Stay One Step Ahead of the Flu This Season

When is “Flu Season” Anyway?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu season in the United States stretches from as early as October to as late as May. Peak flu season, however, typically lasts from December to March. Thus, right now, we are in the very midst of flu season.

What Should I Do to Avoid Illness?

Get your flu shot, and encourage your family to do the same. Even this late in the season, getting your flu shot is the number one action you should take to reduce the risk of harmful effects from the flu on yourself and on your family.
Embrace healthy habits of living. During peak flu season, it is more important than ever to prioritize eating nutritious food, staying hydrated by drinking 6-8 glasses of water a day, making time for exercise, and getting enough sleep by sleeping for 7-8 hours every night.
Do your part to discourage the spread of disease. When coughing or sneezing, be sure to limit the airborne spread of disease by covering your mouth with your elbow or a tissue. Wash your hands frequently and well, by scrubbing with soap and water for at least twenty seconds. Use disinfectant products on surfaces that you and others touch frequently. Finally, when possible, avoid touching your face to prevent the introduction of germs from your surroundings to your body.

What if I Think I’m Already Sick?

If you suspect that you already have the flu, stay home from work or school to avoid spreading the disease, see your healthcare provider for assistance if necessary, and continue to get plenty of rest and water.

For further information, check out the source for this article at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention:

https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season-2017-2018.htm

Lenten Fasting and Your Health

This article is geared towards our Catholic patients who may be fasting this Lent. Catholic or not, please read on if you would like to learn about healthy Lenten fasting within the Catholic Church.

What is Lent?

Within the Catholic faith, Lent is the time of spiritual preparation leading up to Easter. Lent is 40 days long, calling to mind Christ’s 40 day journey into the desert before beginning His public ministry. During this time, Christ fasted and prayed to prepare Himself for the mission that would end in His passion and death. Every year in preparation for the celebration of that passion and resurrection, the Church follows the example of Christ by symbolically going into the desert for 40 days as well.

Fasting

In general, fasting is the act of doing with less than one is accustomed to. Specifically, fasting involves eating less food than one usually would. In the Catholic Church, those ages 18 – 59 are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, by eating only one full meal, along with two smaller meals sufficient to maintain strength. Seen together, the two smaller meals should not equal a full meal. Additionally, eating between meals is not permitted, although liquids are allowed at any point.

What does this mean for me?

Even in the “desert” time of Lent, the Church recognizes the importance of healthy living, and makes this a priority. Thus the Church excuses certain people from the Lenten fasting obligations. Men and women who are not between the ages of 18 and 59 are automatically excluded from the fasting requirement. Additionally, those who are frail, pregnant, or participating in heavy manual labor are also pardoned from the obligation. The Church understands that it could be harmful for some people to commit to the Lenten fast, and upholds the health, well-being, and flourishing of all people over the fulfillment of the requirement. After all, while fasting can greatly aid in spiritual growth, ultimately it is a contrite and merciful heart that the Lord requires rather than “sacrifices or burnt offerings” such as fasting.

As part of this “desert” experience, the Church focuses in particular on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during the Lenten season. These sacrifices are not made because God wants His people to suffer. Rather, they are for the sake of growing in spiritual discipline. Lenten sacrifices are to encourage people to turn away from sin, purify their souls, and gain the inner strength necessary to take up their crosses along with Christ.

Fasting

In general, fasting is the act of doing with less than one is accustomed to. Specifically, fasting involves eating less food than one usually would. In the Catholic Church, those ages 18 – 59 are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, by eating only one full meal, along with two smaller meals sufficient to maintain strength. Seen together, the two smaller meals should not equal a full meal. Additionally, eating between meals is not permitted, although liquids are allowed at any point.

What does this mean for me?

Even in the “desert” time of Lent, the Church recognizes the importance of healthy living, and makes this a priority. Thus the Church excuses certain people from the Lenten fasting obligations. Men and women who are not between the ages of 18 and 59 are automatically excluded from the fasting requirement. Additionally, those who are frail, pregnant, or participating in heavy manual labor are also pardoned from the obligation. The Church understands that it could be harmful for some people to commit to the Lenten fast, and upholds the health, well-being, and flourishing of all people over the fulfillment of the requirement. After all, while fasting can greatly aid in spiritual growth, ultimately it is a contrite and merciful heart that the Lord requires rather than “sacrifices or burnt offerings” such as fasting.

Vaccinations at St. Luke’s Medical

For most people, the first step of their vaccination journey began long before they knew the meaning of the word.  Even as adults, it is easy to receive or arrange for your children to receive routine vaccinations without understanding the science behind your actions.  Here at St. Luke’s Medical, you can receive both routine and travel vaccinations from our highly trained and gentle staff.  If you would like to better understand the science of vaccination before your appointment, then this article is for you.

How Do Vaccines Work?

The immune system naturally functions even without the aid of vaccines, protecting the body against pathogens that could lead to infection and illness.  However, your immune system is only capable of defending against pathogens that it already recognizes as harmful.  Vaccination is a way of training your immune system to recognize a previously unencountered pathogen as harmful to the body.  To do this, a safe form of the disease called the antigen is typically injected into the body.  Thus the antigen is usually a weakened pathogen, a deceased or inactive bacteria, or materials from the surface of a pathogen.

