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COVID-19 Booster Vaccines

Along with other layers of protection such as physical distancing, good hand hygiene, staying home when sick, and mask-wearing, getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is one of the best measures in fighting this pandemic. If you’ve received two doses of an mRNA vaccine, it is highly recommended that you get a booster vaccine. Getting a COVID-19 booster vaccine can help maintain and lengthen your protection against the virus.

“Why do I need a booster vaccine?”

While vaccines are highly protective against the development of serious illness (or even death) as a result of COVID-19, studies have shown some waning of vaccine effectiveness over time – with an increase in susceptibility in individuals who are older or severely immunocompromised. Getting a booster vaccine is also crucial as new variants (such as the highly transmissible Delta variant) of the virus emerge and transmit in the community.

“Who is eligible to receive a COVID-19 booster vaccine?”

Everyone in British Columbia who is 18 or older will be eligible to receive a booster vaccine, starting with those who are most at risk. While getting a booster vaccine is optional, it is highly recommended – especially for those who are considered CEV (clinically extremely vulnerable.)

“When will I get my invitation for the booster vaccine?”

From November 2021 until January 2022, invistations will be sent out based on age group (starting from oldest to youngest) and the date of your second dose. Everyone will be eligible, and you will not miss your opportunity to receive a booster vaccine. In order for you to receive your invitation, you must be registered with British Columbia’s Get Vaccinated system. If you have not yet registered, you can do so by visiting www.gov.bc.ca/getvaccinated and may register online. Alternatively, you can also register by calling 1-833-838-2323. This number is available 7 days per week, from 7 AM to 7 PM PDT.

“What type of vaccine will I receive for the booster dose?”

All booster doses will be an mRNA vaccine – such as Pfizer or Moderna. If you happened to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine for your first or second dose, you will receive either Pfizer or Moderna for your booster dose.

“Will I develop more side effects from a booster vaccine?”

Everyone’s body reacts differently. While some individuals may not develop any noticeable side-effects from the COVID-19 vaccines, others can. Regardless of whether you receive one, two, or three vaccines, it’s still possible to develop side-effects. The most common side-effects that are reported following COVID-19 vaccines include flu-like symptoms such as headache, nausea, and fever, in addition to pain, redness and/or swelling at the site of injection. Typically, these side-effects will be mild and dissipate after a few days. If you’re still experiencing these symptoms after one week, you should speak with your physician by telephone for further consultation.

“Will a booster vaccine protect against influenza?”

Receiving a COVID-19 vaccine does not protect against the flu, which is why it’s also strongly recommended that everyone aged 6 months or older get the flu vaccine in addition to the COVID-19 vaccine (although at separate times.) Developing both the flu and COVID-19 could put you at even greater risk of significant complications, so it is important to protect yourself from both of these illnesses. For more information on influenza and the flu vaccine, visit www.immunizebc.ca/influenza.

Concussions

With thousands of children and teenagers now back to school and also partaking in after-school activities, it’s not uncommon to see contact sport-related injuries on the rise such as sprains, bone fractures and concussions. A concussion occurs when the brain impacts the inside of the skull, usually the result of direct trauma to the head, and causes damage that ultimately changes how your brain cells function.

While concussions are common among athletes and school-aged children, kids and adolescents are also at higher risk of developing a concussion due to the fact that their brains are still growing. Symptoms of conclusions can be physiological (including headaches, dizziness and nausea, cognitive (including lack of concentration, memory loss and slurred speech), as well as emotional (depression and anxiety.) As concussions can have serious and sometimes life-altering effects, it is important that these symptoms are taken seriously and treated immediately. It is also important to watch out for late signs of a concussion, as symptoms can take as long as hours, days, or even weeks to develop. If left untreated, a concussion can lead to a traumatic brain injury (500 out of every 100,000 Canadians are diagnosed with a TBI each year), and can even be fatal.

Children are not the only age group at high-risk of developing concussions, however. Seniors are also susceptible to developing concussions, usually the result of a fall, something that is quite common with age. Studies have also shown that seniors with concussions had a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease as opposed to those who have not had any previous head injuries. Seniors that do develop a concussion may require hospitalization and long-term rehabilitative care depending on the severity of the injury.

In order to prevent a concussion, one should always ensure that they are taking appropriate steps to reduce that risk. These steps include wearing the proper headgear and padding during sports, wearing appropriate footwear, wearing a seatbelt while in a vehicle, and keeping your home safe by moving any clutter and keeping dark spaces well lit. Regular, low-impact exercise in older individuals will also help to strengthen the bones and muscles, improve balance, and decrease the risk of falls.

