The incidence of rickets is increasing, especially in black and Hispanic children and particularly in the north.11,12 Epidemiologists trace the rise to an increase in breast-feeding (good for immunity, but breast milk lacks substantial vitamin D), overuse of sunscreen or lack of exposure to sunlight, and changes in physician recommendations for vitamin supplementation. The effects of rickets alone can be profound, but other long-term consequences of vitamin D deficiency may include type I diabetes, cancer (especially of the prostate), and osteoporosis.12
In the past few decades, physicians have been less likely to recommend vitamin D supplementation for babies, and an interesting study by Davenport and colleagues correlates the year of medical school completion to that decline as well as substantial variability as to the age at which supplement use is begun.12 (See Figures 4a and 4b, left.)
“Most of the cases I have run into have been in [recent] African immigrants, where the mothers stay covered and they are vitamin D deficient,” says Dr. Holmes. “It’s wonderful that they culturally breast-feed, but they come to the U.S., and they’re pretty afraid to go outside in a new society.”
Varicella (Chicken Pox)
Varicella was removed from the CDC’s national notifiable disease list in 1981, but in 1995 a varicella vaccine was recommended for routine childhood vaccination.13 Before the licensure of that vaccine, varicella was a universal childhood disease in the U.S., causing 4 million cases, 11,000 hospitalizations, and 100 deaths every year.14 In 2002, the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists recommended that varicella be included in the National Notifiable Surveillance System by 2003 and that case-based surveillance in all states be established by 2005.13 CDC’s ACIP recommended in 2006 that a routine second dose of varicella vaccine be given to children between the ages of four and six years old.
Contracting chicken pox as an adult is a much more morbid occurrence than catching it as a child. Although varicella is not life threatening (as are diphtheria, tetanus, and measles) or sterility-causing (as is mumps), when the vaccine was approved, some pediatricians, including Dr. Stucky, became concerned that “now we’re creating a population that has never seen the wild-type varicella virus, and what does that mean? Were we just delaying something into an age category where people will get sicker?” Recognizing varicella, therefore, is critical even for hospitalists who treat adults.
“I’ve seen mumps, measles, varicella, pertussis,” says Dr. Stucky, “but our adult [hospitalist] partners hadn’t.” She encourages her colleagues who treat adult populations “to read and be diligent. These diseases can exist in adults, or even in children who were once vaccinated, and all hospitalists need to know “what to do, how to treat them, and [that] the consequences in adults are hands down worse than in children.”
Dr. Stucky believes hospitalists who treat adults would do well to consult physicians who practiced in the 1950s because they understand the history as well as clinical signs and symptoms of these diseases; she says, “For the hospitalist who treats adults, these are the equivalent of emerging infectious diseases.” TH
Andrea Sattinger is a frequent contributor to The Hospitalist.
- Carmichael M. ‘Vintage’ bugs return. Newsweek. May 1, 2006:Vol. 147, p. 38. Available at: www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12440796/site/newsweek/. Accessed on November 29, 2006.
- Herwaldt LA. Pertussis in adults. What physicians need to know. Arch Intern Med. 1991;151:1510-1512.
- Schafer S, Gillette H, Hedberg K, et al. A community-wide pertussis outbreak: an argument for universal booster vaccination. Arch Intern Med. 2006 Jun 26;166(12):1317-1321.
- Dworkin MS. Adults are whooping, but are internists listening? Ann Intern Med. 2005 May 17;142(10):832-835. Available at: www.annals.org/cgi/reprint/142/10/832.pdf. Accessed on November 19, 2006.
- Gregory DS. Pertussis: a disease affecting all ages. Am Fam Physician. 2006 Aug 1;74(3):420-426.
- Finger R, Shoemaker J. Preventing pertussis in infants by vaccinating adults. Am Fam Physician. 2006 Aug 1;74(3):382.
- Broder KR, Cortese MM, Iskander JK, et al. Preventing tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis among adolescents: use of tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid and acellular pertussis vaccines recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR Recomm Rep. 2006;55:1-34.
- MMWR. Brief report: update: mumps activity—United States, January 1-October 7, 2006. MMWR. 2006 Oct 27;55(42):1152-1153.
- National Briefing: Science and health: race gap closes in vaccinations, U.S. says. New York Times. September 15, 2006.
- Calandrillo SP. Vanishing vaccinations: why are so many Americans opting out of vaccinating their children? Univ Mich J Law Reform. 2004 Winter;37(2):353-440.
- Kreiter SR, Schwartz RP, Kirkman HN Jr, et al. Nutritional rickets in African American breast-fed infants. J Pediatr. 2000 Aug;137(2):153-157.
- Davenport ML, Uckun A, Calikoglu AS. Pediatrician patterns of prescribing vitamin supplementation for infants: do they contribute to rickets? Pediatrics. 2004 Jan;113(1 Pt 1):179-180.
- MMWR. Varicella surveillance practices—United States, 2004. MMWR. 2006 Oct 19;55:1126-1129.
- Seward JF, Watson BM, Peterson CL, et al. Varicella disease after introduction of varicella vaccine in the United States, 1995-2000. JAMA. 2002 Feb 6;287(5):606-611.