On the Fence about the Flu Shot? Read Our FAQ.

Each fall, doctors and public health officials across the country urge virtually every American to get a flu shot. But, despite their best efforts, only about 50% will heed their advice. 

This begs the question: what’s the deal with our low vaccination rates?

A handful of myths and misconceptions about the flu shot may be partly to blame.

Because it’s super-duper important to get vaccinated this year, we wanted answer all of your flu shot questions and ease any concerns you may have.

We sat down with Thad Mick, ZOOM+Care’s Vice President of Pharmaceutical Programs, to talk flu shot myths, common vaccination concerns, the importance of getting the shot this year, and more.

Thad Mick, Vice President of Pharmaceutical Programs at ZOOM+Care.

Hi Thad! Thanks for Talking with us Today.

With COVID-19 still circulating, this flu season is a little different. When would you recommend people get their flu shots this year?

Today!

There is no better time to protect yourself, your family, and your community from flu than right now. The CDC, and the broader medical community, recommend receiving your flu vaccine in the early fall before the flu virus begins circulating broadly. It takes about two weeks to develop a full immune response after the vaccine, so it is better to get protected now rather than wait.

We’ve heard that it’s Extra important to get a flu shot this year. Can you tell us why?

With COVID-19 infection rates on the rise, there have been numerous discussions within the medical community about the potential for a “twindemic.” While a vaccine for COVID-19 is not available today, we do have a safe and effective vaccine to prevent influenza.  

We must use the tools we have available to protect our friends and family and reduce the use of our critical healthcare systems. Flu vaccines are an important tool to limit the amount of respiratory illness circulating in our community. When we receive a flu vaccine, we do our part to protect our communities and ensure we have the much-needed space available in our hospitals and care centers to support those who need it most.  

Is there any concern about the availability of vaccines this year?

Vaccine manufacturers have committed to supplying almost 200 million doses of flu vaccines this season. While there were some early reports of isolated flu vaccine shortages, most communities now have adequate vaccine supplies.   

Do you think the COVID-19 pandemic has increased awareness about flu prevention and general preventative public health measures?

The pandemic has most definitely created an environment of individual social responsibility and awareness around our actions and roles in protecting our community. Each of us recognizes, more than ever, how we can help maintain a safe and protected space with vigilant hand hygiene, social distancing, face coverings, and flu vaccinations.

With each of us doing our part, we can collectively reduce the impact of this pandemic.

When it feels like so much is out of our control these days, it is important to take hold of those areas in our life that we can influence, especially when it comes to protecting our health—and that of our friends and family. “

Thad Mick, Vice President of Pharmaceutical Programs

can the flu shot put you at higher risk for contracting COVID-19? 

There is a ton of misinformation surfacing on social media platforms these days. The truth is that there has not been a single study to date that has demonstrated any additional risk of contracting COVID-19 following a flu vaccine.  

The real concern is a potential co-infection with influenza and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the COVID-19. Should you become infected with influenza, a compromised immune system may allow CoV-2 to have a more significant impact on your health, leading to more severe symptoms or longer recovery time.

A lot of people want to avoid the doctor’s office right now due to COVID-19. What is ZOOM+Care to make getting a flu shot safe? 

We have always maintained clean, safe, uncrowded clinics that provide on-demand, quality care efficiently. This flu season, we have implemented even more rigorous standards to clean our clinics, ensure our staff is properly attired in PPE to protect them and you, eliminate gathering in our reception area and provide the fastest flu vaccine visit available.

Besides safety, what are some other reasons to get the flu shot at ZOOM+Care? 

We have worked hard to develop a flu vaccination destination that eliminates each of the barriers that exist today in most healthcare facilities.  

We have created a system that allows for on-demand, same-day scheduling for your flu vaccine. No need to plan days or weeks ahead to reserve limited space/time for a flu shot. 

With your appointment booked, all you need to do is show up on time to our crowd-less reception area, complete a quick health survey, and receive your vaccine in a clean private room.  

You will be in and out of your ZOOM+Care flu shot visit in less than five minutes. 

Each year I conduct a secret shopper exercise to test our systems and look for opportunities for improvement. This year I went online at 11:30, booked an appointment during my lunch hour at 12:15, walked into the clinic at 12:14, and left the clinic at 12:18 after getting my shot. The entire experience was less than five minutes.

Are there side effects of the flu vaccine? How common are these side effects? 

Some people report having mild reactions to the flu shot. The most common side effects from flu shots include soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling at the site of the shot, low-grade fever or headache, and mild muscle aches. 

For those who experience these side effects, they usually begin soon after the shot and only last 1-2 days.

How long does the flu vaccine last?

 It takes about two weeks to develop a full immune response after the vaccine. Immunity duration can vary. For most people, it lasts for six to eight months, although it may last longer for some. 

How effective is this year’s vaccine? 

The effectiveness of the flu vaccine varies from year to year, often hovering between 40%-60%. Two primary factors impact the vaccine’s effectiveness: the viral match between the vaccine and the circulating viral strain(s) and the demographics and health status of those vaccinated. 

Even in years when the vaccine’s effectiveness falls to the lower side of this range, benefits are realized when large portions of the population are vaccinated. These include fewer flu-related deaths, reduced severity of symptoms by those who are vaccinated and get sick, and a decline in the number of hospitalizations from the flu.

Say someone never gets the flu. Why should they bother to get a flu shot?

Just because you have not been infected with influenza in the past, don’t fool yourself into thinking you are immune to the flu virus or any other. The odds are that you have just been lucky enough to avoid exposure to some of the more virulent strains of the virus that have circulated in the past. The CDC, and every reputable healthcare expert, recommends that everyone six months of age and older receive a flu vaccine this year.  

Flu vaccines have been shown to reduce the risk of flu illness, hospitalization, and death. Getting a flu vaccine this fall will be more important than ever—not only to reduce your risk from flu but also to help protect those around you and conserve potentially scarce health care resources. It is one of the best things we can do to protect our communities and keep hospital beds free for those who need them during this pandemic.    

Anything else you’d like to add? 

When it feels like so much is out of our control these days, it is important to take hold of those areas in our life that we can influence, especially when it comes to protecting our health—and that of our friends and family.  

With same-day appointments, at a clean, safe, uncrowded clinic that require less than five minutes, at low to no out of pocket cost, there is absolutely no reason to avoid the flu shot; especially this year.

Little pinch. Big payoff. For your best shot at a flu-free fall and winter, get vaccinated at any of our neighborhood clinics today.

