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Avoiding Pneumonia This Winter: How to Stay Safe and Healthy

Monday , November 23 , 2020

Avoiding Pneumonia This Winter: How to Stay Safe and Healthy

Pneumonia is a lung infection that can be serious in older adults. According to the CDC, hundreds of thousands of seniors are hospitalized with the disease and about 50,000 die every year.

While a person may become infected with pneumonia at any time of the year, instances are more prevalent during the winter months. And this year, with Covid-19 added to the mix, the risk for developing serious infection or a co-infection is even greater.

Keep reading for measures you can take to stay as healthy as possible during the winter months ahead.

What is Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a respiratory infection that causes inflammation in the air sacs in the lungs, called alveoli. The sacs may fill with fluid or pus, making breathing difficult, and the disease can affect one or both lungs. Other symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain when breathing
  • Cough (usually a wet one that produces phlegm)
  • Fatigue

It is important to note that seniors may develop different symptoms such as confusion and changes in mental awareness.

Pneumonia in Older Adults

According to the NCBI, the death rate among older adults with severe pneumonia can be as high as 20%. While experts aren’t sure why pneumonia is more aggressive in seniors, there are likely a variety of contributing factors:

  • As people age, their immune systems weaken, leaving them less able to fend off infection
  • The normal aging process weakens lung function
  • Chronic health conditions such as COPD and heart disease can exacerbate the effects of pneumonia

Additionally, older adults are at increased risk of complications of pneumonia, including bacteremia, pleurisy, lung abscess, and acute respiratory distress syndrome.

What Causes Pneumonia?

Pneumonia can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other organisms. It can occur on its own or after someone has been infected with a cold or flu, and it is sometimes a severe side effect of Covid-19.

Pneumonia caused by viruses such as flu or Covid can be especially severe and even deadly, especially in older adults. Those with a weakened immune system, recovering from a recent surgery or illness, or who suffer from chronic health conditions are at particular risk.

Preventing Pneumonia in Older Adults

Older adults – especially those with pre-existing conditions – are encouraged to receive the pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine and the flu vaccine every year.

Other ways of preventing pneumonia, and staying generally healthy during winter months, include:

  • Wash hands thoroughly and often. The CDC recommends washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol to clean hands BEFORE and AFTER:
    • Touching your eyes, nose, or mouth
    • Touching your mask
    • Entering and leaving a public place
    • Touching an item or surface that may be frequently touched by other people, such as door handles, tables, gas pumps, shopping carts, or electronic cashier registers/screens
  • Practice good health habits such as staying physically active and eating a diet high in produce and whole grains.
  • Manage chronic conditions such as COPD, diabetes, and heart disease.
  • Don’t smoke. If you’re a smoker, talk to your doctor about help quitting.

Final Thoughts

Because pneumonia and its complications can be difficult to diagnose and treat in seniors, it is vital to take preventative measures now. Talk to your doctor about how you can help keep yourself safe from pneumonia this winter – and all year long.

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Gathering Safely for the Holidays

Monday , November 2 , 2020

Gathering Safely for the Holidays

The holiday season is upon us! With Thanksgiving and a slew of other holidays right around the corner, you may be wondering, “How can I safely visit my family and friends?”

Experts say think small. During the worst pandemic in a century, things will look a bit different this year.

So how do you plan a special celebration during such a challenging time? Keep reading to learn more:

Plan for smaller holiday gatherings 

The best advice experts can offer at this time is stay at home whenever possible. Plan for a family Zoom call, an online game night, or even a holiday drive-by in your car.

But if you absolutely must see your loved ones in person, keep it small.

The CDC tips for a safe holiday gathering include:

  • Limit the number of attendees as much as possible to allow people from different households to remain at least 6 feet apart at all times. Guests should avoid direct contact, including handshakes and hugs, with others not from their household.
  • Avoid holding gatherings in crowded, poorly ventilated spaces with persons who are not in your household.
  • Increase ventilation by opening windows and doors to the extent that is safe and feasible based on the weather, or by placing central air and heating on continuous circulation.
  • Require guests to wear masks. At gatherings that include persons of different households, everyone should always wear a mask that covers both the mouth and nose, except when eating or drinking.
  • Plan ahead and ask guests to avoid contact with people outside of their households for 14 days before the gathering.

Large gatherings make it too difficult to enforce rules and maintain social distancing. Unless you want your holiday party to become the next super spreader event, keep it to a minimum!

Opt Outside

Even better? If you want to meet up with a group of people who don’t live in your household, gather outside!

It may be cold out in the coming weeks, but that’s nothing that can’t be overcome. Dress in layers, add a hat and gloves, and bring a blanket to cover your lap. You can even gather around an outdoor fireplace or patio heater, as long as you maintain social distancing and wear masks.

If weather forces you into a tent or pop-up shelter, consider keeping one side open for ventilation.

