Wellness Blog

Promoting health and wellness throughout our communities


  • Flu Season

    Dear Residents,

    The time of the year has come to talk about the flu.  The flu is short for Influenza, which is a highly contagious, airborne infectious disease of the respiratory track which affects millions of people worldwide in a seasonal manner.  In our neck of the woods, the flu season can vary in timing and severity but it typically starts late December/early January, peaks in February, and dies off in March.  It is not the most common respiratory infection, but is the one that most commonly causes severe complications.  It is estimated the flu on average results in greater than 23,000 deaths and over 200,000 hospitalizations annually in the United States.  Most of these complications happen in children younger than 2 years old, elderly greater than 65 years old, and folks with weakened immune systems from various chronic diseases like asthma, COPD, diabetes, congestive heart failure and other organ failures.  On the economic front, the flu is estimated to cost the U.S. 80 billion dollars a year due to the hospitalizations, doctor visits, and missed time at work.

    The most effective way to combat the flu is the prevent it.  Preventing infection is the best way of avoiding a potentially devastating epidemic, the last of which was seen in 1968 when we had 34,000 flu deaths in the US.  The flu is transmitted mainly through contact with respiratory droplets of an infected person when he/she sneezes or coughs.  Therefore, to minimize transmission it is advised that sick patients stay home, that patients cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing, and that frequent handwashing is practiced throughout the flu season.

    In addition, one should get their flu shot!  There are a lot of reservations out there regarding the flu shot, but the facts are this:

    • Although not always effective, the flu shot has been shown to decrease flu infections on average over 50%.
    • You can get mild symptoms of the flu with the shot, including low fever, muscle aches, and fatigue, but these symptoms pale in comparison to a real case of the flu. Most people who’ve had the flu can attest to the fact that merely getting out of bed is difficult because you are so sick.
    • Being vaccinated contributes to herd immunity, meaning that if enough of a community is vaccinated (typically greater than 80%) the rest of the unvaccinated community acquires indirect protection from the disease.
    • It is especially important for the at-risk population groups I mentioned earlier—young children, elderly, and people with chronic diseases—to get vaccinated simply because a flu infection can be deadly in those patients.

    Now what can you do if you do acquire the flu?  For the most part, you want to treat it like most colds.  You can take over the counter cold medications as needed, drink lots of fluids, and get plenty of rest.  There also is a prescribed medication called Tamiflu to shorten flu symptoms.  This medicine works best the first 48 hours after the onset of symptoms, so try to get to a health care professional during that time period if you can.  At-risk patients should definitely see a health care professional at any time of the illness.  Symptoms of shortness of breath or dehydration are urgent reasons to get seen as well.

    I am crossing my fingers for a mild flu season.  Let’s all do our part to make sure that’s the case, which means going out and getting your flu shot!  We offer them in our clinic to all ages.

    Be well,

    Dr. Lee


  • Dear Residents,

     

    Given the current heat wave and the near future forecast, summer has definitely arrived!  I thought I’d offer a few summer tips:

    • Sunscreen: Needless to say it’s important to protect the skin from the sun’s rays. Specifically, we are talking about ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) waves.  Sunburns can cause severe short term damage/scarring and potential skin cancers in the future.  There are so many kinds of sunscreens out there sometimes it’s hard to choose which one.  Basically, you want to look for three things—SPF 30-50, presence of zinc or titanium oxide (which protect against UVA), and no oxybenzone or retinyl palmitate. (2 chemicals that can be harmful)  It is important to reapply frequently, at least every hour if you will be in the sun for an extended period of time.
    • Sunglasses: In addition to protecting your skin from the sun, it’s important to protect the eyes as well. When choosing sunglasses, again you want to make sure you choose ones that have UVA and UVB protection.  There is no need to purchase super expensive glasses.  As long as the glasses say UVA/UVB protection, you are good to go.
    • Insect repellent: Like sunscreen, there are so many insect repellent choices for the consumer. To make things simple look for repellents with DEET, since it’s been shown to be the most effective repellent available.  For adults you want to get the strongest percentage you can find.  DEET has been shown to be fairly safe on the skin.  The only potential harm is if you ingested a large amount or got it in your eyes.  For this reason, in children it’s recommended to use 10-30% DEET and avoid applying to the hands and face.  I would suggest getting the 30% if you can find it for children, because the protection should last the whole day.  Any percentage less than that you would need to reapply every few hours.