6 Flu Shot Myths, Busted

It’s nearly fall, which means two things: pumpkin spice lattes (yay?) and flu season (boo!). While the CDC recommends that everyone six months and older get the flu shot, less than half of Americans will heed this advice. In fact, during the 2018-2019 flu season, a mere 45% of adults were vaccinated. 

The flu shot is by far the best way to protect against this potentially deadly infection—so why do so many people doubt its safety and efficacy? The answer to that question lies in myth and misinformation. Many of the rumored side effects (like that the shot can give you the flu) are simply untrue. 

We’d like to clear the air about this much-maligned vaccine, but—before we bust some myths—we want to make our stance on vaccines clear. While ZOOM+Care strongly advocates for vaccination, we believe in listening to patients’ perspectives first and foremost. We want to be a non-judgmental source of knowledge, offering evidence-based information about immunizations. 

If you have concerns about the safety and efficacy of the flu shot, here are six common myths—and facts to debunk them. 

Myth #1: The Flu Shot Gives You the Flu 

This is perhaps the most pervasive myth about the flu shot, and it endures for a reason: many people report feeling unwell after receiving the vaccine. 

Because the flu shot is made from dead viruses, it cannot (repeat, cannot) give you the flu. However, it can trigger an immune response from your body—which may cause you to experience mild, flu-like symptoms. (I.e., achy muscles, soreness, redness at the injection site, or a low-grade fever.) 

It’s important to note: while irritation around the injection site is common, only 1 to 2 percent of people who get the flu shot will have fever as a side effect. 

Myth #2: The Flu Shot Doesn’t Work 

The effectiveness of flu shots indeed varies from season to season, it’s true. 

Like any viral infection, the flu rapidly mutates and creates new strains every year—and the vaccine can’t protect you from all of them. However, that doesn’t mean the flu shot doesn’t work. In the 2017-2018 flu season, the vaccine reduced the risk of illness by around 47%, according to the CDC. 

The flu shot’s effectiveness varies by population, too. For instance, the vaccine tends to be less effective at protecting the elderly. However, even though elderly people who are immunized may still get sick, they’ll likely get less sick. For many older folks, the flu vaccine can be the difference between a trip to the doctor and a trip to the hospital.

Myth #3: Healthy People Don’t Need the Flu Shot 

We hate to break it to you, but sometimes, even the strongest immune system falls victim to the flu. No one (except maybe Superman) is invulnerable to the virus—and getting vaccinated is always your best bet at staying protected. 

Even if you never, ever get the flu, it’s still a good idea to get a flu shot—and doing so could save lives. While you may not develop flu symptoms yourself, you can still carry the virus and pass it on to those more vulnerable. Almost anywhere you go, you can come in contact with a cancer patient on chemotherapy, a newborn infant, or someone with asthma, diabetes, or heart disease. All are especially at risk of serious complications (or even death) from the flu.

Myth #4: You Don’t Need the Flu Shot Every Year 

The bad news? Even if you got a flu shot last year, you’ll need it again this year. That’s because the virus rapidly mutates, rendering the previous year’s vaccine partially or completely useless. 

The good news is, scientists and researchers are constantly updating the vaccination so it’s effective against the strains they predict will be most common during flu season.

Myth #5: Pregnant Women Shouldn’t Get the Flu Vaccine

When you’re pregnant, you want to do everything you can to ensure your baby is healthy. Most expectant mothers are very careful about what they put into their bodies, and the flu shot is no exception.

As the busy flu season approaches, we have good news for pregnant women: not only is it safe for them to get the flu shot, but it’s especially beneficial for them to do so. When you’re expecting, your immune system is taxed. That means you’re more likely to get sick (and really sick), putting you at higher risk for flu-related complications. The flu can be a deadly disease for pregnant women, and the vaccine is your best bet at preventing it. 

Myth #6: The Vaccine is Poisonous

We’ll be real: some of the ingredients in the flu vaccine sound a little suspect. (Formaldehyde? Aluminum salts?) However, the myth that the flu shot is “poisonous” is far more dangerous than any of its additives. 

While the vaccine does contain small traces of ingredients that would be poisonous in large doses, research overwhelmingly shows that these additives are safe in the trace amounts contained in flu shots. All the ingredients are essential in either making the vaccine, triggering the body to develop immunity, or in ensuring that the final product is safe and effective. 

One thing is for certain: when it comes to the flu vaccine, the rewards far outweigh the risks. For your best shot at a flu-free winter, get vaccinated at any of our neighborhood clinics.

Do Face Masks Cause CO2 Poisoning? And Other Questions, Answered.

Face masks are an important part of curbing the spread of COVID-19.

As coronavirus cases surge in the U.S., lawmakers and public health officials are urging Americans to wear face masks in public. And despite some confusion early on when officials were advising against mask use, the scientific community has reached a consensus: Covering your mouth and nose in public is a safe, easy way to reduce coronavirus transmission.

So, with the science clear, why do some Americans refuse to wear a face mask? The answer is, in part, because the issue is steeped in myth and misinformation. For example, many believe that masks limit their oxygen intake and expose them to harmful levels of CO2.

To address some common concerns about the safety and efficacy of masks, we had a socially distanced sit-down with Dr. Mark Zeitzer, our Medical Director of Acute Care Services. 

Dr. Mark Zeizter, pictured above, is ZOOM+Care’s Medical Director of Acute Care Services. 

Hi Mark! Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk masks. First of all: is there any evidence to suggest that wearing a mask could cause CO2 poisoning?

Simply put, no. The use of cloth and paper masks can be uncomfortable or feel foreign. However, it does not cause CO2 intoxication or oxygen deficiency. There is simply no scientific evidence stating that there is any danger of CO2 poisoning created by temporary or prolonged mask use.  

Are masks even capable of catching or keeping unhealthy amounts of CO2 within the mask itself?

No, they aren’t. We’re lucky, because we’re not wearing masks that form a tight seal. Only an airtight face-covering could possibly cause carbon dioxide to build up to dangerous levels. Cloth and paper masks, which allow for a certain amount of breathability, are perfectly safe.

The biggest thing to remember is that masks create a barrier between your germs and other people. They catch things in our expired air, and respiratory droplets that come out of our noses and mouths. This helps decrease the spread of the virus.

Can regular or frequent mask-wearing deplete oxygen levels? 

There is no evidence that mask-wearing decreases oxygen levels or increases CO2 levels. It may feel like it, however, because wearing a mask can be uncomfortable. Most of us aren’t used to having our mouths and noses covered for long periods of time. 

