There are approximately 1.1 million people in the US living with HIV today. World AIDS Day, celebrated each December 1st, is an opportunity to increase awareness and knowledge about HIV, support those living with the virus, and champion efforts to prevent new infections.
One such effort? Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP: a once-a-day pill that prevents HIV-negative people from becoming infected.
PrEP is over 90% effective at preventing HIV infection. When used as directed, it’s one of the most powerful tools for stopping the spread of AIDS— and yet, the drug is largely underutilized.
A myriad of barriers drives low usage rates: cost, accessibility, and—perhaps most unfortunately—stigma.
Even today, HIV is unfairly stigmatized by homophobia. Many—especially those in the queer community—are hesitant to seek out drugs like PrEP for fear of feeling judged.
Moreover, when you talk about HIV prevention, you have to talk about sex—which, let’s face it, can be uncomfortable. Many doctors and patients shy away from discussing PrEP due to feelings of embarrassment.
At Zoom, we want to eliminate factors that prevent people from seeking care. We encourage open, honest discussions about HIV risk; we strive to create a stigma-free environment where people can access screening and prevention options that are safe, effective, and meet their needs.
Talking openly about HIV screening and prevention confronts the stigma associated with the virus. It also helps normalize drugs like PrEP as a routine part of preventive healthcare, just like birth control. That’s why— in anticipation of World AIDS Day—we sat down with one of our providers, Allison Ehrlich, for a frank discussion about this life-saving drug. Read on:
Hi Allison! Thank you so much for sitting down to talk PrEP with us. First things first: What is PrEP?
PrEP, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, is the act of taking daily medications, such as Truvada, that can help prevent contracting HIV through sexual activity and IV drug use in combination with safer sex practices including using condoms and lube, talking with your partner about HIV status, and getting tested regularly for STIs.
Why do we need new HIV prevention tools like PrEP? Aren’t condoms enough?
We have come a long way in the medical field with testing, treating and preventing HIV with PrEP, Truvada being one of these medications. Condoms are a great tool when used with PrEP to help protect yourself from HIV in addition to other STIs, but are not enough alone. They can break, may not be used properly, or not provide adequate coverage to reduce the risk of transmission of an STI.
Who is a good candidate for PrEP? How do I know if it’s right for me?
PrEP is recommended for the following populations: men who have sex with men (MSM), sex with multiple partners, involved in an open relationship, engage in sexual activity with a partner who is HIV+, or uses IV drugs.
PrEP might be right for you if you have the following risk factors:
Have one or more HIV+ or injection sexual partners
Having sex with someone in a sexual network where HIV is common
Having a prior STI
Participate in sex work
Using condoms inconsistently or never
Share injection equipment
It is important to talk with your healthcare provider and be honest about your sexual and medical history and lifestyle risk factors. They can help determine if PrEP is right for you.
How effective is PrEP, and how soon does PrEP become effective after you start it?
Per the CDC: “Studies have shown that PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99% when taken daily. Among people who inject drugs, PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV by at least 74% when taken daily.”
PrEP when taken daily takes at least 7 days for maximum protection against HIV.
Are there any side effects?
Side effects in clinical trials included nausea or headaches, but usually subside over several weeks.
If I’m taking PrEP, do I still need to get tested for STIs?
Yes, you need to get tested every 3 months for HIV, and every 6 months for other STIs—sooner if you have any concerns.
I’m worried I’ve been exposed to HIV. Is PrEP a good option for me?
No, PrEP is pre-exposure prophylaxis and is used before you come into contact with HIV. If you are worried you have already been exposed to HIV, then you will need PEP, post-exposure prophylaxis. This is a month-long course of therapy that needs to be started within 72 hours of exposure.
I’m nervous about talking to my doctor about PrEP. How should I bring it up?
ZOOM+Care is a great place to talk about PrEP, because we understand it can be a sensitive topic. It is important to be clear about wanting to start PrEP. We will need to discuss your medical and sexual history to help us determine your risk factors, if you are a good candidate for PrEP, and how to best assist you in getting Truvada.
Why does ZOOM+Care support the use of PrEP?
PrEP, in combination with safer sex practices and other prevention tools, is an amazing method to help protect yourself from becomming infected with HIV. ZOOM+Care is open 7 days a week, holidays, and have clinics open until midnight providing easy access to care. Our central pharmacy is happy to assist with Truvada for PrEP and discuss ways to reduce the monthly cost. You can go online at zoomcare.com or on the iOS app to schedule a visit.
SAD isn’t just an on-the-nose nickname. It stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder, and it’s a type of depression that comes and goes with the changing seasons—most often in the winter and fall.
This year, with the COVID-19 pandemic and a turbulent election causing higher stress levels and feelings of isolation, people with SAD could experience more intense symptoms than usual. So let’s dive into what SAD is and what you—or your loved ones—can do about it.
