Shorter days and cooler temperatures are tell-tale signs that autumn has arrived. Unfortunately, another sign of the season is the beginning of increased flu activity. Flu season can last from autumn to as late as May – peaking between December and February. According to a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), last year’s flu cases were historically low, thanks in large part to widespread practice of safety measures to combat another widely-circulating respiratory illness – COVID-19 – including school closures, mask wearing and social distancing. With less common practice of those measures over the past several months, we could see an uptick in flu cases like prior years’ levels. That potential – along with the continuing COVID-19 pandemic – makes it even more important that we each do what we can to minimize our risk, protect our health and protect the health of those around us. Getting vaccinated against the flu is a vitally important way to fight it.
Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses and can cause mild to severe illness and even lead to death in certain situations. Everyone is susceptible to the flu, but individuals with a greater risk of developing complications from these viruses include children younger than five years old, adults 65 and older, pregnant women, residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, and those with certain medical conditions like asthma, heart disease and blood disorders.
At Fauquier Health, one of the essential ways we’re Making Communities Healthier is making sure that our neighbors understand how to fight preventable diseases like the flu. As we have all learned during this time, our health means everything and it has never been more important to protect it.
And there are a few key strategies to protect yourself, your family and our community; prevent the flu from spreading; and even speed up your recovery if you do become ill:
First – and most importantly – get vaccinated. As we have witnessed this year with the safety and success of COVID-19 vaccines in decreasing transmission rates, similarly, flu vaccination is the single-best way to protect yourself from influenza viruses. While it is still possible to contract the flu after getting vaccinated, studies show that flu vaccinations will lessen the severity of symptoms if you do get sick. Getting vaccinated also affords you the peace of mind that comes from knowing you are doing everything you can to protect yourself against the flu.
The CDC recommends annual flu vaccination for everyone six months and older, with any age-appropriate flu vaccine. If you are considering a nasal spray flu vaccine, it is important to know that this option is approved by the CDC for use in non-pregnant individuals, ages two through 49, and there is a precaution against this option for those with certain underlying medical conditions. You should talk with your healthcare provider regarding which flu vaccination method works best for you.
Like COVID-19 vaccines, flu vaccines can take approximately two weeks to become fully effective, so you should plan to receive your flu vaccine before flu activity begins in your area. A good rule of thumb is to get vaccinated no later than the end of October.
And while we’re on the subject of COVID-19 vaccines, if you have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19, there’s no better time than now – especially as COVID-19 cases continue to spread and the potential for flu activity increases. You can even conveniently get both vaccines on the same day, to save you from having a second visit. If you have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 yet, ask about getting it when you get your flu shot. Being vaccinated against both viruses is your best defense against becoming infected with one or both diseases.
You can visit a walk-in clinic or pharmacy, or your primary care provider’s office to receive a flu vaccination. If you don’t have a provider, we can connect you with one. Visit our website and browse our Find a Doctor tab FauquierHealth.org/find-a-doctor, or call 540.316.DOCS.
In addition to getting vaccinated, there are other simple steps you can take to protect yourself and your family, and help prevent the spread of flu and other infections like COVID-19 during flu season and year-round, including:
- Washing your hands regularly with soap and water for 20 seconds, or using a hand sanitizer that is at least 60 percent alcohol-based
- Wearing a face mask in indoor, public spaces
- Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Avoiding sharing food, cups or eating utensils
- Regularly disinfecting your home and belongings, such as doorknobs, light switches, children’s toys and play areas
- Staying home from school or work if you are sick to prevent the spread of germs
- Covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing with a tissue, your sleeve or elbow, and NOT your bare hands
- Calling your primary care provider with any questions
At Fauquier Health, we are taking additional steps to help prevent the flu, COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses from spreading by:
- Implementing universal masking for patients, providers, employees, visitors, and anyone entering our facility
- Setting up stations stocked with alcohol-based sanitizers and hands-free trash cans throughout our facility
- Continuing stringent cleaning and disinfection protocols
- Encouraging all patients, staff, and visitors to get their flu and COVID-19 vaccinations
If you or someone you know notices symptoms including coughing, sore throat, fever, or other upper respiratory symptoms, please see your healthcare provider right away. Many of the most common symptoms of flu are consistent with COVID-19, so it may be hard to tell the difference between them. Testing may be needed to help confirm a diagnosis. Don’t ignore your symptoms. Limit your contact with others as much as possible when symptoms appear and stay home (or keep your child home) for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone, except to seek medical care (If you test positive for COVID-19, you may need to self-isolate for a longer period of time).
