Halloween Throughout the World

Halloween Pumpkins

 

Happy Halloween! Nearly all of us are familiar with Halloween and the celebrations that come with this holiday. Throughout much of North America, children will go door to door hoping for tasty treats, and, in many other parts of the world, celebrations are very similar. However, in some cases, local traditions are extremely different from those of the US and Canada. Here are four different events throughout the world that all happen in the fall and all celebrate the dead: Allhallowtide, Día de los Muertos, Pitru Paksha, and Obon. After reading about these fascinating traditions, we bet you you are going to want to plan your next trip abroad during the end of October!

Allhallowtide

Allhallowtide is the triduum (three day period) that encompasses Hallowe’en, Hallowmas (All Saints’ Day) and All Souls Day. It is believed that the date of All Saints’ Day was established by Pope Gregory III around the year 740.

Hallowe’en goes by many names: Halloween (most commonly), All Hallow’s Eve, and a few others, but, while the name has changed, traditions have been more or less the same for many years.

All Saints’ Day (originally known as Hallowmas) takes place on November 1, and it is a holy day to honor saints and martyrs, both known and unknown. For many Christian sects, especially Catholics, it is a day to attend church and honor those who have passed.

All Souls’ Day falls on November 2, and it is a day to honor all faithful Christians.

Día de los Muertos

Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Latin American holiday observed mainly in Mexico. Much like All Saints’ Day, the holiday focuses on remembering the dead, but, instead of religious figures, it has a distinct focus on close family and friends who have passed. Building private altars called ofrendas, bringing gifts like candy skulls or marigolds to graves, and leaving possessions for the dead are all common practices. It is a very colorful and festive holiday, making it similar in this regard to Asia’s Diwali.

The practices of remembrance have spread throughout Latin America, and there are a variety of variations on Dia de los Muertos in Brazil, Haiti, Bolivia, Ecuador, and even parts of the United States.

Obon

Held from mid-July through the end of August, depending on the region, Obon is a Japanese Buddhist festival that honors the spirit of one’s ancestors. It lasts for three days and features a variety of traditions and activities. Two of the most notable are the Bon Odori and Toro Nagashi.

The Bon Odori, or Bon Dance, is a traditional folk dance meant to welcome the spirits of the dead. Each region of Japan has its own version of the Bon Odori. Often, the dance will feature an important aspect of the area’s history.

Toro Nagashi is a ceremony in which paper lanterns are floated either down river or into a body of water. The ceremony represents the traditional belief that humans came from water and so will eventually return to it. Unlike many other ceremonies associated with holidays and the dead, Toro Nagashi will take place at different times throughout the year, generally to mark specific tragic events like the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki or the 2011 Tsunami.

Pitru Paksha

Literally translated as “fortnight of the ancestors,” Pitru Paksha is a 16-day holiday during which Hindus celebrate their ancestors. It generally takes place between September and October, but, like Obon, it can vary by region within India and Southeast Asia. The most important ceremony of Pitru Paksha is the Shraddha, a ritual that helps ensure that the soul of an ancestor goes to heaven.

The Shraddha is performed on a specific date during the Pitru Paksha, usually when the ancestor or parent died. There are exceptions for this based on whether someone died in a particular manner or had achieved a certain status while still alive. The ceremony is generally carried out by the eldest son who takes a purifying bath before starting the ceremony. The Shraddha then involves offering food to the ancestors, and it is a very sacred rite. The offering is considered accepted if a crow, a symbol of Yama or the spirit of the ancestors, arrives and eats the food.

We’d love to hear about your Halloween and ancestral traditions as well, or if you celebrate one of the traditions we have listed above. Have you ever traveled overseas for a Halloween event? Comment below and tell us what you do!

Do I Need a Rabies Vaccination?

Hong Kong City in China
Photo of Hong Kong cityscape. According to WHO, more than 95% of human rabies deaths occur in Asia and Africa.

 

Every day, news organizations throughout the world report on rabies and rabies exposure. It is one of the more common diseases that affects both humans and animals. News coverage has led many individuals to wonder whether they or their children need to be vaccinated for the disease. Let’s address those questions here.

Normally, preventative vaccination is recommended as one of the best methods to prevent a disease. Flu, measles, meningitis; these are common vaccinations that virtually everyone receives. But, there are some vaccines, like the rabies vaccination, that prevent diseases that are so uncommon that they become less necessary, at least across the board.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “People at high risk of exposure to rabies, such as veterinarians, animal handlers, rabies laboratory workers, spelunkers, and rabies biologics production workers should be offered rabies vaccine,” as well as international travelers who are likely to come in contact with animals in regions where the disease is widespread.