What is SAD?
As the days get shorter and darker, people vulnerable to SAD may experience common symptoms of depression like feeling low-energy, losing interest in once-beloved activities, or having trouble concentrating. SAD also brings along a few of its characteristic symptoms, such as oversleeping (called hypersomnia), increased cravings for sugary and starchy carbs, and social withdrawal.
If that sounds a lot like hibernation—or just daily life in the year 2020—you’re not wrong! But for those who suffer from clinical seasonal affective disorder, the complications can be serious. SAD can interfere with your work and social life, and in severe cases, even lead to thoughts of death and suicide.
Mental health professionals follow specific guidelines for diagnosing SAD, including the severity of symptoms and seasonal recurrence for at least two consecutive years. They estimate about one in 20 American adults suffer from SAD, with millions more experiencing some lesser form of the “winter blues”.
SAD is more common in women than men, usually begins in young adulthood, and is more frequent among people who live in northern regions of the country—especially those who relocated from sunnier climates.
What causes SAD?
Sunlight, neurochemicals, and circadian rhythms all play a part in whether an individual experiences SAD—and similar to other types of depression, genetic predispositions. Understanding what causes this syndrome will help you understand how to best treat it.
Sunlight, serotonin, and melatonin
While we don’t fully understand the exact mechanisms behind SAD, we do know sunshine is key. We also know sunlight plays a role in how your skin produces vitamin D. Research suggests that vitamin D may impact how your brain produces two important chemicals: serotonin and melatonin.
Serotonin acts as a neurotransmitter—a kind of “chemical messenger” that sends information and instructions throughout your brain and body and helps regulate your mood. If you experience SAD, that regulation doesn’t function properly during the winter months when you get less sunlight and less vitamin D, leading to lower levels of serotonin production.
Melatonin is a hormone that helps keep your sleeping cycle on track. When you produce too much melatonin, you feel sleepy and low-energy, even if you’ve got a solid eight hours of slumber. And you guessed it—research suggests that people with SAD produce too much melatonin.
To sum this all up: SAD and sunlight go hand-in-hand. You absorb sunlight through your skin, helping you produce vitamin D and serotonin and regulating your production of melatonin. When days get short, and we stay inside, you don’t get as much sunlight. For people vulnerable to SAD, that can lead to depressive symptoms.
The frustrating thing about SAD is that when you’re suffering from the disorder, all you want to do is hide under the covers all day. But this behavior is precisely what makes the cycle worse, because you’re further disrupting your natural circadian rhythms.
“Circadian” simply means “about a day” in Latin—it’s how your body follows a 24-hour cycle of waking, eating, and sleeping. Anyone who’s flown to a faraway time zone knows exactly what it feels like when jet lag disrupts your circadian rhythms. Your body needs time to catch up to the new light-and-dark patterns, so you’re wide awake at 2 a.m. and falling asleep during your afternoon museum tour.
In the case of SAD, when the days are short, you don’t get much sunlight, and your brain isn’t producing enough serotonin or too much melatonin, your circadian rhythms will be affected.
Fortunately, your circadian rhythms can be influenced by your environment so that you can counteract some of this less-than-ideal neuroscience with intentional behavior changes. (More on that in a minute.)
What you can do about SAD
If you suspect you’re experiencing the symptoms of SAD, the happy news is that there are several treatment options available: light therapy, talk therapy, medication, and a whole range of coping behaviors.
We can’t all move to San Diego, but we can simulate sunlight through a device called a lightbox, in a practice known as light therapy or phototherapy.
A good lightbox will give off at least 10,000 lux, about 20 times brighter than ordinary indoor lights. Lightboxes have plastic screens that filter out harmful UV rays, unlike tanning beds, and you can easily purchase them online.
Dr. Norman Rosenthal, who coined the term “SAD” in his 1984 study, recommends sitting near a good-sized lightbox (one foot by one-and-a-half feet) for about 20-30 minutes every morning, ideally placed with the light shining down on you from above—just like natural sunlight.
Lightboxes may not work for everyone, but when they’re effective, they tend to work quickly. Research shows that most people start to feel a difference between just a few days and two weeks.
If you have a history of eye sensitivity, diabetes, or bipolar disorder, consult with a doctor before using a lightbox to avoid potential side effects.
Good old-fashioned “talk therapy”, also known as cognitive behavioral therapy, is another effective treatment for SAD. There’s even a specific adaptation, CBT-SAD, that focuses on reframing negative thoughts and managing the day-to-day realities of living with SAD.
During this time of COVID-19, virtual therapy visits or group sessions may be a good choice.
