The Flu Shot Lowers Stroke Risk. It’s Time to Schedule Yours.

Fall is just around the corner and its time to start scheduling your flu shot. This season we have the high dose quadrivalent vaccine for people 65 years of age or older and the Quadrivalent for those younger than 65 years of age. The vaccine takes about two weeks to provide full immunity and will reduce your chance of catching the illness.  Most importantly, it will prevent serious illness requiring hospitalization and or death. Last year influenza caused almost 45,000 deaths in the USA.

The vaccine is being given in our office. My patients should call 561.368.0191 to schedule the flu shot. You can take this vaccine at the same time as the new Omicron specific booster and near that vaccine which is being given at local pharmacies including CVS and Walgreens.

The journal Neurology published a peer reviewed article that examined whether getting a flu shot provided any additional protection beyond preventing the flu  The study, led by Francisco Jose de Abajo, MD, MPH, PhD of the University of Alcala in Madrid Spain, showed that the flu vaccine reduced the risk of stroke by 12% in those who had risk factors for cerebrovascular or cardiovascular disease. The study noted the protection began within two weeks of receiving the vaccine for both patients with cerebrovascular risk factors regardless of age.

Another study published several weeks ago noted that the risk of dementia was diminished in those patients receiving the flu shot as well.

Flu season is here. Please call the office and schedule your vaccine.

NSAIDS and Heart Failure in Type II Diabetics

The European Society of Cardiology is receiving a presentation on the increased risk of heart failure occurring in Type II Diabetics over the age of 65 years with an elevated HgbA1C level. The mechanism of the heart failure is still under discussion and being researched and it is believed to be beyond the accepted increased retention of fluid that occurs when you take an oral NSAID. The risk of developing heart failure was increased by almost 50% in Type II Diabetics 65 years of age or older. It was clearly not seen in patients with a normal HgbA1C younger than 65 years of age.

The study was led by Anders Halt, MD, a cardiologist and epidemiologist, who accessed the Danish National Health Registry to obtain his raw data. In his study it was clear that older age and elevated HgbA1C were present in those patients developing heart failure and requiring treatment and/or hospitalization. In Denmark patients were using Diclofenac Sodium and Ibuprofen primarily with few using celexocab or naproxen products.

As we age, we develop joint inflammation and aches and pains that make us reach for an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication frequently. This study raises the question clearly “If you are a Type II diabetic over sixty-five years of age with poorly controlled sugars should you be looking elsewhere than NSAIDs for relief”. Diclofenac sodium is no longer in oral form in the USA, but ibuprofen certainly is. The study clearly outlines the need for exploration of the mechanism of the heart failure. I believe the reason heart failure occurs must be clarified but until that occurs older Type II diabetics should be wary of reaching for an NSAID for relief of aches and pains.

Flu Vaccination May Guard Against Alzheimer’s Dementia

While it is early summer here in North America, most primary care practices have already ordered their influenza vaccine for the fall of 2022. Our practice will be using the “senior” high dose quadrivalent vaccine for patients 65 years of age and older as recommended by the ACIP (American College of Immunization Practices), a division of the CDC.

While experts debate when to administer the vaccine, we prefer to do it between Halloween and Thanksgiving based on when influenza arrives in South Florida and the limited length of protection seniors get from the vaccine. Flu shots can protect against serious infection and hospitalization in most cases.

Avram Bukhbinder, MD, of the University of Texas Medical Center in Houston believes the vaccine also protects seniors against Alzheimer’s disease. His work was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease recently.

His group looked at almost one million influenza vaccinated adults and compared them over time with a similar sized unvaccinated group of senior citizens 65 years of age or older. The median age was 73.7 years and 57% were women. All were free of dementia over the six year “look back period”.

They followed these groups for 46 months and found the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease was 40% lower in the vaccinated group. The paper did not determine why the flu vaccine lowered the risk of developing Alzheimer’s dementia. Dr. Bukhbinder hypothesized that the vaccine may have prevented severe inflammation seen with infection reducing the development of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. An official with the Alzheimer’s Association was quick to point out that possibly those who took flu shots were more health conscious leading to less development of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Further research is warranted but this study provides an additional incentive to obtain your flu shot this fall.

Over-the-Counter Bentrio Approved for Allergic Rhinitis

With the warmer weather and outdoor activities comes more exposure to nasal allergy symptoms. This week the FDA approved an over-the-counter nasal barrier spray to combat inhaled nasal allergies. Called Bentrio, it sprays a clay mineral bentonite which is drug-free, preservative free and forms a thin protective gel layer on the nasal mucosa to prevent contact of allergens with nasal cells. If allergens encounter nasal cells, they begin a chain reaction release of chemicals which can trigger an ongoing allergic reaction for up to 14 days.

The product’s mineral bentonite coating was compared to an existing product using hydroxypropyl methylcellulose in protecting against allergic symptoms after exposure to a known pollen. The Bentrio provided similar relief over a four-hour period. Expect to see this product on the counters of US stores this coming fall.

