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Monthly Archives: October 2018

Special Edition: Flu Season News and Views

flu season is off to a roaring start

This year’s flu season is off to a roaring start.

First, the bad news. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), last year was a deadly record-breaker. Perhaps because of spreading anti-vaccine sentiment, vaccinations were at the lowest level in years, topping out at only 37% of the population. Coupled with a particularly nasty virus strain, flu deaths reached levels not seen in fifty years.


Think the flu is no big deal?

In the 2017-18 season, in the United States alone:

  • 49 million people caught the flu
  • Nearly one million required hospitalization
  • Almost 80,000 people were killed, 70% of them over 65.

This year we will be dealing with several strains of the flu virus. Most of them are milder than last year’s killer bug, but still quite deadly, capable of sickening tens of millions and killing tens of thousands of Americans. And vaccination rates are still lagging behind historic levels, leaving most of us vulnerable to a neighbor’s sneeze or a contaminated doorknob.


But there’s good news, as well.

First of all, there’s still time. This season is off to a slow start, with only a handful of cases cropping up so far in most areas of the USA. But there’s no reason to be complacent. The CDC expects the season to progress normally, with a full-blown epidemic in place in a few short weeks. Fortunately, this year’s vaccine should be a good match to the expected strains.

Recent guidance also indicates that right now is an ideal time to get vaccinated, since the vaccine’s effectiveness can fade if you get immunized too early. Clinical Infectious Diseases recently published a study by Kaiser Permanente researchers that showed a 5% reduction in protection every week past the vaccination date.

And there’s the risk of waiting too long, as well—your body needs time to respond to the vaccine and have a robust reaction when the virus reaches your neighborhood, infects you, and attempts to multiply. If you’ve ever played a “tower defense”-type video game, it’s very similar: now’s the time to fortify those gun emplacements and get ready for the next wave. To win, you must be ready.


New treatment options offer better results.

For the last 20 years, Tamiflu has been the only real treatment for the flu once it’s started. But it’s never made much of an impact. Requiring multiple doses over many days, it can be hard to manage—and if doses are skipped or missed, there’s the risk of more resistant strains emerging.

But doctors and epidemiologists are very excited about a recently-approved upgrade. Baloxavir marboxil (trade name XOFLUZA) is a single-dose antiviral that has proven very effective, if taken within 48 hours of first symptoms. Approved for patients over 12 and available by prescription, it uses a novel approach of blocking the endonuclease enzyme that the flu virus needs at one of the earliest stages of infection. Even if it fails to block the flu from taking hold, it can shorten the duration, reduce the severity of symptoms, and lower the risk of life-threatening complications. With only one dose required, it’s less likely to be mismanaged.

Still, no antiviral is as effective as immunization. The flu vaccine is a proven effectiv, safe, and widely available option.


Bottom line: get your flu shot NOW. It’s in stock at drug stores and clinics everywhere, it’s low-cost, and with most insurance plans, it’s FREE.


Close up of medication pills on the hand of the senior person

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Hazardous Chemicals and Dangerous People


The medication you’ve taken for years can turn on you.

Close up of medication pills on the hand of the senior person

Recently my 90-year-old father began suffering from dizzy spells and falling. Thank goodness he hasn’t hurt himself seriously, and he’s in rehab to get his strength back. The culprit? He had been taking a blood pressure medication for years, and was recently prescribed an anticoagulant by a different doctor, which he filled at new pharmacy. No one checked his medication history, so he took both together. Uh-oh! That drug interaction caused the dizziness and balance problems, and could have led to seizures and uncontrolled bleeding. When we stopped the obsolete blood pressure drug (that he no longer even needed!), his equilibrium returned.

It’s not just prescription medications.

Over-the-counter medications for colds, headache, and other minor ailments can have powerful effects in interaction with each other and with prescription drugs, and even vitamins and herbal remedies can cause unforeseen problems. Taking Tylenol (acetaminophen) with multi-symptom cold syrups, naproxen (“Aleve”) with or too soon after ibuprofen (“Motrin”) or aspirin, or anti-diarrheal remedies taken with your regular calcium supplement can all result in life-threatening complications.

  • Next checkup, have your doctor and your pharmacist review all the things you take: herbs, vitamins, “as seen on TV” remedies, Chinese folk medicines, diet pills, “male enhancer” pills, dietary supplements, and your prescription drugs. Note that even some foods can cause serious problems: grapefruit or grapefruit juice, for example, changes the behavior of a long list of medications.
  • Bonus: You may end up eliminating some remedies and saving some serious money.


Senior woman sitting at the table and reading the letterDoes your mom have a problem she’s afraid to tell you about?

Brought up in a simpler time when people answered the door without a care and considered a ringing phone a special occasion, seniors can be vulnerable to the lowest of the low—fraudsters that prey on the elderly. Because they are sociable and often lacking in companionship, it’s easy for bad actors to initiate a pleasant conversation with a lonely senior and painstakingly develop a seemingly deep friendship. Then, gradually, those friendly chats may reveal sensitive financial information, minor requests for favors can snowball into extortion, or a “young relative in trouble at the border” may urgently need a large sum of money “to pay bail.” Scams like these can lead to a victim being deceived into losing their financial security.
Another approach that successfully targets seniors is fraudulent “official” letters and emails, including threats from “The IRS” or other scary agencies. The frauds are old (the “Nigerian Prince” scam dates back to the early 1900s!), but the methods change with the times, and infect the internet, email, and social media. So what should you do?

Don’t get angry, yell, or insult the victim.

Work quickly to minimize the damage, help them file a report with law enforcement, and sympathize. After all, fraud can happen to anyone, young or old.

Nagging your parents is counterproductive.

What senior doesn’t proudly cherish their independence? Who wants to be lectured by the child they used to diaper? No, making your elderly loved one feel foolish or helpless will only make them shut out your advice. Instead:

Stay engaged.

You have a busy life, but you need to protect your family. Talk to your elderly relatives regularly, and ask about their lives. If they mention new friends or are worried about money or a bill, dig a little, and find out what you can. Help them balance their checkbook or work on their budget. Know who they make out checks to, and watch out for unusual spending patterns.


Remind them that they didn’t enter any contest, that there’s never a fee to collect a prize, or that government agencies never demand information they already have on file or require payment in gift cards. Let them come to their own conclusion about that call, letter, or email.

Encourage them to share, not hide, their experience.

Fraudsters often work entire senior housing complexes or lists of likely victims. Help your loved ones to get over their pain of loss by helping others avoid the traps. They will be ready to share their story at their next get-together with friends, if they haven’t been made to feel stupid.

Take steps to protect.

You can help them secure their lives. Install antivirus software on their computer, opt them out of mailing lists, and check their credit reports with them regularly. And there are fraud hotlines run by reputable groups like AARP and major insurance companies and banks.

Have a safe day!


Next month: Adult day care?

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