The good news is that when you act on your symptoms, visit a provider and flu is detected early, prescription antiviral drugs can often help treat the illness and shorten the time you are sick by one or two days.
For additional information about the 2021-22 flu season, visit the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/flu or contact your local health department.
By Christine Hart Kress, Fauquier Health, Chief Nursing Officer
Is your knee pain coming from your back?
The bad pain in your knee could be telling you something.
It could be telling you that you have a bad back.
These are two parts of the body that may seem totally unrelated, but they are not. The lower back has all sorts of nerves that control muscles around the knees. When these nerves in the back misfire, they can cause pain in the knee.
A back that feels tense or tight could result in mild pain, but it could be the cause of worse pain in the knee, according to Regenexx.
Another notable symptom is pain and tightness in the hamstrings. Tightness in the hamstrings that can’t be relieved by stretching could be a sign of back problems. The L5 nerve runs from the lumbar spine to the outside of the hamstring muscle. A nerve problem in the back can cause inflammation in the hamstring, which causes damage to the meniscus, a cartilage pad in the knee. The knee can swell and stay inflamed and painful.
One other unusual sign that pain in the knee is coming from the back is bunion formation.
The back has separate nerves that support the inside and the outside of the foot. When these nerves are stressed or injured, the muscles don’t move the foot correctly. The foot unnaturally tilts the big toe, creating a bunion and probably knee pain, too.
Read this before you shovel snow
Shoveling snow is a job for an athlete, even though people tend to think it is a routine activity that anyone can do.
In fact, shoveling snow takes a huge toll on the heart and back. One shovel of wet snow weighs 16 pounds. If you shovel 12 loads a minute, then in 10 minutes, you’ve moved 2,000 pounds, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
About 100 Americans on average die each year because of snow removal exertion, according to the Denver Post. About 12,000 suffer injuries that require a trip to the emergency room, according to a 16-year study reported in PubMed.
One key is to keep ahead of the drifts. Push snow several times while the snow is feathery, cold, and shallow before it becomes heavy, wet, and deep.
If you must shovel:
* Keep your spine in an upright, neutral position.
* Whenever you can push the snow — don’t shovel it. You can use your large muscles in the hips and legs for pushing.
If you do have to lift:
* Take small bites of the snow with the shovel only about a fourth full.
* Use your leg muscles to lift the load.
* Keep the load low to the ground and close to your body.
* Avoid throwing the snow if you can. If you must throw it, throw light loads.
Breaks are critical
How long you can work depends on how heavy the snow is, your physical condition, and how cold it is outside.
* If you feel fatigued, pain, or shortness of breath, rest until you feel normal again. If you experience shortness of breath for a prolonged period, see your doctor immediately.
How to avoid getting sick overseas
Do you have an upcoming trip? If you’re headed abroad, it’s important to take precautions to avoid getting sick. You don’t want to ruin your travel plans by accidentally eating or drinking something that makes you ill.
Remember, even if you’ve received the recommended vaccinations and taken preventive medication, you won’t be protected against common pathogens and bacteria. You should still adhere to the following tips to avoid getting sick:
• Only eat fruits and vegetables that are cooked and peeled
• Avoid raw food, especially shellfish and salads
• Don’t eat food that’s left sitting out uncovered
• Only drink water that’s boiled or bottled and opened in front of you
• Skip the ice cubes unless you’re sure they’re made with decontaminated water
• Avoid unpasteurized dairy products
• Don’t eat food from street cart vendors
If you’re careful about what you eat and drink, it’s likely you’ll remain healthy when you travel overseas.
Ski fever: The highest slopes can cause mountain fever
For doctors and nurses at Colorado’s highest elevations, ski season means a steady flow of casualties from a little-understood problem: acute mountain sickness.
