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Fri, Sep 18 3:30pm · Who should get the flu vaccine and when?

a calendar of dates with a needle on the paper and a flu shot reminder written on the page

Public health experts are urging the people to ensure they are properly vaccinated against the flu, citing it’s doubly important this season because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Priya Sampathkumar, an infectious diseases specialist says she is often asked who should get vaccinated and the best time of year to do so. She answers those questions and more in this Q and A.

Watch: Dr. Priya Sampathkumar talks about flu vaccine.

Journalists: Sound bites with Dr. Priya Sampathkumar are in the downloads at the end of the post. Please courtesy: Mayo Clinic News Network.”

Q: Why is it so important to get the flu vaccine, especially this season?

A: The flu vaccine does not protect you against coronavirus. But this year, it’s really important to get the flu vaccine because if you do get the flu, it will be really hard to tell flu and COVID infection apart. It is going to result in anxiety on your part. It is also going to result in a need for testing for both flu and for influenza and potentially quarantine and inconvenience. It is important that you do everything you can to stay healthy and not get the flu at all. 

Q: Who should get the flu vaccine?

A: It is really simple. Everybody over the age of 6 months should be getting the flu vaccine unless they have an allergy to the component of the vaccine, which is actually very infrequent. Even egg allergies are no longer considered a contraindication to the vaccine.

Q: When is the best time to get a flu vaccine?

A: You need to get the flu vaccine at least two weeks prior to the onset of flu activity in your region, and that can vary from place to place.

In the Midwest, typically, flu doesn’t start until about the last week in December, and then it can go through the end of March. The vaccine takes about two weeks to induce an immune response, so you should get it two weeks before–by the first week of December.

Q: Is there ever a time that is too early to get the flu vaccine?

A: For most people, no. You can get it as soon as the flu vaccine becomes available. For immunosuppressed patients and of the elderly, sometimes the effect of the vaccine can wane in six months. For instance, if you get it in August, you may not be protected in March, and that’s when flu is still circulating. So, there’s a little bit of concern about that, but I would urge people to get it when it’s available. 

Q: Why do we need to get a new flu vaccine every year?

A: The flu virus is a virus that is constantly evolving. It goes through what are called mutations all the time. Between one year and the next, the flu virus undergoes changes, and that’s why we need to give you a new vaccine every year. Every year, the flu vaccine has four different strains that are collected from all over the world. Public health authorities pick the ones they think are most likely to cause infection.  

Related posts:

Information in this post was accurate at the time of its posting. Due to the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientific understanding, along with guidelines and recommendations, may have changed since the original publication date

For more information and all your COVID-19 coverage, go to the Mayo Clinic News Network and mayoclinic.org.

Tue, Sep 8 9:37am · Mayo Clinic Minute: How COVID-19 has changed alcohol use

Life has changed dramatically since March, when communities began enacting stay-at-home orders to help slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. As many restaurants and bars closed, at-home alcohol sales went up, according to data compiled by Nielsen

Dr. Victor Karpyak, a Mayo Clinic psychiatrist and addiction researcher, says using alcohol to celebrate or relieve stress is an age-old human trait, but overusing alcohol as a coping mechanism during these difficult times has consequences. 

Watch: The Mayo Clinic Minute

Journalists: Broadcast-quality video (0:59) is in the downloads at the end of this post.  Please courtesy “Victor Karpyak, M.D./ Psychiatry/ Mayo Clinic.” Read the script.

If you are closing your computer at the end of a work day and reaching for the liquor cabinet, chances are you’re not alone.

How much is too much though?

Current recommendations are no more than 14 drinks per week and no more than four drinks per occasion for men, and, for women, no more than seven drinks per week and no more than three drinks per occasion.

“If it becomes three or four drinks today and it is again three or four drinks tomorrow, then very easily we start to hit above the weeklong threshold, and this is what needs to be an alarming sign,” says Dr. Karpyak.

An escalating pattern of drinking may be a potential sign of alcohol abuse and development of addiction, which affects relationships as well as the body.

“There is no organ or system which is not impacted by chronic and significant alcohol use.”

Alcohol-related liver disease is perhaps the most familiar problem, along with acute and chronic pancreatic disease and heart-related damage.

