YOUR HEALTH: TAKE CHARGE!
PROTECT YOURSELF AGAINST THE FLU
By: Winston Wong, M.D., M.S.
As much as 50,000 persons may die due to the flu this year. Each flu season, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized with flu related complications, and as many as one out of five Americans can be infected. The elderly, children, pregnant women and others with chronic health conditions are more susceptible to contacting the virus. For this year's flu season, the National Council of Asian Pacific Islander Physicians (NCAPIP), along with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health officials are determined to reduce these numbers by urging Americans to get vaccinated, the best protection against catching the flu.
Who should get the flu shot?
The flu season can have a mild to severe impact on the public. Each year is different and it is important to be fully protected. Last year's H1N1 raised the public's concern as the pandemic sickened over 60 million people within a 9 month period. For this year's flu season, the CDC is prepared with ample supplies of flu vaccines for the public. For the first time, it is recommended that anyone over six months old receives an annual flu vaccination.
The virus can infect anyone, and the best protection is to be vaccinated. The elderly, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions such as heart disease, asthma, diabetes, kidney, liver or nervous system problems, and young children are especially encouraged to take the flu shot as they are at high risk for complications resulting from the flu.
Is the vaccine safe?
Federal health officials have assured the public that the vaccine is safe, can prevent fatal complications, and cannot cause the flu.
The CDC is responsible for developing the proper vaccine in anticipation of a given flu season. This year's vaccine is developed to protect against H1N1 and two other common flu viruses. The vaccine, given either as a shot or by nasal spray, is easily administered by trained personnel. Only one dose is required for the entire flu season, which begins in the fall and extends through the early spring. Children who are six months to eight years old need two doses for full protection.
The vaccine has very few side effects. A shot in the arm may be sore for a day. A nasal spray may cause some irritation of the nose for a few hours. IT DOES NOT cause fevers or colds. However, individuals with allergy to eggs should not be vaccinated. Check with your doctor if you are unsure if the vaccine is safe for you. DO NOT purchase or submit to a vaccine unless you are certain that it is being provided by trained and licensed personnel. DO NOT purchase flu prevention treatment on the Internet. This could be dangerous to your health.
Is it affordable?
Many health plans cover flu shots without charging for additional out of pocket charge. Community health centers and local public health departments provide free or low cost flu shots. Some large pharmacy chains are authorized to provide flu shots. To locate a flu shot provider, visit www.flu.gov.
What else can I do to protect my health?
To keep yourself healthy during the flu season, observe these practices everyday:
- When sneezing or coughing, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue. Do not cough into your hands as it will spread the germs through contact with others;
- Wash hands in warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds;
- Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers;
- Avoid touching eyes, nose, or mouth as germs can spread this way;
- Stay home when sick to prevent spreading the virus to other people. If having flu like symptoms, stay home for at least 24 hours after being free of fever without using fever reducing medications like Tylenol.
Seasonal flu symptoms may include fever of at least 100 degree F, chills, muscle aches, headache, excessive tiredness, and dry cough. Also, runny nose and stomach symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may be more common among children.
If experiencing some of these symptoms, seek medical help immediately. Antiviral medications prescribed by a physician can alleviate these symptoms. Stay home to limit the spread of the flu. It is common to be sick from 3-7 days. If you experience severe symptoms or are ill for more than 5 days, seek medical attention.
Four simple steps to help you stay healthy this flu season:
- Get an annual flu shot from an authorized health care provider.
- Practice good hygiene: wash your hands often; avoid contact with eyes, nose, and mouth when hands are dirty.
- Maintain good nutrition with plenty of fruits, vegetables and fluids.
- Seek medical help if you exhibit flu symptoms.
HEPATITIS B IN ASIANS AND PACIFIC ISLANDERS
By: Son T. Do, M.D.
Hepatitis B causes chronic infection in more than 400 million people in the world. Chronic Hepatitis B infection means that while symptoms are not noticeable, the infection still remains in the body and can result in serious complications over the long term, and even death. In the United States, there are as many as 2 million people living with chronic hepatitis B and over half of these people are of API descent.
Hepatitis B is 100 times as contagious as HIV. How people become infected:
- Any direct blood to blood contact (with someone exposed)
- Unprotected sex (with someone exposed)
- Unsterilized needles
- From infected mother to child during the delivery process
- Hepatitis is NOT transmitted through coughing, sneezing, or daily physical contact with someone infected.
- 1 in 4 patients with chronic hepatitis B infection will die from either liver failure or liver cancer
- In other ethnic groups, liver cancer ranks No.10 on the list of cancer mortality, but in APIs, liver cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death.
- Approximately 2 out of 3 APIs have previously been exposed to hepatitis B at some point in their lives, and 1 in 10 of those exposed is still chronically infected.
- Clearly, hepatitis B affects and kills more people of API descent. This is a health disparity.
- Despite the above numbers, less than half of APIs are aware of hepatitis B, its ability to spread, the potential for treatment, and vaccinations that prevent the disease.
- Among those chronically infected with hepatitis B, 2 out of 3 (the same ratio of API who have been exposed to the disease!) were unaware of their own disease.
- Remember, chronic infections stay in the body over the whole lifespan, even if symptoms rarely show.
Despite the 30+ year existence of an effective vaccine and the obvious risk of the disease, 1 out of 3 unexposed, healthy API still do not get vaccinated. A simple vaccination can completely prevent the disease in the future and for the rest of your life.
Treatment drugs to help those with chronic hepatitis B infection keep their liver healthy are available. Consult with your doctor to get screened, advised, and treated.
Why this lack of awareness for a disease so dangerous, yet so preventable?
Recently the Institute of Medicine reported that this lack of awareness is not only limited to people and communities who are at risk. Frighteningly enough, ignorance of the hepatitis B problem includes the general population, and even doctors, health professionals, and public health agencies. This report supports an existing notion: Hepatitis B, and the dangers of liver cancer and liver failure in the API community, is not a “hot” issue.
This has to change
Because of significant disparities in the prevalence of hepatitis B, cirrhosis, and liver cancer in the APIs, the NCAPIP recommends the following goals toward eliminating this disparity:
- Increase your awareness of hepatitis B – Get screened – get vaccinated – and if you have been exposed, get treated.
- Tell your friends about hepatitis B routine screening, vaccination, and treatment options. You can direct them to this Community Health Digest and let them read for themselves.
- Make your voices heard by your local legislators about the need for prevention and treatment options.
- Empower yourself – With the new health care reform bill, it is illegal for you to be denied any sort of insurance coverage based on a pre-existing condition, including chronic hepatitis B infection. Your health is in your hands, and the law is by your side.