While ZOOM+Care doesn’t offer long-term talk therapy, we can help you get started on your journey. Our mental health specialists can give excellent guidance, support you with medication management, and provide counseling referrals if needed. Talk to a ZOOM+Care Mental Health specialist today!
Medication and supplements
In some cases, antidepressant medications that increase serotonin levels, called SSRIs, can be used to treat SAD—although they can cause side effects, and it could take weeks before you start to notice a difference in your mood.
A ZOOM+Care specialist can help you determine if treating SAD through medication is the right path forward.
Coping with SAD
In addition to therapies or medications, you can also impact the severity of SAD symptoms through your own behavior—meaningful but simple changes you can make to your routine to help regulate your mood and internal clock.
Let there be light
Get as much sunlight as possible, especially in the mornings. Even on a cloudy day, taking a 15 to 30-minute walk outside can make a big difference. Other ways to increase your light exposure: move your desk or favorite chair close to a window, open your blinds, trim away sun-blocking branches or bushes outside, and clean your panes.
Sunlight is key to SAD, and every little bit helps.
Move your body
Note that we didn’t say “exercise”, which can be intimidating. Your goal isn’t to look like the next Marvel action star. You just need to move your body enough to help you feel awake and stimulate endorphins, the so-called “feel-good” chemicals your brain produces when you exercise. Research shows that even low-impact movements like stretching, walking, and gentle yoga can help reduce depression—as long as you do it consistently. (For bonus benefits, use a lightbox during indoor exercise!)
Pay a visit to Mother Nature
Don’t feel like working up a sweat? You’re in luck. It turns out there’s a less strenuous way to combat SAD—forest bathing.
Before you pack your swimsuit, we should specify that forest bathing isn’t an actual bath. Rather, it’s the act of spending time outdoors, slowing down, and becoming immersed in the natural environment. According to a recent study, the benefits of forest bathing include relaxation, less stress, and decreased depression, anxiety, and anger.
Keep a sleep routine
Staying up late or sleeping in on the weekends can wreak havoc on your circadian rhythms, so as much as possible, stick to a consistent bedtime and wake-up time through the winter months. Nightly rituals like a cup of herbal tea before bed or a sunrise-simulating alarm clock can help.
Fuel your brain through food
Since your goal this winter is to produce more serotonin and vitamin D, eat meals and snacks that will help—research suggests more whole grains, healthy fats, fish, veggies, and fruits, paired with less sugar and processed carbs.
Curb your carb cravings
If you’re dealing with SAD, though, you’ll likely crave sweet and starchy foods—ones that will only cause your blood sugar to spike and crash, making your energy levels more unstable.
Manage your cravings by savoring treats during outings or special occasions, like a long walk to your neighborhood coffee shop for a holiday latte, or meeting a friend for a social-distanced hot cocoa. Keep your kitchen stocked with healthy foods to lower your chance of carb-heavy binges on bad days.
Eat at consistent times
When it comes to circadian rhythms, it’s not just what you eat, but when you eat, that matters. If you can, eat breakfast at a consistent time every day, and stop eating a few hours before your bedtime. These signals (or lack thereof) will help your body know when it’s time to wake up and time to go to sleep.
You can’t always control how you feel, but you can avoid triggers that you know make you feel worse. During this tumultuous year, that might mean limiting your news consumption to 30 minutes a day, banning your phone from your bedroom, or deleting addictive social media apps altogether.
Ask for social support
Socializing is not going to come naturally this winter, but like all types of depression, having support from loved ones will help make it easier to cope with SAD.
On a good day, tell trusted family members or friends that you’re dealing with SAD, and ask them to check in with you when you go quiet. Find an accountability buddy to help stick to your movement goals. Schedule those awkward virtual hangouts in advance. (You’ll cancel sometimes, and that’s okay.)
Bottom line: be kind to yourself, and take it a day at a time.
SAD is not the only mental health stressor we’re facing this winter. With COVID-19 in our midst, we’re facing intense holiday blues—financial strain, missing our friends, no family feasts or Macy’s Day parade. While it’s okay to feel sad, anxious, and angry about these losses, it’s important to recognize when your seasonal blues become serious. If you need a professional’s help, we’re here to listen, all year ’round. Talk to a Mental Health specialist today, either virtual or IRL.
This article is in celebration of the 2020 Movember campaign. The Movember Foundation helps raise awareness for testicular and prostate cancer, but also focuses on other aspects of men’s mental—and overall—well-being.
Trigger warning: the following content contains information on suicide. If you or someone you know is suicidal, please visit The Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 1-800-273-TALK.
As much as we hate (read: loathe, abhor) gender stereotypes, there’s one cliché that holds true: Men avoid the doctor like the plague.