But no, masks do not deplete oxygen levels. If you want to find out for yourself, you can do the simple experiment of putting a pulse oximeter (pulse ox) on your finger and wearing a mask for a few hours. You’ll find there is no correlation between decreased pulse ox levels and wearing a mask. You can even exercise with a mask on, and you will not see reduced pulse-ox levels.

Can regular mask-wearing compromise one’s immune system?

Interestingly, I haven’t heard this angle before. No, wearing a mask does not inhibit the use of our immune systems in any way. If anything, a mask acts as an ally to our immune system, because it protects the wearer from receiving particles from others. 

But really, what masks do best is protect other people. By serving as a barrier, they block what we’re breathing out. When we wear a mask, it decreases droplet and aerosol transmission tremendously, and it’s not inhibiting our immune system from working well. 

Should individuals with asthma or similar other pre-existing respiratory issues approach mask-wearing any differently?

You know, I can only encourage people with asthma to wear masks more frequently. That’s because asthma patients are at an increased risk to COVID-19, since their lungs don’t work as well. They could have broncho-spasm or things like that.  Actually, wearing a mask can help them. Asthma is a form of allergy, and if they’re wearing a mask over their nose and mouth, they will bring in fewer allergens. So, in reality, their asthma will be more well-controlled. 

Can wearing a mask cause or induce anxiety?

Not for someone who doesn’t already have anxiety. 

For those with anxiety, wearing a mask can get to their psyche—they may feel like they can’t breathe as well. It can make some people feel like they’re suffocating.  

This is a very stressful time for all of us, and everyone’s anxiety has increased. However, it can be reassuring to look at the facts. Masks are not harmful. When you wear a mask, CO2 is not retained, and oxygen levels are not decreased. It may feel uncomfortable to wear one for long periods of time, but it’s not detrimental to your health. 

If you’re anxious about wearing a mask, practicing wearing one at home, in an environment where you feel comfortable. It will help you get used to the sensation. 

“Really, what masks do best is protect other people.”

Dr. Mark Zeitzer

What sources can we trust when seeking information about the safety and risks of regular mask use? Doctors or social media investigators?

It’s a difficult question. We’re supposed to be in the information age, but the truth has become deceptive. I think you have to be exceptionally careful about what you’re reading online and seeing on social media. Social media posts aren’t editorialized. They’re just put there—anyone can say anything!  

When looking for information, you want to find things that are peer-reviewed. Pay attention to organizations whose statements are reviewed by multiple people. You also want to check to see if there’s a political or financial bend coming from that organization. Organizations like the CDC, the WHO, the Washington State Department of Health and the Oregon Department of Health provide useful information that is well-vetted. But again, you have to be very careful about what’s on social media. 

Is it safe for young children to wear masks? 

That’s a great question. The CDC recommends that anyone over two years old wear a mask when they’re out in public. However, mask-wearing is not indicated for kids less than two years old, and for kids while they’re sleeping. Those are two big things to remember. 

Because children don’t tend to get as sick with COVID, parents might be lax about having them wear masks. However, kids can certainly spread it. Also, we just don’t know enough about the virus at this time. There could be side effects that we see further down the road. 

It’s important to remember that children are amazingly resilient and adaptable. I see them wearing masks comfortably and getting used to it, which is really wonderful to see. 

Anything else you’d like to add? 

This week, the CDC released more information about a situation in Missouri, where two hair stylists learned they had COVID-19 after they had interacted with 139 clients. An investigation found that none of these clients were known to be infected with COVID-19. The hair stylists and clients wore face coverings, which likely helped prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In other words—masks work. Wearing a mask is a selfless act that protects those around you, including your loved ones.

Interested in COVID-19 testing? ZOOM+Care offers both viral and antibody testing options. Learn more about the benefits and limitations, and get tested today.

Hey Zoom: How Do I Stay Safe While Exercising My Right to Protest?

Black Lives Matter protest outside ZOOM+Care

Hey Zoom, 

I want to show my support for the Black Lives Matter movement by marching, but I’m worried about COVID-19. Do you have any advice for protesting safely during a pandemic?

Our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Erik Vanderlip, weighs in with some advice:

That’s an excellent question.

Staying safe and supporting our Black and African American communities are not mutually exclusive endeavors. Police brutality and racism are lethal public health issues that both predate and contribute to COVID-19. Embracing the struggle for racial justice should engender safer, healthier communities for all of us.

The challenge is that, yes—right now, we are in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic. We are seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases within the communities we serve. As we show our support to Black Lives Matter, we can’t sweep the threat of COVID-19 under the rug. In reality, ignoring safety concerns threatens African Americans as much, if not more, as communities of color are more likely to bear the brunt of our shared disregard for public health and safety. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that racial and ethnic minority groups experience disproportionate risk of illness and death from COVID-19.

There are several things you can do to protect yourself and others if you’ve chosen to show solidarity by protesting or marching. Firstly, don’t go if you’re having symptoms! There is a very real risk of asymptomatic transmission, but the presence of COVID-19 symptoms likely means you’re more infectious. So, if you’re having symptoms, stay home, take care of yourself, and limit others’ risk. As a reminder, the symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, nausea, loose stools, generalized aches and pains, and the recent loss of taste or smell. 

Secondly, wear a mask in public. Prioritize large-scale outdoor gatherings over indoor gatherings, as the risk of transmission is lower in open-air environments.  

Health experts are urging protesters not to sing and shout to reduce the threat of person-to-person transmission. However, I understand how some of these tips can be difficult to follow. If you’re angry and frustrated, you want to express that feeling—and loudly! Because shouting especially raises the risk of transmission, consider ways to either magnify your voice with noise makers or instruments. These can help amplify your message while reducing shouting and vocalizing.  

Finally, don’t forget to wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands. Bring along a hand sanitizer that’s at least 60% alcohol-and-gel based. Use it frequently, and avoid touching your face. Masking should also help deter face-touching. Consider using the restroom before going out in public to minimize group bathroom breaks. Avoid sharing drinks, cups, vape pens, pieces of pizza, and water bottles. If you want to wear gloves, go for it—but you may have to change them frequently. Gloves keep the virus from getting on your hands, so if you’re touching your face with your gloves, there’s not much point to wearing them! And remember, gloves are no substitution for proper hand hygiene. You still need to wash your hands after you take the gloves off. 

