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Flu is in the news

Erin Prissel, MD

Erin Prissel, MD

By Dr. Erin Prissel

Most people who live in this valley love winter and the multiple outdoor opportunities that are available following an epic snow storm. We wake up every morning, check the weather, and adjust our day if possible. Of course, Mother Nature is not predictable. Just as it has been challenging to predict weather patterns, it has been equally challenging to predict the drift and shift of the influenza virus. This flu season is approaching numbers seen during the 2009 pandemic. At the time this article was written, the proportion of influenza deaths is above the epidemic threshold for week 2 in the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) Mortality Surveillance System. We are all at risk for infection. The greatest risk falls on our children, immunocompromised, and folks over the age 65. As of now, there are a reported 53 pediatric deaths related to influenza.

We have to make choices every day about our health and wellness — from the food we eat to the medications and supplements we take. One thing remains clear and unified — we all want what’s best for our families. Similarly, it is important to know the facts about vaccinations and influenza in order to make informed decisions.

Flu Facts

  • The flu is a contagious virus effecting the respiratory system. It often presents like a respiratory infection but can also present with nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • You can spread the virus up to 6 ft away with a good cough or sneeze.
  • Symptoms start 1-4 days after being infected with the virus. You can spread the virus from day 1 prior to showing symptoms up to about 7 days after symptoms develop. That means you can spread the infection even without having symptoms. This is why hand hygiene is so important.
  • Some people can be infected and have no symptoms but they can still spread the virus.
  • Purchases of over-the-counter flu medications generally cost a lot more than getting a flu shot, especially if the immunization is covered by insurance. In addition, the over the counter flu medications only target symptoms. You body must fight the virus.
  • Vaccinations don’t always “match” the virus because scientists have to guess which strain(s) will be prevalent in the upcoming year.
  • Vaccines don’t offer 100 percent protection, and there have been occasions when their effectiveness turned out to be less than 10 percent. This is because the virus changes its surface proteins to survive and persist in our environment.
  • The vaccine is not made of a live virus. You don’t catch influenza from the vaccine. It takes two weeks for the vaccine to stimulate an immune response in your body that is protective against the virus. If you develop a cold or influenza around the time you received the vaccine, you were likely already infected.
  • If you catch the flu but had a flu shot, your illness may be less severe than if you hadn’t received the vaccination because your immune system is ready for it.
  • People of all ages die each year from flu complications but it is especially dangerous for young children and seniors.
  • People miss work, kids miss school, and people are hospitalized due to flu.
  • The illness can make you very sick even if you are otherwise healthy.
  • Hospitalizations and missed work cost quite a bit more than flu shots.
  • Death from influenza is potentially preventable.
  • There is no cure for influenza. If you are infected, your body must fight the illness.
  • Tamilfu is a medication that prevents the virus from replicating in your body and allows your immune system a chance to work faster. It does not cure the virus.
  • Antibiotics do not treat influenza.

Driggs, Victor and Cache Clinics are offering the quadrivalent and high-dose formulation of the vaccine. The quad includes an additional B-strain vaccine. Trivalent shots do not include additional B-strain protection. If this difference concerns you, make sure you ask what type of shot is available. Many non-medical businesses may offer only the trivalent dosage.

High-dosage vaccines as recommended for people over the age of 65 or with compromised immune systems.

No appointment is necessary to get a flu shot at any of our clinics. Remember that Cache Clinic does not bill insurance, and if you come to Cache specifically for a shot, you won’t be charged an additional exam fee unless you need and ask for an additional exam.

Dr. Erin Prissel specializes in Family Practice medicine. She’s accepting new patients at Driggs Clinic.
To learn more about seasonal influenza: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/flushot.htm

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DocTalk: Flu Facts

Nathan LevangerBy Nathan Levanger, D.O.

There are people who think influenza is a seasonal hype promoted by medical facilities. Some folks are allergic to the formulations. Others decline vaccination for a variety of reasons. We have to make choices every day about our health and wellness, from the food we eat to the medications and supplements we take, and we all want what’s best for our families.