FDA Approved LabCorp Test for COVID-19, Influenza & RSV

The FDA has approved an at-home testing kit that can differentiate between symptoms of an upper respiratory virus being caused by COVID-19, Influenza A/B or Respiratory Synctial Virus (RSV) . It is called the Pixel by LabCorp COVID-19+Flus+ RSV Test Home Collection Kit. You obtain a nasal swab and send it directly to LabCorp for testing. The results will be sent by an app that can be downloaded to a smartphone or tablet.

Since children returned to school after a prolonged isolation due to the COVID -19 pandemic, we are seeing a large number of viral upper respiratory tract infections in this group, their parents, and caregivers. “Is it COVID-19?” is always the first concern, “but if its not COVID what is it”?  This testing will  allow patients to swab themselves and obtain a diagnosis without having to first go to the doctor for a visit.

I suspect your doctor will still wish to see you or your child prior to prescribing anti-viral therapy once the diagnosis is reported,  but this is the first at-home testing approved for all three virus types. The test can be purchased online at the LabCorp website or at pharmacies.  The retail price has not yet been disclosed.

Shampoos and Allergens

I saw my dermatologist because of an allergic skin condition he called atopic dermatitis or eczema. Dry itching crusty skin is neither fun to live with or fun to look at. He gave me a bunch of hypoallergenic “clean” soaps, creams and shampoos to try.

Ironically, while reading one of my online medical synopsis journals I came upon an article about allergic substances in shampoos. There are apparently traditional shampoos and other shampoos supposedly less allergenic and called “clean.” There are no regulations over the right to claim your product is hypoallergenic or “clean.”

In a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, authored by L. Ghafari and associates, they found that every clean shampoo and 99% of the traditional shampoos contained fragrances. If you are allergic to fragrances, then all of these products can produce irritation or an allergic reaction.

The researchers went to three stores and identified 85 clean shampoos and 124 traditional shampoos . The clean shampoos were less likely to use allergenic chemicals such as methlsothiazolinone than the traditional shampoos. Both types of products used chemicals that are known to be less irritating or allergenic than others, but few were actually “clean”. The moral of the review was that few of the clean shampoos were actually “clean”. If you have sensitive allergic skin then your dermatologist or allergist may have to suggest a prescription product or particular over-the-counter product that is truly hypoallergenic to prevent your skin allergic reaction.

Zinc For Colds This Season?

Two weeks ago, my wife was doing her weekly childcare activity of love watching our two toddler grandchildren while our adult kids were on a business trip. The 3.5-year-old had brought home a viral respiratory infection the week before, gave it to his one-year-old brother and both kids were now in the tail stages of recovering from annoying but not serious illnesses.

In today’s world, coming home from school with a sore throat, runny nose and malaise means tea and honey, warm soup and a COVID-19 test. Both kids were negative but several days later my wife, then I, had similar symptoms. My wife’s symptoms settled in her sinuses and 10 days later her doctor put her on antibiotics and nasal spray. I was fortunately much less symptomatic but still have some nasal congestion and dry cough. We have a commercial preparation of a zinc product to prevent and reduce the symptoms of these infections but did not get around to taking them. In the past the literature wanted us to take these lozenges every two hours and I was not going to set an alarm at night to wake up to suck on a zinc tablet.

Jennifer-Hunter, PhD, from the Western Sydney University and associates studied the questions about zinc products’ effect on preventing and abating the common cold and published their findings in the online version of the BMJ Open on November 1, 2021. They looked at 28 randomized controlled studies with 5,456 patients. Their results showed that oral or intranasal zinc did prevent about 5 infections of those exposed per 100 persons when compared to a placebo. They found that if you challenged healthy individuals with a human rhinovirus inoculation the sublingual zinc did not prevent a clinical cold. Those who continued the zinc tended to have resolution of symptoms two days earlier than those who took placebo. For those who took the zinc prep there were more episodes of nausea and mouth and nose irritation.

I appreciate the science and think I will pass on the zinc for now and stick with avoidance of sick individuals plus chicken soup, tea and honey when I catch the virus anyway.

Aspirin & Heart Disease Prevention Recommendations

In the 1950’s a research paper based on work done at a Veterans Administration Hospital found that men 45 years of age who took a daily aspirin tended to have fewer heart attacks and strokes. The VA patients were mostly male WWII and Korean War Veterans. That was the basis for most of the men in my Baby Boomer generation to take a daily aspirin.

Yes, we knew that aspirin gives us an increased risk of bleeding from our stomach and intestine. And we knew that if we hit our head while on aspirin the amount of bleeding on the brain would be much greater. It was a tradeoff – benefits versus risks.

Over the years the science has advanced to now distinguish those taking aspirin to prevent developing heart disease, cerebrovascular disease or primary prevention and those seeking to prevent an additional health event such as a second heart attack or stroke. To my knowledge there are no studies that examine what happens to someone in their 60a or 70s who has been taking an aspirin for 40 plus years daily and suddenly stops. It’s a question that should be answered before electively stopping daily aspirin.

Over the last few years researchers have hinted that the daily aspirin may protect against developing colorectal cancer and certain aggressive skin cancers. The downside to taking the aspirin has always been the bleeding risk. This data is now being questioned by the USPTF looking for more “evidence.”