The average person in a developed nation will most likely never be exposed to rabies in a way that would require preventative vaccination. In 2012, the CDC reported that there was only one documented case of rabies in a human, and 93% of reported animal cases occurred in wild, not domesticated, animals. Unless you are traveling to a region where rabies is common, it is entirely possible that you will never see it.

The CDC wisely notes that staying away from wild animals is the best way to avoid exposure to rabies. However, if you are bitten by a wild animal, always seek immediate medical help, and your medical professional can decide whether you need to be given the vaccine (which is effective pre- and post-exposure).

For more information on rabies and where you can be vaccinated, feel free to contact a Passport Health vaccination specialist.

Could the flu be connected to your diet?

Group of people eating around a table

 

A new report shows that what you eat might affect how well the flu vaccine affects you. The study, published by Cell Press in Immunity, shows that microbes in the human stomach might help increase the effectiveness of flu vaccines.

“Our findings raise the possibility that antibiotic treatment prior to or during vaccination may impact immunity,” said Bali Pulendran, a senior study author.

Although it is still uncertain if taking antibiotics before or during vaccination will increase the effectiveness of the vaccine in humans, researchers found that there was a difference in how mice reacted to the vaccines depending on what was happening in their stomachs at the time of inoculation.

“Another potential implication of our study is that we may be able to manipulate gut microbes in order to improve immune responses to the vaccine,” continued Pulendran.

In developing nations, influenza vaccines have tended to be less effective leaving many, especially the very young and very old, still vulnerable to infection. The reasons for this are still unknown, generally because so little is known about the body’s response to vaccination. Pulendran’s study tries to narrow this knowledge gap.

Two sets of mice were used in the test. One group was raised in a relatively germ-free environment or treated with antibiotics while the other group was exposed to germs on a regular basis. Those that had been treated with antibiotics were found to be more vulnerable to the flu even after vaccination. Not only that, but mice that had been genetically modified to lack a gene called TLR5, which some humans lack as well, were found to react similarly to those that had been on antibiotics.

What exactly this means for future research is yet to be determined, but what has become apparent is that taking antibiotics or even eating certain foods could potentially affect how well a vaccine works in your immune system.

“In the future,” says Pulendran, “it will be important to determine the impact of antibiotic treatment on immunity to vaccinations in humans and to study whether differences in the composition of gut microbes in different populations can impact vaccine immunity.”

We will keep you updated as further studies are released about the impact antibiotics have on flu vaccine efficacy!

For more information on flu vaccinations or to schedule your own appointment with a Passport Health flu specialist, visit our website or call us at 1-888-499-PASS (7277).

New Device to Diagnose Malaria in Minutes

Blood Test for Malaria

 

A new, inexpensive malaria test needs only a drop of blood and a little time to identify the presence of the disease in a patient’s blood, according to a paper published in the journal Nature Medicine.

The new device, developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, uses Magnetic Resonance Relaxometry (MRR) to detect the waste products of plasmodium, the parasite that causes malaria. That waste, called hemozoin, contains small amounts of iron, making it easy to measure using the MRR process.

By using this process, the test can not only identify the presence of malaria in the blood but also help in the treatment of the disease by measuring if there has been a drop in the level of hemozoin in the blood.

However, the most amazing part may just be the cost. “Since this technique does not rely on expensive labeling with chemical reagents, we are able to get each diagnostic test done at a cost of less than 10 cents,” says Weng Kung Peng, a researcher on the project. A new device could be constructed for less than $2,000.

MIT’s MRR system is a big departure from traditional methods of diagnosing malaria. Currently, the most common testing method involves using a microscope and analyzing the blood manually, a far less accurate and more time consuming process.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates annual malaria deaths at more than 600,000 each year across the globe. While the disease is preventable, it can be difficult to treat and even diagnose in the most affected areas, like sub-Saharan Africa, due to high costs and a lack of access to proper preventative measures.

What do you think? Do new blood tests hold promise for the ongoing fight against malaria? Leave a comment below!

Today is World Polio Day!

World Polio Day 2014

Polio is a crippling, lethal disease that can be spread person-to-person through the air, contact, and human waste. Once a dreaded threat every summer, polio cases are drastically less frequent, decreasing 99 percent since 1988 (down to 287 in 2013 from 350,000 in 1988). Thanks to Jonas Salk, the CDC, and the WHO, a vaccine was developed and has been distributed all across the world.

