'Vaccinate before you graduate'- Health dept. pushing to stop preventable diseases

KENT COUNTY, MI (WXMI) - The Kent County Health Department is asking high school students to 'vaccinate before you graduate,' with the help of a mother who lost her child to a vaccine preventable disease.

Parents have been vaccinating their children against the meningococcal infection for decades. However, the vaccine for one of the most deadly forms, Meningitis B, came to the U.S. in 2015. Unfortunately, that was two years too late for Alicia Stillman's daughter, Emily.

"In some ways, it feels like it was just yesterday and in other ways, it feels like a lifetime since I've heard her voice or her laugh," Stillman said at a joint press conference with the Health Department Tuesday afternoon. "It was a Thursday when she [Emily] called me with a headache, a simple headache. My daughter was braindead within 30 hours."

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WTF are FODMAPs?

Even though this whole FODMAP concept is just starting to buzz here in America, it’s been super influential in Australia since 2005, which is when a research group at Melbourne’s Monash University figured out that food with short-chain carbs are poorly absorbed, which leads to (drumroll) bloating. “They pull water inside the small intestine and are fermented by gut bacteria, the combination of which creates this bloating sensation,” Scarlata, who is a FODMAPs expert says. “People who have IBS have very sensitive intestines and the stretching really contributes to a lot of pain.”

The tricky thing about identifying high FODMAP foods (that would be the short-chain carbs that are hard to digest) is that they are found in a lot of different food groups—even fruits and vegetables. Broccoli, onion, cashew nuts, beets, mushrooms, and watermelon all have short-chain carbs. The researchers attempted to make it easier by creating six subgroups of classification: fructose (simple sugar often found in fruit), lactose (exactly what you think it is), fructans (found in many gluten-based grains), galactans (found in legumes), and polyols (a sugar alcohol). 

How to follow a low FODMAP

Scarlata says not everyone has a problem with all the different FODMAP groups, which is why it’s important to work with a nutritionist to figure out what exactly your specific trigger foods are. “It’s a three phase process,” she says. “The first phase is the elimination phase where patients remove all high FODMAP foods from their diet.” After that, each subgroup is slowly introduced back into the diet, one at a time. That way, you know if it’s the lactose group that’s a problem, the fructans group, or one of the others.

And yes, this is definitely a better route to go than playing it safe and avoiding foods in any the FODMAP subgroups completely: “Since FODMAPs are found in innately healthy foods, you don’t want to overly restrict the diet if you don’t have to,” Scarlata says. Plus, a more restrictive diet just makes life harder and less fun—which definitely isn’t the goal.

The third phase is eating what you want while avoiding the high FODMAP foods that fall within the groups that were a trigger during phase two.

Grueling? Maybe. But Scarlata says it’s worth it. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, my patients see [a change] within a few days,” she says. The result really is that immediate, she says, and if you stick within the guidelines, long lasting.

Living the low FODMAP life doesn’t have to be hard

As someone whose anxiety and nerves definitely manifests itself in my gut, I decided to give the low-FODMAP diet a try to see if I noticed a difference. Admittedly, I did exactly what I was told not to do and cut out all high FODMAP foods without going through the elimination food diet first—but I can tell you that I noticed a difference immediately. I no longer felt bloated in the late afternoons, as I sometimes do after lunch, and my gut has been a lot calmer overall.

Since identifying high FODMAP foods is so tricky, make sure to bookmark a site (or this pretty graphic) that details all of the low and high FODMAP foods. (I’ve been relying on LowFODMAP Central, which was created by Nestle—yes, that Nestle, but it’s really straightforward and informative.) It will make life way easier when you’re strolling the aisles at Whole Foods or opening up a menu at your favorite restaurant. Bonus points if you’re able to memorize the dos and don’ts.

Once you know which high FODMAP food categories are triggers for you, you’ll know what to avoid and what your go-to replacement foods are. Then, you can say bye to bloating for good. You might miss watermelon or cashews, but you will definitely not miss that feeling.

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18-year-old Emily Stillman, a sophomore at Kalamazoo College, died after a vicious and unexpected fight with Meningitis B. Her mother is now joining forces with the KCHD, sharing her story to encourage others to vaccinate against Meningitis B before high school graduation.

"Meningitis B is one of the most common and most dangerous forms of the bacteria," said Adam London, a Health Officer with the KCHD. "This is a deadly disease that most often affects the people between the ages of 17-23. Every year there are about 375 cases of the disease in the U.S. We have on average about one or two of these cases in Kent. Co."

In addition to getting vaccinated for Meningitis B, the health department's recommendations go a step further than what's required by the State of Michigan.

In order to go to school, children don't have to get the Meningitis B vaccine, nor are they required to get a handful of other immunizations like the flu or HPV vaccine. The state's vaccine requirements are limited to other serious diseases like Measels, Mumps, Hepatitis B and Polio. But Mary Wisinski, Immunization Program Supervisor with the health dept. says it's not enough.

SEE ALSO: Mom warns parents after meningitis rash completely covers baby's body in 12 hours

"That's the minimum needed to protect our kids, and I don't ever want to go by minimum requirements," Wisinski said. "So we only request what's recommended and that's everything the CDC feels would keep our kids safe."

Four years after losing her own daughter to a vaccine preventable disease, Alicia Stillman has made it her life's work to educate and help others around the world, starting the Emily Stillman Foundation.

"That's why I'm standing here today, to urge parents and high school students, especially the seniors going to college or University to vaccinate before they graduate," Stillman said.

The health department recommends parents contact their health providers for information on the Meningitis B vaccine, asking parents to do their due diligence by doing their own research into vaccinations as well.

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