Making Sense of the Corona Virus Outbreak in China

The news media has been extensively covering the outbreak of a new virus that causes upper respiratory symptoms. What is known is that it probably originated in bats in a cave and passed through animals and is now infectious to human beings.

The first cases were reported as originating in a fish market in Wuhan, China that illegally sold exotic animals as well. Sources have reported on this new illness for months with much of the information being suppressed by the Chinese government.

Wuhan, China is home to a first-class, state-of-the art virology research lab. That lab’s main researcher has been urging infectious disease experts to evaluate these corona viruses for years while receiving little reward for her efforts. She reports that the previous epidemic of SARS is caused by a corona virus as well.

At this point, researchers from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) are attempting to obtain enough information to evaluate how much of a threat this new illness represents. We do not yet publicly know the exact incubation period. We do not know the length of time an individual is a contagious carrier prior to symptoms developing. Some have claimed you are contagious for about two weeks before symptoms appear. This is not consistent with a Vietnamese visitor to Wuhan who returned home ill and his family in Vietnam were all ill with the new coronavirus within three days. We do not know how aggressive this disease is yet.

Are the fatalities from it primarily in the infirm, very young and very old or does the disease strike down the fittest and healthiest as well? Are the deaths in China due to the lack of availability of modern health care, respiratory treatments and medications?

More information should be forthcoming soon. An evacuation of 200 Americans from Wuhan this week, to a military base in Riverside, California, for a voluntary quarantine should provide valuable data. These frightened but responsible individuals will be monitored and treated and studied.

Of interest to me was an article in the NY Times weekend edition by a “medical historian” who outlined the lack of success in containing infectious diseases we have had when no medications or treatments for these diseases existed. As I read it, I kept thinking that while the quarantines were certainly not 100% effective, what data exists to predict the infection severity and mortality that would have occurred if the quarantines had not been put in place?

As a doctor who regularly sees individuals with acute upper respiratory illness, I am comfortable with the CDC’s initial recommendations of avoiding travel to China, hand washing, wearing a mask and taking a travel history on your patients presenting with upper respiratory tract symptoms.

For those of you looking for more information on the new Corona Virus I suggest accessing the online infectious disease newsletter produced by the University of Minnesota School of Medicine called CIDRAP at http://www.CIDRAP.com. They cover this illness, Ebola, SARS, MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) Bird Flu, food poisoning outbreaks due to infectious agents and other infectious diseases worldwide. If you read that newsletter you will be informed, and frightened, by the reality of what is out there.

Flu Shot Campaign Begins

As school bells ring out announcing a new school year and pigskins fly through the air announcing the arrival of a new football season, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) begins its annual influenza vaccine campaign.  “Flu” or influenza is a viral illness associated with fever, severe muscle aches, general malaise and respiratory symptoms.  Most healthy children and adults can run a fever for 5 – 7 days and fight off the infection over a 10 day to three week period.  There is clearly a long period of malaise and debilitation in many that lasts for weeks after the acute febrile illness resolves.

The illness is especially severe and often lethal in the elderly, in infants, in patients with asthma and chronic lung disease and in those patients who have a weakened immune system due to disease or cancer treatments. Diabetics and heart patients are particularly vulnerable to the lethal effects of unchecked influenza.

The CDC recommends vaccinating all Americans over six years old against influenza.  Adults can receive an injection, or a nasal application.  The 2012 – 2013 vaccine has been updated from the 2011 – 2012 version based on samplings of current influenza viruses spreading around the world.   It takes about two weeks to develop antibodies and immunity to influenza after you receive the vaccination.  If you received the vaccine last season or had the flu last season you are still advised to receive the 2012 – 2013 vaccine this year because immunity fades with time.  Flu vaccine should have arrived in most physician offices and community health centers and pharmacies by mid- August.  The CDC advises taking the shot as soon as it is available.

The vaccines used are not live viruses so one cannot catch the flu from the vaccine. Side effects usually include warmth and tenderness at the injection site and rarely general malaise and low grade fever a day or so later.  The benefits of receiving the vaccine far outweigh these minor and rare ill effects which can be treated with an ice pack to the injection site and some acetaminophen.  Please call your doctor to set up an appointment for a flu vaccine.

For those individuals who catch the flu we still have several antiviral agents available to treat the illness. These agents should decrease the intensity or severity and duration of the flu. We try to use these medicines as infrequently as possible because the flu can develop resistance to them over time.