What is Polio?

Scientifically named poliomyelitis, polio is caused by the poliovirus. The virus targets certain cells in the body that dictate muscle movement. A concerning fact about polio is that about 75% of infected people will not show any visible symptoms. However, 3-4% of those infected will develop:

  • Paresthesia (feeling of pins and needles in the legs)
  • Meningitis (infection of the covering of the spinal cord and/or brain)
  • Paralysis

Where is Polio Today?

This deadly disease is largely secluded to a few countries in Africa and the Middle East: Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and South Sudan.

What is World Polio Day?

World Polio Day is a day to spread awareness and eradicate polio once and for all. With the CDC’s partners like the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Rotary International, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, efforts are proving fruitful. There are, on average, 42 people per day working on eradication in the CDC’s Emergency Operations Center.

World Polio Day is focused on eliminating polio in the three remaining endemic countries. More than 2.5 Billion children have been immunized against polio, and over 115,000 have signed on with the Rotary. Check out endpolio.org on October 24th at 6:30pm CST for the Rotary’s live-stream event.

What Can I Do to Help?

  • Sign the petition to join the Rotary and be a part of a Guinness World Record
  • Donate to the cause
  • Spread awareness by using #worldpolioday
  • Ensure you and your loved ones have the inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV)

Where Can I Get the Polio Vaccine?

The vaccine is available at all Passport Health locations. Find a clinic near you to receive a polio vaccination.

Schedule an appointment with a travel health specialist if you are planning to travel and to see if you’re up-to-date with your routine vaccinations and any that may be recommended or required for your destination.

For more information, please visit:
EndPolio.org
Polio Updates
About Polio
A Shot to Save the World
Polio Vaccine
New Polio Strain Stronger than the Vaccine?
Polio: A Public Emergency

Leave a comment here on what’s being done in your communities to help eradicate polio!

The Flu Report: 10/24/2014

Flu Near You Map - Week ending October 24th
Image courtesy of flunearyou.org. Click here to view the interactive map.

 

As we’ve been moving toward Halloween the flu has been moving slowly across the country. This week’s Flu Report is a focus in how the flu is spreading regionally but has yet to take hold across the nation.

Overview:

Influenza is spreading, we all knew that was going to happen. But, the unexpected is how it is staying extremely regional. Almost 70% of all flu cases in the United States are coming from the South according to CDC reporting. FluNearYou.org seems to be supporting this with their research as well. The CDC and FluNearYou.org’s national rates now appear to be almost identical with the CDC reporting 1.3% and FluNearYou.org 1.6%. What’s interesting is the overall increase in cases which rose 17.5% over the last week. While not a drastic increase it shows that we could soon have a much higher level of cases than we currently are seeing.

By the Numbers:

In the United States, the CDC has reported:

  • Flu Cases – 282
  • Flu-related Hospitalizations – No Current Data
  • Flu-related Deaths – 5.4%

NOTE: Flu cases, as referenced above, are confirmed cases in people who have gone to see medical professionals. Percentage estimates, referenced in the “Overview” section, include these documented cases from medical professionals but also a variety of other self-reported metrics.

As flu season progresses, more up to date information will become available.

Around the World:

The good news is that not a single country in the world is listed as high volume for the flu by Google Flu Trends. However, more countries in the Northern Hemisphere are moving closer to a moderate ranking meaning that the flu is beginning to spread more and more throughout areas in the developed world.

Staying Healthy:

Our tip for this week: Be flu conscious when you travel! If you’re in a taxi or a bus or in your Uber car be sure to wash your hands after and do not touch your face. When germs get on your hands they can stay there for a while and touching places can leave those germs there. These germs can then infect you especially if they are near your mouth or any part of you that allows easy entry for bacteria. Remember, that is the same basic process that can give you pink eye. For additional help contact a Passport Health flu professional at 1-888-499-PASS (7277) and we’ll help you schedule your flu vaccination today.

The Flu Report is a weekly blog post designed to give updates on the spread of influenza throughout the year. It is posted every Friday and focuses on regional outbreaks, global spread and ways to avoid infection.