    Happy Summer and Be Well!

    -Dr. Lee


  • Dear Residents,

    I hope everyone enjoyed a joyous holiday season.  It has certainly been a wet winter so far, and one of the consequences of a wet winter in our region is usually an uptick in the number of valley fever cases the subsequent summer.  We saw that last year, when there were over 2000 cases of valley fever.  In this blog, we’ll talk about valley fever, so we can hopefully all be educated on how best to prevent it.

    Valley fever is a fungal infection acquired through the inhalation of the fungi Coccidioides spores.  These spores live in the soil, and the reason that we see more valley fever after a wet winter is because the spores multiply with the abundance of moisture.  A person is infected when they breathe in enough of these spores for the infection to take hold in the respiratory tract.  The way the spores get into the air is by the disturbance of the soil where the spores live.  Typically, this happens when the soil is dry and then is blown up in the air by wind or kicked up in the air mechanically (e.g. by tractors, cars, etc).  This is why a dry summer following a wet winter is the ideal situation for valley fever.  Soil containing large amounts of spores from a wet winter is dry by the summer time, ready to be kicked up into the air.  Naturally, to prevent infection it is wise to stay indoors during dry, windy days and if you have to be outdoors (e.g. farmers) then it’s important to have appropriate respiratory masks to avoid inhalation of the spores.

    As I mentioned, valley fever is acquired through the respiratory tract and primarily infects the respiratory tract.  Therefore, usual symptoms are similar to any other respiratory infection, i.e. cough, congestion, fever.  Obviously, it can be then difficult to distinguish between valley fever and a regular cold.  A good rule of thumb is to get a medical evaluation for colds that don’t improve in 5-7 days and certainly sooner if there is a high fever (>102), extreme lethargy or fatigue.  Valley fever usually only affects the respiratory tract, but occasionally can disseminate to the skin, bones, and the brain, the latter of which would be the most severe case.  These complications are the reason why it’s important to diagnose the infection and initiate treatment early.  Treatment is usually a long course of an anti-fungal medication which in most cases does subdue the active infection.  Unfortunately, once you’ve acquired valley fever it can never be eradicated from the body completely as some spores become dormant, usually in the lungs.

    I hope you found this blog educational. The bottom line is to stay indoors if possible during dry, windy days this coming summer and fall!

     

    Be well,

    Dr. Lee


  • Dear Residents,

    The time of the year has come to talk about the flu.  The flu is short for Influenza, which is a highly contagious, airborne infectious disease of the respiratory track which affects millions of people worldwide in a seasonal manner.  In our neck of the woods, the flu season can vary in timing and severity but it typically starts late December/early January, peaks in February, and dies off in March.  It is not the most common respiratory infection, but is the one that most commonly causes severe complications.  It is estimated the flu on average results in greater than 23,000 deaths and over 200,000 hospitalizations annually in the United States.  Most of these complications happen in children younger than 2 years old, elderly greater than 65 years old, and folks with weakened immune systems from various chronic diseases like asthma, COPD, diabetes, congestive heart failure and other organ failures.  On the economic front, the flu is estimated to cost the U.S. 80 billion dollars a year due to the hospitalizations, doctor visits, and missed time at work.

