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How do Vaccines work??

When you get sick with a disease like chicken pox or measles, you will never get that disease again (unless you only had a very mild case). That is because your body makes something called ANTIBODIES which will fight that virus if you are ever in contact with it again.

Our bodies make antibodies ONLY when it is exposed to the virus first, and each virus has it’s own “shape” so that the antibodies made only work for that particular virus. Think of antibodies as a puzzle piece that fits exactly onto the “shape” of the virus. It recognizes the shape, attaches itself and allows the invading virus or bacteria to be destroyed.

If that’s a fact, why do we still get sick??

When a virus enters our body, our body immediately goes to work, but it takes TIME to make antibodies, and during that time the virus or bacteria can take hold and cause illness or even life-threatening infection.

The great thing about antibodies is that once your body has made them, they STAY IN YOU, ready to fight the next time they see that same virus which means the next time the virus can’t make you sick.


Vaccines prepare your body to fight!

When we give someone a vaccine, we are giving their body a chance to make antibodies AHEAD OF TIME to fight the disease. Vaccines are made of weakened or killed versions of the virus. The shape of the virus remains similar enough that our bodies make antibodies just like it would if it were exposed to a full blown infection. Then our bodies have those antibodies ready to fight. It is why vaccines have to be given BEFORE being exposed to a virus or bacteria that can cause us harm.

In a sense, the vaccine tricks the body into thinking it is under assault, and the immune system makes weapons that will provide a DEFENSE when a real infection becomes a threat.


Why do we need boosters??


Sometimes one dose of a vaccine is enough for your body to make antibodies to protect you, but often more than one dose is needed. Some antibodies protect for a lifetime, but others need boosting. For EXAMPLE, measles antibody lasts a lifetime, but antibody to tetanus can fall below a level that protects you, so booster doses are needed.


Some viruses such as the flu can CHANGE their “shape” enough to make the antibodies you already have ineffective. That’s why influenza (flu) vaccine is needed every year.


Newborns are immune to SOME infections because they’ve received antibodies from their mothers. But that immunity begins to fade in the first months of life.   Some infections such as whooping cough and hepatitis, babies do NOT get any protection from their mothers.





For a more detailed explanation of the immune system and vaccines, see:


Vitamins for your Eyes: Things have changed!

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ccflickr shared by Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious


A second part of the AREDS study was published recently which changes the recommendation of what type of vitamins a person should take if they are at risk for advancing Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD).

In 2001, that study showed that a high-dose combination of vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, zinc and copper reduced the risk of worsening AMD by 25% when it was taken by people who already had intermediate AMD or advanced AMD in one eye.


AMD is an incurable eye disease and a leading cause of blindness in older people. The macula is the part of the retina that enables central vision and the seeing of fine detail. Damage to the macula is characterized by a ‘black spot’ – losing the centre of the picture.

Popular vitamins for eyes go by many names with many formulations, most with the name AREDS included in reference to the study.  Typically the vitamins contains some or all of the following: Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Beta-Carotene, Lutein, Zinc, Copper, Omega 3.

The two newest findings include the following:  Omega 3 added to the AREDS formula is NOT helpful for slowing macular degeneration.  The other change is that people who are previous smokers should avoid formulations with Beta Carotene.  (People who currently smoke should also not take beta-carotene.)

Lutein, however, is helpful as well as zeaxanthin, both of which should be included in any vitamin taken to slow down macular degeneration.  Have a look at your bottles if you are taking vitamins for your eyes and ask your pharmacist if they are in line with the newest study.

Here’s a news article reporting the changes:  Vitamins for Your Eyes


5 Must Ask Questions about your Prescription

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When you are handed a prescription by your physician or your pharmacist there are many questions you should know the answer to before walking out the door. Below I highlight my top five.

CC Flickr Shared by Rob!

  1. What is this medication for?

This may seem obvious, but countless times when I ask a patient if they know what their prescription is for they tell me they have no idea.  When someone doesn’t know what a medication is for, there is little motivation to take it correctly or even at all.  Most drugs have more than one indicated use.  Know what yours are being used for.

2. What will happen if I don’t take this medication?

This may seem a strange question, but the reality is that over 50% of medication prescribed is either taken incorrectly or not at all.  (Health professionals are a little vain- we tend to think if we prescribe it, you will take it.) If you don’t take your high blood pressure medication, you have a higher chance of having a heart attack or damaging your kidneys.  If you don’t take an antibiotic for a nasty cold…well, really nothing is going to happen because antibiotics do not work for colds.  There are many prescriptions that are unnecessary or could be avoided with “watchful waiting” and there are some prescriptions that can be deadly if you do not take them exactly as prescribed.

3.  When can I expect this medication to work for me?

An important piece of information.  Will it treat my problem/condition in an hour or in 2 months?  Knowing what to expect is essential.  Someone being treated for clinical depression needs to know that the medication they are getting may not start to work for 2 to 6 weeks.  That’s a long time if you are expecting to feel better tomorrow.  Equally important is a person in acute pain to know that the pain medication should start working in an hour or so.  If not, it may need to be adjusted.  And if after 3 days of antibiotics your skin infection is spreading, don’t wait for the ten days of pills to be over.  You need to be reassessed right away. Know what to expect and always ask questions if you are unsure.

4.  What do I do if I have a problem with this medication?

Not all problems or side effects require another appointment.  Many issues can be solved by tweaking the dose, timing, formulation or way of taking the medication.  Sometimes a change of medication is necessary.  Find out what some of the common problems or side effects of your medication are and what you can do about them if they happen.

