Mini-THONs raise nearly $5.8 million for childhood cancer treatment, research

Students from hundreds of school districts in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia raised almost $5.8 million in the fight to conquer childhood cancer to benefit Four Diamonds at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital, it was announced Friday.

The fundraising total from the 2021-22 school year was revealed at the annual Four Diamonds Mini-THON Summit.

Throughout the academic year, student leaders and volunteers from 208 school districts in the five states organized and hosted Mini-THON fundraisers and events. The total more than doubles the previous year’s amount, which was hurt by the pandemic.

Mini-THON is a Four Diamonds program coordinated by K-12 students and is modeled after the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon that benefits Four Diamonds.

The fundraising supports Four Diamonds families at the Children’s Hospital, which is in Hershey, through world-class care and financial support and ground-breaking research for new treatments and cures for childhood cancers.

Since it began 29 years ago, the Mini-THON program has contributed more than $58 million to Four Diamonds.

“We are so grateful for the remarkable young leaders whose energy, enthusiasm and unwavering dedication to conquering childhood cancer drive the Mini-THON movement,” Suzanne Graney, executive director of Four Diamonds, said in a release. “Each student leader is inspiring and empowering their student body and their community to join us as our partners in the fight to end childhood cancer for all kids around the world.”

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

The Zika virus: Should winter travelers worry?

The infected mosquito sits on the skin. Virus. Concept

The Zika virus has garnered a lot of worldwide attention and has been a specific cause for alarm in some parts of the United States, particularly the South and Eastern seaboard.

The virus is spread primarily though the bite of an infected mosquito (specifically the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus) and also can be spread through sexual contact.

Not everyone who is infected shows symptoms and of those who do, most are mild. However, the largest concern is that infection during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly and other severe brain defects.

“I think it’s something to be aware of,” said George McSherry, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Disease at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Children’s Hospital.

However, McSherry said there’s no reason to overreact. “For someone who lives in Central Pennsylvania and doesn’t go anywhere, the risk is essentially zero,” he said.

For those planning to travel or considering a trip to an area where Zika might be present, McSherry recommended checking with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, www.cdc.gov, which has a comprehensive list of areas that might best be avoided.

Kenneth Oken, who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology at PinnacleHealth’s Women First, Obstetrics & Gynecology, P.C. in Harrisburg, agrees that the risk of contracting Zika in Central Pennsylvania is basically nil.

“There have been no reports of the virus being contracted in Pennsylvania,” Oken said. “If you or your partner are traveling to an area with the virus, i.e. Florida — specifically Miami — you should take precautions.”

McSherry said he agrees with the CDC’s recommendation that if a woman is pregnant or planning to get pregnant, she should just not travel certain locations. He understands that people plan vacations or family events, and it might be hard to pass on those celebrations.

“The odds are you aren’t going to get it,” he said. But there’s always a chance and McSherry said people must weigh if even the chance of infection is worth it. “People should be cautious,” he said.

Since the disease can be transmitted through sexual contact, people whose partners have been to an area with Zika need to be careful as well, he said.

McSherry said about 80 percent of infections are asymptomatic, meaning they don’t show any of even the relatively tame symptoms of joint pain, fever or rash. But the virus can remain in a person’s blood for three days and semen for 24 days.

Because some genetic material of Zika can stay in a man’s system for up to 180 days, experts recommend that men who are infected should refrain from unprotected sex for six months.

Because Zika has a shorter risk period in women, experts recommend women refrain from trying to get pregnant for 8 weeks after an infection.

The good news in those numbers, McSherry said, is that Zika does work its way out of peoples’ systems. It doesn’t stick around indefinitely or stay dormant. The main health risk is not to the adult carrier, but to a potential human fetus.

Oken said the Zika virus was first identified more than 50 years ago and was first identified outside of Africa and Asia in 2007.

“It is unknown what the future holds as to whether this outbreak continues, but to date women in Pennsylvania should not be concerned unless they or their partners travel to an area with Zika virus,” Oken said.

McSherry said he is not particularly concerned about the potential for a widespread Zika outbreak. He said there are many examples of diseases that travel in the mosquito community infected with Zika that have been able to be safely managed. And many of the ways to protect against infection  —  wear clothes that cover your skin, sleep in areas with screens or windows that keep mosquitoes out, use CDC-recommended sprays to help prevent mosquito bites  —  are things most people are doing already.

As far as sprays, McSherry pointed to the CDC’s list of recommended ingredients to help protect against Zika. Those include DEET, Picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or para-menthane-diol (PMD) and 2-undecanone. McSherry said that if parents use the sprays the way in which they are intended (reading and following dosing and application labels), those sprays are safe for everyone over 2 months old.

Oken said although the Zika virus should pose little threat to a child, even if infected, parents who have concerns about possible infection should contact their pediatrician. He stressed though, that most people have little to worry about.

“Only one in five people who become infected become ill,” he said. “Symptoms of the virus are often mild fever, rash, headache and joint pain but for most parents and children the virus is usually not an issue.”

 Lisa Maddux is a freelance writer who lives in Boiling Springs with her husband and two daughters.