davina?

Ms. McFARLAND: My question for you, Dr. Corder, is there are two different categories on every single medication, one is for weight and one is for age. Which one do we use?

Dr. CORDER: I love this question. As a professor of pediatrics in two medical schools, it's the weight. As you know, you may have a 4-year-old who is as big as an 8-year-old, and you can have 4-year-old who is as small as a 2-year-old. So we base everything on kilograms. It is the weight. Age means nothing in pediatrics less than 8 years old, and that's so very important.

The other thing I wanted to also say that often we've seen too much overdose, or too much of the medication instead of twice a day, some people every four hours. They don't know if the daycare provider gave it. They're at home. The child's still sniffy, you know, oh, let's give it again - cumulatively adds up, and then they become toxic. And that's when you'll see them in the emergency room, eyes bugged out, and, you know, they don't know who they are. They don't recognize, they see spiders. They're hallucinating. They're lethargic, and that's much more harm than a little stuffy nose.

The other thing is we just have to also allow our immune system, our bodies to correct itself, to repair yourself, to kick in. Otherwise, we're given all these meds, and our body - our immune system will kick back, lay back, okay. I won't have to do anything. And then when you really need that antibodies and that repair, it's not going to happen.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we're having our regular visit with the Mocha Moms. We're talking about health issues. Final question for everybody: A middle school in Maine have voted to allow contraceptives to be made available to middle school students, and we're talking 11 to 13 years old. And, of course, you know, parents have to assign permission to, you know, let their kids have access to the clinic. But Dr. Corder, I wanted to ask, I mean, the community is still divided on this point? A lot of people think this is just common sense. A lot of people think this is outrageous. What do you think?

Dr. CORDER: Well, adolescence actually starts by 11 years old. We call it pre-teens. And unfortunately, there are behaviors that are associated with pre-teens and teenagers that need protection, such as sexual activity that needs protection.

Am I for giving out birth control in middle school? Actually, I am not. I am for giving out birth control for individuals who individually need it from their private doctors, their clinics on a private basis that - from middle school on down. Now, of course, when you have someone in high school, that's fine. But I think that in terms of the mental capacity and the psychological capacity of someone 11 years old going and seek it without parental consent -now I think down the road, I know they said parental consent, but with that, I fell that when Sally has her birth control pack and Jane needs some and her parents may not sign, then Sally's going to share with Jane, like M&Ms.

MARTIN: I just want to add a point here that health officials decided to extend the policy to middle school after learning that 17 middle school students had become pregnant in the last four years, seven of them in one school year alone. I think so the question then becomes which is more compelling, offering the contraceptives or letting these girls get pregnant because they're going to, they're clearly engage in sexual activity. What are the other thoughts here especially the - or especially everybody, as I was going to say these parents or daughters, but I don't think so. I mean, people - two parties is involved. Cheli?

Ms. CHELI ENGLISH-FIGARO (Mocha Moms): Well, I was going to say that it's just - I'm sad for this country. If we've reached the point that, you know, babies are having babies - I mean, babies can't raise babies. And I think when you have middle-schoolers having babies and expecting to take care of these babies, you're just going to kiss the next generation goodbye. And I think parents are the best birth control, best abstinence drug.

Dr. IVEY: And that sounds great.

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: It sure does.

Dr. IVEY: And since it's not like that, since we all know that mom's not home at 2:30 to meet the school bus or whatever - I mean, I think you have to be a realistic here. The real point is do you want these kids to end up pregnant? No, you don't.

Okay, we're not saying that if by providing birth control, you're going to provide the opportunity for sex. You're just trying to keep the sex from resulting in a baby or pregnancy. And I think that's the most important thing. Maybe in a few years, these kids will have a better situation. Maybe at some point, their parents will get themselves together. But in the meanwhile, I think the most important thing is to make sure these kids don't get pregnant.

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: Once you sign, I believe, once you sign the permission slip for your child to be able to go into the clinic, then what happens on the clinic kind of stays in the clinic, like Vegas. But, you know, you both bring up very interesting points. Cheli with, you know, if your parent is home that is a deterrent. Also, you know, it's true.

MARTIN: Or activities - how about being busy?

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: You know what? I've heard from a lot of older girls that there's a lot of time between ballet classes that you could do whatever you want to do. So you could be in activities, you know, you have to go from ballet to softball, and there's a 30-minute window in there, and it only takes 15 to get done what you need to do.

Dr. CORDER: And some the most common sites of having sex, of course, we know in the stairwells of the school.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Dr. CORDER: But getting back, my main point - there is something called adolescent confidentiality. That means that an adolescent - not 11, but 12 to 13 - can go anywhere to a clinic and request birth control, even request an abortion, request treatment for drugs without parental consent, no matter who's signing or not signing. But we want to make sure that not only the parents decide, but that there are workshops and teachings for the household, for the parents from the school, so that when they are - that other adult taking care of that young person, that the parents are aware, not what the child is doing, but aware of what they need to do to make sure that it's a total wraparound, because after 3 o'clock, school's over.

MARTIN: All right. We going to have to leave it there.

Dr. Marilyn Corder, our guest mom, is a professor of pediatrics at both George Washington University and Howard University. We're joined by our regular Mocha Moms as always: Divina McFarland, Cheli English-Figaro and Jolene Ivey. They all joined us here in our Washington studios.

Thank you all so much for joining us.

Ms. IVEY: Thanks, Michel.

Ms. McFARLAND: Thank you, Michel.

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: Thank you, Michel.

Dr. CORDER: Thank you, Michel.

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