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Tuesday, March 12, 2013
At the peak of this year’s influenza season, public health officials were panicky. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced a flu epidemic in mid-January.
The city of Boston and the state of New York both declared public health emergencies. There were so many patients awaiting treatment that one hospital had to put up tents in the parking lot despite bitter-cold weather.
Flu was in the news, and at the end of every report Americans were urged to get a flu shot. Senior citizens in particular were targeted with this message. That’s because older people are more susceptible to complications from an influenza infection.
In theory, the influenza vaccine should have been highly effective. That’s because the experts guessed right early last year when they had to predict which flu viruses would be making the rounds this winter. The vaccine for this season was a 92 percent match with the actual influenza viruses infecting people.
How well did the flu shots work in reality? Visitors to our website (www.PeoplesPharmacy.com) alerted us early to the possibility that this year’s vaccination was coming up short. One woman reported: “I got the flu shot, as I do every year. Now I have the flu. I went from feeling fine to feeling like a bus had mowed me down in about eight hours. I started medicating myself when my fever hit 102. I have had fever for three days, along with a dry, painful cough, general achiness and wooziness and exhaustion.”
Another person had a similar experience: “My husband and I both got flu shots (at $29 each) last fall when the shots became available. At the end of January, we were both sick with the flu and spent four days in bed with fever, extreme fatigue and violent coughing.
“We know it was the flu because my husband went to the hospital with rapid heart rate and dehydration, and he was actually tested for the flu virus. We have gotten flu shots every year for many, many years. We will continue to get flu shots despite this year’s experience because we are told it is more considerate of others to get the flu shots and not spread the disease. I just wish the shots were more effective.”
The CDC has analyzed the flu vaccine for this year and found that it was only about 27 percent effective for people over 65. Of course, these are precisely the folks who most need the protection that a flu shot might offer.
Even worse, the most virulent strain of influenza virus that caused problems this winter, the H3N2, was hardly affected by the vaccine at all. The match was good, but the shot was only 9 percent effective at preventing H3N2 among the elderly.
We clearly need better influenza vaccinations. Even in a more typical year, the flu shots are rarely better than 50 percent or 60 percent effective at preventing viral infections in healthy young adults (The Lancet Infectious Diseases, January 2012).
We also need more honesty from public health officials. That’s the only way Americans can make informed decisions about whether or not to get a flu shot in the future.
Q: Several years ago, we read about Corn Huskers Lotion on your website. We have used it ever since as a lubricant during sex and have found that it works much better than K-Y Jelly or similar products.
I also use Premarin vaginal cream twice a week. My question may be a stupid one, but could the Corn Huskers Lotion be used to replace the Premarin? It is certainly much less expensive.
A: Premarin cream contains estrogen that is absorbed into the body. It is prescribed to treat vaginal dryness and the resulting pain, but Premarin shouldn’t be used as a sexual lubricant. (That might expose a man to too much estrogen.)
Corn Huskers Lotion does not contain estrogen, and we don’t know if regular use would be safe or effective to alleviate vaginal dryness. Some women report that coconut oil or olive oil may be used as you are using Premarin cream to prevent soreness due to postmenopausal vaginal dryness.
Here is one couple’s experience: “Organic coconut oil makes an outstanding lubricant. Also, my wife used to get yeast infections often, and she has not had one at all since we started using coconut oil.”
Q: I get caffeine-withdrawal headaches and treat them with a cup of coffee. The severe headaches I get from the weather are more difficult to treat. They occur when it is about to rain.
Why does this happen? Should I watch the weather reports and drink coffee to prevent them?
A: A drop in barometric pressure can trigger migraines in some people (Internal Medicine [Tokyo, Japan], 2011). Prevention may indeed be worthwhile, but the best approach may vary. We are sending you our Guide to Headaches and Migraines for details on the pros and cons of many treatments and remedies. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (66 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. M-98, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website: www.peoplespharmacy.com.
Q: I am so pleased I read about using Selsun Blue for rosacea. I’d been on two rounds of antibiotics plus Metrogel, and I still I got redness and pimples.
I started a regimen of washing my face with Selsun Blue every few days, and my nose has been pimple-free for more than two months.
A: Rosacea is an inflammatory skin condition that causes redness of the cheeks, nose and forehead. It also may lead to pimplelike blemishes.
Doctors often prescribe oral antibiotics or topical metronidazole (Metrogel) or azelaic acid (Finacea). Not all patients find these helpful, however.
Some readers report that dandruff shampoo containing selenium sulfide (Selsun Blue) can ease their symptoms. Here is one such story: “I have been on all medications and tried a bunch of creams. I was left with a red, irritated face and a bunch of expensive creams. I saw an article about using Selsun Blue shampoo to clear the rosacea.
“I thought, ‘It’s only five bucks; why not try it?’ Within three days there was a huge difference in my face. I use the original Selsun Blue. I put it on in the shower in the morning and leave it on for a couple of minutes. I am very surprised that this simple drugstore purchase works on such a terrible problem.”
“The People’s Pharmacy with Joe and Terry Graedon” airs Saturday at 7 a.m. on WVTF (89.1 FM) and at 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays on RADIO IQ (89.7 FM). Joe and Teresa Graedon’s column runs in Tuesday’s Extra.
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