    The most effective way to combat the flu is the prevent it.  Preventing infection is the best way of avoiding a potentially devastating epidemic, the last of which was seen in 1968 when we had 34,000 flu deaths in the US.  The flu is transmitted mainly through contact with respiratory droplets of an infected person when he/she sneezes or coughs.  Therefore, to minimize transmission it is advised that sick patients stay home, that patients cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing, and that frequent handwashing is practiced throughout the flu season.

    In addition, one should get their flu shot!  There are a lot of reservations out there regarding the flu shot, but the facts are this:

    • Although not always effective, the flu shot has been shown to decrease flu infections on average over 50%.
    • You can get mild symptoms of the flu with the shot, including low fever, muscle aches, and fatigue, but these symptoms pale in comparison to a real case of the flu. Most people who’ve had the flu can attest to the fact that merely getting out of bed is difficult because you are so sick.
    • Being vaccinated contributes to herd immunity, meaning that if enough of a community is vaccinated (typically greater than 80%) the rest of the unvaccinated community acquires indirect protection from the disease.
    • It is especially important for the at-risk population groups I mentioned earlier—young children, elderly, and people with chronic diseases—to get vaccinated simply because a flu infection can be deadly in those patients.

    Now what can you do if you do acquire the flu?  For the most part, you want to treat it like most colds.  You can take over the counter cold medications as needed, drink lots of fluids, and get plenty of rest.  There also is a prescribed medication called Tamiflu to shorten flu symptoms.  This medicine works best the first 48 hours after the onset of symptoms, so try to get to a health care professional during that time period if you can.  At-risk patients should definitely see a health care professional at any time of the illness.  Symptoms of shortness of breath or dehydration are urgent reasons to get seen as well.

    I am crossing my fingers for a mild flu season.  Let’s all do our part to make sure that’s the case, which means going out and getting your flu shot!  We offer them in our clinic to all ages.

    Be well,

    Dr. Lee


  • Back to School Tips

    Dear Residents,

    Back-to-school is an exciting time of the year. A new school year brings the excitement of potential new accomplishments, the sharing of summer stories, the rekindling of friendships, and the start of a new football season! In this spirit, I would like to offer a few back-to-school health care tips.
    Time after school and homework
    Even though a child is going to school, a significant part of their learning still happens at home. What a child does after school, in essence their homework, serves to solidify and engrain what they learned earlier in the day. So it’s important to prioritize homework for a child, which means establishing a period of time and a quiet place without distractions where a child can do homework. As a parent, helping out with homework is a great way to get involved and show interest in a child’s school life. There are few situations where a parent can be too involved. Generally, being engaged and active in a child’s school life sends them the message that school is important and that you value their academic achievements highly.
    Sleep is often overlooked, but becomes more relevant when a child needs to wake up at a certain time to get to school. Children need anywhere from 8-12 hours of sleep a day depending on their age. Getting at least 8 hours of sleep is essential for good academic performance and developmental growth.
    Sports
    An exciting component of school for many students is the chance to participate in sports. There are many sports but all of them share in common some basic things to consider in order to enjoy them to the fullest. Here are some tips for the student athlete:

    1) Eat regularly throughout the day. You need a constant source of calories to be able to perform well athletically. Don’t skip breakfast! On game day, you may want to eat more carbohydrates (pasta, rice, bread, etc.), because these starches are the ones that are mainly used during exercise. Avoid foods high in fat or sugar. A good diet not only helps in sports but in the classroom as well.
    2) Hydrate well before and during sports. Most people underestimate how much fluid and electrolytes they lose when they exercise. There is usually no disadvantage to drinking more than you need, because your kidneys will filter out the excess. However, if you don’t drink enough then you risk dehydration, cramps, and heat stroke. The most available rehydration beverage is a combination of water and Gatorade.
    3) Pay attention to your body. Pain is the body’s way of telling you to stop using that part of it. Injuries are a part of sports, but it is usually not worth playing through them because you prolong the time it takes to recover by doing so. Additionally, you risk re-injuries which are often more severe because of the damage that is already there.
    On behalf of West Side Family Health Care, I wish you all a wonderful, productive, and healthy school year!
    Be Well,
    Dr. Lee


