The Truth about the Flu Shot

October is here, bringing with it changing leaves, Halloween candy, and the approach of the dreaded flu season.  You may not worry about catching the flu, or consider it an inevitable winter annoyance.  But before you pull out the scarves and mittens, consider these common myths about the flu vaccine, and find out the truth about protecting your family.

  • Healthy adults don’t need to get a flu shot.  The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that everyone age 6 months and older be immunized against the flu.  The influenza virus can cause serious, prolonged illness, even in an otherwise healthy person.  By getting immunized against the flu, you also protect the people around you and prevent the flu from spreading through your community.
  • The flu shot can give you the flu.  Let’s be perfectly clear: the flu vaccine cannot cause the flu.  So why does your cousin Larry swear that he had never gotten the flu until he got a flu shot?  The flu vaccine takes about two weeks to be fully effective.  If a person has already been exposed to the flu, or becomes exposed a few days after they get immunized, the flu shot may not protect him.  The flu shot also does not protect against other infections, such as the common cold.  Getting a flu shot doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get the flu, but it provides excellent protection with minimal risk.
  • Influenza isn’t a serious illness.  Many of us perceive the flu as being a harmless nuisance, but every year it causes widespread hospitalizations and deaths.  In 2013, flu-related deaths during the week ending January 12th reached epidemic levels, making up about 8.3% of all deaths in the U.S.  Although children and the elderly face a heightened risk, everyone is susceptible to complications from the flu—during the 2013-2014 flu season, nearly 60% of flu-related hospitalizations were of people between the ages of 18-64.
  • The flu shot isn’t very effective at preventing the flu.  Immunization can reduce your chance of getting the flu by as much as 70%.  Even if you do contract the flu, getting a flu shot may decrease the severity and duration of your illness, as well as the likelihood that you will pass it on to others.  By getting a flu shot, you don’t just protect yourself—you protect your children, your parents and grandparents, your neighbors, and your coworkers.
  • Vaccines are dangerous.  Millions of people safely receive flu shots every year.  Most either suffer no adverse effects or very minor effects such as mild soreness or swelling at the injection site.  Although there are potential risks associated with any vaccine, serious reactions to the flu vaccine are extremely rare.  The bottom line is that there is more risk associated with contracting the flu or passing it on to a loved one than there is with getting a flu shot.

Flu shots are available many places, including doctors’ offices, pharmacies, and community clinics.  Talk to your doctor or pharmacist today about getting yourself and your family immunized, and enjoy a healthy winter season.

The Story of Compound UK-92480

It’s not uncommon for scientists to face disappointment and frustration during the process of drug development. In fact, it’s a relatively rare event for a drug to go directly from laboratory bench to patient bedside without at least a few hiccups along the way. Often, research is abandoned due to an experimental drug’s lack of efficacy or intolerable side effects.

That was nearly the case with compound UK-92480. In the late 1980s, scientists at a Pfizer laboratory hypothesized that by selectively blocking an enzyme called PDE5 (phosphodiesterase type 5), they could relax the blood vessels of the heart and treat angina. In the early 1990s, they discovered and began experimenting with a compound known as UK-92480 for that purpose.

As they moved forward with clinical trials, they found that the drug left the body in a relatively short time, even when the patient took the drug three times a day. Additionally, when used in combination with nitrates (the standard for treating angina), it had the potential to drop a patient’s blood pressure to dangerously low levels. On top of this, there was the fact that male participants began reporting an increase in erections several days after the initial dose. Despite having a seemingly doomed cardiovascular drug on its hands, Pfizer still filed a patent for compound UK-92480 (sildenafil citrate) with the United States. It was published in 1993.

Coincidentally, at about this same time, other scientists were elucidating the biochemical pathways involved in penile erection. This gave the scientists at Pfizer insight as to how UK-92480 might be able to amplify the effects of sexual stimulation. It wasn’t too long before scientists began clinical trials in order to determine if they might have accidentally discovered the first oral treatment for erectile dysfunction (ED). In 1994, Pfizer filed another patent for sildenafil citrate, this time classifying it as an ED treatment instead of a cardiovascular drug. This patent was published in 2002.

Sildenafil eventually reached the market as a cardiovascular drug used to treat a rare condition known as pulmonary arterial hypertension. It was marketed under the little-known brand name Revatio. In 1998 Pfizer re-introduced this same compound, UK-92480 (sildenafil citrate), to the world, marketing it as the popularly known drug Viagra—the first oral treatment for ED. Its popularity soared, and sales of Viagra peaked in 2008 at $2.9 billion.

How can any of this possibly benefit a patient using sildenafil citrate (Viagra) to treat ED? It’s simple. The patent on sildenafil citrate as a cardiovascular drug (Revatio) expired in late 2012, at which time Revatio became available as a multi-sourced generic drug. The patent for sildenafil citrate as an ED treatment (Viagra), on the other hand, is not set to expire until 2019 (despite some legal challenges to get it off patent sooner).

If you’re still unclear about what this means for the average ED patient, here’s the run down: a single 50 mg tablet of Viagra costs anywhere from $30 to $40, depending on the pharmacy and the quantity prescribed. That same 50 mg of sildenafil citrate is available to you at a fraction of a cost! If you’re not opposed to swallowing an extra pill and a half, with your doctor’s approval you could save up to 50% or more. Don’t believe me? Give me a call!