Diwali, Asia’s Most Colorful Time of Year

Girl Celebrating Diwali

 

Colors, happiness, joy, family that is what Diwali is all about! Every year in the Fall, India and other nations in the region of Southern Asia celebrate Diwali, a holiday that focuses on how light overcomes darkness and celebrates new beginnings. This year it falls on Oct. 23 and provides an amazingly fun opportunity to learn more about Hindu culture as well as about the other groups that participate in the festivities. This is especially true if you find yourself traveling to India or another country in the region.

In some ways Diwali is similar to Christmas. Many different sects and groups celebrate the holy day but almost everyone does it in their own special way. The largest groups among the Hindu sects celebrate Diwali as the return of Lord Rama (and his wife and brother) from exile as is told in the Ramayana. This story is explained in this video:

Diwali celebrations happen across Southern Asia from Suriname to Singapore and while many celebrate a wide variety of traditions they all have the general theme of new beginning and the arrival of a new light in our lives.

Celebrations vary in scope and scale as well. In many places it is not uncommon for there to be enormous fireworks displays or parades. Generally, festivities include: spring-cleaning, wearing new clothes, exchanging gifts (often candies and dried fruits), eating and sharing festive meals, decorating homes with fancy lights, making varying colored displays before doorways as well as the previously mentioned fireworks.

These factors combined create a beautiful festival that is a must see for anyone.

Since the early 2000’s Diwali has been slowly spreading around the world where large celebrations have happened in New York City, London and even Dallas, TX. If we’ve piqued your interest check online and see if there will be a Diwali celebration near your own home. But, we’d also like to hear from you! Share your Diwali experiences in our comment section and let everyone know your favorite part of the Festival of Light!

Passport Health, Vaccine Finder & Uber Partner to Deliver Flu Vaccinations On Demand in Select Cities

Get Your Flu Shot

 

Passport Health, HealthMap Vaccine Finder, and Uber are partnering today to deliver no-cost flu vaccinations and flu prevention packs to Uber users in Boston and Washington, D.C. The partnership is a one-day pilot project.

The flu impacts up to 20 percent of Americans each year, and finding innovative ways to deliver flu vaccines and a “Be FluFree” message is a priority not just for Passport Health, but for immunization advocates everywhere.

Today’s first-ever UberHEALTH project pairs Uber driver partners with Passport Health nurses to deliver no-cost flu vaccines and flu-prevention packs to UberHEALTH users in Boston and Washington, D.C. The project is in conjunction with HealthMap Vaccine Finder. Uber has also partnered with Pager to provide flu prevention packs and flu vaccines in New York City.

The CDC recommends that everyone over 6 months of age receives a flu vaccine each year. Still, less than 40 percent of Americans get the flu shot. Healthy People 2020, which provides a 10-year agenda for improving the nation’s health, has set a target vaccination rate of 70 percent for all Americans.

With fewer Americans seeking flu vaccines in a traditional setting, we know that making a 70 percent vaccination rate a reality will take innovation and partnership. That’s why Passport Health is excited to be working with UberHEALTH and HealthMap Vaccine Finder to bring flu prevention packs and flu vaccines directly to Uber users with a single touch of a button.

The service will be available at no cost today only from 10 am until 3 pm EST in Boston, Washington, D.C. and New York. Riders will have the option to select “UberHEALTH” in the Uber app, and once confirmed, a registered nurse will deliver a flu prevention pack and provide the option to receive a flu shot. For every shot given, Uber will donate $5 to the Red Cross to support vaccination efforts for children including its Measles & Rubella Initiative.

“We’re always looking at ways to improve flu vaccination rates,” said Melanie Kohr, Passport Health’s Vice President of Clinic Operations. “Pairing our nurses with Uber driver partners gives us the chance to really make an impact on people’s health this flu season, and for us that’s truly exciting.”

For over 20 years, Passport Health has provided its clients with protection against vaccine-preventable diseases, including the flu. This year, Passport Health launched FluFree.com, a web site designed to address the growing gap between the need for vaccination and the number of people who actually chose to get vaccinated.

“We all know the flu is miserable, but not everyone who has access to the flu vaccine gets one,” said Fran Lessans, RN, MS, Founder, President and CEO of Passport Health. “FluFree’s mission is to educate people on just how serious the flu is, and to promote awareness of and accessibility to the flu vaccine.”

Passport Health has taken on large-scale public health partnerships and initiatives in the past. Passport Health was a first responder to the Anthrax attacks in 2001, and our company has participated in numerous vaccine trials. Now, with its focus turned to influenza, Passport Health is excited to be working with UberHEALTH and HealthMap Vaccine Finder to help make Boston and Washington DC FluFree. To learn more about the UberHEALTH campaign, visit http://blog.uber.com/health.

