Roundup: Flu Season Off to a Busy Start, CDC Urges Vaccinations

Early signs point to a rough 2017-2018 flu season, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting twice as many cases of influenza so far, compared to last season.

Flu seasons normally peak in February and can last through May. The flu is already widespread in four states, including Georgia, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Massachusetts, the CDC says. About 90 percent of U.S. states report local, regional or widespread flu activity. The CDC — and primary care physicians — say the best protection against influenza is to get your annual flu shot.

Sinus and ear infections are examples of moderate complications from flu, while pneumonia is a serious flu complication that can result from either an influenza virus infection alone or from co-infection with the flu virus and bacteria, the CDC says.

The effectiveness of this year’s flu vaccine has come into question in some media reports. On average, past flu vaccines have been about 42 percent effective, but that number changes with every season. The flu vaccine is still considered vital protection, especially for the most vulnerable individuals.

People at high risk for complications from the flu include:

  • Pregnant women.
  • Children younger than 5 years old, but especially children younger than 2 years old.
  • People 65 years of age and older.
  • People of any age who have certain medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease.

The CDC also urges people to take preventive actions to protect themselves and loved ones from the flu, such as:

  • Avoid close contact with sick people.
  • While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
  • If you are sick, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, except to get medical care or other necessities.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

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Low-Dose Contraceptives Can Also Increase Breast Cancer Risk

Despite the development of pills, IUDs (intrauterine devices) and implants with lower amounts of hormones, women who take hormone-based contraceptives may still be at a slightly increased risk of getting breast cancer, according to a new research study published in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

In one of the largest studies to-date of hormone-based contraception, Danish researchers followed 1.8 million women, ages 15 to 49, over 11 years to conclude that taking hormonal contraception – even one of the low-dose alternatives – is associated with an approximate 20 percent increased chance of developing breast cancer, compared to women who opt for non-hormonal birth control methods.

Despite the slightly elevated risk, the researchers note that the overall risk of getting breast cancer by taking hormonal contraception was still very small, especially for women who take it in their teens, 20s and 30s. Most of the cases of breast cancer that developed were in women who took the hormonal contraception in their 40s, notes epidemiologist David Hunter, of the University of Oxford, and author of an editorial that accompanied the study published in NEJM.

The study, which was funded with a grant from Novo Nordisk Foundation, included review of oral contraceptives, IUDs, implants, patches and vaginal ring products that contain either estrogen and progestin, or a combination of the two hormones.  Of the 140 million women worldwide who use hormonal contraception, about 13 percent of them are between the ages of 15 and 49 years, the study noted.

The study also found that even after stopping using hormonal contraception, the slightly elevated risk of breast cancer continued for women who had taken it for five or more years.

In weighing the pros and cons of oral contraception in particular, health officials note that oral contraceptives can help prevent certain types of cancer. Studies have shown that women who take oral contraceptives can reduce their risk of ovarian, endometrial and now perhaps colorectal cancer, as some recent research suggests.

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Aggressive Weight Loss Can Reverse Diabetes, Study Reports

Type 2 diabetes is a serious chronic condition that affects 422 million people worldwide and it is becoming more widespread in the United States as the obestiy epidemic shows few signs of slowing.

Doctors have normally treated diabetes with medications that help maintain safe blood sugar levels. But more physicians are also strongly urging diabetes patients to adopt lifestyle changes, primarily healthier eating habits and regular exercise, to help get off medications and more effectively control blood glucose levels.

According to a new study published in the Lancet, researchers in the United Kingdom found that people with diabetes went into remission—just by losing weight. Almost half of those studied were diabetics who undertook a six-month diet plan. They lost an average of 30 pounds and went into remission — meaning they no longer had diabetes. None of the participants took medications during the six months to control their disease, instead relying on weight loss alone.

“Remission of type 2 diabetes is a practical target for primary care,” researchers concluded.

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