“And, as a psychiatrist, I can tell you that there is a lot of negative impact that long-term significant alcohol use has on brain tissue.”

Next time you want to reach for a cold one, consider reaching out to a friend to help ease the stress of the day.

Information in this post was accurate at the time of its posting. Due to the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientific understanding, along with guidelines and recommendations, may have changed since the original publication date

Check the CDC website for additional updates on COVID-19. For more information and all your COVID-19 coverage, go to the Mayo Clinic News Network and mayoclinic.org.

Thu, Sep 3 1:36pm · Tips to avoid food poisoning during COVID-19

a picnic on the grass with sandwiches, chips, fruits and vegetable on a blanket

The upcoming Labor Day weekend may be the unofficial end to summer cookouts and barbecues. It’s also a good reminder that food safety should be a priority to keep you and your family safe from infection. 

There are many sources of disease-causing germs that can cause a foodborne illness, including bacteria, viruses and parasites. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is no evidence to suggest that handling food or consuming food is associated with the virus that causes COVID-19.

Four common germs that can lead to illness are:

  • Clostridium perfringens
    These bacteria can be found in meats, stews and gravies. Infection can happen when foods are prepared in large quantities and kept warm for a long time before serving.
  • Norovirus
    The virus can affect raw, ready-to-eat produce and shellfish from contaminated water, and may be spread by an infected food handler. 
  • Salmonella
    Foods associated with the bacteria include raw or contaminated meat, poultry, milk, or egg yolks. It can be spread by knives, cutting surfaces or an infected food handler.
  • E. coli
    These bacteria are spread mainly by undercooked ground beef. Other sources include unpasteurized milk and apple cider, alfalfa sprouts, and contaminated water.

Preventing a foodborne illness can start in the kitchen. Learn more from Dr. Pritish Tosh, a Mayo Clinic infectious diseases specialist.

Watch: The Mayo Clinic Minute

Journalists: Broadcast-quality video (0:59) is in the downloads at the end of this post. Please “Courtesy: Mayo Clinic News Network.” Read the script.

“There are things about food handling practices within your own kitchen that can help prevent infectious outbreaks of diarrheal diseases,” says Dr. Tosh. 

He says that most foodborne illnesses in your kitchen are caused by cross-contamination of raw meat.

“If you have raw meats, handle them carefully,” says Dr. Tosh. “Do not allow the juices or whatever to come in contact with foods you’re about to eat raw.”

He says when preparing food, hand-washing is crucial. “[It’s] absolutely important that when you go from the handling of the meat to handling really anything else, you are washing your hands.”

The bacteria you get on your hands from handling a raw piece of chicken can contaminate not only other foods, but also anything else in the kitchen you touch, like a spoon or the countertop.

“The bacteria can stay on that and then cross-contaminate something that’s going to then touch that spoon or that countertop, and then transmit the bacteria to somebody,” says Dr. Tosh.

To avoid these bacteria, anything that could be washed in the kitchen should be washed, including your food and hands.

Related information:

Wed, Sep 2 4:24pm · Facts about vaccines and what people need to know

a white person's arm with a sleeve rolled up while a medical staff person, perhaps a doctor or nurse, wearing blue protective gloves wipes the arm with a cotton, preparing to administer a vaccine shot

Vaccines save lives. That’s the message Dr. Priya Sampathkumar, an infectious diseases specialist at Mayo Clinic, wants the public to know.

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Sampathkumar says it is doubly important that everyone get a flu vaccine. While getting a flu vaccine won’t protect against COVID-19, flu vaccines have been shown to reduce the risk of flu illness, hospitalization and death.

Watch: Dr. Priya Sampathkumar talks about importance of vaccines.

Journalists: Broadcast-quality video sound bites are in the downloads at the end of this post. Please courtesy: “Priya Sampathkumar, M.D. / Infectious Diseases / Mayo Clinic.”

In this Q&A, Dr. Sampathkumar answers questions about vaccines, why immunizations are important and what parents and caregivers should do if they have concerns: 

Q. What are the current flu vaccine recommendations?

A. The current recommendation is that everyone over the age of 6 months should get the flu vaccine. This year it is doubly important that everyone get the flu vaccine because if people have fever and respiratory symptoms in the fall, the first concern is going to be COVID-19. The symptoms of the two diseases are hard to tell apart. If you get the flu vaccine, you are less likely to get the flu and less likely to be thought of as a possible COVID-19 case. 