There are other safety concerns to keep in mind while that aren’t related to COVID-19. We’ve seen many protest-related injuries in our clinics, including sprains, strains from long walks, and burns. When attending a protest or march, wear protective clothing such as long sleeves, pants, and comfortable shoes. Wear things you feel comfortable in that cover, but aren’t too restrictive, in case you come into contact with some hazardous materials.

If you don’t feel safe attending protests or marching, remember that there are many ways to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Meaningful action can take the form of more than marching or protesting. It can mean individual volunteering. It can mean writing a letter to your local representative, signing petitions, joining a task force, donating money, time, expertise, or other resources to groups also fighting for Black Lives Matter.

The best gift you can give a cause is your attention and time. We all have a part to play in the fight for racial justice. While our roles might look a little different, it doesn’t make them any less important. 

Remember what you’re at the protest for. Both COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter are marathons rather than sprints—don’t sacrifice both by burning yourself out. We’re going to need everyone’s efforts in the coming months and years to see our communities achieve the health and safety they deserve.

Have a question for one of our providers? Write us at marketing@zoomcare.com.

Virtual Orthopedics? Here’s What Using VideoCare™ for Specialists Is *Actually* Like.

If there’s one sentiment we hear a lot lately, it’s “Thank God for the internet.” Whether it’s keeping us connected or keeping us sane, tech is truly the hero of quarantine.

Thanks to apps like Facetime and Zoom Conferencing (we call it “the other Zoom” around here), we’re able to see the smiles of our family, friends, and co-workers. Video games allow us to escape reality and explore new worlds from our couch. And while we highly recommend non-virtual activities such as reading a book or going for a jog, platforms like Netflix give us instant access to a lifetime’s worth of entertainment.

That said, even the internet has its limits. Certain things—such as seeing your orthopedist—are impossible to do virtually.

Or are they?

While telehealth can’t replace physical exams and necessary testing, you’d be surprised by what ZOOM+Care specialists can diagnose and treat virtually, through VideoCare™. We offer several specialist services online, including dermatology, women’s health and gynecology, mental health, podiatry, orthopedics, and more.

As with anything new, we realize that “virtual orthopedics” sounds a little (er, totally) odd at first. To give you a better understanding of what seeing a specialist through VideoCare™ is like, we sat down with two ZOOM+Care providers: Shannon O’Brien, an MD on our Orthopedic team, and Lisa Taulbee, an ND on our Women’s Health team. Read on for some A’s to your most burning virtual care Q’s:

Hi Shannon and Lisa! Many are familiar with the use of telemedicine for common medical issues such as fevers and sore throats. However, few know that specialty care, including gynecology and orthopedics, can be delivered virtually. Can you give us a few examples of reproductive health and orthotropic concerns that can be addressed and monitored through telemedicine?

LISA: There are several concerns related specifically to women’s health that are well-suited to telemedicine. Patients can obtain refills of birth control pills quickly through this route. We can also safely treat a few infections that are common for patients, including yeast infections and urinary tract infections. Telemedicine is also a great way to discuss any questions someone might have about starting contraception like IUDs, or to address health conditions such as endometriosis or PCOS that they may have already been diagnosed with.

SHANNON: Video visits are best utilized (at least so far) to do follow up checks, like range of motion, progress with therapy. It is not good for initial visits for back pain, knee, or shoulder complaints. For those, I need to palpate and feel things.  

Dr. Shannon O’Brien

Gynecological and Ortho concerns often require in-office exams. What happens if a concern can’t be addressed virtually?

 LISA: If a provider feels that a patient requires additional evaluation, say for someone who is experiencing pelvic pain, we can refer them to the clinic for an exam with one of our women’s health providers.

SHANNON: I have asked patients to come in for an in-person visit, and so far have not had anyone refuse.

Outside of keeping people safe during COVID-19, what are some advantages of virtual care? Is there anything that excites you about this brave new world of telemedicine? 

LISA: I think the biggest advantage of virtual care is its convenience. It is so easy to make an appointment and then be “seen” in the comfort of your own home—no need to battle traffic or even change out of your pajamas to access care.

SHANNON: I think it would be a good way to connect people who live remotely to doctors. I lived in Alaska, and there are remote communities that do not have a licensed practitioner at any level for hundreds of miles. I think it would be a good option for people who cannot come in for in-person visits.  

Dr. Lisa Taulbee

A lot of people hear “virtual gynecology” or “virtual orthopedics” and think, “Huh? How on earth does that even work?” What is one thing that might surprise people about the experience?  

LISA: Gynecology is about so much more than just a pelvic exam! Our Women’s Health providers can address many areas of health with their patients. We discuss contraception, sexual health, chronic conditions that may benefit from lifestyle changes, preventative health measures, in addition to any pelvic concerns that a woman may have. And many of these issues can be addressed through telemedicine alone.

What are some differences between an in-person visit and a virtual visit at ZOOM+Care? What are some similarities? 

LISA: These types of visits are identical to each other other than the ability to perform physical exams. Even if a patient really does require an in-person visit, we can significantly decrease the amount of time that they need to be in the clinic by collecting all of the relevant information before a patient leaves their home.

SHANNON: Both visits allow one on one attention, and the history portion is no different. The differences come with the physical exam component. Virtual care is good for patient teaching, but it’s difficult to replicate a good knee or shoulder exam. I can’t get x-rays, put on or remove a cast, fit cam boots or braces, either. 

Hey Zoom: I Feel so Helpless during the COVID-19 Pandemic. What Can I Do to Help?

ZOOM+Care Covid 19 anxiety

Great question.

COVID-19 has ushered in an era of uncertainty—uncertainty about the future, yes, but also about how to help each other during these unprecedented times.

Hands down, the best way to help is by practicing social distancing.

But as we all shelter in place, many of us are wondering, “What else can I do? How can I support frontline workers? Should I sign petitions? Organize a fundraiser to purchase personal protective gear for local hospitals?”

Our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Erik Vanderlip, weighs in with some answers:

Be emotionally available.

“There are several things you can do to help others right now, beyond social distancing,” says Dr. Vanderlip.

“First and foremost, take care of yourself and those close to you. We need to be extra sensitive to the emotional needs of our loved ones during this time—especially older relatives, and vulnerable people in your community. Talk to your parents, call extended family members, and frequently check in on friends who are self-isolating at home. “

LIMIT UNNECESSARY TRIPS.

Vanderlip also suggests doing everything you can to avoid unnecessary trips.

“We’re still seeing a lot of people on the streets, packing into grocery stores, and even flocking to the coast for weekend getaways. We should only be leaving our homes for essential activities.”