  • Swimmer’s Ear

    Dear Residents,

     

    Another common affliction we see in the summer is Swimmer’s Ear.  Swimmer’s ear refers to an infection of the ear canal, usually because water is retained in the ear after a person submerges their ear into water.  If water sits in the canal, it becomes dirty as germs start to grow in it.  So a couple of quick tips to prevent Swimmer’s ear this summer:

    • 1. Empty your ears of water after swimming. Don’t stick anything like Q-tips inside the ears.  Rather, just put a towel over each ear and shake them a few times towards the ground.  Laying on one side for a couple of minutes also is effective.
    • 2. For people who get frequent swimmer’s ear, make a solution of half vinegar and half rubbing alcohol. Use a bulb syringe to wash your ears with this solution after swimming.  Be sure to empty the solution out the ears with the methods outlined above.
    • 3. Ear plugs to keep water out of the ears can be helpful, but make sure that the ear plugs seal the ear opening completely. Many of them will let some water in and can work to trap the water inside even more.  For this reason, I personally don’t recommend ear plugs to prevent Swimmer’s ear.

    Symptoms of Swimmer’s ear include pain and discharge from the affected ear.  Sometimes, fever may be present.  It is important to distinguish Swimmer’s ear from an inner ear infection, which is an infection of the middle ear behind the eardrum.  Inner ear infections are commonly associated with cough and cold symptoms, whereas Swimmer’s ear is not.  Most Swimmer’s ear cases do need to be treated with antibiotics, so do come see us in clinic if you think you have Swimmer’s ear.

     

    Be Well,

    Dr. Lee


  • Avoid Food Poisoning

    Dear Residents,

    One of the most common illnesses we see in the summer time is gastroenteritis, which is a fancy word for infection of the digestive system. The frequency of this illness during the summertime is probably related to food spoiling more quickly in a hot climate and the popularity of cooking and eating outdoors during this time of the year. In this post, I’m going to discuss how to prevent gastrointestinal infections and how to manage them at home.
    In my last post I mentioned that most infections are caused by viruses, and gastrointestinal infections are no different. Germs that cause infection in the digestive tract are usually transmitted via oral ingestion of products from the digestive tract, e.g. saliva and fecal particles. This is the main reason why you should wash your hands after you use the bathroom. Along the same line of reasoning, washing your hands before you eat is a good idea as well. Germs that cause gastrointestinal infections can also come from the food that you eat. When a food spoils, there is an overgrowth of bacteria in the food. When you get sick from eating spoiled food, it’s because you have ingested too much of this bacteria. Uncooked meats are another source of germs that can cause gastrointestinal infections. There are many bacteria and parasites which reside in uncooked meats. These germs are killed off when the meat is cooked.
    So here are some tips on how to prevent gastrointestinal infections:
    1) Wash your hands after using the bathroom.
    2) Wash your hands before you eat.
    3) Avoid sharing drinks or utensils with someone who is sick.
    4) Pay attention to the expiration date on food and throw away spoiled food.
    5) Cook chicken, pork, and fish/seafood thoroughly. Raw fish served as sushi are OK, as long as the fish is sushi grade. (determined by the FDA) Steaks are OK served rare in the middle, as long as all sides of the steak are cooked. Ground beef should always be thoroughly cooked.

