Monday, October 15, 2018

Influenza vaccine in pregnancy decreases hospitalizations

- Jennifer Middleton, MD, MPH

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pregnant women with influenza infection are more likely to be hospitalized than non-pregnant women of the same age. It seems intuitive that influenza vaccination would help reduce these hospitalizations, but data demonstrating as such has only been published in the last week. A large multi-center retrospective study found that influenza vaccination reduces influenza-related hospitalizations among pregnant women by 40%.

Organizations from several countries, including the CDC, comprise the Pregnancy Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness Network (PREVENT), who conducted this retrospective study that reviewed over 19,000 hospitalization records from Australia, Canada, Israel, and the western United States (US). A significant limitation to the study is that, overall, only 6% of pregnant women admitted for flu-like illness had documented influenza virus testing; among these women, 13% with confirmed influenza had been vaccinated, compared with 22% with confirmed influenza who had not been vaccinated. The authors note that vaccine uptake was low across all studied countries, with the US having the highest vaccination rates at just 50%. (The authors' findings correlate with CDC data from the 2016-17 influenza season, when 53.6% of pregnant US women were vaccinated.)

Given the many documented benefits of influenza vaccine in pregnancy, we need to improve vaccination rates. Safety concerns, especially in pregnancy, continue to be a major barrier to vaccination. The CDC has a website devoted to allaying these safety concerns that cites multiple studies demonstrating the vaccine's safety and efficacy in pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) both also strongly recommend influenza vaccination in pregnancy; ACOG has an online fact sheet for patients as does AAFP's familydoctor.org.

Studies also cite low rates of physician recommendation as a factor in suboptimal influenza vaccination rates in pregnant women, even though physician recommendation to vaccinate correlates with higher vaccination rates. Even though many family physicians do not provide direct obstetric care, we can still work with our pregnant patients to encourage influenza vaccination. FPM has a resource describing "How to Talk to Reluctant Patients About the Flu Shot," and the latest issue of AFP includes the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) update for 2018-2019. There's also an AFP By Topic on Influenza with more references and patient handouts.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Rise in congenital syphilis highlights pregnancy screening gaps

- Kenny Lin, MD, MPH

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that the number of reported cases of congenital syphilis in the U.S. rose from 362 in 2013 to 918 in 2017, paralleling increases in syphilis infections in reproductive-age women during this time period. From 2016 to 2017, congenital syphilis cases rose from 16 to 23 per 100,000 live births. Although two-thirds of affected infants have no symptoms at birth, congenital syphilis is associated with increased neonatal mortality and a variety of early (through 48 months of age) and late complications, detailed in a previous AFP article.

The first line of prevention against congenital syphilis is screening for syphilis in all pregnant women at the first prenatal visit, a well-established standard of care that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recently reaffirmed. Although some cases occur in infants whose mothers receive no prenatal care, about one-third of women who delivered a baby with congenital syphilis in 2016 were screened during their pregnancies.

The CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists all recommend repeat syphilis screening in women at high risk for syphilis at around 28 weeks of gestation and at time of delivery. Women at high risk include those living in higher-prevalence communities or geographic areas; those living with HIV infection; those with a history of incarceration or commercial sex work; and those exposed to a sexual partner with confirmed syphilis infection. Early penicillin treatment of infected pregnant women reduces the risk of congenital syphilis.

The USPSTF has also previously recommended screening nonpregnant adults and adolescents at increased risk for syphilis infection. Higher risk groups in nonpregnant adults are similar to those in pregnant women, but also include men who have sex with men (MSM), particularly men aged 20 to 29 years, whose prevalence of primary or secondary syphilis is nearly 3 times higher than that of the general U.S. male population. Finally, the USPSTF recommends intensive behavioral counseling for all sexually active adolescents and for adults at increased risk for sexually transmitted infections.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Exercise for chronic back pain: tips for success

- Jennifer Middleton, MD, MPH

The article on "Mechanical Low Back Pain" in the current issue of AFP provides an overview of diagnosis and treatment for the 1 in 5 adults who suffer from low back pain. The article reminds us that NSAIDs alone work just as well as opioids, muscle relaxers, and/or oral corticosteroids. Non-pharmacologic pain relief is emphasized, with some evidence of benefit found with physical therapy, osteopathic manipulative treatment, and exercise. Patients want more than just exercise advice, though; they also want to have their experiences with both pain and exercise considered to develop personalized recommendations.

Patients want physicians to listen to their prior experiences with back pain and exercise, taking their perceived fitness ability into account when recommending exercise. They prefer plans that consider their exercise likes and dislikes. Patients also want an exercise plan that they feel they can be successful with, partially because they fear judgment from their physician if they don't improve. Validating patients' experiences with their pain, eliciting their exercise preferences, and having resources to discuss with patients may increase the likelihood of their success with a new exercise regimen.

Engaging regularly in exercise is challenging for many people, let alone someone with chronic low back pain. Simply counseling patients regarding physical activity is a critical first step, one that many patients don't ever recall hearing from their physician. Working with patients to create a tailored exercise prescription may help. Several fitness apps, as recently reviewed in FPM, also provide a wide range of motivational methods, from raising money for charity to running from simulated zombie chases.

AFP has additional resources you may find useful, including the AFP By Topic on Health Maintenance and Counseling along with patient education at familydoctor.org, where "sports and exercise at every age" is the site's current monthly focus.