Friday, July 25, 2008


Back-to-school preparation can begin now

When you are in the midst of summertime fun, it’s hard to imagine school starting up again. But a little preparation now could go a long way later.

Before you know it, it will be time to start preparing children for the more rigid schedules that come with school. Here’s what you can do ahead of time to ease the transition:

 Start the bedtime and morning schedule a week or two ahead before school starts, because the rhythm can be lost during summer.

 Parents of children with allergies should begin preventative medications before school, because it is the time of year when allergies kick in and this can help prevent missing school later.

 Discuss behavioral expectations.

 Practice homework routines before school begins.

 Visit the school ahead of time with your child to help alleviate anxiety.

 Get in the habit of healthy breakfasts, which provide the energy needed for the rigorous school day.

 Choose the right back pack – bigger is not always better. In fact, bigger backpacks can lead to heavier loads and injuries to children. Proper technique is also crucial to avoid back and shoulder pain. For a backpack safety brochure, go to

 Know what immunizations your child needs. For an immunization chart that outlines age groups and what they need, go to

Ravi Prakash, MD, is a pediatrician on the Backus Hospital Medical Staff with a private practice in Norwich. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Dr. Prakash and all of the Healthy Living columnists at, or comment on their blog at

Friday, July 18, 2008


10 tips for fast, easy and healthy family dinners

Is dinner ready? What’s for dinner? I am “starving!”

Sound familiar after a long day? Here are 10 tips to get you cooking:

1. Have a plan. This is number one on the list. Planning secures some stability amidst the chaos that the end of the day brings. Once a week make out a meal plan. Meal Matters and Eating Well are great websites that have meal planning tools. Some are free others while require a subscription. They offer meal plans, recipes and shopping lists to get you going. A white board or a pad of paper posted on the fridge for everyone to see work well too.

2. Offer veggies to munch on for those hunger cries before dinner. This is a great strategy to ensure kids (and grownups) get their required veggies. Dips such as hummus, nut butters or low-fat salad dressings are quick and easy.

3. Create a bar. Kids love it! Sandwich bars, pasta bars, taco bars, and potato bars. Put out the essentials and some healthy fillings and toppings, and you have a great meal where everyone is in control of what they eat.

4. Have emergency fixings on hand at all times: Jarred tomatoes sauce, whole wheat pasta, frozen veggies, frozen whole wheat pasta like ravioli. Fixings for whole wheat pita English muffin pizzas. Also don’t forget about that freezer. Put it to good use. Make extra and freeze for later.

5. Vegetarian: Try to aim for more vegetarian meals in your weekly plan. Aside from pasta, rice and beans, try veggie crumbles in your tacos in place of meat. Veggie burgers are fast and healthy.

6. Recreate leftovers, so you cook once and eat twice. Make extra chicken, tofu or pork and use them in a quick stir-fry later in the week. Leftovers make a great topping for a salad.

7. Demonstrate your reverence for the peaceful family dinner by initiating special rituals even for everyday occasions. Eat on the good china, or try dimming the lights and dine by candlelight. A simple grace before meals is a grateful way to spend time together.

8. Give your self a break–fast: There is nothing wrong with breakfast for dinner. Veggie omelets, frittatas, whole wheat pancakes are all fast and fun for dinner.

9. Cook it quick: Thin chicken cutlet, fillets of tilapia are fast-cooking, pan sauté or grill with veggies and serve over quinoa or brown rice. Make the rice ahead to save time.

10. That’s a wrap: Use leftover grilled chicken, add cheese, and veggies like broccoli sprouts, shredded carrots, spinach, or tomatoes slices. Wrap in a whole wheat tortilla. How about a super quick quesadilla and serve with veggies slices or a salad. Try one with store-bought hummus and salsa.

Renee Frechette is a registered dietitian who serves as the outpatient oncology dietitian in the The William W. Backus Hospital’s Radiation Therapy Center. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Frechette and all of the Healthy Living columnists at or comment on their blog at

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


New medicines continue the fight against long-standing viruses

There are many ways to characterize an infection; which organ or body part it effects, whether it began in a healthcare facility or the community, if it’s an acute infection or longstanding are just a few.