    Now what do you do once you have a gastrointestinal infection? The first thing is to recognize that this is actually what you have. Symptoms of a gastrointestinal infection include fever, abdominal pain, nausea and diarrhea. Severe abdominal pain or nausea may be a sign of something more serious, in which case you should come pay our clinic a visit. Otherwise, most gastrointestinal infections get better on their own and can be managed at home. When you have a gastrointestinal infection, your stomach is irritated and inflamed. You vomit and have diarrhea, because your digestive tract is trying to get rid of the germs that are causing the irritation. Many people have heard of the BRAT diet, which stands for banana/rice/apple/toast. The BRAT diet is an outdated recommendation for gastroenteritis and has been shown to instead prolong symptoms such as diarrhea. A much better thing to do is to actually not eat if you are not hungry. When your digestive system is infected and irritated, letting it rest by not eating helps it recover. If you do feel hungry, eat things free of sugar, fat, and fiber. These ingredients all stimulate the digestive tract which can make things worse. Therefore, foods to avoid are fruits/vegetables, dairy products, and junk food (which you should not eat anyway!). A good diet for gastrointestinal infections is white rice, white bread, saltine crackers, lean meats, and lean soups.
    But perhaps the most important thing when you have a gastrointestinal infection is to drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration is a common consequence of such an infection, because lots of fluids are loss with vomiting and diarrhea. Again, remember to avoid sugar, fat, and fiber in your drinks. So that means no juices, milk, sodas, and even Gatorade. Gatorade is marketed as a rehydration drink, but it is really meant for healthy athletes. It has too much sugar for a person with a gastrointestinal infection. A better rehydration fluid is Pedialyte, which has more electrolytes and less sugar. The way you take fluids when you have a gastrointestinal infection is important as well. Because the stomach is irritated and inflamed during an infection, it is sensitive to the volume of the content in it. So the way to drink when you have a gastrointestinal infection is to take small sips frequently. That means a few small sips every 5 minutes throughout the day. Drinking too much at once will make your stomach reject the fluid and induce vomiting. (This goes for eating as well-small bites every 5 minutes) It is important to pay attention to your hydration status. Signs of dehydration include lethargy, decreased urination (for adults, less than 3 urinations in 24 hours), loose skin, and dry lips. If you think you are getting dehydrated, try to drink more. If that still doesn’t work, then you would need to come to our clinic. Also, another indication to see a doctor is if you can’t hold even small sips of fluids down.
    I hope you’ve found this blog helpful, and I wish you and your family a fun and safe summer!
    Be well,
    Dr. Lee


  • Finish Your Antibiotics

    Dear residents,

    Perhaps the most important medical discovery in the last century was the development of the drug, Penicillin, by Alexander Fleming.  Penicillin gave doctors a powerful way to fight serious infections and ushered in a family of medicines called Antibiotics that would go on to save millions of lives.  As beneficial as these medicines have been, we have begun to realize that there is a potentially catastrophic consequence to using antibiotics too much.  The overuse of antibiotics has created dangerous resistant infectious agents which threaten to thrust the human race back into the pre-antibiotic era where people were killed routinely by simple infections.

    To give you a fundamental background, let’s review the science of what causes infections and how antibiotics play a part in curing disease. Infections are caused by microorganisms, small agents which wreak havoc in the human body.  90-95% of infections are caused by a certain family of these agents called viruses.  Most infections by viruses, i.e. viral infections, do not have a direct cure.  A common example is when you get a simple cold that gets better without any treatment in a few days.  You generally let the viral infection run its course, and during that period make sure you drink enough fluids and sometimes take medicines to provide symptom relief.

    The other main category of infectious microorganisms is called bacteria.  These are the agents that antibiotics target.  I mentioned that 90-95% of infections are caused by viruses, which then implies that only a small percentage of infections are bacterial, i.e. caused by bacteria.  So in theory most patients who get sick and go to the doctor don’t need antibiotics, because antibiotics only target bacteria.  Yet, the reality is that antibiotics are the most prescribed class of medicines for the last 50 years.  An overwhelming number of patients are being prescribed antibiotics when they are not needed.

    The problem with using antibiotics when they are not needed is that bacteria are survivors.  They mutate and adapt to their environment much more easily than most species on Earth.  When we constantly expose bacteria to antibiotics, they eventually find a way to become resistant to them.  This is what we are seeing at an alarming rate.

