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Health News

Stay Healthy While Traveling

Can Statins Protect Against the Flu?

The No-Sneeze Kitty

Stay Calm to Breathe Easier

Fear of the Flu Shot

Standard Flu Treatments No Longer Effective

Stay Healthy While Traveling Flu?
Each winter I get calls from my patients who have developed a bad cold on vacation. Now a study presented in San Fransisco reported on the presence of living cold viruses in hotel rooms. Volunteers with active colds stayed overnight in a clean hotel room. The next morning, researchers found that 35% of common objects were contaminated with cold producing viruses. Most contaminated items were door handles, light switches, faucets, telephones, and TV remote control. The researchers pointed out that the cold viruses remained active and well at least one day after the study volunteers had checked out of the hotel. These results suggested that wiping down commonly used surfaces can reduce the chance of picking up a leftover cold. Use disposable wipes such as those from Lysol to clean door handles, faucets and light switches to stay healthy while away from home.

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Can Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs (Statins) Protect against the Flu?
An intriguing study out of Holland suggested that cholesterol lowering statins may decrease the complications of influenza. Researchers found that people who took statinís had 30% less pneumonia and more than a 50% decrease in deaths from all causes. These benefits were apparent in all people on statins irrespective of age, presence of heart disease or if they had received a flu shot. The Dutch study suggests that statins such as Lipitor and Zocor may provide additional protection during a serious flu pandemic.

The Dutch study is in line with several other papers that demonstrated a reduction in bacterial infections in patients on statins. Experts wonder if the anti-inflammatory effects of statins could improve immunity and protect against infections.

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The No-Sneeze Kitty
One of the most difficult conversations I can have with my patients is the role of their pets in their asthma and allergies. Cherished dogs and cats are truly part of the family and the need to place them out of the home for health reasons is emotionally painful. Now a biotech company in California has bred a hypoallergenic cat. Allerca, located in San Diego have bred cats so that their glands do not produce the protein responsible for most human cat allergies. The cats are extremely expensive (around $4000) and Allerca carefully interviews and screens prospective owners to insure that these special pets find the best homes. But for cat lovers they may not have to choose between their pets and their allergy symptoms.

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Stay Calm to Breathe Easier
In a study from Veterans Affairs, men who are chronically angry were found to have reduced lung function. Hostile men had lower lung function at the start of the study and continued to lose lung function at a faster rate as time went by. Just why anger and hostility affect breathing is not clear. Researchers suggest that hostility triggers inflammation which then produces unwanted changes in the airways.

Even if you know that emotions such as anger can have an affect on your health, it is not simple to change your personality. However if you are aware that mood can impact on breathing, it can be helpful to try to break a cycle of hostility. When you feel yourself getting angry, try to change the focus of your feelings to a subject that makes you smile. Studies have shown that even forcing a smile seems to lower blood pressure. Watch a funny program on TV, call a friend who can make you laugh, or read a book that makes you chuckle. These strategies canít change your problems, but can fool your body into canceling the physical changes which promote inflammation.

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Fear of the Flu Shot
A poll taken by the New York City Board of Health found that half of the older residents in central Brooklyn believe that the flu vaccine actually causes rather than prevents the flu. As a result, fewer than 40% of Brooklyn residents over age 65 have lined up for the flu shot. This is exactly the age group for serious complications. In fact the death rate from influenza and pneumonia is 30% higher in these age groups in these areas. It is likely that many of the lives could have been saved with a simple flu shot.

The Department of Health offers free flu shots from October thru March at clinics and health centers throughout the city. While vaccination in the fall offers the best protection, it is never too late to get a flu shot.

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Standard Flu Treatments No Longer Effective
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) now recommends against the use of two well-known anti-viral agents for treatment or prevention of the flu this year. Doctors report widespread viral resistance to amantadine and rimantadine. The two newer antivirals, oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) are still effective and recommended to prevent complications in high risk patients. This would include seniors, asthmatics and diabetics.

While it is disturbing to discover that viral shifts have been made a standard medication ineffective, this development will not have much of an impact on the spread and care of influenza both in the US and Europe. Both agents were older therapies that were only effective against influenza A. In addition they caused enough side effects (insomnia, anxiety and jitteriness) to limit their acceptance with patients.

The newer anti-viral agents Tamiflu and Relenza still can be used for both prevention and treatment of both influenza A and B. These drugs are neuramidase inhibitors which act blocking the receptor sites on the cell and prevent the virus from replicating. However to avoid the development of resistance to these agents, public health officials urge physicians to limit their use in the current flu season. They feel it is important to preserve these anti-virals for an outbreak of severe flu for which there is little or no vaccine.

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