Monday, January 19, 2015


Straight talk about flu season

The flu is going viral. Yes it is true. It‘s catchy!
Due to a genetic change in this shifty virus, this year’s flu shot is less effective (about 40% compared to close to 70% in past years). This is concerning since all of the national indicators have revealed that this could be the worst flu season in more than seven years. This is mostly due to the decreased effectiveness of our vaccine.
Who is at risk for influenza complications? Children (less than 5 years old); adults over 65; pregnant women or recent postpartum; nursing home patients or clients in long term facilities; any person with underlying medical conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD);  diabetes, asthma or a weakened immune system as well as many others.
For a complete listing, check the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website and view “Are You At Risk for Serious Illness from Flu.”
What should you do is you think you have the flu? Although the virus has shifted, our rapid flu test has not. It remains about 70% sensitive and 98% specific. The earlier you are tested, the more accurate the test result .
Therefore, it is essential that if you develop symptoms of fever, headache, body aches and fatigue,  you should visit your health care professional and be tested.  If your test is positive or your symptoms are classic, antiviral medications can be prescribed. These medications reduce symptoms and decrease the risk for complications from the flu. They are most effective if given within 72 hours of symptoms but recent evidence has shown some benefit even after four-five days of symptoms.
Of course, the best avenue is always prevention.  If you are diagnosed with the flu, please be considerate of others by isolating yourself especially when you are most contagious (first three to five days). Also, please cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing. The use of disposable tissues are preferable over handkerchiefs since hankies are just a breeding ground for organisms. Hankies can go viral very easily. 
Frequent hand washing and alcohol cleansers are staples for everyone during this season. Studies have confirmed that the alcohol cleansers (such as Purell) are very effective at killing the flu on contact.
And, despite the flu mutation this year, vaccination is still the gold standard for flu prevention.
It takes a heightened vigilance and up-to-date knowledge to keep the flu contained. You are armed with all of that now. Let’s make healthy habits more catchy than the flu.
Paqui Motyl, MD, specializes in internal medicine and is based at the Montville Backus Family Health Center. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Mr. Motyl or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


A “check up” on Internet medical advice

“Please don’t get your medical advice from the internet.” I have said that repeatedly to friends, family, and even in previous health columns. Medical advice is what primary care providers are for.
A case in point:  my friend read something on the web about her symptoms and became extremely anxious and upset.  A week later, when she finally sat down and discussed it with her primary care provider, she was relieved to find that the web advice was totally false.  She had wasted valuable time and energy, did some foolish treatment that could have resulted in serious side effects, and spent a week in anguish for nothing.  Her doctor reassured her and set her on the right course of treatment.  Naturally, she vows never to repeat that foolish action again.  
“I want patients to know that every person has a unique genetic makeup,” says Dr. Christopher Awtrey, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, reaffirming why people should not rely on Googling to get medical advice. One person may require vastly different treatment than someone else receiving the same diagnosis.
Now, that being said, there are some internet sites where accurate and reliable information can be found.   Good sources of health information include:
•  Sites that end in ".gov," sponsored by the federal government, like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (, the National Institutes of Health (, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (
•  .edu sites, created by universities or medical schools, such as Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine or University of California at Berkeley Hospital, or other healthcare facility sites, like Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic.
•  .org sites maintained by not-for-profit groups whose focus is research and teaching the public about specific diseases or conditions, such as the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association and, of course, hospitals like Backus.
•  Sites whose addresses end in .com are usually commercial sites and are often selling products.
I asked Dr. John Greeley, a primary care physician at the Backus Family Health Center at Crossroads in Waterford to weigh in on this issue and this is his response:
“There are many sources of health information out there and I don’t mind if people search for information on the internet, as long as they bring their questions and concerns to me at their next appointment so I can validate the information and we can proceed with an appropriate plan.  Seeking information from the internet and other sources is a great starting point, but patients should not act on this information without first filtering it through their physician,” Dr. Greeley said.
Sounds like very good advice we can all live with.
Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, January 05, 2015


Five mood-boosting habits for the post-holiday slump

I absolutely love the holidays. Parties, presents, good food and time spent with family can make those first chilly days of winter feel like some of the warmest.
But on Jan. 2, it’s all over.  That winter wonderland of which we sang so fondly begins to look more like a wasteland, and we’re left facing months of dismal weather with nothing to look forward to until the spring thaw.
Many of us feel these post-holiday doldrums, and I am often asked at this time of year if there are any foods that can positively affect mood.  While there aren’t any specific foods that have been proven to boost a bad mood, there are certainly some health habits that foster good feelings.
Eat at least five servings daily of a variety of whole fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables provide a myriad of vitamins and minerals in addition to important phyto-chemicals that can improve health in many ways.  Many of these nutrients (especially B vitamins like folate) nourish the brain and allow it to produce the neurotransmitters that regulate our moods.  So eat your spinach with a smile!
Choose your carbs wisely. Processed carbohydrates and sugars might make you feel good for a little while, but once the initial rush is over you know the crash is coming.  And when we crash, what do we often do?  Look for another fix with more sugar or caffeine!  Get off the emotional rollercoaster by choosing fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and whole grain foods which will help to stabilize your blood sugar.
Get your omega-3’s. Studies have shown an association between these essential healthy fats and our moods.  You can be sure you are getting what you need by eating cold-water fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel or halibut two or more times per week and by including a variety of nuts and seeds in your daily routine.
Get your vitamin D. Because vitamin D is produced in our skin when we are exposed to sunlight, it should come as no surprise that many of us are depleted of this mood-enhancing nutrient during the shortest days of the year.  Luckily, if you’re eating the aforementioned fish for their omega-3’s, you’re also getting a healthy dose of vitamin D.  How convenient!  Some other sources of vitamin D include fortified whole grain cereals and dairy products and certain types of mushrooms, such as portabellas.
Get outside for some exercise whenever you can. We have an innate need as humans to be outside breathing fresh air and basking in sunlight.  It balances and invigorates us.  And research has shown time and again that physical activity positively impacts our psychological health in many ways.  So even though you might feel like hibernating, bundle up and brave the chill for just 10 to 15 minutes a day to take a brisk walk.  You’ll be amazed at how energized you feel!
Jennifer Fetterley is a registered dietitian for the Backus Health System and Thames Valley Council for Community Action. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal healthcare provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Fetterley or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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