When it comes to grocery stores, Vanderlip says, “While you shouldn’t stockpile groceries, having some necessities on hand in your home—if you’re in a financial position to buy them—is something that can help you and others. That way, you won’t have to take frequent trips to the grocery store.”

THINK LOCAL.

“When thinking of ways to help, many people overlook their immediate circle of influence—their friends, family, and neighbors,” Vanderlip reflects.

“Everyone is super focused on raising money for masks and personal protective equipment—but there are probably people in your building or on your street that could use help. Do you have an elderly neighbor, for example? See if you can pick up cleaning supplies, groceries, and other other necessities for them. Help keep them safe by wearing gloves and leaving their packages outside the door.”

CITE YOUR SOURCES.

“Finally, don’t contribute to the spread of rumors or misinformation,” says Dr. Vanderlip.

“Conspiracy theories catch faster than COVID-19, but truth takes longer to spread. Before you share the salacious rumor you heard, check your sources and pause. Fear and misinformation lead to panic, chaos, and poor decision-making. During this time, it’s essential to focus on what we each can control and what we can’t.”

Right now, social distancing is the most effective measure for containing the spread of the coronavirus. Check out our answers to your most burning social distancing questions. 

Your Biggest Social Distancing Questions, Answered

social distancing questions women in grocery store with mask covid-19

You know how when you hear a word over and over and over again, it begins to lose all meaning?

That’s probably how you feel about the term “social distancing” right now.  

But, despite everyone being tired of hearing (and reading, and talking) about social distancing, no two words better explain what we need to do to curb the spread of COVID-19.  

Social distancing is, perhaps, the most meaningful phrase of 2020. 

One more time for the people in the back: What is social distancing? 

As we’re sure you know by now, social distancing describes several precautions that can slow down the spread of COVID-19. These measures include staying home, avoiding crowds, and refraining from touching one another.

Why is social distancing so critical? 

If COVID-19 continues to spread, unchecked by social distancing, there might not be enough hospital beds or respirators for those in need.

According to burgeoning research, coronavirus may be transmitted by carriers who are still healthy. That means everyone must practice social distancing—not just those who are sick. Full compliance will help vulnerable populations, such as older adults and immunocompromised individuals, from getting the virus. 

We know that living like this is undeniably isolating and inconvenient, even if it’s for the greater good. To help you keep calm and social distance on that, we answered your most burning social distancing questions:

Can I leave my house during social distancing?

Yes. For sanity’s sake, it’s okay—and good—to go outdoors to get fresh air and exercise. The point is not to quarantine yourself, but to avoid close contact with others. 

What does “close contact” mean, exactly? Just keep a full six feet away from other people as much as you can.

However, there are a few precautions you should take to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. 

When you leave your home, avoid touching your face and wipe down any surfaces you come into contact with. If you’re out of your home for an extended period, periodically disinfect your hands with an alcohol-based sanitizer. 

And no matter what, practice impeccable hygiene: Wash your hands before you go out, while you’re out, and when you get home. 

Can I order takeout while social distancing? 

Yes! Currently, there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted through food—so ordering takeout should be safe.

That said, you should still be extremely careful. Disinfect takeout containers upon their delivery, and wash your hands before tucking in.

Ordering takeout helps restaurants and delivery drivers earn much-needed income during the pandemic, so don’t refrain from treating yourself.

Is it okay to use public transportation?

Crowded buses and trains, with their oft-touched poles and communal benches, are fertile breeding grounds for germs. To minimize your risk of infection, you should avoid using public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis.

However, if you need to use public transportation to get to work, be sure to carry disinfecting wipes to clean seats and handles, and wash your hands as soon as your commute is over.

Can I go to the grocery store? 

Yes, and doing so is likely unavoidable. However, you should try to be strategic about your shopping trips. Pick a time when the store is least likely to be busy, such early morning or late at night. And—without giving in to the urge to panic buy— purchase as much as you’re able to at a time, to minimize your number of trips. 

While shopping, remember that surfaces in the store may be contaminated. If possible, use a disinfecting wipe to clean the handle of your grocery cart—and as always, keep your hands away from your face. When you get home, wash your hands immediately. 

If you buy fruits and veggies, be sure to wash them thoroughly before eating.

Are you over 60, or immunocompromised? You may want to try and avoid shopping trips altogether, if you can help it. Try shopping oline

What about going to the doctor?

Unless you have an urgent medical issue, you should probably avoid going into the doctor’s office. 

However, you can seek out virtual and telehealth options that don’t require an in-person appointment. 

At ZOOM+Care, we’re currently asking all patients to start their care by connecting with a provider through Phone or via ChatCare. We will treat what we can remotely, but—if our providers feel it’s medically necessary—can get you scheduled for in-person visit, as well. 

Phone and Chat visits will go a long way in minimizing the risk of exposing yourself or others through in-person contact. 

Can my friends come over?

We know it’s difficult, but visitors aren’t a great idea right now. This is especially important if you or someone you live with is at high risk, or you live in a communal setting like a nursing home or group home.

Social distancing can be lonely, so it’s important to maintain connections during this time. Try getting creative with technology: Schedule dinners parties via Skype, host a movie marathon on Zoom conferencing, or play games with friends online.  

If your mental health is suffering as a result of social distancing, consider consulting with our doctors via ChatCare or booking a Phone visit with one of our Mental Health providers. We can explore your options for treatment and guide you towards the best solution for your mental health.

When I leave the house, do I need to wear a face mask? Will it protect me from getting the virus?

Not necessarily—and unless you’re sick or caring for someone who is, you probably shouldn’t wear one. 

Masks are effective at capturing droplets, which are the main source of transmission for coronavirus. If you are in close contact with an infected person, a mask may reduce your chances of contracting the disease. If you’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19, or are showing symptoms, you should make every effort to isolate yourself from others who feel well.

However, masks don’t protect healthy people from coming into contact with those germs. Because COVID-19 can live on surfaces for days,  a mask will make little difference if going to the grocery store or taking a bus.  

What’s more, face masks are in short supply. We should save them for healthcare providers and people experiencing upper respiratory symptoms.

Do I need to stay six feet away from my spouse—or even my children?

Not unless either of you is showing symptoms of sickness.

Under most circumstances, if you and your loved ones are living in the same home, you don’t need to stay six feet away from them. (And let’s be real: doing so would be virtually impossible.) However, limit excessive physical contact as much as possible.

