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An ounce of prevention keeps infectious disease away

On any given day, eight out of 10 children at a pediatrician’s office have an infectious disease.

At Riley since 2001, Dr. Christenson oversees the Ryan White Center for Pediatric Infectious Disease, which includes the only pediatric HIV/AIDS clinic in Indiana as well as clinics for histoplasmosis, travel medicine and infectious disease evaluation. The center also assists the international adoption center.

Prevention is Dr. Christenson’s mantra. He and his staff are committed to treating children with infectious diseases and minimizing the spread of these sometimes fatal illnesses.
“The major source of influenza is school-age children. They infect other children, parents and grandparents,” said Riley Hospital for Children’s Dr. John Christenson. “All children age 6 months to 18 years, and anyone over 50, should be vaccinated yearly.”      
Prevention often takes the form of vaccinations.

“There’s a large population of immigrants who live here and want to take their children back to visit family,” Dr. Christenson says. “We also have a large population of students who study abroad, and people who do humanitarian activities abroad. They all come to us for their vaccinations.”

Educating doctors on the use of certain medications is also part of preventing the spread of infectious disease. Since antibiotic use is widespread, Dr. Christenson believes Riley Hospital needs to instruct physicians who will use antibiotics in the future.
One approach is to ensure that antibiotics are used properly. Dr. Christenson and his team have improved the program that educates clinicians about what medications are best and allows them to order the correct dosage for the particular infection.
“Overusing antibiotics in hospitals is one way to breed resistant germs. When used correctly, you’re preventing the emergence of resistant germs,” Dr. Christenson says.  “Riley has one of the largest pediatrician training programs in the nation. If we teach them to use the drugs appropriately, we hope they will use them appropriately once they go out into the communities.”

In his office, Dr. Christenson sits next to a foot-tall stack of applications for a fellowship that would help the center make huge strides in this effort.

“We’re very active in providing good patient care and in educating pediatric residents at Riley. The next step is to become a training center for new pediatric infectious disease specialists,” Dr. Christenson says. “With this fellowship, we can build a section that’s involved in research to try to create guidelines for treatment in the future.”