Allergies Worsening Due to Climate Change

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and the World Asthma Organization just concluded their joint congress in Orlando, Florida. One of the topics of concern is how climate change is making everyone’s allergy symptoms much worse.

We read about more powerful hurricanes and cyclones, seasonal tornadoes occurring out of season, horrible beach erosion and flooding due to large volume rains, lack of rain causing poor harvests leading to waves of migration for survival for animals and humans. Climate change also exacerbates allergy symptoms. Nelson A. Rosario, MD, PhD, professor of pediatrics at Federal University of Parana (Brazil) discussed longer pollen season and increased allergens caused by fallen trees and ripped up plants, mold growing following flooding and irritants in the air due to wildfires. An international survey in 2015 found that 80% of rhinitis patients blamed their symptom exacerbations on climate change items. Pollen seasons have more than doubled in some areas.

The argument should not be about whether climate change is due to cyclical planetary changes or man-made pollutants. It should be about what we can do as a society to maintain economic growth while limiting man made contribution to adverse climate changes. The health and survival consequences of not addressing this issue will ultimately involve our survival as a species.

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More on Shingrix, the Shingles Vaccine

Recently, the FDA approved a new shingles vaccine called Shingrix. It is a two shot series with the suggestion made that the second shot should be taken 2 – 6 months after the first one. Shingrix will replace the original shingles vaccine Zostavax. Shingrix is recommended in all patients over 50 years old.

For those of you who have had the original shot, Zostavax, the new vaccine is still recommended. It is covered by Medicare Part D which means you must take it in a pharmacy or walk in center not in your doctor’s office. While this makes NO sense, it is the rule. If you have had shingles it is still recommended you take the new vaccine (Shingrix).

Shingles is a skin rash and painful skin condition caused by the chicken pox virus Varicella. When you have chicken pox and complete the infection course you are immune but the virus remains alive forever, living in sensory nerve endings along the spinal cord. One third of adults will have an outbreak of this varicella virus which will appear along the path of a sensory nerve or dermatome on one side of your body. It will go through the full cycle of rash, pustule and then scab that the chicken pox did. A significant number of patients will continue to have pain over the involved skin for prolonged time periods in what we call post herpetic neuralgia. The pain is described as severe as an eye scrape, passing a kidney stone or going through labor and delivery.

The original shingles vaccine, Zostavax, protected against the rash 51% of the time and against post herpetic neuralgia 67% of the time. This efficacy dropped to about 30% after four years. The new vaccine, Shingrix protects against the rash over 90% of the time and against the pain syndrome 85-90% of the time while lasting for more than four years.

Only five percent (5%) of patients receiving Shingrix develop side effects. The most common are fever, myalgia and chills. In view of this, I am suggesting to my patients we allow the vaccine to be on the U.S. market for a year to see the adverse event profile and, if safe, we then start the series of shots.

Extreme Exercise Tied to Gut Damage

I was out doing my morning two mile trot on an unseasonably cool late spring morning in South Florida. The crispness of the day, coupled with unexplained lack of my normal warm up aches and pains made me particularly frisky. I had walked the dog for a few miles slowly, then engaged in my normal pre-run stretching routine and felt unusually energetic and fluid. I was enjoying the outdoors and weather, while listening to music on my play list and struggling to stay within the parameters of speed, pace, and target heart rate appropriate for a 67 year old man. The inner competitor within me was screaming, “You feel great, go for it.” Moderation and common sense are always the great traits to keep exercising and not injured. The inner stupid competitor in me said pick up the pace. I did pick up the pace. I completed my course far quicker than usual. I performed my cool down and stretching routine and was feeling pretty cocky about doing more than I should when I heard that rumble in my gut and saw the distention begin. The distention was followed by cramps, gas and profuse uncomfortable loose stools for several hours. My gut was sore and my appetite was gone.

I mention this after reading an article review in MedPage Today about a publication in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics published by Ricardo J.S. Costa, M.D., of Monash University in Victoria, Australia. He and his colleagues showed that exercise intensity was a main regulator of gastric emptying rate. Higher intensity meant causing more disturbances in gastric motility. High intensity exercise at a rate you are not used to for a period of time longer than you usually exercise leads to gut problems including all the issues I experienced. Low to moderate physical activity was found to be beneficial especially to patients, like myself, suffering over the years from irritable bowel syndrome.