We’re practicing social distancing, too. If you or a loved one needs care during this turbulent time, please connect with us via Phone or via ChatCare before coming into a clinic. We appreciate your understanding as we all do our part to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Coping with Anxiety in the Age of COVID-19

Photo courtesy of Shannon O’Brien and @blksmth.

To say these are strange times is an understatement. Cities are eerily still and silent, their streets as empty as Christmas day. Restaurants and bars are shutting down, no longer emitting their friendly nighttime buzz. Store shelves are empty, or nearly so, stripped of everyday essentials like hand soap and toilet paper.

The sights, sounds, and sensations of the COVID-19 pandemic are unprecedented, except in fiction—and with so much uncertainty comes certain anxiety. 

Psychologists define anxiety as “a feeling of worry, nervousness or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” Unlike fear, which is an emotional response to a definite threat, anxiety is our brain’s response to an unknown danger. Anxiety crops up when we don’t have enough information to predict the future accurately. 

With a global pandemic permeating the consciousness, it can be challenging to stay calm. It’s even more difficult because the situation is so new and unfamiliar. In essence, there is no framework to help us navigate these uncertain times.

If you’re feeling worried and overcome with “what if” thinking right now, know that you’re not alone. However, if your anxiety has turned into feelings of helplessness or panic, it’s important to find ways to relieve stress, soothe yourself, and relax.

Next time your brain starts spinning out of control, quell your anxiety with these bite-sized tips:

Remind yourself it’s okay to feel anxious 

In the words of Carl Jung, “What you resist persists.”

It’s a bit of a paradox, but the more we deny our anxious feelings, the more worried we become. Instead of shoving your worry aside or berating yourself for feeling panicked, take a step back, and recognize that your anxiety serves a purpose.

Fear and anxiety are evolutionary adaptations of the human brain. They motivate us to prepare for potential threats. (Think of it this way: If you didn’t have any anxiety before a test, you wouldn’t study—right?)

In the context of COVID-19, anxiety urges you to take necessary safety precautions to protect yourself and your family. 

Being aware of your anxiety (and the purpose it serves) may help you manage your symptoms better. 

Next time you feel worried, don’t push your anxious feelings aside. Instead, allow your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations to wash over you. Practice tolerating uncertainty, allowing your anxiety to be present while reminding yourself that it’s an integral part of the human experience.

Flip the off switch

In times of crisis, we all want to stay up to date—but there’s a fine line between being informed and becoming obsessed. If your COVID media consumption borders on compulsive, you’re likely fueling the fire of anxiety. 

When the news leaves you overwhelmed, try implementing a digital detox. Allocate strict limits for engaging with COVID content. Tell yourself, “I’m going to check the news once in the morning and once in the evening. I’m going to find out what’s happening today, and what the guidelines are. Then I’m going to shut myself off from any COVID-19 media.”

If you’re anxious about missing important updates, you can always ask friends and family to contact you in the event of an emergency. 

Stay off social

Social media can keep us connected during times of isolation. However, sites like Facebook and Twitter may also exacerbate our anxiety by exposing us to extreme opinions, conspiracy theories, and misinformation. 

If you find yourself growing anxious as you read updates, put down your phone, or walk away from your computer. (Some social media platforms even have built-in tools to help users manage their time.)

Get some exercise 

(Even if it’s just a dance party in your bedroom.)

Study after study shows that physical activity reduces anxiety. Aerobic exercise reduces the body’s stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) and helps you channel your anxiety elsewhere. Physical activity also stimulates the production of endorphins, your body’s natural mood elevator. 

Practicing social distancing? Skip the gym and opt for a solo activity instead: a hike, a run through the park, or bike ride. (Bonus: Studies show that getting outdoors may also boost your mood and improve mental health.) If you’re cautious about going outside, there’s no shortage of exercises you can do indoors: yoga, squats, jumping rope, running stairs, and even following a video.

Limit alcohol consumption 

When confined to your home for long periods, it’s easy to indulge in self-destructive behaviors such as heavy alcohol consumption. 

While a glass of wine (or two) may be calming in the moment, alcohol is a depressant. It changes levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, which can worsen anxiety. What’s more, as your body processes alcohol, you may feel edgy, irritable, and stressed for several hours—even an entire day. 

Ditch Dr. Google 

If you suffer from health anxiety, Dr. Google is not your friend—especially right now. 

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, coughing, and shortness of breath, which—as you likely know—apply to many diseases, including the common cold. Long story short? It’s impossible to diagnose yourself with COVID-19 via Google. 

If you’re experiencing symptoms of Coronavirus and would like guidance from a real doctor, we’re here to help. Currently, we’re offering cost-free COVID-19 risk assessment and advice virtually, via ChatCare. 

Use some tried-and-tested relaxation techniques

Whether it’s simple meditation exercises, controlled breathing, or self-compassion practices, mindfulness offers a quick and effective anxiety relief.  

One method we love? Equal breathing, also known as box or square breathing. You can practice this technique from a sitting or lying-down position. Here’s how: 

  • Close your eyes. Breathe normally for several breaths, being mindful of the feelings of fullness and emptiness in your lungs
  • Next, slowly count 1-2-3-4 as you inhale through your nose
  • Then, exhale, keeping the same four-second count.
  • As you inhale and exhale, pay close attention to the feeling of your breath entering and exiting your lungs.

After a few minutes, you should feel calmer and more centered.

Want to try other relaxation techniques? Several apps can help you practice paced breathing for stress relief, such as Calm and Headspace

Keep family and friends close—even from afar

According to research, close relationships with family and friends are good for our overall health and happiness. If social distancing is triggering your anxiety, connecting with loved ones via phone or video Facetime may help ease loneliness. 

During these conversations, try not to amplify each other’s worries and fears. Instead, we recommend chatting about non-Covid-related topics, finding opportunities to laugh and to restore a much-needed sense of normalcy. 

However, if a friend or family member is contributing or exacerbating your anxiety, you may want to take a small break from them. It’s okay (and not at all selfish) to protect yourself from anyone who’s catastrophizing and increasing your stress. 

Another way to feel more connected during social distancing? Look out for opportunities to help your neighbors, family, friends, and coworkers. Whether it’s dropping groceries outside someone’s door or coordinating childcare, helping others gives us a sense of purpose—and takes our minds off of our worries for a while. 

Seek professional help if you need it

If you’re already vulnerable to anxiety and depression, you may find the coronavirus pandemic completely overwhelming. If you’re experiencing anxiety symptoms that interfere with your work, maintaining close relationships, or taking care of yourself, we’re here for you. 