Here are the basic facts about the flu based on knowledge and outcomes that can be proven to be true by thousands of non-biased scientific studies:

  • It’s a contagious virus affecting the respiratory system.
  • People of all ages die each year from the flu and its complications but it’s especially dangerous for young children and seniors.
  • Similar to the common cold, the flu is contagious and you are contagious before you experience any symptoms.
  • Similar to the common cold, it can morph into different strains.
  • Vaccinations don’t always “match” the virus because scientists have to guess which strain(s) will be prevalent in the upcoming year.
  • Vaccines don’t offer 100% protection, and sometimes their effectiveness turns out to be less than 10%.
  • If you catch the flu but had a flu shot, your illness may be less severe than if you hadn’t received the vaccination.
  • Purchases of over-the-counter medications that treat symptoms of the flu generally cost a lot more than getting a flu shot, especially if the immunization is covered by insurance.
  • People miss work, kids miss school, people spread the virus, and people are hospitalized due to flu. Hospitalizations and missed work cost quite a bit more than flu shots.

Driggs, Victor and Cache Clinic are offering the quadrivalent and high dose formulation. Quadrivalent shots contain the recommended dosage for four of this year’s anticipated viruses as indicated by the current flu strains other parts of the world including Australia and Indonesia. The quad includes an additional B-strain vaccine. Trivalent shots (covering three flu strains) are available at other medical and retail sites. High dosage vaccines as recommended for people over the age of 65 or who have compromised immune systems.

No appointment is necessary to get a flu shot at any of our clinics. Remember that Cache Clinic does not bill insurance, and if you come to Cache specifically for a shot, you won’t be charged an additional exam fee unless you need and ask for an additional exam.

To learn more about seasonal influenza visit the CDC website.

This article originally appeared as a DocTalk in the Teton Valley News.

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Doc Talk: Who needs a mammo?

Kristen CoburnBy Kristen Coburn, FNP

First, let’s acknowledge that men can get breast cancer. The risk for males is significantly lower than the risk for females, but that doesn’t matter if you’re the man who receives this diagnosis. For the sake of simplicity, the rest of this article will refer to a female audience.

Who needs a mammogram? It seems like a simple question, but the answer isn’t the same for all.

Before we wade into the controversy, it’s important to know that a screening mammogram is different than a diagnostic mammo.

In Idaho, you can request a screening exam without a doctor’s order. If you don’t have any risk factors (age, family history, symptoms) your medical provider may recommend that you don’t need this screening. Screenings take less time, use a lower dose of radiation and provide general images of your breasts. Diagnostic mammos are prescribed by a medical provider, use a higher dose of radiation, and usually focus on specific areas of your breast(s).  Your provider may order a diagnostic mammo based on your risk factors and other indicators, or you may be asked to get a diagnostic follow-up if the results from your screening mammogram indicate the need.  Under current insurance mandates through the Affordable Care Act, screening mammos are covered by insurance, at no cost to the patient, for women 40 and over. Diagnostic mammos may or may not be covered 100% by insurance. It’s always a good idea to check with your insurer before you get a mammo or any type of medical care.

Resources on the internet offer a confusing mix of opinions on preventive mammogram screenings based on factors such as you’re under 55, over 40, overweight, underweight, a wine-drinker, vegetarian, under 25 with a family history, or menopausal. Of course, internet resources vary widely in the degree of science and research that went into the answer.

Most of us have heard the recommendation that every woman should have an initial screening at the age of 40, and every year or two after that. Over time, different medical research organizations have come forward with other studies and recommendations, not to mention all of the online experts sharing research from unsubstantiated sources. We’re frightened to hear about false-positives, false-negatives, overtreatment, under-treatment, and radiation exposure, and yes, all of these problems can occur. As with nearly every choice in life, we need to weigh potential benefits against possible harms. 

What’s a woman to do?

At Teton Valley Health Care, we agree with the position of the National Cancer Institute: Talk to your provider. Together, come up with an informed plan that fits your preventive care needs based on proven outcomes. Ask questions and share information that concerns you. Choose what’s best for you: your body, your history, and your well-being.

Through donations from Teton Valley Hospital Foundation, our community hospital offers free screening mammograms for anyone who cannot afford them. The request form is one-page, requires no financial documents, and is simple to fill-out. Funding is also available to pay toward biopsies, ultrasounds, follow-up clinic visits, surgery, and travel costs related to breast cancer prevention and diagnosis. Call (208) 354-6331 for more information about this program.

For good health, prevention is the best route to take. Make sure you’ve had your vaccinations, and take advantage of screening opportunities that are recommended for you and your family. When in doubt, talk it out with an appropriate medical provider.

Kristen Coburn is a Family Nurse Practitioner serving clients at the Teton Valley Hospital Aesthetics Clinic, and Driggs and Victor Health Clinics.

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