The researchers found that ultra- endurance athletes competing in hot ambient temperatures running in multi stage continuous 24 hour marathons were far more likely to develop exercise associated GI symptoms than individuals running a less intense half marathon. The results are fairly clear for us non ultra-endurance athletes. There is great wisdom in regular moderate exercise to keep your effort within the parameters your physician and trainer recommend based on your age and physical training. Even if it’s a cool crisp day and you feel that extra surge of adrenaline and competitiveness, moderation is best for your health and your gut. I hope the competitor in me remembers that the next time the urge to push the limit pops up.

CDC and ACP: Stop Prescribing Antibiotics for Common Respiratory Infections

The Affordable Health Care Act has created patient satisfaction surveys which can affect a physician’s reimbursement for services rendered plus their actual employment by large insurers and health care systems. This has created a fear of not giving patients something or something they want at visits for colds, sore throats and other viral illnesses. Aaron M Harris, MD, MPH, an internist and epidemiologist with the CDC noted that antibiotics are prescribed at 100 million ambulatory visits annually and 41% of these prescriptions are for respiratory conditions. The unnecessary use of antibiotics has resulted in an increasing number of bacteria developing resistance to common antibiotics and to a surge in Emergency Department visits for adverse effects of these medications plus the development of antibiotic related colitis. To address the issue of overuse of antibiotics, Dr Harris and associates conducted a literature review of evidence based data on the use of antibiotics and its effects and presented guidelines for antibiotic use endorsed by the American College of Physicians and the Center for Disease Control.

  1. Physicians should not prescribe antibiotics for patients with uncomplicated bronchitis unless they suspect pneumonia are present”. Acute bronchitis is among the e most common adult outpatient diagnoses, with about 100 million ambulatory care visits in the US per year, more than 70% of which result in a prescription for antibiotics.” The authors suggested using cough suppressants, expectorants, first generation antihistamines, and decongestants for symptom relief.
  2. Patients who have a sore throat (pharyngitis) should only receive an antibiotic if they have confirmed group A streptococcal pharyngitis. Harris group estimates that antibiotics for adult sore throats are needed less than 2% of the time but are prescribed at most outpatient visits for pharyngitis. Physicians say it is quicker and easier to write a prescription than it is to explain to the patient why they do not need an antibiotic.
  3. Sinusitis and the common cold result in overprescribing and unnecessary use of antibiotics often. Over four million adults are diagnosed with sinusitis annually and more than 80% of their ambulatory visits result in the prescribing of an antibiotic unnecessarily. “ Treatment with antibiotics should be reserved for patients with acute rhinosinusitis who have persistent symptoms for more than ten days, nasal discharge or facial pain that lasts more than 3 consecutive days and signs of high fever with onset of severe symptoms. They also suggest patients who had a simple sinusitis or cold that lasted five days and suddenly gets worse (double sickening) qualified for an antibiotic

Last year two patients in the practice who were treated with antibiotics prescribed elsewhere for situations outside the current guidelines developed severe antibiotic related colitis. They presented with fever, severe abdominal pain and persistent watery bloody diarrhea. Usual treatment with oral vancomycin and cholestyramine did not cure the illness. One patient lost thirty pounds, the other sixty pounds. Fecal transplants were required to quell the disease. At the same time community based urine infections now require a change in antibiotic selection because so many of the organisms are now resistant to the less toxic, less expensive , less complicated antibiotics that traditionally worked.

“My doctor always gives me an antibiotic and I know my body and what it needs,” can no longer be the criteria for antibiotic use.

Cold and Flu Season Coming

As we head into fall and winter we see an increase in the number of viral respiratory illnesses in the community. Most of these are simple self-limited infections that healthy individuals can weather after a period of a few days to a week of being uncomfortable from runny noses, sinus congestion, sore throats, coughs, aches and pains and sometimes fever. There are studies out of Scandinavia conducted in extreme cold temperature environments that show that taking an extra gram of Vitamin C per day reduces the number of these infections and the severity and duration in elite athletes and Special Forces military troops. Starting extra vitamin C once you develop symptoms does little to shorten the duration or lessen the intensity of the illness. Vigorous hand washing and avoidance of sick individuals helps as well. Flu shots prevent viral influenza and should be taken by all adults unless they have a specific contraindication to influenza. A cold is not the flu or influenza. Whooping cough or pertussis vaccination with TDap should be taken by all middle aged and senior adults as well to update their pertussis immunity. We often see pictures of individuals wearing cloth surgical masks in crowded areas to prevent being exposed to a viral illness. Those cloth surgical masks keep the wearers secretions and “germs” contained from others but do nothing to prevent infectious agents others are emitting from getting through the pores of the mask and infecting them. If you wish to wear a mask that is effective in keeping infectious agents out then you need to be using an N95 respirator mask.