Q. Why are vaccines so important to public health?

A. Vaccines have been hailed as the biggest public health achievement of the 20th century. We have been so fortunate to live in an age where so many diseases that were once so common are now almost eliminated. In the U.S., for instance, we don’t see polio, we don’t see tetanus, we don’t see diphtheria cases. And many other diseases have been reduced to low levels. This is all due to vaccines because many diseases are preventable through vaccination. 

It’s estimated that in the world, vaccines prevent about 285 deaths an hour. They are a powerful health tool. Vaccines are effective, they have a good safety record and they do a lot of good. They save lives. 

Q. How are vaccines tested for safety?

A. Typically, it takes six to eight years to bring a vaccine to market. The first step in developing a vaccine is to do phase 1 trials, where the vaccine is tested in laboratory settings to make sure the vaccine works against the disease it is intended to protect against. The next step is phase 2 trials. This is where the vaccine is tested on a small group of volunteers ― usually 10 to 20 people ― to see what the optimal dose is after the vaccine has been shown to be safe for humans. The third step is phase 3 trials. Here we test many more people and look at how effective the vaccine is in real-life situations and how safe the vaccine is for humans. And then there are multiple reviews of the vaccine by regulatory agencies. In the U.S., it’s the Food and Drug Administration that reviews the data and approves the vaccine. And then the vaccine is licensed, and allowed to be sold and used in people. The whole vaccine testing process doesn’t end there, even when the vaccine is used in people. There is post-marketing surveillance. Government agencies and private agencies are looking to see if there are any new safety signals when the vaccine is used in thousands of people. 

Vaccines are rigorously vetted, and I would say they are much safer than many drugs on the market. 

Q. What is your recommendation to parents who have questions or concerns about vaccinating their child?

A. As a parent, it is understandable that you always want to do what’s best for you child. Vaccines are the best thing you can do to protect your child from illness. If you have questions, there are so many sources of credible information out there, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but nothing beats talking with your child’s health care provider. He or she will guide you and help you make decisions.

Q. What are good sources of information about vaccine safety?

A. There is a lot of unreliable information out there, so it is easy to get lost in social media posts that highlight misinformation about vaccines. If you have questions, talk with your health care provider. That’s probably the most reliable source of information. 

Related posts: 

Information in this post was accurate at the time of its posting.  Due to the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientific understanding along with guidelines and recommendations may have changed since the original publication date.  

Check the CDC website for additional updates on COVID-19. For more information and all your COVID-19 coverage, go to the Mayo Clinic News Network and mayoclinic.org.

Sat, Aug 29 9:30am · Mayo Clinic Minute: Who should be screened for colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the Multi-Society Task Force on colon cancer encourage patients to start screening at age 50 unless they have other risk factors like family history or inflammatory diseases that could predispose them to colon cancer. However, African Americans may consider getting screened at an earlier age. Dr. John Kisiel, a Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist, explains who is at risk. 

Watch: This Mayo Clinic Minute.

Journalists: Broadcast-quality video (0:59) is in the downloads at the end of this post. Please “Courtesy: Mayo Clinic News Network.” Read the script.

Men are more likely than women to get colorectal cancer and there are other high-risk groups, says Mayo Clinic’s Dr. John Kisiel.

“African Americans are often diagnosed with either more advanced disease or may have more aggressive disease when they are diagnosed, and that’s matched stage for stage.”

Dr. Kisiel says patients should start screening at age 50, but adds there is more encouragement for African Americans to maybe start screening at age 45.

Other risk factors may include family history, inherited syndromes, obesity, diabetes, smoking, diet and age.

“It is a condition that is most commonly diagnosed around age 67, but the risk continues to advance with age.”

Dr. Kisiel advocates for regular screening. He says if the disease is diagnosed early, it is highly treatable. If it’s diagnosed later, it’s less likely curable.

“Colon cancer has been called the most fatal, yet most preventable, disease.”

For those uncomfortable with a colonoscopy or a stool-based test, Dr. Kisiel offers this: “Colon cancer can kill you. Embarrassment will not.”