To keep food as safe as possible, encourage guests to “B.Y.O.M” (bring your own meat) and cook it over the grill or fire.

Protect Yourself and Others

No matter how you gather, remember: Safety first. The holidays are not the time to start ignoring the safety protocol you’ve observed for the rest of the year.

Remind guests to:

  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
  • Wear a mask and maintain a six-foot distance from people outside your household
  • Avoid handshakes, hugs, and even elbow bumps
  • Stay home if you are sick

Keep in mind that you are not obligated to gather with anyone. If you receive any invitations that make you even the tiniest bit uncomfortable, exercise your right to say “no.”

Who Should Avoid Gatherings? 

According to the CDC, the following people should avoid all gatherings this holiday season. Anyone who:

  • Has or was exposed to Covid-19
  • Has been diagnosed with Covid-19 and has not met the criteria for when it is safe to be around others
  • Has symptoms associated with Covid-19
  • Is waiting for Covid-19 test results
  • Is at increased risk of severe illness from Covid-19

Final Thoughts 

If you are an older adult or person whose medical conditions leave you at greater risk of severe infection, you should avoid ALL in-person gatherings.

If you are celebrating with friends and loved ones, help drive infection rates down! Wear a mask, wash hands, practice social distancing, and avoid large groups.

Have a safe and healthy holiday season!

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Over 50? This is Why You Need the Shingles Vaccine.

Monday , October 26 , 2020

Over 50? This is Why You Need the Shingles Vaccine.

These days, everyone is talking about a vaccine for Covid-19. When will it arrive? Will it be effective? Will it be safe for everyone?

But we have something else on our minds: Shingles.

For older adults, the risk of developing the rash increases with age. Other factors, such as being infected with chickenpox early in life or being immuncompromised, also add to the risk.

That’s why experts recommend that anyone over the age of 50 receive the shingles vaccine.

Keep reading to learn more about shingles and how you can protect yourself:

What is Shingles? 

According to the CDC, shingles usually develops as a stripe across one side of the body or face. People may feel pain, itching, or tingling for a few days before the rash actually appears. Other symptoms may include fever, chills, headache, and upset stomach.

A few days after the rash appears, it turns into fluid-filled blisters, like chickenpox. They usually scab up after 7 – 10 days and will fully clear up a few weeks after that.

Even after the painful rash has died down, the after affects can be even worse.

The most common complaint post-shingles is something called postherpetic neuralgia – nerve pain at the site of the rash that typically lasts for 90 days or more.

Dr. David Hrncir, an allergist-immunologist at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, says, “The older you are when you get shingles, the more likely it is you’ll develop post-herpetic neuralgia, or PHN, and have longer-lasting and severe pain. The pain is not easily treated. So you’re left with constant pain that can significantly affect quality of life.”

A less common complication involves the eyes and can result in pain, scarring, and (in rare cases) vision loss.

Who’s at Risk?

Who’s in danger of developing shingles? Anyone who’s had chickenpox, though those who experienced the virus before 18-months are at higher risk.

Shingles is an activation of the varicella zoster virus, the same bug that causes chickenpox. After chickenpox clears, the virus lays dormant in your body for the rest of your life. Although it’s not clear why, the virus may reactivate many years later as shingles.

Experts say that 1 in 3 people will develop shingles in their lifetime, usually after the age of 50. Though some younger adults do develop the illness, it’s far less common.

If you do have shingles, direct contact with the fluid from a blister can cause infection in other people, even those who have not had chickenpox. The risk of spreading the virus is low if you keep the blisters covered.

Vaccine Options

Up until the summer of 2020, there were two options for the shingles vaccine: Zostovax and Shingrix.

Shingrix was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2017 and is the preferred alternative to Zostovax, which was approved in 2006.

Both vaccines are approved for adults over the age of 50 for the prevention of shingles, whether you’ve already had the virus or not. Here’s how they’re different:

  • Zostovax is a live vaccine given as a single injection, usually in the upper arm, and has been shown to offer protection against shingles for up to five years. As of July 2020, Zostovax is no longer available in the U.S., but may be available in other countries.

  • Shingrix is a nonliving vaccine made of a virus component. It’s given in two doses, two to six months apart. Studies show that Shingrix provides protection against shingles beyond five years, and it is recommended for adults over 50, even if they’ve already received Zostovax.

The most common side effects of either vaccine are redness, tenderness, swelling, and itching at the site of injection. Some people report getting a mild chickenpox-like rash.

The CDC offers recommendations about people who should not get the shingles vaccine.

Good to know: Shingrix costs about $280 for both shots combined. Medicare covers Shingrix under Part D.

Final Thoughts

If you’re considering getting the shingles vaccine, talk to your doctor about the possible risks and benefits in your specific situation. For more information, go to www.cdc.gov/vaccines.

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