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Archive for October, 2012

I would like to make my annual plea for everyone to get a flu shot.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is a good supply of the vaccine available this year, enough for 135 million doses.

Influenza, commonly called the flu, is unpredictable. During the 2009-10 season the “swine flu” was a pandemic, causing thousands of hospitalizations and many deaths worldwide.

It is estimated that during an average flu season, 250,000 to 500,000 people die worldwide from complications of the flu. Although last year’s flu season was relatively mild, there were still numerous deaths, including 35 children who died of influenza in the U.S.

This year’s vaccine contains two new strains, plus the same H1N1 as last year. Children 6 months and older and almost all adults should be vaccinated, starting now. The vaccine’s effectiveness should last all season. Children 8 years and younger need two doses only in the first year they are vaccinated.

Flu shots are safe at any stage of pregnancy and are especially important for expectant mothers, as they are much more likely to have a serious illness resulting from the flu and could thus be more likely to miscarry or have a premature delivery. A pregnant woman’s flu shot stimulates her immune system, creating antibodies that cross the placenta into the fetus. That protects her baby during the first six months after birth, before the infant is old enough to be vaccinated.

There’s no need to delay receiving the flu shot because of a mild illness, but don’t get a shot if you have a fever. Waiting until the fever is gone or until you’re feeling better after a more moderate or severe illness is the rule.

Many people worry that a flu shot might give them the flu. That is just not true. The viruses found in the flu shots have been inactivated (killed), and dead germs cannot cause illness. They do, however, stimulate the immune system to create antibodies to help prevent the flu.

The only people who should not get a flu shot are those who:

– Are allergic to egg products.

– Have already had a bad reaction to influenza vaccine (extremely rare).

– Have had an episode of a neurological disease called Guillain-Barre syndrome.

A few minor side effects may briefly occur from the flu shot, such as a mild ache and redness at the injection site, a low-grade fever and mild body aches.

I look at it this way: Why not get a vaccination that has minimal side effects and has a good chance at preventing an illness that could make you feel terrible for a week and also make you miss work? It’s a cheap form of health insurance.

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There is much talk these days about gluten-free food and gluten-free diets. I’d like to explain what this is all about.

Gluten is a protein found in foods containing wheat, barley or rye. The consumption of gluten by susceptible individuals causes celiac disease, which affects the digestive system.

People with celiac disease who eat gluten-containing food experience an immune reaction that damages the lining of the small intestine. The resulting damage interferes with the intestine’s ability to absorb certain nutrients, which in time can deprive many of the vital organs of proper nourishment.

The most common symptoms of celiac disease are abdominal pain, vomiting, bloating and diarrhea. Less common symptoms are depression, irritability, joint pains, upset stomach, cramps, rashes and weight loss. Infants and young children seem to have more of the digestive symptoms than adults do.

About 3 million people in the U.S. have celiac disease. Having a family member with celiac disease does raise one’s risk of the disease.

Diagnosing celiac disease can be difficult, because some of its symptoms are similar to those of other illnesses, such as irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis, intestinal infections and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Diagnosis rates are increasing, however, as doctors become more aware of the variety of symptoms of this disease and reliable blood tests are more available. A biopsy of the small intestine can be done to confirm the diagnosis.

At this time, there is no cure for celiac disease, but it can be managed by a proper diet.

For most people, following a gluten-free diet will alleviate the symptoms, heal the damaged intestinal lining and prevent further damage. Symptomatic improvement can occur within days of beginning the diet, but it may take many months for the small intestine to heal itself.

To stay well, people with celiac disease need to be on a gluten-free diet for the remainder of their lives.

In spite of having celiac disease, one can still eat a well-balanced, healthy and flavorful diet.

Wheat flour can be replaced with flour made from rice, soybeans, potatoes, quinoa, buckwheat or beans. There are now a wide variety of gluten-free pastas, breads, snacks and other foods available in grocery stores and restaurants.

People with celiac disease must be careful about snacks and meals they buy at school, work or restaurants, as well as food purchased at grocery stores. Eating out can be a challenge when avoiding gluten-containing foods.

Here are some examples of common foods and beverages to avoid unless they are labeled as gluten free:

– Bread

– Cake, pie, cookies, crackers and croutons

– Processed luncheon meat and gravy

– Oats

– Salad dressing and sauces (including soy sauce)

– Soup

– Beer

See your doctor if you think you are having any symptoms of celiac disease to confirm the diagnosis and work on a treatment plan.

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