Multifactorial Health Conditions

While most individuals typically see their family physician once a year for their annual check-up, there are also a large number of Canadians that will need to make recurring visits to their doctor’s office as a result of having complex and multifactorial health conditions. While many health conditions, such as the common cold or flu are easily treatable, there are others that don’t have a single genetic cause, therefore oftentimes making them difficult to diagnose and treat, leaving the patient feeling vulnerable and frustrated – and, as a result, the patient can sometimes develop mood and mental health related changes, and even social isolation – something that hasn’t been uncommon during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Physicians spend a significant amount of time caring for patients who are living with chronic health problems – including but not limited to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and chronic pain disorders such as fibromyalgia. These complex and multifactorial health conditions can affect individuals of all ages, with more than half of Canadian adults aged 65 and older being diagnosed with at least three or more chronic/ongoing medical problems. When caring for patients who are identified as having a multifactorial condition, it’s important to pay attention to a number of factors – including socioeconomic elements as well as the medical complexity – i.e. past medical history, the current level of pain that the patient may be experiencing, and the symptoms that are involved.

Prescribing medications to patients living with numerous health problems is much more difficult and intricate than in those who require simple treatment for something like influenza or skin lacerations. For example, a medication that may be beneficial in treating one ailment may in fact wind up making other ailments worse. If you are a patient living with a complex and multifactorial health condition, it is always important to have a sit-down discussion with your physician to talk about your treatment plan as it is a decision-making process that requires a trusting relationship between the doctor and patient. Your physician is able to answer any questions that you may have about your diagnosis and treatment plan, and remember, no question is ever considered to be a bad question.

When dealing with chronic illness it is important to stay informed, and especially important to your physician that they address any concerns and inquisitions you may have. If you are concerned about a medication that you have been prescribed, this is something you are also urged to talk about with your physician or pharmacist, but know that the benefits usually often outweigh any risks involved. You should also let your doctor or pharmacist know of any side effects you may be experiencing as a result of a prescribed medication and whether or not the prescribed treatment is or is not working.

Cold and Flu Season

Along with COVID-19, cold and flu season is something that we’re also now starting to see signs of. Last year we saw a dramatic decrease in the number of influenza cases being reported due to heightened COVID-19 public health measures. However, with restrictions more relaxed, influenza and common colds are things we need to protect ourselves against during this respiratory season. As symptoms of COVID-19 can often mimic that of a common cold or flu virus – such as cough, fever, nasal congestion, runny nose, and sore throat – it’s important that you get tested if you develop symptoms. Equally as important to getting tested is ensuring you stay home when you are sick so that you do not pass influenza on to others.

When it comes to determining the difference between a common cold or flu virus, it can be difficult as they are also quite similar. However, symptoms of a cold are usually much milder compared to the flu. The most common symptoms associated with the common cold are a sore throat and runny or stuffy nose. A cold typically comes on gradually and lasts anywhere from 7 to 14 days, can be relieved with over-the-counter medications (such as decongestants and lozenges), and does not typically result in any serious health problems. With influenza, it can come on more abruptly. Symptoms may also include a sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, in addition to body aches, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and fever. These symptoms can range from mild to severe. It’s also possible to develop complications as a result of the flu, such as pneumonia or other infections, which can be life-threatening or even result in death. While anyone can get the flu, individuals who are over the age of 65 or those with underlying health conditions (such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease) are at greater risk of developing the flu and experiencing complications as a result.

The best way to protect yourself and those around you from influenza is to get vaccinated. Flu shots are available for free to anyone in British Columbia who is 6 months or older, and can be administered by your physician or at your local pharmacy. The flu vaccine is generally given as one dose; however, children under the age of 9 who have not had a seasonal flu vaccine will require 2 doses (the second dose being given 4 weeks after the first dose) to raise their protection level. Commonly, the flu vaccine is given via injection. However, children between the ages of 2 and 17 may also have the option of receiving FluMust® Quadrivalent nasal spray depending on availability.

If you are interested in getting your flu vaccine, you can find a flu clinic near you by visiting Immunize BC’s website at www.immunizebc.ca.