Compared with women, self-identified males are half as likely to see a doctor over a two-year time period. Compounding this behavior, they frequently leave prescriptions unfilled and skip their recommended medical screenings. When men wind up in the hospital, it’s more likely to be from severe issues such as pneumonia, congestive heart failure, and diabetes—conditions that could easily be uncovered through routine, preventative care.
Grimmer still? Compared to women, men die five years sooner, live with more years of bad health, and—according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention—are nearly four times more likely to complete suicide.
Looking at the data, it’s abundantly clear that men don’t like going to the doctor. (So much, in fact, that 72 percent of them would rather clean a toilet then get a check-up.) The real question is why they hate it.
A 2016 survey commissioned by Orlando Health may hold some answers. According to the results, “I’m too busy” (22%) is the number one excuse men give for skipping the doctor. Other top answers include fear of finding out something that may be wrong (21%), followed by discomfort with specific physical exams, such as prostate checks (18%).
Our societal view of masculinity may also be to blame.
Traditional gender roles dictate that men be strong and resilient; they’re taught to reject their weaknesses and hide their vulnerability. Pretty much everything about a doctor’s office is in opposition to masculine norms, and because of this, men’s anxieties about seeking care may be intensified. (An idea backed by research conducted at Rutgers University in 2016.)
The survey found that 88% of U.S. men questioned thought it was helpful when people checked in on their mental health. Unfortunately, nearly half of the respondents said no one has asked how they’re coping during COVID-19.
Furthermore, 21% of male respondents said their mental health had worsened compared with before COVID-19. Twenty-seven percent admitted they felt lonely more often than before the outbreak.
While sobering, Movember’s survey is an excellent reminder to ask the men in your life how they’re doing, even if they seem fine on the outside. With so many men isolated and disconnected from their usual support networks, checking in is more critical than ever.
How can ZOOM+Care help close the men’s health gap?
By offering same-day, no-wait visits (both inside and outside of work hours), we make it easy for people of all genders to get care. Only have 30 minutes on your lunch break? No problem. We can get you in and out with time to spare—and meds in hand.
Using tech to avoid embarrassment.
Beyond being busy, men often forgo treatment because that they’re embarrassed—or simply reluctant—to talk about their health issues.
Our VideoCare™ and ChatCare™ features let patients connect with a provider without setting foot in a doctor’s office—meaning they’re answering questions privately, rather than confessing uncomfortable secrets in person, in an unfamiliar setting.
ChatCare™ is great for minor illnesses such as allergic rhinitis, sinus infections, colds, and coughs.
And because it’s easy to refill prescriptions through ChatCare™ and VideoCare™, both can help address the issue of men skipping their meds, too.
Stamping out stigma.
Up to 41% of adults forego treatment for mental health concerns due to stigma and fear of discrimination. For men—many of whom have been told to “man up” and “shake it off” their whole lives—accessing mental health resources can be particularly daunting, as it goes against cultural expectations.
We want to make mental healthcare convenient and judgement-free—for men, and for anyone who is nervous about seeking help. Our philosophy is that mental illness is like any other medical illness—it’s no more shameful than a sore throat or a broken bone. As Dr. Erik Vanderlip, our Chief Medical Officer likes to say, “Just like you’d go to the doctor for a sprained ankle, you can see a Mental Health Care professional for an assessment.”
Integration is essential.
Due to growing demand, there’s been an increase in online health retailers and specialty clinics that focus on men’s health concerns—erectile dysfunction and low testosterone being the most common. These conditions, however, are typically multifactorial. Psychological causes such as depression—and physical factors such as obesity and diabetes—can mimic the same symptoms. For the best treatment, it’s crucial to obtain a high-quality, comprehensive evaluation.
At ZOOM+Care, we do it all—conveniently, and with discretion.
Do your part for Movember.
Men are our fathers, sons, partners, friends, uncles, and brothers. Let’s work together to create a cultural shift where they don’t find it difficult (or embarrassing) to seek out medical care. This month and every month, encourage men’s health initiatives, foster healthy discussions, and—most importantly—let the men in your life know that we love them, and that their health matters.
Like all holidays, Halloween is a bit more complicated during a global pandemic. Close-quarters activities like trick-or-treating are now much more trick than treat. Medical experts agree—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have categorized traditional trick-or-treating as a high-risk activity for COVID-19 and Influenza infection. Unfortunately, the version of this Halloween tradition most of us know and love simply isn’t safe this year.
While Halloween may not feel the same, that doesn’t mean it has to be boring for you and your kids. There are plenty of ways to have a frightful and delightful holiday while keeping your friends, family, and neighbors safe. Keep reading for some fun, COVID-safe Halloween activities:
Find the Halloween spirit (with a scavenger hunt).
Let’s be honest: Part of the fun of trick-or-treating is the “treat” part. But the pandemic doesn’t mean your kids have to give up their sugar high (as tempting as that may sound). There are still fun ways for your little one to satisfy their sweet tooth.