    Our bodies are actually colonized by bacteria all the time.  These bacteria help certain bodily functions.  For example, bacteria in our gut help us digest food.  When we start killing off these bacteria with antibiotics, they will eventually mutate to survive.  These mutated, resistant, bacteria can overwhelm the body causing serious infections.  If more and more bacteria are becoming resistant to the antibiotics we have, the danger is that we are heading back to the pre-antibiotic age when we had no way to fight even simple infections.  This would lead to disease epidemics which would make Ebola and the Zika virus outbreaks look relatively mild in nature.

    So how can we address this problem of antibiotic resistance?  It starts and ends with education, in the broadest sense.  Everyone, including health care providers, patients, and community leaders need to be informed so that we can all work together to solve this problem.  At Westside Urgent Care, we are making sure our providers are continually updated on the latest antibiotic prescription practices.  Other health care organizations need to do the same.

    As a patient, there are certain things that you can do to combat antibiotic resistance.

    1) Prevent infection in the first place by getting all your vaccinations and practicing infection precautions.  The latter means frequent handwashing throughout the day and staying home when you are sick to avoid spreading disease.

    2) Be knowledgeable about your own health, specifically when to consult a doctor.  This may be challenging to those without a health background, but some good general indications to go see a doctor are a) if you have a fever 102 or greater, b) if you’ve had a fever for more than 3 days, c) if you have not gotten better in general in a week, and d) if you are weak enough you cannot get out of bed.  If you are still not sure, a viable option is always to call your doctor to get some phone advice before coming in.

    3) When you do end up in the doctor’s office and are given an antibiotic, make sure you have the provider tell you exactly what they are treating and if there are alternative options such as waiting to start the antibiotic.  Many times, even bacterial infections get better on their own without antibiotics.

    I hope you have found this blog helpful.  If you would like to learn more about the issue of antibiotic resistance, here is an informative video.

    If you have any questions or comments, please use our ‘Contact Us’ link on our website and I will respond to them by adding to this blog.

    Be Well,
    Dr. Lee


  • Greetings From Dr. Lee

    Dear West Side residents,

    Greetings!  I am very excited to serve as Medical Director of Westside Health Care District.  This is the first of regular postings I will make in an effort to promote health and wellness throughout our communities.  In these postings, I will discuss up-to-date medical topics as well as keep you informed of what we are doing at the District to address your health needs.

    We have a lot of work to do.  According to the most recent Community Needs Assessment conducted by the Kern County Department of Public Health in 2013, Kern County needs to improve in just about all health statistics measured.  Compared to other California counties, Kern County lags in major categories such as prevalence of obesity, complication rates due to diabetes/heart disease/stroke, rate of low birth weight babies, and hospitalization rates due to asthma.  When the data is broken down by zip codes, Taft and surrounding areas rank even lower relative to other areas in Kern County.

    It’s evident that we can strive to be healthier.  The question is how to go about it.  I believe that we need to take a comprehensive approach to health, that is to address the needs of people when they are both sick AND well.  We need to have state-of-the-art medical care for folks who are sick, but also effective care to KEEP people from getting sick.  Preventing illness means having adequate primary care services where folks can get their routine checkups, screenings, and vaccinations.  Preventing illness also means providing available and effective health education.  Making sure people can make informed decisions on nutrition and lifestyle is the essence of health.

    At Westside Health Care District, we want to the be the leader in health care for the west side communities.  We already have an urgent care clinic open every day of the year which offers high quality care for your sick needs, but we recognize the need for preventative services.  We are working to provide primary care services for the entire family including specialty care for women and children.  Our vision for the near future also includes occupational medicine services and community wellness initiatives.

    I am looking forward to improving the health of all of our communities.  There is a lot to do, but I am confident that we will be successful.  Thank you for taking the time to learn about our organization and please check back on our website frequently for updated postings and information.

     

    Be Well,
    Dr. Lee