Being Proactive About Men’s Health

First founded by Australia’s Travis Garone and Luke Slattery in 2003, the Movember Foundation has gone on to become one of the world’s most prominent leaders in raising awareness on men’s health, including prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and even men’s suicide, for the last 14 years. As part of Movember, men are encouraged to grow moustaches in the month of November, with the foundation’s goal being to change the face of men’s health. Individuals and organizations are also strongly encouraged to host fundraisers for men’s health. You can find a variety of fun and interactive fundraising tips by clicking here.

Men tend to be much more hesitant than women when it comes to being proactive about their health and seeing their family physician for regular checkups – something that I recommend people do on a yearly basis regardless of how healthy they may be feeling. Our culture teaches men to be self-reliant, and as a result they tend to ignore certain health concerns they may have, only going to the doctor when the situation reaches an emergency level or when it is too late for treatment to be effective, ultimately leading to further complications. Because of this, the average life expectancy of a male is between 5 and 6 years less than that of a female. Therefore, “Movember” isn’t just about growing a moustache – it’s also about opening dialogue and teaching men that their health shouldn’t be ignored. When it comes to discussing health, men should not only reach out to their family physician’s office and book an annual exam, but they should also talk about their health amongst friends. Sometimes having that conversation can help encourage others to be just as proactive about their own health, too. In fact, it can be life-saving.

It’s also important to know the numbers. You’re at an increased risk of developing certain health conditions depending on your age. For example, by the age of 50, it’s recommended that men begin screening for prostate cancer. If you have certain risk factors of developing prostate cancer (i.e. if you’re of African or Caribbean descent, or if your father or brother has had prostate cancer) then you should start the screening as early as age 45. For younger men, testicular cancer can also be a concern. It can occur as early as age 15, all the way through age 40 or later. Just as women do self-exams for breast cancer, men can also do self-exams for testicular cancer. Testicular Cancer Canada offers a self-examination guide via their website which can be found at www.testitcularcancer.ngo. If you notice any tenderness, lumps or other abnormal growths, then you should inform your physician immediately. Other warning signs of testicular cancer can include back pain, as well as pain in the abdomen or groin. Men who are sexually active should also make healthy decisions, such as practicing safe sex and being tested for sexually transmitted diseases – especially if they have multiple sexual partners. 1 in 2 sexually active individuals will be diagnosed with at least one STD in their lifetime, and the number of STDs being diagnosed have been on the rise at alarming rates in North America.

Lastly, all individuals, including men, should make sure they’re getting regular physical activity and eating healthy. Whether it’s going for a walk or jog, biking to work instead of driving, or working out at the gym – the more exercise you get, the better you will feel. The same goes for the food you eat. For increased energy and to prevent diseases, it’s recommended that men intake their whole grains as well as consume more fruits and vegetables.

Tips to Living a Happy, Healthy Life

We all want to live the happiest, healthiest life possible. As a physician, I encourage people to make healthy lifestyle choices; including healthy eating habits, regular physical activity, and smoking cessation. By not eating healthy, not staying fit, and smoking, you are not taking care of your body – and in order to be happy, we also need to be healthy.

When we think of the word “diet” we often correlate that to weight loss. However, weight loss and weight management are not the only benefits of healthy eating. While it is definitely part of it, the food you eat can also play a significant role in other aspects of your health. For example, if you consume food or beverages that contain lots of sugar, you are more likely to develop cavities. A trip to the dentist, in this case, is something you typically want to avoid (though it is important to take care of your teeth by going for regular checkups and cleanings.) Sugar contains no healthy fats, proteins, enzymes or nutrients. All it does is destroy your body. As a result, individuals who consume sugar are much more likely to develop heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, and are even at risk of developing certain types of cancer.

Similarly, regular exercise can also have great health benefits aside from weight loss. By staying fit you are at less of a risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis. Physical activity can also be great for those who suffer from anxiety and/or stress, and can even help boost one’s self-esteem.

In order to live a long and healthy life, those who smoke should quit doing so. It has been scientifically proven that smoking causes cancer. In fact, 84% of cancer-related deaths are caused by lung cancer due to smoking. Smoking can also lead to emphysema – a condition in which the lungs become damaged, resulting in difficulty breathing. Alcohol is another thing individuals should try to avoid. Excessive drinking can lead to liver damage and a variety of other health problems.

How to Prevent Nosebleeds

There are several tiny blood vessels in the lining of the nose. Due to these blood vessels being so close to the surface, they can be easily damaged – either from dry air or too-frequent blowing of the nose – resulting in nosebleeds. If you take medications like antihistamines or decongestants (commonly used to treat allergies), over time the use of these particular medications can also dry out the nasal membranes and cause nosebleeds. Use of Aspirin, blood thinners, trauma to the nose, alcohol consumption, as well as chemical irritants can also cause nosebleeds to occur.