Consider consulting with our doctors via ChatCare or booking a visit with one of our Mental Health providers. Either way, we can guide you towards the best solution for your mental health.

Because virtual options are by far the safest, most efficient way to address your healthcare needs, we’re asking our patients to start their care by connecting with a provider through a Phone Visit, or via ChatCare™. Schedule a visit today.

Your Intermittent Fasting Questions, Answered.

Is intermittent fasting right for you?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ve probably heard of intermittent fasting: The latest ‘must-try’ diet trend that promises to curb hunger pangs and help you shed extra pounds.

Amid the deafening buzz of celebrity endorsements, it can be tempting to dismiss fasting as yet another ineffective fad. However, doing so might be a mistake.

Turns out, intermittent fasting is one fad diet that seems to be backed by real science. According to a review published by the New England Journal of Medicine, there are links between fasting and improvements in cognitive and physical performance, cardiovascular health, and symptoms of diabetes and obesity.

But—before you skip breakfast—it’s important to get the facts. We sat down with Zoom’s Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr. Benjamin Burton, to get some answers to your most burning intermittent fasting questions.  Read on to hear his take on the dietary trend.

1. Hey Dr. Burton! Thanks for taking the time to talk intermittent fasting with us. Let’s cover the basics first: what is intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting is a diet philosophy that entails scheduling specific periods where eating will be significantly limited or avoided all-together.  

Several different schedules can be incorporated with the intermittent fasting diet. One popular approach is to pick a couple of days a week where food is significantly restricted (something like eating only about ¼ of what you usually would need in a day) and then eating a normal, balanced diet the other days of the week.  

The other approach is to pick a specific period every day to abstain from eating. This is often done in 12 or 16 hour periods. For example, only eating from 7 am to 7 pm daily and fasting for the remaining 12 hours. Or fasting from 11 am to 7 pm and fasting the remaining 16 hours.  

2. Why is intermittent fasting so popular?

Dieting is intensely personal, and everyone has different needs. Making healthy food choices can be difficult, time-consuming, and exhausting for some. Sometimes, it’s just easier to decide to not eat at all for an extended period. This helps simplify things for a lot of people. For some people the eating pattern is much more intuitive and easier to follow. 

Fasting is gaining popularity in the medical field because there is some evidence that there are a number of health benefits beyond just weight loss. It seems to have additional value in preventing or treating diabetes. Most weight loss programs improve blood sugar, but intermittent fasting can potentially improve blood sugar before a significant amount of weight is lost. 

3. Is it safe?

Intermittent fasting, as it is laid out in most mainstream programs, is quite safe. As with anything, if taken to an extreme can become unhealthy. Generally, fasting for more than 24 hours should be done with caution, and fasting for more than 72 hours should be avoided. In any fasting scenario, it is important to stay hydrated. I recommend that most periods of fasting be a “water fast,” meaning abstaining from food but still drinking water. This allows for the benefits of a caloric restriction but protects against dehydration.  

4. Are there any myths about intermittent fasting? If so, what are they?

I’m not sure there are many myths, but there are some claims that are not fully scientifically validated yet. These include claims that intermittent fasting will improve sleep, prevent dementia, and prevent cancer. These claims may all be true, but we haven’t fully validated these claims in human research. 

5. Are there side effects?

Food provides essential glucose and electrolytes (like potassium and sodium) that we need on a daily basis. The human body has mechanisms that monitor and maintain normal levels of glucose and electrolytes even when a person isn’t eating. However, people that take medications that affect blood sugar (diabetes medication) or medications that affect electrolytes (mainly blood pressure medication) should discuss fasting with their doctor before starting. There are also rare diseases that would prohibit some people from fasting, but generally, these individuals are well aware they should avoid fasting.  

6. What are the benefits of intermittent fasting?

The biggest benefits that are currently well-validated are weight loss and improved blood sugar control.  

7. Will fasting improve overall health?

Intermittent fasting certainly has the potential to improve health. For many people, losing just 10% of their excess weight can result in significant health benefits.  

8. Is there a right or wrong way to intermittently fast?

Dieting is an incredibly personal thing. I recommend beginning with a well established intermittent fasting routine. Once a person is comfortable with that, they can try modifying it a little to suit their life situation better. I would discourage extreme fasting for most people. (e.g., fasting beyond 24 hours).  

9. Is intermittent fasting for everyone?

No, a hundred times no.

If anyone could find a diet that is safe and effective for the majority of the population, they should get a Noble Prize. Intermittent fasting requires a lot of meal planning and diverging from traditional mealtime routines. It is hard for some people to do this in a typical 8-hour workday if they don’t have a lot of flexibility regarding meal times. There are a lot of other barriers that can really make this program difficult.  

10. How many days, if any, are recommended to intermittently fast each week?

There are several different programs. The most popular one currently is a daily 16:8 routine where a person fasts for 16 hours and eats for 8.

11. Is intermittent fasting an effective form of dieting?

It can be. The value of any diet program is calorie restriction and food tracking. Intermittent fasting seems to really click for some people and help them control their food intake.

12. Will intermittent fasting promote weight and/or fat loss?

Intermittent fasting has been found to promote weight loss.  

13. Will intermittent fasting put the body into starvation mode?

The “starvation mode” is an interesting theory, and maybe a myth in first world countries. There is an unhealthy starvation state that is achieved with extreme starvation. This requires a level of food deprivation that is generally only seen in severe poverty or inhumane treatment of prisoners. Some diet philosophies like frequent small meals to “keep the metabolism going” or restricting too much and putting the body in a “starvation mode” aren’t really well validated. More likely, people that over restrict put themselves into a restrict/binge pattern. While these people have periods of little food intake, they then slip and binge, thus overeating in the long run. Intermittent fasting directly challenges these “starvation mode” theories, and to some degree, seems to discredit them. Finding the right balance is tricky. It is important to monitor and be purposeful about eating. There is a difference between intermittent fasting and a binge/restrict pattern of eating.   

14. What is the protocol on exercise while intermittently fasting?

Exercise, like dieting, is intensely personal. Intermittent fasting is generally used to lose weight. Exercise programs targeted at weight loss would be congruent with intermittent fasting. If someone is exercising to train for an endurance activity or gain muscle mass, intermittent fasting can be used, but this would require a high level of planning and coordination. This would require a lot of individualized research and maybe coordination with health professionals like trainers and nutritionists.