Prevention of disease is an ever increasing component of our everyday language. Vaccination against an infectious disease such as flu or influenza is clearly one of the more effective preventive strategies physicians have available to offer patients.  While you are making arrangements to receive your flu shot inquire about several other effective adult vaccines including Pneumovax to prevent bacterial pneumonia, Zostavax to prevent shingles and post herpetic neuralgia and Tdap to prevent whooping cough or pertussis and tetanus.

United States Preventive Care Can Be Better, Center for Disease Control Says

Ralph Coates, PhD of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) described in the June 15, 2012 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that by looking back at a U.S. study done between 2007-2010 called “Use of Selected Clinical Preventive Services among Adults,” health providers need to do a more comprehensive job of offering preventive services.

According to the report, only 47% of patients with documented heart and vascular disease were given a recommendation to use aspirin for prevention. They additionally found that only 44% had their blood pressure under control. When looking at cholesterol and lipid control only 33% of the men and 26% of the women were tested with a blood lipid test in the last five years.  Of those patients who did measure their lipid levels, only 32% of the men and women surveyed had their lipids under control. Among diabetics, 13% had poor sugar control with a HgbA1C > 9 (goal is 6-8).

The data indicate that at 37% of the visits, patients weren’t asked about their smoking or tobacco status.  When patients were asked, and answered that they were smoking, only 21% were given smoking cessation counseling and only 7.6 % were prescribed medications or a way to stop smoking.

Screening for cancer needs improvement as well. Twenty percent of women between the ages of 50-74 had not had a mammogram in over two years.  In the same age group, a third of the patients were not current on screening for colon and rectal cancer.

The data was collected prior to the passage of the controversial Affordable Care Act. When the data was analyzed and divided according to socioeconomic status, education level, and health insurance status; it was clear that the poorest and least educated had the fewest screenings. It is hoped that with passage of the new health care law, and new insight by health insurers that it is cheaper to prevent a disease than treat it, these numbers will improve.

There are several other factors that need to be looked at as well. Data is now being collected from electronic medical health records.

I ask my patients about tobacco status on every patient visit.  When I note that the patient is smoking in their electronic health record, there are three or four ways to document counseling has been offered. Only one of them triggers the audit data for the government to review. Our software instructors were unaware of that when they taught us to use the system.  How much of this study is the result of data collection error is unknown.  “Health care providers” – not just physicians, are now delivering health care.

Access to physicians and a shortage of primary care physicians exacerbate the problem. It takes time to extract this information, record it, and counsel the patient. Because PCPs are underpaid, they will continue to see patients in high volumes to cover their expenses, causing the use of comprehensive preventative questioning to remain low.

I Lost 52 Pounds And Feel Fantastic!

Patients have noticed my recent 52 pound weight loss but, for the most part, have been reluctant to approach me to discuss it. I’m sure many have wondered if this was a planned weight loss or the result of a serious illness.

Let me bring clarity to any concerns. My weight loss was planned as part of a lifestyle improvement program and, as a result of my commitment, I now feel great!

Like many Americans, I had accumulated extra pounds due to poor food choices, large portions and poor health habits. Finally, I decided to get healthy BEFORE I became ill and my doctor insisted on it.  I established certain criteria in choosing a weight loss program. It had to be safe, effective and rapid. I did not want medications or injections to be involved. Any program I was to consider had to have a proven safety record with no patients becoming ill.  There needed to be a sane transition program and maintenance program to teach me how to prevent regaining the weight rapidly and how to move on and live a healthy future life.

After much research I found the Take Shape for Life Program (www.tsfl.com).  Clinical studies by Johns Hopkins, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other organizations have proven the effectiveness of this program.  It has been recommended by over 20,000 doctors.

Take Shape For Life provides a network of ongoing behavioral support, education and other tools while using the nutritionally-sound Medifast meal replacements.

TSFL participants eat six small meals per day – all of which are low in fat and sugar but rich in protein and nutrients.  The five daily small Medifast meal replacements are supplied by TSFL and are eaten every two to three hours along with one lean and green meal that you prepare yourself.  These small frequent meals keep you from becoming hungry and getting cravings. As part of the program you have access to a free health coach / guide / cheerleader who assists with recipes, lifestyle tips and helps order product. The low average monthly cost to participate in the TSFL program is about $315.

I started the program in mid January and reached my goal weight in just four months. I am now working on transitioning to the maintenance program. My lovely wife is also participating in the TSFL program and has over 40 pounds to date.

I suggest those of you who are struggling to lose weight discuss it with me.  The program is perfect for diabetics, hypertensives, individuals with heart disease and individuals with gluten sensitive enteropathy.

Please contact me with any questions you may have, to request information or, to begin your journey to achieving optimal health by enrolling in Take Shape For Life.