In addition to the antigen, vaccines also frequently include an adjuvant.  The adjuvant is more or less a red flag, signaling to the immune system that the antigen is dangerous.  Thus when the immune system encounters a vaccine, it quickly recognizes the new pathogen as harmful to the body.  In response, the immune system begins to build an adaptive immune response and primes immune cells to remember the new disease so as to respond more quickly to it in the future.

The Benefits of Vaccination

While individuals certainly benefit from vaccination due to increased immunity, vaccines do not only benefit the individual.  When enough people receive vaccinations, all of society benefits through herd immunity.  Herd immunity is when so many people are immunized against a given pathogen that it becomes extremely unlikely that the few unprotected people will ever come into contact with someone carrying the disease.  Indeed, the impact of many diseases which used to be common causes of illness and death such as whooping-cough, measles, tetanus, and polio has been greatly reduced through widespread vaccination.

Aren’t Vaccines Just for Kids?

While childhood certainly includes several rounds of routine vaccination, it is important for everyone to keep their vaccine record current. Two key examples are tetanus and influenza. In order to remain protected, adults need a Td (tetanus and diphtheria) booster shot every ten years. Additionally, the CDC recommends that all people receive the influenza vaccine at the beginning of each flu season. Despite the widespread availability, convenience, and affordability of the flu vaccine, however, around 60 percent of Americans don’t receive their annual flu shot according to the CDC. Since avoiding routine vaccinations puts you and those around you at greater risk of disease, what are you waiting for? Talk to your provider at St. Luke’s Medical to ensure that your vaccine record is and remains current.

Surviving Allergy Season in North Carolina

As the yearly yellow dusting of long-leaf pine pollen descends upon St. Luke’s Medical, our staff and patrons alike wonder what can be done to minimize the negative effects of allergy season in North Carolina. Our home in the Piedmont, known as “the land of the long-leaf pine,” is particularly susceptible to seasonal allergies resulting from tree pollen from the long-leaf pine. Other trees, grasses, weeds, and molds can cause seasonal allergies in North Carolina as well, with tree pollen peaking in April, grass pollen in May-August, and weed pollen in September. If you would like to learn more about what causes these seasonal allergies and what you can do to survive North Carolina allergy season, this article is for you.

What is Pollen Anyway?
Pollen is a collection of small, powdery granules, typically yellow in color, that is discharged from the male part of a plant’s flower or cone as part of its reproductive process. The pollen generally reaches the female part of the plant either through insects or through the wind. Plants that rely on insects for pollination generally only produce small amounts of pollen, becuase they have a reliable delivery system. Plants that rely on the wind for pollination generally produce large amounts of pollen to ensure that at least some pollen gets to its intended destination dispite the unpredicable nature of the wind. It is generally these wind-borne pollens that people develop allergies to.

How does a Seasonal Allergy Develop?
Incredibly enough, research has yet to yield a final answer. There is certainly a genetic component, as children are more likely to develop allergies if they have a parent with allergies, and the chance increases if both parents suffer. However, children also commonly develop allergies even if neither of their parents have allergies. It is thought in these cases that repeated exposure to the allergen in early childhood, especially if accompanied by immune system triggers such as a viral infections, can lead to the acquisition of an allergy.

Recognizing Seasonal Allergies
It can be difficult to tell the difference between the common cold and allergies. The two do share many symptoms, such as sinus congestion. A cold, however, is an infection based on a virus, whereas allergies result from an immune response to a substance such as pollen. It is not surprising, then, that the two are treated very differently. Learning to distinguish seasonal allergies from the common cold will help you choose the treatment that can most effectively alleviate your symptoms.

Seasonal Allergies:

  • Cause clear or watery mucus.
  • Cause itchy or watery eyes.
  • Rarely cause coughing, fever, or achiness, although allergies can cause a cough to develop as the result of post nasal drip.
  • Have consistent symptoms.
  • Can last several weeks or longer.
  • Are more likely to show up in the spring or the fall.

Colds:

  • Cause thick and discolored mucus.
  • Rarely cause itchy or watery eyes.
  • Can include coughing, fevers, or achiness among their symptoms.
  • Have changing symptoms. For example, you might have a sore throat and fever for several days before developing a stuffy nose and sinus pain.
  • Last 7-10 days.Are more likely to show up in late fall and winter.
  • Dealing with Seasonal Allergies
  • Fortunately, over-the-counter antihistamines, nasal sprays, and eye-drops can provide effective relief for seasonal allergies. Prescription allergy medication is also available for more severe or long term relief. Permanent relief can also be found through immunotherapy, where the bodies tolerance for allergens is gradually increased through shots or pills.

In addition to medication, there are also a number of habits you can form to help decrease your exposure to pollen during allergy season.

If possible, try to stay indoors on dry, windy days when pollen counts are high.
Pollen counts also peak in the morning, so try to avoid outdoor activities during the morning hours.
Needless to say, keep the windows and doors of your house and car closed when possible.
Remove shoes and clothes that you have worn outside when you enter your house to avoid tracking pollen inside.
Likewise, be sure to brush or wash pets who have been outside, or just keep them permanently inside or outside.
Be sure to vacuum, sweep, and dust regularly, and check to see if your washer has a hypo-allergenic setting.
During allergy season, ask a family member, neighbor, or friend to mow the lawn for you, or wear a mask when mowing the lawn.
No matter how diligent you are, however, it is near impossible to avoid all seasonal allergens. Do what you can, and if you would like to talk to a physician about whether a prescription allergy medication is right for you, stop by St. Luke’s!