Skiers are already for the risk of broken bones and frostbite, but they often don’t know how mountain sickness works, and resorts don’t tell them. The condition is caused by a decrease in oxygen in the blood at higher altitudes. It affects people who travel rapidly from sea level to elevations over 8,000 feet. A more serious condition, high-altitude pulmonary edema, is fatal in 1 percent of cases.
Thousands of skiers experience symptoms within a day of arriving: headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, insomnia, loss of appetite, and vomiting. About 25 percent to 40 percent of visitors experience symptoms of altitude sickness. Copper Mountain Ski Resort warns would-be visitors about it. Their flier says it creates a “hangover” feeling and pregnant women, people with anemia, or people with chronic heart and lung conditions should be cautious.
Aspen, Vail, and some other Colorado mountains have bases at or above 8,000 feet, but people at hotels experience less altitude sickness. The hotels lie at lower elevations, allowing visitors more time to adjust. The peak at Aspen rises to 12,510 feet. At Telluride, the peak is 12,255. Breckenridge peaks rise to 12,998 feet and Copper Mountain peaks top out at 12,313 feet.
Skiers coming from sea level locations such as Chicago (668 feet) or Michigan (839 feet) should allow time for their bodies to adjust before going to the higher peaks.
When should you go to the emergency room?
It’s easy to see that an accident victim needs emergency treatment. Judging whether a medical condition requires a trip to the emergency room (ER) is more difficult.
Get to the ER fast, say doctors at Harvard Medical School, if any of these problems occur:
Severe abdominal pain. Especially if there is vomiting, swelling or tenderness of the abdomen, or fever. This may signal appendicitis, bowel obstruction, or a perforated organ.
Breathing difficulty. Go quickly if you have heart or lung disease, asthma, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, swelling, dizziness, pale clammy skin, or swollen tongue or throat.
Chest pain. People with coronary artery disease or angina should get help if pain begins during exercise and persists despite 10 minutes of rest or under-the-tongue nitroglycerin. It could signal a heart attack.
Confusion or changes in consciousness. Sudden onset of confusion or memory loss is an emergency. The altered mental status could be a sign of stroke or other serious problem.
Fractures. Suspected fractures should be evaluated promptly, except in the case of a finger or toe.
Headaches. Most can be treated in the doctor’s office. Go to the ER if a headache is accompanied by confusion, nausea, and vomiting, loss of sensation or muscle strength, fever or sensitivity to light.
Numbness or tingling. Widespread numbness or tingling can be due to a stroke. Get help immediately if one side of the body is affected, vision is blurred or distorted or if speaking is difficult.
Rash. Rash accompanies many illnesses, is a common reaction to certain foods, and usually does not require immediate treatment. But purple spots on the skin accompanied by fever are signs of serious illness such as meningitis. Hives that appear after an insect sting are a signal to get immediate treatment.
Vomiting. This is an emergency if it produces blood or material that looks like coffee grounds. These are symptoms of serious problems that should be treated immediately.
Cost is never a consideration when your life is in jeopardy. For these symptoms, get emergency room treatment as soon as possible.
DNA determines your reaction to caffeine
Caffeine is the most widely consumed psychostimulant in the world, but did you know your genetic code can determine if it has a positive or negative effect on your body? Here’s a quick overview.
Consuming caffeine increases blood pressure and dilates blood vessels. While this can have a feel-good effect on some people, others may experience heart palpitations as a result.
One of the reasons for this difference in reactions is a specific enzyme that’s responsible for metabolizing it. Genetic variation determines how fast your kidneys can eliminate caffeine from your body. Consequently, it has practically no effect on people whose bodies can get rid of it quickly, but, it can increase the risk of hypertension in people whose bodies eliminate it slowly.
The amount of coffee you drink may also be linked to your DNA. Scientists have pinpointed two specific genes that are directly associated with how many cups of joe people drink per day. Additionally, these genetic sequences indicate whether someone feels the need to consume caffeine, and if so, how often.
If you’re concerned about your caffeine intake, make sure to discuss the issue with your doctor at your next appointment.