Try approaching trick-or-treating this year much like you’d organize an Easter egg hunt. Hide Halloween candy around the house and yard, along with clues leading to the next ones. Get creative with your prizes and clues, and this activity will also be fun for parents. Better yet, coordinate with other parents in your neighborhood to create a socially distanced hunt that multiple kids can safely participate in.
Another way to keep the treats flowing is by putting together “scare packages.” Stock up on some Halloween goodies and put together small gift bags that you can drop off with friends and family. You can still see friends from a safe distance when you drop off the scare packages—and show off your creative costumes. The CDC recommends washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after preparing any treats you plan on sharing with others.
Give it a gourd.
Pumpkin carving is both a classic and COVID-safe Halloween activity. It’s an excellent activity for kids and can also work as a socially distanced backyard activity with friends and family if the weather is nice enough. Try organizing a pumpkin carving contest with your neighbors or family members. If you’re separated geographically, you can even carve pumpkins over a video call and virtually share your artistic prowess.
Virtual Costume Party
One silver lining of doing so much socializing over the internet is that geography doesn’t have to separate us. Try connecting with friends who you normally couldn’t trick-or-treat with and hold a virtual costume party. You can even coordinate with other families in advance to plan special prizes, treats, activities, and games for the kids.
We all have that neighbor who really leans into decorating their home during the Halloween season. While you don’t have to go that overboard, decking out your place with cobwebs, fake headstones, or other decorative items is a great way to get in the Halloween spirit. This kid-friendly activity engages their creativity and keeps them focused on something other than candy. Order some supplies online, or safely visit a local crafts store to stock up. Decorating your home is a festive family activity that keeps everyone safe and sufficiently spooked.
Masks on masks.
Keep in mind that your child’s Darth Vader mask won’t help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and Influenza. The CDC recommends wearing a cloth mask under any costume mask. If your kids are participating in outdoor, socially distanced Halloween activities, make sure that they are wearing proper masks underneath their costumes—and that there is at least six feet of space between them and others at all times.
From all of us at ZOOM+Care, have a happy and COVID-safe Halloween!
If you’re frightened by COVID-19 and Influenza this Halloween, ZOOM+Care is here to help. We offer five-minute flu shots and COVID-19 testing. Schedule a visit today for a safe (and scary) Halloween.
With COVID-19 still making daily headlines, flu season may seem insignificant, small, and far away.
But trust us when we say—it’s coming, and it’s more important than ever to prepare for it.
With a potential “twindemic” looming, health experts urge people to get a flu shot ASAP. Not only can getting vaccinated help preserve hospital beds, staff, and medical resources, but it can help your year suck a little bit less. (Seriously, who wants to add “catching the flu” to the list of reasons why 2020 can just see itself out?)
Since this flu season is unlike any other, you probably have all kinds of questions—and we’re here to answer them. Here’s what you need to know about getting vaccinated during a global pandemic.
The flu and COVID-19 are basically the same, right?
COVID-19 and the flu are respiratory viruses, and they have similar symptoms. However, the two illnesses are very different.
While both cause fatigue, coughing, and fever, COVID-19 can have a wide range of symptoms, including loss of smell and severe breathing problems.
There are a couple of (very) good reasons to get your flu shot this year, for both personal and public health reasons.
Let’s start with the personal. Because different viruses cause the flu and COVID-19, there’s a possibility of co-infection. Yes—that means you can have both at the same time.
Information on COVID‐19 and influenza co-infection is limited, and public health experts don’t know how dangerous it may be. But, chances are, it’s not great.
“Getting a flu shot lowers the chances you’ll get influenza—and if you do, it will most likely be a milder infection,” says ZOOM+Care CMO, Dr. Vanderlip. “We have no idea what co-infection with flu and COVID would be like, but a flu vaccine reduces your chances of finding out. Plus, getting vaccinated helps limit the spread of coronavirus by preventing extra trips to the doctor.”
Another reason to get the jab? If we can prevent people from catching the flu, we can ease the burden on our healthcare system. That way, our hospitals are free and clear to help COVID-19 patients.
I’ve heard it’s unsafe to get the flu shot this year. Is that true?
The flu isn’t probably isn’t your biggest worry right now, and that’s understandable. We know it’s tempting to avoid the doctor’s office for fear of COVID-19, but getting your flu shot is still important.
From extra cleaning precautions to strict social distancing measures, doctors are taking extra precautions to keep people safe while getting their flu shot.
“When you schedule a flu shot at Zoom, you’re in and out in five minutes, and you have minimal contact with others during your visit,” says Dr. Mark Zeiter, ZOOM+Care’s Medical Director of Acute Care Services. “We also ask that patients schedule ahead, which means the waiting room is empty or doesn’t even exist.”