What You Should Know about Sunscreen

By now, you’re probably aware of the potential health risks associated with exposing your skin to sunlight, or ultraviolet radiation (UVR).  The surest way to protect yourself from sun damage is to avoid exposure.  If you have to be outside, some experts recommend covering up with tight-knit clothing and a wide-brimmed hat, especially between the hours 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when the sun is typically at its strongest.   For many of us, however, taking such precautions isn’t always possible.  Thankfully, there is a second (though arguably less ideal) option: sunscreen.

You’re probably also aware of the benefits of sunscreen.  But you may not realize that choosing a sunscreen and getting the maximum benefit from it is far from simple.  Walk into your favorite big-box store during the summer, and you’re likely to find an entire aisle of sunscreens to choose from, each making various claims as to its effectiveness, and giving varying instructions for proper use.  Understanding a few useful facts will help you protect yourself during the summer and throughout the year.

The most common and recognizable measure of a sunscreens’ effectiveness is a number called the SPF (sun protection factor).   It’s true that the higher the SPF, the greater the level of protection.  However, a popular misconception is that a product with an SPF of 15, when used properly, will allow a person who would usually sunburn in one hour to instead be in the sun for 15 hours and get the same sunburn.  While the protection afforded by a particular level of SPF does somewhat correlate with length of exposure, it is directly correlated with the total amount of UVR exposure.  This distinction matters, because the amount of UVR emitted by the sun varies throughout the day (for example, 15 minutes of exposure at 1 p.m. contains about the same amount of UVR as 1 hour of exposure at 9 a.m.).

“Broad Spectrum” is another term that may or may not appear on a product’s packaging along with the SPF.  If a sunscreen is labeled as broad spectrum, this indicates that the product protects your skin from the two most common forms of UVR, ultraviolet-A (UVA) and ultraviolet-B (UVB).  While UVB exposure can cause sunburn, it is actually UVA that causes long term skin damage and premature signs of aging.  Products not labeled as broad spectrum will protect you from UVB only—possibly preventing an acute sunburn, but allowing damaging UVA to penetrate your skin, leading to long term damage.

SPF and broad spectrum are the two most important factors to consider when choosing your sunscreen.  To emphasize the importance of each of these, the FDA has allowed any product which is both broad spectrum and has an SPF of 15 or higher to include the claim that it “not only protects against sunburn, but, if used as directed with other sun protection measures, can reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging.”  On the other hand, products which are not broad spectrum and have an SPF of 2 – 14 will carry the following warning: “Skin Cancer/Skin Aging Alert:  Spending time in the sun increases your risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.”

Keeping these two measures of effectiveness in mind, the last thing you need to know is how to use sunscreen properly.  Sunscreen should be applied at least 15 minutes prior to sun exposure.   Current research recommends that you apply it a second time in half as many minutes as the SPF number (for example, if you’ve just applied an SPF 30 sunscreen, you should reapply it once after 15 minutes).   It will also need to be reapplied after swimming or sweating, or if the product has been wiped or rubbed off.   Although some products are labeled “water resistant,” no product is waterproof.   Water resistant products are assigned a value of either 40 or 80 minutes.  This is the amount of time spent swimming or sweating for which it will provide the indicated degree of protection before it needs to be reapplied. In order to achieve the level of protection indicated by the SPF, sunscreen needs to be applied liberally.  It should take approximately 1 ounce (about the amount that will fill a shot glass) to cover the average adult body.  If you buy a six ounce bottle and apply twice as recommended, your sunscreen should only last you three days of full-body exposure.

It is highly recommended that you choose a product that is both broad spectrum and has an SPF of 15 or greater.   If you’re going to be swimming or sweating, chose a water-resistant product, and reapply it as often as instructed by the manufacturer.

Understanding the Effects of Sun Exposure and Surviving a Sunburn

Your skin’s response to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) exposure from the sun is complicated.  It depends on many things, such as the length of your exposure, the time of day, your proximity to the equator, and your skin tone (the amount of melanin found naturally in your skin).  Reactions can vary from beneficial increases in circulating active vitamin D, to increased melanin production, to more harmful effects such as mild redness, localized immunosuppression (making you susceptible to viruses in the exposed area), mutations in DNA, and increased risk for certain types of cancers.

A sunburn is one common form of overexposure to UVR and can range from mild to severe.  Whether you spent time in the sun without adequate protection or you got burned unexpectedly on an overcast day (damaging UVR exposure can occur even when it’s cloudy outside!), you may have ended up with a sunburn.  Depending on its severity, your burn should go away in a matter of hours or days.  Although you can’t speed up your skin’s recovery process, there are steps you can take to make yourself more comfortable as your skin recovers.

  • As a part of your body’s healing response, the burned skin will feel warm or hot.  A cool bath or shower or cold towel placed over the area will provide temporary relief.  If you bathe, avoid using soaps or bath gels as these agents may irritate sunburned skin, worsening your pain.
  • Apply a moisturizer containing aloe or soy to help soothe sunburned skin.  Avoid using petroleum-based products as they can trap the heat in.  For particularly painful areas, consider applying a hydrocortisone cream.
  •  Sunburns can dehydrate you, so drink plenty of water after extended sun exposure (aim for 8 glasses per day).
  •  Protect your skin from additional exposure by avoiding the sun and wearing loose-fitting, tight-knit clothing (if you hold it up, you shouldn’t be able to see light through it).
  • For persistent pain or discomfort, consider using an over-the-counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
  • If blisters form on your skin, this means you have a second degree burn.  Leave the blisters alone and allow them to heal naturally to prevent infection.
  • If you feel weak, dizzy, or sick to your stomach, consult your physician immediately!