5.  Can I take this medication with all my other medications?

I find that most patients will ask me about this.  What is often missed though are the non-prescription medications, vitamins or herbal products they are taking.  Patients tend not to mention these as they are often viewed as “safe” and not harmful.  But in fact, there are many vitamins and “natural” products that can interact with prescription medications.  It is important to mention them all.

We all know it is impossible to remember everything your doctor or pharmacist tells you.  And that is where follow-up and communication comes in.  When I see a patient I advise them of any follow-up that is needed or how to reach me for questions. Typically by phone or email, but for more complicated learning I’ll see the patient in the office. Whether your nurse, pharmacist or physician provides you with your prescription, ensure you receive proper follow-up and educate yourself.  You are the person with the most vested interest in your own health.

5 Facts about Coughs and Colds

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1. When you are getting a cold there isn’t anything you can take to stop it.

There are many products sold to stop a cold, but none are proven. Studies with ColdFx are disappointing, Zinc studies are inconclusive, studies on Echinacea (eg. Flu Shield) also turn up to demonstrate no benefit.

Here’s why: There are over 100 different cold viruses moving from person to person. Symptoms are different for every cold & can last anywhere from one day to 3 weeks. If you took a medication on the first day of a cold and your cold went away, it’s easy to conclude that it worked. However, that cold may have only lasted for one day without any treatment. The only thing you can do for a cold is rest and take medications to relieve symptoms.

People often ask me whether it’s harmful to take the products that claim to shorten a cold. Safety depends on whether you have medical conditions or are taking other medications. In general, these products won’t harm you, except maybe your pocket book! However, the safest route is to check with a health professional first.

2. The many isles of cough/cold/flu products are really just combinations of the same few medications made by different companies.

When looking for relief from your cold or flu it looks like there are so many possibilities and choices! Really, there isn’t, they are all combinations of the same ingredients. It is important to talk to your pharmacist when choosing a cough/cold medication. Not only so you don’t end up purchasing something with the same ingredients you’ve already tried, but many medications and medical conditions affect which products you can use. Your pharmacist can help you choose a product that is safe and will ease your particular symptoms.


3- No cold medications for Children under 6 years of age.

Cold medications in this age group have been shown to be ineffective and can in some cases make things worse. Children who have fever or sore throat or pain can be given acetaminophen (Tylenol, Tempra) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). Stuffed noses can be relieved with saline nose drops. I often recommend comfort measures such as warm liquids, humidity, and rest for little ones.


4. The best advice for colds is the cheapest.

Viruses such as colds get into your body through touching your eyes and nose. The virus can survive for a few hours on surfaces like doorknobs and telephones and on your skin. So, basic rules are to regularly clean objects that are touched a lot, and wash your hands and try not to touch your eyes or nose.


5. Mixing cough/cold or flu medications can be dangerous.

Never take more than one remedy at a time for your cold without checking with a health professional. In general, 6-8 hours should pass from the time you took one product before you should try another.

Do I need a Flu Shot?

With all the advertising and reminders to “get your flu shot” many people ask me whether or not they indeed need to get a flu shot every year. Although vaccination is a personal decision, here are the answers to a few common questions regarding the flu:

“It’s just the flu and I’m healthy. If I get sick I will get over it in a few days.”

While “the flu” typically lasts for 7-10 days, symptoms such as cough and weakness may continue for up to 6 weeks in some people.

Common symptoms of “the flu” (influenza virus) include high fever, severe muscle and joint pain, headache and decreased appetite. In severe cases, shortness of breath, wheezing, chest pain and signs of pneumonia occur. Up to 25% of Canadians are infected with influenza each year. Unfortunately, Influenza and its complications cause about 4,000 deaths in Canada every year.

“Can’t I just take an antibiotic if I get the flu?”

Antibiotics do not work for influenza. Influenza, just like the common cold, is a virus. Antivirals are available to help prevent spread of the virus, but they may only reduce the length of time you are sick by less than one day.

“I hear the flu vaccine can make you sick…”

The influenza vaccine is a dead vaccine therefore is not capable of causing the flu. Certainly a sore arm is possible after any vaccination and some people report a mild fever or aches and pains after vaccination. This type of reaction, which is rare, is due to the vaccine stimulating your immune system. In essence, the job of a vaccine is to prepare your body to fight in case it encounters the virus. To do this, your immune system does some work ahead of time.

I had a flu shot last year, isn’t that good enough?

The influenza virus shifts and changes all the time. This makes it necessary to re-vaccinate each flu season. The World Health Organization coordinates global surveillance so the flu vaccine can be updated every year to make sure it includes the strains of influenza that are most prevalent.

One of the most important reasons to be vaccinated is to protect those in our community who are most vulnerable. Very young children, the elderly, people with certain medical conditions like Asthma, COPD, diabetes, heart disease, all are more susceptible to the complications of influenza. In fact, it is those members of our community who usually are hospitalized or die from complications of the flu. We would hope that most people who are vulnerable would be vaccinated themselves but that is not always the case. Some vulnerable people such as those on chemotherapy, transplant recipients and others taking necessary drugs that suppress their immune system, as well as very young babies cannot receive vaccination and therefore depend on those around them to not spread illness to them. This is called “cocooning”: protecting those who cannot be vaccinated by surrounding them with those who are.

Silent but Deadly

A silent but deadly cancer -> Ovarian Cancer

Top three symptoms women need to watch for:

Abdominal and/or pelvic pain
Feeling full quickly and/or unable to eat normally
Abdominal bloating and/or increased abdomen size

Of course, these symptoms can be common…the most important indicator is if these symptoms are:
*frequent, continual and new to you in the past year*  it warrants a check with your physician.

Recent research indicates that approximately one in 140 women with these type of symptoms may have ovarian cancer.  Early diagnosis of ovarian cancer is essential for treatment