In order to prevent nosebleeds, it is important to try and figure out the cause. If your nosebleeds are a result of the use of nasal decongestant sprays, it is generally fairly easy to stop the nosebleeds by discontinuing their use. Instead, try switching to a saline nasal spray to help keep the nasal membranes lubricated. The more lubricated the nasal membranes are, the less likely you are to develop nosebleeds. Using a humidifier can also be helpful. To stop a nosebleed in its tracks, it’s also recommended that you sit in an upright position and lean slightly forward. Sitting in this position reduces the blood pressure in the veins of the nose, which can help slow down the bleeding. You can also stop bleeding by taking your thumb and index finger and pinching your nostrils shut. This applies pressure to the septum and can also slow the bleeding. You may need to repeat these steps for approximately 10 to 15 minutes.

When simple methods such as the ones mentioned above fail, your doctor may choose to pack your nose to stop the bleeding. In cases where nosebleeds are severe and chronic, the blood vessels in the nose may need to be cauterized in order to stop the nosebleeds from occurring. This type of procedure is typically done by an ENT (Ear, Nose, Throat) specialist. An ENT specialist will also be able to look at your nose with a special instrument known as an endoscope, which can be helpful in ruling out sinus disease or any other problems that may be causing your nosebleeds.

You may also be predisposed to developing nosebleeds if you happen to be fighting a viral or bacterial infection (such as the common cold), have a history of both allergic and non-allergic rhinitis, have high blood pressure, or are going through hormonal changes as a result of pregnancy.

In most cases, nosebleeds are not considered serious and generally stop on their own – oftentimes without requiring any special care. However, if your nosebleeds are severe and you are losing large amounts of blood, it is important that you seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Common Food Allergies

Food allergies have become an increasing health concern in Canada over the years, with as many as 2.5 million Canadians suffering from at least 1 common food allergy. The highest incidence of food allergies is found in children. Below is a look at some of the most common food allergens according to Health Canada:

Peanuts:
The most common food allergy, especially in children, is a peanut allergy (affecting 2 in 100.) Peanut allergies have become so severe that some schools have banned peanuts or products containing peanuts all together, and is considered a “priority” allergen that must be listed on all ingredient labels if manufactured in a facility that also produces products containing nuts. As a result, more and more companies and begun introducing nut and/or peanut-free products that are specifically advertised towards school-aged children such as cookies, crackers and chocolate. Other nut allergens include tree nuts; these include hazelnuts, cashews, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, walnuts and pistachios.

Milk:
This includes all dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, and ice-cream. Many products contain milk, even in powdered form. It can be found in baked goods, coffee, soup mix, and even tofu.

Seafood:
Clams, scallops, shrimp, and lobster are all common seafood allergies. However, it is important to note that individuals with a seafood allergy are often able to eat certain types of seafood, while having to avoid other types all together. Seafood reactions can be severe, as one does not necessarily need to eat it in order to react to it. The smell of fish is enough to trigger an allergic reaction in some individuals. Seafood can also commonly (but oftentimes unknowingly) be found in salad dressings and sauces.

Soy:
Soy is another common allergen, but one that is not always easy to detect without carefully reading labeling. It can be found in everything from certain foods such as tofu, to candy, chewing gum, and even baby formula.

Sulphites:
An additive that is commonly used to preserve the shelf life of fruits, vegetables, and certain packaged foods. While sulphites are usually safe, they can still trigger allergic reactions and asthma in sulphite-sensitive individuals. If you have a sulphite allergy or sensitivity, it is best to avoid packaged foods and ensure you thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables before consumption.

When we think of an allergic reaction, we often think of hives, swelling, or a rash. Anaphylaxis (usually resulting in trouble breathing or swallowing, or other respiratory distress sich as coughing, wheezing ad chest pain/tightness) is another common but serious allergic reaction that can be life-threatening, requiring individuals to carry an Epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen) with them at all times, something that is easily prescribed by family physicians like Dr. Ali Ghahary. Other signs of an allergy include nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea, dizziness and headache.