We also ask that patients wear masks during their visit, and follow all social distancing guidelines.
One important thing to note: Don’t get the flu shot if you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or are currently experiencing symptoms. In that case, wait until you’re ten days symptom-free or have a negative COVID-19 test.
Can the flu shot protect me from COVID-19?
The flu and COVID-19 are different illnesses, so the flu shot won’t protect you against the coronavirus. That said, getting vaccinated has many benefits.
“For starters, the flu shot can help prevent unnecessary trips to the doctor,” says Dr. Vanderlip.
That’s important since more trips to the doctor mean more risk of being exposed to COVID-19.
“The vaccine can also reduce the severity of the flu if you do happen to become infected. Our flu shot protects against four strains of the flu virus.” Vanderlip adds.
According to Dr. Mark Zeiter, flu vaccine can have long-term health benefits, too.
“There is evidence that flu vaccination offers a protective effect against Alzheimer’s disease. The more years you get the flu shot, the less likely you are to get Alzheimer’s, says Zeitzer. “There is also evidence that the more years you get the flu vaccination, the less likely you are to get the flu overall—so there is a cumulative effect.”
Will the flu shot increase my risk of getting COVID-19?
No. The two diseases are different, so being immunized for one does not make you more vulnerable to the other. There’s no evidence connecting the flu shot, or other vaccines, with an increased risk of contracting COVID-19.
Will wearing a mask and practicing social distancing help stop the spread of the flu?
The pandemic has underscored the importance of handwashing, sanitizing, masking, and social distancing—measures which also curb the spread of flu. According to CDC director Robert Redfield, if the public continues to follow health experts’ advice, we could have the “best flu season” to date.
Just take a look at the Southern Hemisphere. Australia is a good predictor of our flu season, and this year,there were just over 21,000 laboratory-confirmed influenza cases. Last year in the same period, there were over 247,000. Experts credit extra precautions, such as masking, social distancing, sanitizing, and good vaccination rate for the mild flu season in the Southern Hemisphere.
In other words, keep wearing your mask, washing your hands, and get your flu shot!
Can I get the vaccine at any time?
You can, but we don’t recommend waiting.
“Now is the time to get the flu shot, because we don’t know when the flu wave will be coming,” says Dr. Vanderlip.
Seasonal flu outbreaks can start in October, so it’s best to get your flu shot ASAP.
Maybe you don’t need us to tell you this, but: there’s a lot going in the world right now.
While our country grapples with COVID-19, the Pacific Coast is on fire, its residents cocooned in a thick blanket of smoke under an eerie red sky. Air Quality Index numbers are—quite literally—off the charts in both rural and major cities across the west.
With smoke levels at hazardous levels, you’re bound to have questions about how air quality affects your health. To answer your q’s, give you some peace of mind, and get tips on reducing exposure risk, we sat down with ZOOM+Care provider Alicja Gonzales.
Hi Alijica! First of all, what are the symptoms of wildfire smoke exposure?
Symptom severity can vary, but common symptoms include a scratchy throat, nasal and eye irritation, fatigue, headache, dizziness, nausea, cough, wheezing, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, and chest pain.
Who is most likely to experience health effects from wildfire smoke exposure? Who is THE most vulnerable?
Individuals with preexisting lung and heart conditions, the elderly, and pregnant women are at higher risk for complications. Children are also at a higher risk because they breathe more air per pound of bodyweight than adults.
Finally, the longer you are exposed to pollutants from smoke, the higher your risk of developing smoke-related illnesses.
What can I do to protect myself from the smoke?
Avoid outdoor exposure as much as possible. Exercise indoors when possible. Keep all doors and windows closed, and consider applying weather sealing if you detect smoke leaking in.
Do not add to indoor air pollution. Avoid lighting candles, smoking, vacuuming, and using your fireplace.
As a last resort, consider seeking shelter elsewhere—especially if you are at high risk for complications.
Are there any effective home remedies to cleanse the air? We’ve heard a lot of talk about boiling herbs, wet towels and bandanas, etc.
The above remedies are unlikely to improve actual air quality, but they may temporarily alleviate minor smoke exposure symptoms.
To improve the air quality in your home, try these tips:
Change home air filters to high-efficiency ones.
Use a portable air cleaner/purifier.
Again, do not add to indoor air pollution. Your house might feel stuff from being shut up, but avoid lighting candles or using scented air fresheners. They do nothing to improve air quality, and can actually make it worse.
How can I tell if wildfire smoke is affecting my family or me?
If you’re told to stay indoors, do so! Stay informed and monitor air quality indexes closely in your area. Know the symptoms of wildfire smoke exposure, and seek care if you’re concerned.