WANT EXPERT GUIDANCE ON YOUR WELLNESS JOURNEY? ZOOM+CARE’S INTERNAL MEDICINE IS HERE TO HELP. SCHEDULE NOW. 

Your Biggest Sexual Health Questions, Answered

Condoms on a blue background. ZOOM+Care sexual health.
 

Sexuality is a normal, healthy, and positive aspect of everyday life. Yet, even in the 21st century, speaking about sex is taboo—and that carries serious consequences. When people feel ashamed to talk about their sexual health, they’re less likely to get tested, treated, and receive the information they need to prevent infections and save lives. 

At ZOOM+Care, we believe sexual health should have the same stigma as any other kind of health: none. That’s why, in honor of Sexual Health Month and World Sexual Health Day, we’re answering your most most pressing sexual health questions. Whether its vaginal pain, STIs, or mysterious genital spots, no topic is too taboo. We’re here to give you the info you need to empower yourself.

Before we dive in, a quick note about the language we use in this article. We want to make sure everyone feels included when talking about sexual health. Many of our inquirers referred to their gender when asking questions, which is totally normal. However, since not all men have penises and not all women have vaginas, we’re going to respond using words that refer to genitals rather than gender. And now that we’ve got that out of the way…

Do condoms protect you from all STIs?

First off, it’s great that you want to do everything you can to protect yourself from STIs! Here’s the deal with condoms: when used correctly, they’re really effective at preventing contact with bodily fluids (like semen and vaginal fluids) that can carry infections. However, they don’t eliminate the risk of STIs. 

Some infections, such as herpes, genital warts, and syphilis can be spread through skin-to-skin contact. Since condoms don’t cover all your skin down there, there’s still a chance you can get an STI. 

Bottom line: If you’re sexually active, it’s important to get tested regularly, even if you use condoms religiously. 

I’m a woman, and I frequently experience pain during sex. Is this normal? 

The most important thing to realize is that discomfort during sex is nothing to be ashamed of. If you regularly experience painful sex, it’s not your fault, and you’re certainly not alone. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, an estimated 75% of people with vaginas will experience uncomfortable sex during their lifetimes. 

The truth is, there are dozens of reasons for painful sex, ranging from emotional factors to infection. Today, we’ll go over a few of the most common causes. (However, we recommend consulting with a provider you trust before moving forward with any treatment.)

One common cause of painful sex is insufficient lubrication, which results in friction and discomfort. If you’re going through menopause, are postpartum or breastfeeding, you may have low estrogen levels. This can cause dryness and thin vaginal tissues, making your vagina especially sensitive and susceptible to tears. Similarly, you can experience pain from a lack of arousal. Arousal changes the sensations of genital touch and insertion, helping them feel more pleasurable. Be sure to take your time before sex, and give your body a chance to lubricate, so dryness isn’t an issue.

Another cause of pain during sex is endometriosis—a disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus grows outside your uterus. Endometriosis causes uncomfortable sex in approximately half the people who have it, with pain ranging from mild to excruciating. To prevent discomfort, try switching up positions, and plan sex for times of the month when you’re experiencing less pain. (Endometriosis is especially painful before and during your period.) 

Sexual pain can also be the result of an infection (such as a yeast infection), which can cause your vaginal tissue to become inflamed. Yeast infections affect your ability to self-lubricate as well, presenting yet another barrier to enjoyable, pain-free sex.

Other causes of painful sex include uterine fibroids—benign, non-cancerous uterine growths made of muscle tissue—and ovarian cysts. 

Any time you experience acute pain during sex, you should get it checked out. Zoom’s team of every-day providers and Women’s Health experts can help you sort out what’s going on (and get it treated) so you can get back to enjoying your sex life. 

Is a yeast infection an STD? 

The short answer is no, but you’re definitely not alone in thinking so. Eighty-one percent of patients believe yeast infections are sexually transmitted through their partners and can spread to another person during sex. In reality, yeast infections are the result of pH imbalance inside of the vagina (or head of the penis—people with penises can get them, too!) that leads to a buildup of yeast. Often, they’re caused by your hormones being off-kilter.

Other causes include hormonal contraceptives, stress, a weakened immune system, recent antibiotic use, and environmental conditions, like not changing out of sweaty clothes after a workout. And while a yeast infection isn’t an STD, there is a chance sex can lead to one. Sometimes, your body chemistry can have an adverse reaction to another person’s genital yeast and bacteria, which causes yeast to grow.

Is it normal to feel anxious during my period? 

Every period-having person knows—they can really wreak havoc on our bodies. The days (or sometimes even weeks) leading up to that time of the month can bring on any number of unpleasant symptoms, including bloating, cramps, fatigue, acne, breast tenderness, and a myriad of emotional symptoms.

If you’ve noticed your anxiety spike before and during your period, it’s not a coincidence. Hormones regulate our bodies as well as our mental health. During PMS, fluctuations in powerful hormones such as estrogen and progesterone can upset that balance, triggering symptoms like increased anxiety or depression. If you already suffer from an anxiety or mood disorder, these can be more severe before and during your period.

To help ease emotional extremes around your time of month, try staying active with exercise, getting enough sleep, and making small dietary changes such as reducing caffeine and eating more omega-3 fats. Mindfulness practices, such as journaling and meditation, can also help your body to find balance.

Should I get the HPV vaccine? 

We’re not here to tell you what you should do with your body, but let us put it this way: if there were a shot that could prevent STIs and cancers, you’d consider it, right? That’s what the HPV vaccine is for. 

As for why you should consider it, HPV is crazy common. There are over 150 types, and about 80 percent of sexually active people are infected with HPV at some point in their lives. Some strains of HPV can lead to cervical, anal, penile and throat cancer, which is why many doctors now recommend the vaccine before you’re even thinking about having sex. 

If you’re already sexually active or have an existing HPV infection already, getting the vaccine won’t treat it. However, it can protect you from getting and spreading other strains of HPV. 

How often should I be having sex? What’s normal?

First of all, there’s no such thing as “normal”, and there’s no one right answer to this question. Like many things in life, it’s best to focus on the quality of sex over the quantity. A healthy sexual relationship is one where both partners are getting their needs met, and—more importantly—are communicating their wants and desires. If your partner wants sex every week and you want it once a month, you should try and negotiate a win-win compromise. 

However,  if your low desire for sex concerns you, you should talk to your doctor.

While every month is the right time to assess your sexual health, we hope you use September as an opportunity to check in with yourself, get tested, and clear up any gaps in your knowledge. Want to talk to a caring professional? Schedule a daily care or gynecology visit today.