For more information on influenza, flu vaccines and flu safety, visit passporthealthusa.com or contact a Passport Health immunization specialist at 1-844-FLU-FREE.

New, Fast and Accurate TB Test

Blood Testing for TB infection

 

A new blood test will soon provide a fast and accurate way of diagnosing tuberculosis (TB) in children, a new study reports. Published in Lancet Infectious Diseases, the study found that the new TAM-TB test is fast, specific and sensitive, making it the perfect diagnostic tool for areas in which TB is prevalent.

The test works by identifying the lack of a surface marker bacteria called CD27 in the blood. Results are available within 24-hours of sampling the patient’s blood.

First used in Tanzania, researchers are now ready to try it out in other regions with the hope of refining the test to optimize performance, especially in high risk populations.

“This rapid and reliable test has the great potential to significantly improve the diagnosis of active tuberculosis in children,” says Klaus Reither of the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, one of the study coordinators.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one-third of the world’s population is infected with the tuberculosis bacteria, and nearly nine million people were diagnosed with TB last year. 1.3 million deaths were reported world-wide from the disease.

While a test like TAM-TB can help curb infection rates, TB treatment can still be very difficult and costly.

For more information on tuberculosis, or if you have any questions about other diseases with global impact like pneumonia or malaria, a Passport Health vaccine specialist is here to help at 1-888-499-PASS (7277).

The Importance of Proper Vaccine Storage and Handling

Gray Vaccine Vials

 

Physicians, government agencies, school systems, child care centers and pharmacists all make recommendations and requirements to various groups of people for getting vaccinated. When you arrive at the clinic or office of a health care provider, you are expressing trust in them that they have handled the vaccines properly. Inadequate vaccine storage and handling can render the vaccine less effective or even useless, thereby putting you at risk of disease. Understanding the standards for proper vaccine management can help you choose your health services wisely.

Proper Vaccine Storage

Federal health authorities in the United States have developed protocols for proper vaccine storage. These protocols are in use throughout North America and the rest of the world. The vaccine storage guidelines include the following:

  • Refrigerated vaccines should be stored at 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Frozen vaccines should be stored at a temperature range of -58 degrees Fahrenheit to 5 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Refrigerator and freezer temperatures should be recorded twice a day, in the morning and at night.
  • If the refrigerator or freezer temperature is ever out of range, local health authorities or the vaccine manufacturer should be contacted. They will need to know the duration of time the vaccine spent out of the ideal temperature range.

Vaccine Handling Standards

Once a vaccine is taken out of its storage area, it needs to be handled properly. This includes maintaining a cold chain as well as other factors, including:

  • Keeping portable vaccine containers shut as much as possible
  • Using gel packs or frozen water bottles when transporting vaccines off-site
  • Using motorized portable refrigerator units for vaccine storage when out in the field
  • Using a calibrated thermometer to check temperatures of vaccine when off-site
  • Rotating vaccine supplies to avoid expiration of expensive vaccines or accidental administration of expired vaccine
  • Properly reconstituting and distributing multi-dose vaccine vials
  • Transporting vaccines in the vehicle’s passenger cabin rather than the trunk
  • Avoiding the use of dry ice when transporting vaccine
  • Placing vaccine into a recommended storage unit as soon as possible after transportation

How to Make Sure the Vaccines You Receive Were Handled Properly

When you’re getting a vaccine, you have the right to know how it was stored and handled. You may want to ask to see the temperature logs or the expiration date of the product. You may also inquire about the calibration of the thermometer used to take the temperature in the storage unit. Other questions to ask include whether there is a backup power supply in case of loss of electricity, what is done with vaccines that experience a temperature excursion, and the maintenance record of the refrigerator or freezer where the vaccine was stored.

Getting Vaccinated

Before you embark on an international trip, travel vaccinations can help you develop immunity to infectious and contagious diseases endemic or in the process of an outbreak at your destination. Passport Health travel health clinics offer vaccinations to international travelers. The travel health specialists adhere to national guidelines for proper vaccine handling and storage, so you can rest assured knowing the vaccine you receive is effective and safe. Passport Health travel health specialists also offer guidance on packing first aid supplies, sunscreen, mosquito repellant, over-the-counter and prescription medications, and water purification kits to help you stay healthy during your travels.

Sources:
Centers for Disease Control: Vaccine Storage and Handling
American Academy of Pediatrics: Practice Management for Storage & Handling