Tue, Aug 18 4:28pm · Mayo Clinic Minute: Breaking down colorectal cancer

Cancer of the rectum and colon often are referred to together as colorectal cancer, but treatments can be different.

And, unfortunately, a recent British study found that treatment for colorectal cancer has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, as people remained home and medical services were limited. 

Dr. David Etzioni, a Mayo Clinic colorectal surgeon, reminds people that early diagnosis and treatment are crucial to ensure better outcomes, and that it all begins with scheduling a screening.

Watch: The Mayo Clinic Minute

Journalists: Broadcast-quality video (0:59) is in the downloads at the end of this post. Please “Courtesy: Mayo Clinic News Network.” Read the script.

“Colorectal cancer is a type of cancer that arises from the skin that lines the inner surface of the colon and rectum.”

Dr. Etzioni says the colon and the rectum are in effect the same.

“The colon and rectum are what we call the large intestine. It’s about 5 feet long and is the last part of the GI (gastrointestinal) tract, just before the GI stream exits the body.”

“The rectum is the last 12 to 14 centimeters of the large intestine. And while they are somewhat geographically distinct, they are in effect one that runs into the other.”

Colon and rectal cancers are similar in many ways, but their treatment can be different, depending on stage and location.

“Usually when we find a colon cancer or rectal cancer, the operation involves removing a portion of the colon or rectum.”

Dr. Etzioni says it’s much more effective to treat an earlier-stage cancer than a later one, and that’s why screening is so important.

“Colorectal cancer screening is one of the most effective types of screening for a cancer because not only can we detect an early-stage cancer, but we can actually prevent a cancer from developing.”

Wed, Jul 15 2:00pm · Mayo Clinic Minute: Why sunglasses are a must-wear

The area around and on your eyelids has some of your body’s most delicate skin. Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun can damage not only the skin, but also the cornea, lens and other parts of the eye.

A good pair of sunglasses is much more than a fashion statement. They are an investment in your health says Dr. Dawn Davis, a Mayo Clinic dermatologist.

Watch: The Mayo Clinic Minute

Journalists: Broadcast-quality video pkg (1:04) is in the downloads. Please “Courtesy: Mayo Clinic News Network.” Read the script.  

They make you stylish and keep you safe.

“It’s a very good investment to have big sunglasses around the eyes.”

Dr. Davis says the bigger, the better, like movie stars wear.

The skin around the eye is some of the thinnest skin on the body and so it’s more susceptible to damage.

Dr. Davis says sunglasses help to prevent skin cancer around the eyes and good shades also guard against vision loss.

“Ultraviolet light can pass through the eye to the lens and cause cataracts,” says Dr. Davis. “So, if you wear sunglasses, you decrease your risk over your lifetime of cataract formation.”

Dr. Davis says to choose sunglasses that are labeled as having broad spectrum coverage or protection against UVA and UVB rays. Look for the same phrases on the sunglasses you buy for your children.

“We suggest sunglasses on children as early, and as young, as they will wear them.”

Start young, and create a lifelong habit of staying stylish and safe in the sun.

Thu, Jul 2 6:08pm · Mayo Clinic Minute: Practice firework safety

Fireworks and sparklers can be dazzling but they also can be dangerous. Every Fourth of July, emergency departments see an influx of injuries caused by fireworks. Dr. Jose Pulido, a Mayo Clinic ophthalmologist, says the hands, face and eyes are particularly vulnerable.

Watch: The Mayo Clinic Minute

Journalists: Broadcast-quality video pkg (0:59) is in the downloads at the end of the post. Please “Courtesy: Mayo Clinic News Network.” Read the script.

Light, and get away. That warning is on firework labels for a reason.

“Fireworks are extremely dangerous, and I’ve seen extensive damage to hands, face and eyes,” says Dr. Pulido.

He says summertime, especially during the Fourth of July holiday, is when most firework injuries happen. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that firework injuries are responsible for more than 10,000 emergency department visits a year. And, many of those injuries involve the eyes.

“From just corneal abrasions, all the way to such extensive damage that we have to remove the eyes,” says Dr. Pulido.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has the following firework safety tips:

  • Do not allow kids to light fireworks.
  • Always have adult supervision.
  • Watch from a safe distance

“If you’re out, and you see somebody that gets injured, they should go directly to the emergency room,” says Dr. Pulido.