Once you exhibit viral upper respiratory tract symptoms care is supportive. If you are a running a fever of 101 degrees or higher taking Tylenol or a NSAID will bring the fever down. Staying hydrated with warm fluids, soups and broths helps. Resting when tired helps. Most adults do not “catch” strep throat unless they are exposed to young children usually ages 2-7 that have strep throat. Sore throats feel better with warm fluids, throat lozenges and rest.

You need to see your doctor if you have a chronic illness such as asthma , COPD, heart failure or an immunosuppressive disease which impairs your immune system and you develop a viral illness with a fever of 100.8 or higher. If your fever is 101 or greater for more than 24 hours it is the time to contact your doctor. Breathing difficulty is a red flag for the need to contact your physician immediately.

Most of these viral illnesses will make you feel miserable but will resolve on their own with rest, common sense and plenty of fluids.

Adult Sore Throats 2015 – 2016 Flu Season

Robert Centor, M.D., of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, performed the definitive study on adult sore throats showing that 10% or less of adult sore throats are caused by bacteria particularly Group A Streptococcus . He went on to prove that bacterial Strep throats were accompanied by a cough, large swollen and tender lymph nodes, a temperature greater than 100.4 and an exudate on your tonsils. The disease is primarily seen in children age 2-7 and those who care for them and play with them. In adults who did not meet the criteria of having a cough, swollen and enlarged lymph nodes, a temperature of 100.4 and a tonsillar exudate, a rapid streptococcus throat swab was accurate 100 % of the time. If the quick strep analysis is negative you do not have a strep throat and do not require an antibiotic. We had two patients this past fall who did not meet the criteria of Dr. Centor, did not have the physical findings consistent with a strep throat, had a negative quick strep throat swab but upon performing a traditional throat culture were found to be positive for Group a Beta Hemolytic Streptococcus requiring antibiotics. Why did the discrepancy occur? According to the manufacturer they had to recall a batch of diagnostic material that was ineffective. Both patients were placed on antibiotics soon after their clinical course did not follow the path of a viral infection and both did well.

Most adult sore throats and colds do not require antibiotics. We reserve them for patient with debilitating chronic illnesses especially advanced pulmonary, cardiac and neurologic disease patients. With influenza season on the horizon we will continue to assess patient’s clinically using history, exam, quick strep throat swabs and traditional microbiological throat cultures where appropriate. I will continue to prescribe antibiotics where necessary but must admit, last years’ experience opened my eyes to a more liberal approach with the prescribing of antibiotics for simple sore throats.

Influenza Vaccine 2015- 2016 Season

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that all adult s receive the flu shot vaccination this coming fall. Our supply of flu vaccine is expected to arrive by September 1, 2015 and we will begin administering the vaccine shortly thereafter. This season there will be three types of intramuscular injectable flu vaccines available. All will contain a non-live attenuated version of the flu viruses. The Senior High Dose vaccine is recommended for all adults 65 years of age or older. The Trivalent or Quadrivalent vaccine is suggested for younger adults. The vaccine will contain 3 antigens including: an A/California/7/2009 H1N1 pdm09- like virus, an A/Switzerland/9715293/2013 H3N2 like virus and a B/Phuket/3073/2013 like virus. It is called a trivalent vaccine because it contains three virus types. The Quadrivalent Vaccine will contain a fourth antigen B/Brisbane/60/2008 like virus.

Please call the office to set up an appointment for your vaccination. Once you have received the vaccine it takes about ten to fourteen days for your body to develop antibodies against the flu. Influenza begins to appear in the northern United States in late October. The season can run through February into March. In South Florida we see little flu prior to Thanksgiving with the disease peaking in late January early February. Immunity in younger healthier patients will last throughout the flu season. Older and sicker individuals see their immunity decrease over time lasting as short a period as 3-4 months in some. The shortened immunity in seniors is the reason we usually suggest they receive the vaccine between Halloween and Thanksgiving. If you have any questions please call the office.

Flu Vaccine will be available at most commercial pharmacies as well as our office and at many workplaces. Please let us know if and when you obtain the vaccine elsewhere and tell us which of the vaccines you received.

I am often asked about adverse reactions and side effects of the vaccine. It is a dead virus. It cannot give you influenza. A successful vaccine will produce some redness, warmth and swelling at the injection site. That means that your immune system is working and reacting appropriately to the injected material. If this occurs put some ice on it and take two acetaminophen. Feel free to call us or set up an appointment to be seen that day so we can evaluate the injection site.