Here at ConvenientMD Urgent Care we’re ready for our upcoming influenza season. We’ve had several sporadic cases but nothing steady just yet. Don’t worry, it’s coming. I usually check with my urgent care friends down in Texas, then the Carolinas and so I know it’s on its way. The west to east migration holds true as does the southern New England to Northern New England track. I question the infectious influence of our visiting Florida relatives and flatlanders, but it hasn’t been studied. Just anecdotal information whenever I get on an airplane this time of year to a virtual sea of coughing and runny noses: flashback to picking my kids up at daycare.
I always review with my patients’ ways to avoid getting the flu. GET A FLU SHOT. (They’re free at ConvenientMD so there’s no excuse!) This is especially true if you are over 50 years old, have a chronic illness, or may be exposed to sick individuals. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. One of my favorite questions in the urgent care from a dripping, coughing, febrile patient is “Am I contagious?” Yes, you are.
SNEEZECover your mouth and nose with the inner aspect of your elbow. Although it’s made doing my children’s laundry more of an adventure it works. Use a tissue, not cloth handkerchiefs and don’t pile them into origami pyramids on your nightstand like my oldest. Try to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth when possible. It’s harder than you think. Then remember all the other stuff like eat well, drink plenty of fluids, reduce stress, get enough sleep, and avoid excessive alcohol consumption.
I saved cleaning your hands for last because even that is no longer without danger. I cleansed myhands one hundred and four times yesterday. Yes, 104. I saw forty-eight patients and calstated before and after examining each patient: that’s ninety-six. I ate lunch and dinner and went to the bathroom twice, using soap and water before and after each for a grand total of eight times, thus the 104. I probably missed a few related to running lab tests, etcetera but you get the point. You can imagine then how excited I was to learn the FDA is requesting further investigation into a compound contained in many hand soaps: triclosan. Who knew this compound could weaken cardiac and skeletal muscle contractility by influencing calcium-channel dynamics. Sure we’re talking about mice and minnows but I can predict the end of this environmental saga.
Luckily, it’s not in the hand sanitizers and wipes we use in our health care setting but it’s in the hand soap dispenser in my car. Like most things in my life, I await further research. I do remember the most important thing however: GET A FLU SHOT. This past flu season only 42 percent of Americans 18 years old and over got flu shots according to the CDC. I enjoy reading the surveys on why the other 58% didn’t get their shots.
Recent research out of the Massachusetts General Hospital Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center has shown that a one minute dose of near-infrared laser light applied to the skin prior to an influenza vaccine improved immune system response and survival in a mouse model. Again, stay tuned for more research, but this is huge for many reasons, not the least of which is potentially decreased side effects from this and other vaccinations.
In the future, how we get our flu shots may look different but the familiar path of influenza across the U.S. will likely remain the same. Let’s hope the number of yearly deaths from the flu falls into the lower range this year. GET A FLU SHOT. (Third time’s a charm.)
Jeffrey Collins, MD
ConvenientMD Urgent Care