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Sunday, October 10, 2004

A New Medical Meme Record... 

...in one article. I felt the need to post since the same story was in my Sunday paper. This is my previous explanation of medical memes.

The headline: "Experts: Good Hygiene Can Ward Off Flu" got my attention in light of the recent flu vaccine shortage.

Unfortunately, the "experts" let me down again. Searching PubMed for the credentials of the experts quoted did not yield any publications relevant to the subject.

Consider this helpful advice (my italics and [comments]):
"Taking care of yourself from a health standpoint is probably the best thing you can do," [whatever that means] said Dr. R. Michael Gallagher, a family physician and dean of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey's School of Osteopathic Medicine. [Scary to think of all those years I've recommended flu shots instead.]

"People who are run down, they're overworked, not getting proper rest or proper nutrition, these people increase their risk" of illness, he said. [I thought we were talking about influenza?]

Besides getting enough sleep - at least seven hours a night for adults and more for youngsters - managing stress is important, Gallagher said, because too much can weaken one's immune system. [No RCT's on this, so it is not a given that this results in more influenza.]

How about this from a dietician:
Another new piece of advice is to stop refilling the bottles of water so many of us carry [PubMed = no articles on this that I could find].

The bottles accumulate germs and shouldn't be reused [as if I could give myself the flu] or shared [doh!], said American Dietetic Association spokeswoman Gail Frank, a professor of nutrition at California State University-Long Beach. But don't skip the water, because eight glasses of fluid a day is essential to health, aiding in almost every process in the body. [Their own web site gives conflicting advice: 1) Water: The Drink of Life vs. 2) Too much of a good thing? vs. 3) Bottled water. I guess that's why they call it eatright.org instead of drinkright.org. At least the IOM (Dietary Reference Intakes: Water ...) gives you the basis for a recommendation.]

And, this just in:
People, especially the elderly and those in poor health, also should avoid crowds and people who are coughing or sneezing, said Dr. Michele Bachhuber, an internal medicine specialist at Marshfield Clinic in Marshfield, Wis. [Easier said than done. This is just another form of blaming the patient. Maybe I will start telling my "elderly and those in poor health" to stop attending all those raves.]

"Regular exercise helps boost our immune system, so that's important, too," she said. [Is she saying exercise prevents the flu?]

And one of my favorite medical memes of all time, the "importance of breakfast":
Then there's the role of diet. Frank said it's crucial to eat a healthy and substantial breakfast, about one-fourth of the day's calories. [But whatever you do, please don't go swimming right away unless you want to drown from stomach cramps.]

Finally:
Variety in the diet is important, but people should emphasize plant foods, including whole grains and at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, said Elisa Zied, another American Dietetic Association spokeswoman and a registered dietitian in New York.

She said people can help keep their immune system strong by eating foods rich in vitamins A, C and E: milk, eggs and fish oil; citrus fruits, melons and red peppers; and nuts, spinach, peanut butter and corn oil. [Another party line, but what does this have to do with flu season?]

The article does contain this (CDC - Preventing the Flu) useful link which reminds us:
The single best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated each fall.

And under, "Good Health Habits", some practical information:
1. Avoid close contact. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
2. Stay home when you are sick. If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness.
3. Cover your mouth and nose. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
4. Clean your hands. Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs.
5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.

Give the CDC credit for staying out of the: sleep, stress, 8 glasses of water, breakfast and vitamin nonsense. Wishful thinking from advocates should not obscure that fact that there is no excuse for running out of the flu vaccine.

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