If I’m experiencing side effects from wildfire smoke, when do I need to see a doctor?
Minor symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, throat, nasal and eye irritation should gradually resolve as air quality improves.
If you have severe chest pain symptoms, shortness of breath, cough, rapid heart rate, or dizziness, you should immediately call 911 or the nearest emergency facility.
If you’re feeling off, or just worried, there is no harm in consulting your healthcare provider. Often, evaluation and medical guidance can bring much-needed reassurance.
Should I be worried about long-term effects from wildfire smoke?
It’s natural to feel worried, but the wildfires in our region will only temporarily affect the air quality. Long-term physical effects are unlikely.
Many of us feel really anxious right now. Is this normal?
Feeling anxious is a normal human reaction. Even in stressful situations, it’s important to try to find the positive in any situation. Consider turning anxious energy into ways to connect and help others in your community who are likely to be feeling the same way.
Like Alicja said, it’s normal to off right now. Whether you need help coping with anxiety or processing what’s happening in the world right now, our Mental Health Specialists are here to help.
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.
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.
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.
Workers in every industry are feeling the COVID-19 crunch. More than 30 million people have filed unemployment claims since March—almost a quarter of the American workforce. Regardless of whether you still have your job, employment changes can bring up difficult emotions. It’s important to be patient with yourself and preserve your mental health. Here are some helpful tips for coping during this difficult time.
How to cope with ‘layoff survivor’s guilt’ and get back to normal
“Survivor’s guilt” occurs when people survive something many others don’t. Survivors of life-threatening events often experience this, but researchers have also seen it in people kept after a round of layoffs. If you weren’t let go, you may experience thoughts like, “Why did they choose me?” You may even feel personally responsible for your co-workers losing their jobs. These thoughts can be confusing, but try to stay grounded and realistic.
Remember: it’s not about you.
It’s important to remember that your co-worker’s layoff wasn’t related to their performance. It also isn’t a sign of your value in relation to theirs. Layoffs are strictly business decisions that are out of your control, especially during COVID-19. You can feel empathy, but remember that feelings of personal responsibility or self-blame aren’t useful. Layoffs are about much more than one person.
It may also be a good time to take stock of where you’re at in your career trajectory. Is this the right job for you at this moment? If so, what kind of growth opportunities will these layoffs create for you, such as new projects, or managerial opportunities you didn’t have before the crisis? Try to find the silver lining in this situation and make the most of it.
Reach out for help.
You also don’t have to navigate these feelings by yourself. Talk therapy is a helpful resource in making sense of layoff survivor’s guilt. Many employers offer Employee Assistance Programs, which offer counseling benefits. It may be worth reviewing your current benefits package to see if these resources are available. If not, don’t hesitate to reach out to close friends and family to help process your emotions.
Try to keep a healthy routine and lifestyle during this stressful time. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, exercise, water, and nutritious food. Also, get outdoors when you can. Remember that this crisis will pass, and your friends who lost their jobs will recover.
Preserving mental health during unemployment
If you’ve recently lost your job, it’s natural to feel your mind racing and switching into survival mode. Try to slow your thinking and focus on preserving your mental health. There are several strategies that can keep you centered during this challenging time.
Keep your cool.
It’s important to stay calm after a layoff. Avoid jumping into a frenzied job search. Focus on mindfulness and being in the moment. Go for a long walk or run in your neighborhood. Bake something delicious. Spend a weekend in the wilderness. Whatever you need to do to unplug and reset will help set you up for success.
Tend to your emotions.
Researchers have found that tending to your emotions after a layoff is more effective than jumping into job searching right away. You’ll have plenty of time to refresh your resume and reach out to LinkedIn contacts when you’re ready. Putting your emotions on the back burner and searching for a new job out of panic may not get you the results you’re looking for. Take time to process.
Again, it’s not about you.
Just like for those experiencing layoff survivor’s guilt, remember that this decision wasn’t about you. Your manager took many different factors into consideration. They don’t think any less of you or your contributions. Your job loss also doesn’t mean you have less value than your co-workers who kept their jobs. Their jobs may fill more urgent needs for the business’s survival right now, but that has no bearing on your value as a person. Take solace in knowing that this pandemic was out of your control and that you can rely on your experience to land another great position.
Trust the process.
After you’ve recharged and connected with your emotions, jump into the job hunt—with a healthy dose of patience and trust. COVID-19 is still affecting many businesses, and there are record numbers of unemployed workers. Remember that millions of people are in your exact position, and the best thing you can do is stay confident and persistent. You may experience rejection along the way, and that’s okay. Don’t lose sight of your value and worth as an employee, and trust that you’ll emerge from this layoff just fine.
How ZOOM+Care can help.