But the most important is the type of organism that is causing the infection. The four most common causes, or pathogens, are bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi.

Oddly enough, of the four pathogens, viruses are not classified as living. Viruses need a host to survive; in fact they can only survive inside of the cells of other living things. This not only makes them very unique, but also very hard to get rid of.

By hiding out inside the cells of a host, they remain somewhat protected from the body’s immune system and from any antiviral medication that may be flowing through the blood stream.

Some viral infections come and go rather quickly like the common flu, which typically lasts 5-7 days. Other viral infections stay with you your whole life.

As Dr. Anthony Alessi explained in last week’s column, Varicella-zoster virus causes chicken-pox in the young, then hides out in sensory nerve cells for the decades to come. Most people will never experience any problems from the virus again, but some folks will develop a painful rash called shingles later in life from that very same virus.

A few decades ago there were very few antiviral drugs available to treat viral infections. In fact, vaccines have been -- and still remain -- a major focus of viral research.

The success of viral vaccines is among the greatest accomplishments of modern medicine. Polio and measles vaccines have virtually eliminated those diseases. Rabies vaccine has turned a disease that is one of the oldest and once most feared in history to a condition that only takes a few shots to take care of. Most recently, a vaccine to prevent the human papillomavirus (HPV), Gardesil, has been developed and will decrease the occurrence of cervical cancer.

While vaccine research and development continues to move forward, new antiviral medications have been developed in the last few years.

Drugs to treat the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) have led the way. There are now over 18 medications available when only a half-dozen existed 10 years ago. The last decade has also seen new treatments for the virus that causes hepatitis and the first-ever drug indicated to treat the common flu, Tamiflu (oseltamivir).

As you can see, viruses are very unique organisms that cause all sorts of human diseases. Although challenging to treat, modern medicine continues to move forward to meet that challenge.

The most important thing you can do to treat viral infections is to take your medications properly. Similar to bacteria and antibiotic drugs, not taking the full prescription can lead to treatment failures and medication resistance.

Michael Smith is a pharmacist and Clinical Coordinator in the Department of Pharmacy Services at The William W. Backus Hospital. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. If you want to comment on this column or others, go to the Healthy Living blog at or E-mail Smith and all of the Healthy Living columnists at

Tuesday, July 01, 2008



Shingles is a common and often painful problem that can result in serious injury if not treated promptly.

The offending agent in shingles, the varicella-zoster virus, is acquired with chickenpox. The virus remains dormant in an area of the nervous system called the dorsal root ganglion. It becomes reactivated with illness, age, or suppression of the immune system.

Most adults affected by shingles are over age 60. A weakened immune system either from medical treatments, HIV/AIDS, or cancer will predispose to shingles.

Shingles first becomes apparent with the onset of burning or tingling, followed by the appearance of a rash. The rash consists of fluid-filled blisters along the path of the nerve where it has been residing. It typically appears on one side of the trunk or waistline. The rash will then begin to crust over.

The underlying nerve becomes inflamed and very painful, leading to a condition called herpetic neuralgia. In approximately 20 percent of patients, the pain may linger long after the rash has gone, at which time it is called post-herpetic neuralgia. This nerve pain can last for months or years and varies in severity.

Immediate treatment includes the use of one of several new medications categorized as anti-viral agents. Anti-inflammatory drugs are helpful. Pain relievers, including narcotics, may be necessary although antidepressant and anticonvulsant drugs often have an analgesic effect without addiction potential. Topical creams containing anesthetics are soothing. Capsaicin cream is an over-the-counter preparation made from chili peppers and dulls pain fibers. The Lidoderm patch can be applied directly over the painful area, allowing the anesthetic to be absorbed over a twelve-hour period.

There is a vaccine for adults over 60 years old who have had chickenpox. The goal is to prevent further outbreaks of shingles or reduce the severity of the episode. The vaccine is not intended for the treatment of an active outbreak of shingles.

If you suspect shingles, contact a physician and begin a recommended treatment promptly to shorten the time you are symptomatic.

Anthony G. Alessi, MD, is Chief of Neurology on the medical staff of The William W. Backus Hospital. He has a private practice at NeuroDiagnostics, LLC in Norwich. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Dr. Alessi and all of the Healthy Living columnists at

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