It is important to know that one does not need to ingest a large amount of an allergen in order to develop an allergic reaction, as it only takes a trace amount, so to avoid allergic reactions you should always ensure that you take special precautions. When buying food you should always read the ingredients on the packaging, and when dining out you should forewarn your server so that food can be prepared separate from any potential allergens. Proper hand washing and utensil cleaning is also of the utmost importance when it comes to avoiding food allergies and possible cross-contamination.

For more information on food allergies, visit www.foodallergycanada.ca.

Why Vitamin D is Important

As many as 70% of Canadians are Vitamin D deficient. This can lead to chronic health concerns and even increase the risk of being diagnosed with certain cancers (breast, prostate and colon.) Vitamin D, also often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin”, has always been important to ensure optimal health. Not only does it help the body to absorb calcium, improve bone health and boost the immune system, but it is also helpful in fighting against many different diseases and health problems including Alzheimer’s, arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis, depression and anxiety, infertility, and chronic pain, in addition to lowering the risk of stroke and heart disease and helping with weight maintenance and weight loss.

Those who are deficient in Vitamin D may experience varying symptoms including fatigue, restlessness, poor concentration, headaches, high blood pressure, joint pain and muscle cramps, weakness, weight gain, diarrhea or constipation, and bladder problems. In order to find out if you are Vitamin D deficient, your physician may send you for a blood test or x-rays in effort to determine the strength of your bones.

The current recommended dose of Vitamin D for children and adults up to the age of 50 is 200 IU per day, 400 IU per day in those aged 50 to 70, and 600 IU in individuals aged 71 or older. In those who are severely deficient in Vitamin D, higher intakes may be recommended.

While Vitamin D is found in many different supplements including multivitamins, it can also be found in certain food sources such as fish (salmon, tuna, cod liver oil), egg yolks, cheese, cow’s milk, margarine, and orange juice. For those who are vegan, Vitamin D can be found in fortified soy-milk and breakfast cereals. You can also easily obtain Vitamin D naturally with sunlight exposure – however, it is important to educate yourself on the risks of UVB rays, as overexposure has been linked to skin cancer and other heat-related illnesses. There is also such thing as getting too much Vitamin D. Supplements are usually the main cause of this, and excess Vitamin D can lead to having too much calcium in your body which can then lead to kidney damage, so it is important to pay attention to your intake.

Halloween Health & Safety Tips

Halloween is one of the most exciting times of the year for children (and even adults), but it’s also a time when individuals can be more susceptible to injuries and other health related matters. Below you will find some of the most common types of injuries and illnesses that can occur during this time of year, as well as tips on what you can do to prevent them.

TRAFFIC-RELATED ACCIDENTS
With Halloween being a busy time for trick-or-treaters, it’s also not uncommon for there to be more traffic-related accidents than usual. This includes accidents related to drunk driving, as well as accidents involving pedestrians. If you’re going to a Halloween party that you know will be serving alcohol, don’t drink and drive. Instead, make sure you have a designated driver or other alternatives to find your way home safely. If your kids are trick-or-treating, make sure they stay on the sidewalk at all times and be careful when crossing the street or busy intersections. Having your child wear reflective gear so that they are more visible in the dark can also significantly prevent them from being hit by a car.

CANDY
Whether you’re taking your child trick-or-treating in your own neighbourhood or one that isn’t familiar to you, you should always be sure to inspect their candy to ensure they haven’t been tampered with in any way. Always discard items with wrappers or packaging that looks like it has been partially unwrapped, as well as discard anything that looks suspicious in any way. Candy and chocolate can also be a concern if your child has a peanut allergy. While many products are peanut-free, not all are, so it’s important to read the ingredients before you let your child dive into their Halloween stash. If there are no ingredients listed or if it’s not clear as to whether or not the product may contain peanuts, then it would probably be best to avoid consumption all together. You should also make sure that you and your child always brush your teeth after eating candy to prevent cavities! You can find more tips on Halloween candy safety by clicking here.

BURNS AND OTHER INJURIES
Because things like fireworks and firecrackers are common around this time of year, so is the chance of suffering a burn, eye, or other injury. Setting off firecrackers or fireworks can be quite dangerous, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s also not uncommon to suffer burns as a result of open flames (i.e. lit candles in pumpkins.) It’s also a good idea to make sure your costumes are made out of flame-retardant materials to prevent them from catching on fire. Certain costumes, such as pirates or grim reapers, also often come with other accessories and props, such as swords. Children will often tend to play with these props, and if not careful they could cause eye or other minor injuries. Always make sure the costume props are made with softer materials, like foam or rubber.