Flu – The Last Push

18 02 2013

It ain’t over ‘til it’s over!

Following are some ‘in the home stretch’ flu tips and resources from the CDC.

This patient’s brochure is spot-on for this year’s (or next) flu season. And if you’re worried about getting the flu, take a look. It includes tips on prevention and what you can do to make it better, should you become infected.

If you’re a health educator and your message is getting a little tired, here are some free resources, including audio/video, badges, and widgets.

We hope you got a flu shot this season. If not, take this year as a lesson and do so next year and all the years after. The vaccine works for the majority of those who take it. Don’t miss out on this crucial first step in flu prevention.

The US flu season continues; flu-like illness has fallen in the East and risen sharply in the West, so take care for the next month or so.

The timing of flu is very unpredictable and can vary from season to season. Flu activity usually peaks in the US in January or February. However, seasonal flu activity can begin as early as October and continue to occur as late as May.

Symptoms of the flu may include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headaches, and fatigue.

To find out what’s going on in the world of flu, get timely information at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/fluactivitysurv.htm

If you’re infected, get to your provider and start on antivirals.

And next year, as soon as you hear about flu vaccine being available, hightail it to your pharmacy or provider and get vaccinated!





Are You (Health) Literate?

13 02 2013

plainenglishHow’s your health literacy? Literacy, in this instance, doesn’t only mean can you read and write—are you literate. It means can you read instructions on a bottle of medicine, can you listen to a healthcare professional tell you about your health problem and walk away fully understanding what she said, and can you then figure out how to get the care you need for that particular problem?

The IOM defines health literacy as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.”

Po-tay-to, po-tah-to.

By any definition, I suspect that most of us fall short of acing the health literacy quiz.

I went in to see my dermatologist last week. Every year I go to her office, she looks at my rosacea, and renews my prescriptions.

And every year I learn something new about my meds.

I’m not sure if she’s not offering all the information or if I’m not retaining it.

This year, I learned that I have to take Oracea® at the same time every day because it lasts 24 hours. If I take it at 6:00 p.m. one day and 7:00 a.m. the next day, that’s too often, and if I take it at 7:00 a.m. one day and 6:00 p.m. the next day, that’s not often enough.

I could swear that she did not tell me this basic piece of information at any time in the past. (I’ve been taking this pill for three years.) She could swear that I’m not paying attention and that she did tell me at some point.

I looked at the bottle when I got home and directions were to take one capsule by mouth one time daily (didn’t mention the same time of day thing).

I don’t know. It’s hard to say where the communication fell down. The point is, it did.

So what can we as patients do about our health literacy?

There’s a lot of info on the web for clinicians and others on how to communicate with those who have low health literacy. In other words, putting the onus of improvement on the provider.

That’s good. Many providers don’t talk the talk of the non-scientist. But what can we do to keep up our end of the relationship?

It’s harder than you’d think. Because we’re not medically trained, we don’t always know to ask certain questions. We rely on the provider to tell us what we need to know (and then some).

One provider I saw recently wanted to prescribe a medicine that I’ve not used before. What are the side effects, I wanted to know.

He snorted impatiently and pulled out his smartphone and showed me a list and said he didn’t have time to go through them all, but if I wanted to sit there and read them I could.

Hmmmm.

On the other side of that coin, I don’t write down everything a provider tells me about a new medicine. I trust to memory and the directions on the bottle. Not always the way to go, apparently.

Here’s a starting place, if you want to create a checklist for yourself: http://www.ahrq.gov/questions/ 

Share any other ideas you have in the comments. Maybe we can chip away at this wall from our side while the providers do the same on their side.

One day, the wall will be gone.

By Trish Parnell





The Trouble With Some Microbes . . .

7 02 2013

Our battle against bacteria is tilting in our favor. After all, we have vaccines and antibiotics on our side. That doesn’t mean we can get cocky. It’s tilting, not surrendering at our feet.

But we’re still struggling to find ways to kill viruses once they’ve infected us.  At best, we can sometimes control them.

Although we can kill viruses on our bodies and other surfaces with disinfectants, it’s difficult to kill them when they’re living inside our cells.  When we’re infected with a virus, it takes up residence in one of our cells and uses the cell’s machinery to reproduce itself.

Developing a drug that will kill the virus without disrupting the intracellular machinery of uninfected cells is no easy task. It’s like playing Jenga—eventually the whole structure will collapse.

Bacteria, on the other hand, generally live outside of our cells and are easier targets.

There are some bacteria that have developed a resistance to not just one drug, say for instance penicillin, but to many such drugs.  They’re known as multi-drug resistant microorganisms such as streptococcus pneumoniae and mycobacterium tuberculosis, germs that we thought were very much under control and are now surging back into the population.

One major factor in preventing us from understanding the world of microbes is the size of that world.

The folks at the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences put bacteria into perspective this way, “Bacteria vary somewhat in size, but average about 1/25,000 inch.  In other words, 25,000 bacteria laid side by side would occupy only one inch of space.  One cubic inch is big enough to hold nine trillion average size bacteria—about 3,000 bacteria for every person on earth.

“Bacteria make up the largest group of micro-organisms.  People often think of them only as germs and the harm they do.  Actually, only a small number of [the thousands of different] bacteria types are pathogenic (disease-causing).  Most are harmless and many are helpful.”

Neal Rolfe Chamberlain, professor at the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine, explains viruses in this manner, “Viruses are very small forms of life.  In fact, people still argue over whether viruses are really alive.  Viruses range in size from about 20 to 300 nanometers (nm).  A nanometer is 0.000001 of a millimeter.  A millimeter is 1/25 of an inch.  So in other words, you can place 25,000,000 nanometers in an inch.  If the biggest virus is 300 nm then you could fit 83,333 of that virus in an inch.

“Viruses are major freeloaders.  They cannot make anything on their own.  To reproduce they must infect other living cells.  Viruses infect bacteria, parasites, fungi, plants, animals, and humans.  No one escapes them.  If you have had the flu, chickenpox, measles, a common cold, mono, a cold sore, or a sore throat you have been infected by a virus!”

Some viruses, like HIV and hepatitis C, tend to develop strains that can resist mono drug therapy (treating the patient with one drug at a time).  We have to try and control the viruses with combination, or “cocktail” drugs (treating the patient with several drugs at once), although even that approach does not always work.  Some viruses can keep mutating until we’ve run out of drugs to try.

All this is to say that fighting microbes is seldom a simple task, and seemingly one that is neverending. For example, we have a whooping cough vaccine, but new strains are popping up and new vaccines are needed for this astoundingly infectious microbe.

We will never be rid of our tiny co-inhabitants on this world, and anyway, most of them we want to keep around. It’s those others . . . wouldn’t it be nice to have a jail for nasty microbes?

By PKIDs’ Staff