The US Preventive Services Task Force was formed in 1984 with the encouragement of employers, private insurers selling managed health care plans and members of Congress to try and save money in healthcare. It is comprised of volunteer physicians and researchers who are supposed to match evidence with medical procedures to ensure that we are receiving high value procedures only.

In 1998 Congress mandated that they convene annually. Under their direction, recommendations were made to stop taking routine chest x rays on adult smokers because it didn’t save or prolong life and it took $200,000 of X Rays to save one life. They reversed their opinion decades later deciding that the math on that study wasn’t quite right and now recommend CT scans on smokers of a certain age and duration of tobacco use. I point this out to emphasize why I am not quite as excited today about their change in aspirin guidelines as the newspaper and media outlet stations seem to be.

I am a never smoker, frequently exercising adult with high blood pressure controlled with medication, high cholesterol controlled with medication and recently diagnosed non obstructive coronary artery disease. What does that mean? At age 45 my CT Scan of my coronary arteries showed almost no calcium in the walls. 26 years later there is enough Calcium seen to increase my risk of a cardiac event to > 10% over the next ten years. I took a nuclear stress test and ran at level 5 with no evidence of a blockage on EKG or films. The calcium in the walls of the arteries however indicates that cholesterol laden foam cells living in the walls of my coronary arteries and moving towards the lumen to rupture and cause a heart attack were thwarted and calcified preventing that heart attack or stroke. I am certainly not going to stop my aspirin.

My thin healthy friend who works out harder than I do told me he doesn’t have heart disease and is going to stop his baby aspirin. I asked him what about his three stents keeping several coronary arteries open? He told me he had heart disease before he got the stents but now he doesn’t. I suggested he talk to his internist or cardiologist prior to stopping the aspirin.

I may take a different path in starting adults on aspirin for cardiovascular and cerebrovascular event protection. I am certainly not going to withdraw aspirin from patients taking it for years unless they are high risk for falls and head trauma or bleeding. I suggest you ask your doctor before considering changing any of your medications.

Try an exercise by writing down all the prescription medicines and next to them list what condition you take them for. Once you have established that information, set up an appointment and talk about it with your physician. The decision-making is much more complicated than the USPTF and headline hungry media discussed and reported.

Walnuts Lowered LDL Cholesterol in Seniors

Emilio Ros, MD, PhD led the Walnuts and Healthy Aging Study (WAHA) looking at healthy seniors in Loma Linda, California and Barcelona, Spain. He followed 636 patients who were randomly assigned to a walnut supplemented diet or walnut free diet.

Senior Citizens who ate a diet supplemented with walnuts lowered their LDL cholesterol significantly.  The walnut supplemented group exhibited a reduction of total cholesterol of 8.5 mg/dl with an LDL cholesterol reduction of 4.3 mg/dl.  Triglycerides and HDL cholesterol were not affected. In addition to lowering cholesterol, Dr. Ros said other studies showed a positive result in lowering blood pressure. 

Christie Ballantyne MD, chief of cardiology at Baylor College of Medicine, and director of cardiovascular disease prevention at Methodist DeBakey Heart Center, said nutritional studies are difficult to complete. The number of participants is usually small and the length of the study short. This study encompassed large numbers over two years in two different locales. 

Dr. Ros commented that adults are always wondering what can they eat as a healthy snack?  Walnuts can now be added to that list.

Influenza Season 2021-2022 is Approaching

The office has ordered enough influenza vaccine for all patients including 65 and older.  Let’s start the discussion by making it very clear that you can take the influenza vaccine at the same time you take the COVID-19 vaccine or booster. Several vaccine companies are actually producing a combination vaccine of COVID-19 and influenza but that product will not be available in the USA this fall.

The next issue to examine is when does influenza A generally arrive in south Florida? In most years we see very little influenza A prior to Thanksgiving . There is a smattering of influenza B primarily in the pediatric population year-round.

The disease arrives earlier north of the Mason Dixon Line but last season due to masking, lockdowns and school closures there was very little spread of the flu. It takes about two weeks to develop immunity after you receive the vaccine so if you are planning on traveling in October and November it pays to research when influenza arrives in the area you are traveling to and get vaccinated two weeks in advance of the trip.

In South Florida the influenza season peaks the last week in January and first weeks in February most years. Think Super Bowl weekend as the most infectious time.

We know that in those 65 years of age or older the protective effects begin to fade at 90 days. For this reason, we advise our senior citizen patients to take the influenza vaccine between Halloween and Thanksgiving. For patients over 65 who already took their flu shot at their pharmacy, we recommend a booster shot in late December or early January. For younger patients, the immunity lasts much longer and, if they choose to take the shot earlier, they should be protected for most of the flu season.

THE VACCINE IS ALREADY IN OUR OFFICE. We will officially start vaccinating in October. Seniors 65 and older will receive a version of the senior high dose quadrivalent vaccine. Younger patients will receive the traditional influenza vaccine. The vaccination will be recorded on Florida Shots – the official vaccination recording site of the State of Florida.