If you’ve recently lost your job, or you’re feeling layoff survivor’s guilt, ZOOM+Care can help. Set up a visit with one of our on-demand mental health specialists today. We also offer virtual visits through VideoCare™ if an in-person visit isn’t the best fit for you.
ZOOM+Care’s on-demand mental health specialists give great guidance and help you plug back into your life, giving you tools to feel better on your own. They can also help with medication management, and give counseling referrals if needed.
Is there any holiday more divisive than Valentine’s Day? For many, it’s a day to rekindle romance and spend an evening with someone special. For others, it’s an excuse to celebrate all the love they feel, whether it’s love for friends, family members, or even four-legged companions. And for some, Valentine’s Day is just plain difficult—a glaring pink-and-red reminder of all their romantic disappointments.
Whether you recently suffered a breakup, have a one-sided crush, or are experiencing hardcore Tinder fatigue, February 14th is likely to trigger some painful emotions. So, what should we do when everything is not coming up roses on V-Day?
Science has a suggestion: Instead of focusing on romantic relationships, try showing love to yourself this Valentine’s Day.
But, despite evidence that self-compassion is beneficial, many resist practicing it. Some of us have a deeply rooted belief that negative self-talk is motivating—that it pushes us to work harder, perform better, and achieve our goals. Others worry that self-compassion is a form of weakness and self-indulgence. Many believe it’s a selfish act that undermines motivation.
The reality couldn’t be farther from the truth, however.
Research shows that being kind to ourselves helps us become stronger, more resilient, and less focused on personal issues. According to a 2011 paper published in Psychological Science, it can even help us overcome adversity. The study indicated that higher levels of self-compassion were related to improved emotional recovery following marital separation and divorce. In another study, veterans who measured higher on the self-compassion scale were less likely to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
So, how do we learn to practice the invaluable art of self-love and compassion? Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneer in self-compassion research and Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, describes self-compassion as a three-step process:
Chances are, you have a voice inside your head telling you how worthless, dumb, or inadequate you are. Self-kindness is all about replacing harsh self-criticism with kinder, gentler words. Instead of telling yourself, “I’m so unlovable. I’m going to be alone forever,” say “I’m lonelier than I’d like to be. Maybe now is the time to find ways to connect with others.”
Acknowledge that suffering is a universal experience and not a personal failure. Tell yourself, “Everyone gets lonely sometimes. I’m not the only person who feels down today.”
Observe your negative emotions without focusing on them or suppressing them. Simply tell yourself, “I’m feeling sad and lonely today, and I’m having a hard time.”
We understand that self-compassion seems strange and unnatural at first, so we’ve compiled a few simple exercises to get you started. Go on, send some of that loving-kindness your way this V-Day:
4 Strategies for Self-Compassion
1. Ask yourself, “Would I talk to a friend this way?”
Think about a time a friend came to you for help after failing or getting rejected. How did you respond to them? What words did you choose? What tone of voice did you use when speaking with them?
Now, think of a similar situation in which you were struggling, and compare your two answers. Were you as kind to yourself as you were to your friend?
Chances are, you’d never talk to a friend the way your inner voice speaks to you.
2. Give yourself a loving touch.
It feels good to receive a warm hug or comforting touch when you’re upset, right? While this exercise might seem silly, trying giving yourself a soothing touch next time you feel down. Place one hand over your heart, hug or gently rock your body, or simply hold your hands together in your lap.
According to Dr. Neff, “research indicates that physical touch releases oxytocin provides a sense of security, soothes distressing emotions and calms cardiovascular stress.”
3. Memorize a set of compassionate phrases.
When you find yourself caught in a barrage of self-criticism, close your eyes, and acknowledge your suffering. Say to yourself, “I feel sad. This is a difficult situation, and I’m having a hard time.” Then, remind yourself that everyone struggles. Say, “Sadness is part of life. Everyone feels this way sometimes. I’m not alone.”
Now, replace your negative self-talk with words of kindness. “May I be kind to myself. May I forgive myself. May I be strong. May I accept myself as I am.”
4. Write yourself a self-compassion letter
If you’re struggling with self-compassion, take some time to write yourself a short, encouraging letter. Here’s how:
Think of something that you feel ashamed, insecure, or not good enough. It could be related to your personality, the way you behave, or your relationships.
Once you identify something, describe how it makes you feel. Ashamed? Sorrowful? Angry? Try and be as honest with yourself as possible.
Next, write yourself a letter expressing compassion for parts of yourself that you dislike. Take the perspective of a caring friend, and imagine the encouraging things they might say to you in this situation.
Save the letter, and come back to it when you need a reminder to be self-compassionate.
While self-compassion is a useful tool for boosting happiness, it’s important to stay in tune with yourself and identify when you need expert advice. If you or someone you know needs guidance this Valentine’s Day (and beyond), we’re here.