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32 Myths — and Plenty of Facts — About the Flu Vaccine

KQED News social media editor Olivia Hubert-Allen gets her flu shot. (Lisa Pickoff-White/KQED)

KQED News social media editor Olivia Allen-Price gets her flu shot. (Lisa Pickoff-White/KQED)

By Tara Haelle, NPR

Brace yourselves: Flu season is coming. And along with the coughing, fevers and aches you can expect a lot of unreliable or downright wrong information about the flu vaccine.

Flu kills more people in a year in the U.S. than Ebola has killed in the history of the world.

Many people underestimate the health risks from flu. Thousands of Americans die from flu-related complications in a typical year, and last season’s H1N1 strain hit young adults particularly hard.

Flu and pneumonia combined consistently rank among the top 10 causes of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was ranked eighth in 2011, the most recent year for which data are available. Continue reading

My Pain Was Well-Treated in the ER; Its Cause Harder to Find

Joshua Johnson is KQED Public Radio's morning news anchor.  (KQED News photo)

Joshua Johnson is KQED Public Radio’s morning news anchor. (KQED News photo

By Joshua Johnson

“You will not apply my precept,” he said, shaking his head. “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”
–Sherlock Holmes, admonishing Watson, in “The Sign of the Four” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

My back hurt like hell.

I thought I’d slept on it funny — twisted my body into a pretzel in my sleep and woke up with a stinging pain in the left side of my back — and I even hit the gym that day, training through the pain.

But even a big, tough guy like me couldn’t endure a night of restless sleep, writhing in pain. By Friday morning wonder had turned to fear: the stabbing spasms sat right above my kidney – and just a few weeks ago my doctor had told me of some lab results about kidney function that he had said we should keep an eye on.

I contacted my doctor’s office, but they couldn’t get me in.

Midway through my shift, I completed a newscast, grabbed my bags and drove myself to the ER at UC San Francisco.

The doctors and nurses there treated me with kid gloves: easy, since there was no one waiting at the ER early on Friday morning. I told them I had severe back pain — eight on a scale of one-to-ten — and suspected my kidneys were the culprit. Continue reading

Even After Weight is Lost, Stigma Sticks for Formerly Obese

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Sarah Varney, Kaiser Health News

Carlos Romero’s apartment is marked with remnants from his former life: a giant television from his days playing World of Warcraft and a pair of jeans the width of an easy chair. The remnants of that time — when he weighed 437 pounds — mark his body too: loose, hanging skin and stretch marks.

“I lift weights and work out and work hard, but there’s lasting damage,” said Romero, who lives in Seattle.

Yet for all the troubles he had dating when he was obese—all those unanswered requests on dating web sites—shedding weight left him uneasy about how much to reveal.  “If you were to say to someone on the first date, ‘I lost 220 pounds,’ you’re indicating that you had a very serious issue at one point and that you may still have that issue,” he said. “So it’s not something I put on a dating profile because I don’t want people to judge me for it.” Continue reading

Video: San Pablo Line-Dancing Class Helps People Step to Better Health

By Lynne Shallcross


Soul Line Dancers from Lynne Shallcross on Vimeo.

On a recent Tuesday night in San Pablo, singer Patti LaBelle’s voice blared from a black stereo inside a florescent-lit classroom in the newly built San Pablo Community Center.

Inside, nearly two dozen dancers were working up a sweat to LaBelle’s soulful voice as Patricia Lowe called out dance steps for them to follow.

“Five, six, seven, eight! Go one-two! One-two! One, two, three, four. Now shake it!”

Two days a week, Lowe — whose dance name is Chocolate Platinum — leads what she calls a “soul line dance” class. It’s a chance for community members to get together and dance for health and wellness, and have fun at the same time.  Continue reading

Vaccine Opt-Out Rate at Son’s School is 32% — ‘Should I Freak Out?’

(Jeff J. Mitchell: Getty Images)

(Jeff J. Mitchell: Getty Images)

Statewide, there has been a dramatic increase in parents choosing not to vaccinate their children. The rate of parents opting out by filing what’s called a “personal belief exemption,” or PBE, doubled over seven years.

Parents check a school’s test scores in advance. Why not vaccine rates?

Earlier this month, State of Health published a chart where people could look up any elementary school in California and see the PBE rate at their children’s schools.

Hours after we published, Cosmo Garvin of Sacramento sent me a tweet. “Really nice work,” the tweet said. “But just found out PBE rate at my kid’s school is 32 percent. Should I freak out?”

Thirty-two percent. That means one in three kids is not vaccinated.

Assessing Risk to Your Own Child Continue reading

At Native American Health Center, the Prescription Is Vegetables

Fresh Approach staffers chop a variety of fruits and vegetables for today’s summer salad. “We tried to choose one of every color,” says Laura deTar, Nutrition Program Manager for Fresh Approach. “We want to expose people to things they may not have had.” (Brittany Patterson, KQED)

Fresh Approach staffers chop a variety of fruits and vegetables for today’s summer salad. “We tried to choose one of every color,” says Laura deTar, Nutrition Program Manager for Fresh Approach. “We want to expose people to things they may not have had.” (Brittany Patterson, KQED)

By Brittany Patterson

In Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood, 20 people sit inside a colorful classroom at the Native American Health Center. They listen attentively as Leah Ricci gives a lecture on the merits of fiber and where to get it. As far as lectures on fiber are concerned, this one is pretty rousing.

“I didn’t like vegetables and fruit, but now we’re all eating more of them.”

“Can anyone name some foods that are high in fiber?” she asks.

Immediately the participants begin to throw out suggestions.

“Beans. Apples. Greens. Seeds.”

“What do all of these foods have in common?” Ricci asks.

“They all come from plants,” shouts out Paula Marie Parker.

Parker and the others are all students in a program at the Native American Health Center called VeggieRx, which teaches participants about nutrition and the merits of incorporating more fruits and vegetables and physical activity in their lives and the lives of their families. Continue reading

Oakland Kids to be Offered Free Flu Shots Right at Their Schools

The Shoo the Flu mascot helps spread the word on the importance of the flu vaccine at the Old Oakland Farmers Market earlier this month. (Lisa Alifers/KQED)

The Shoo the Flu mascot helps spread the word on the upcoming school flu shot campaign at the Old Oakland Farmers Market earlier this month. (Lisa Alifers/KQED)

Children at more than 100 Oakland schools are eligible for free flu shots this fall as part of a new program aimed at protecting children and the broader community against influenza. All pre-K students through fifth grade at public, private, charter and parochial schools are eligible. At some schools, students through sixth or eighth grade may participate.

Children at any Oakland school, public or private, are eligible for the free vaccines, if their parents consent.

It’s all part of Shoo the Flu, a collaboration between the Alameda County Public Health Department, the California Department of Public Health and the Oakland Unified School District.

“It’s important to vaccinate young children to help protect the whole community,” said Dr. Erica Pan, deputy health officer with the Alameda County Public Health Department. Last year there were 100,000 illnesses related to flu, she said. Direct and indirect costs of the illness, including parents missing work to care for sick children, range from $123 million to $240 million per year.

Continue reading

S.F. Supervisor Wiener Announces He’s Taking HIV Preventive Drug

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener (left) says he started taking a drug to prevent HIV infection earlier this year. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener (left) says he started taking a drug to prevent HIV infection earlier this year. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener publicly announced Wednesday afternoon that he is taking Truvada, an FDA-approved drug that dramatically reduces the risk of HIV infection. He appears to the be the first public official to make such an announcement.

“My hope is that by disclosing my PrEP use… I can get more people thinking about PrEP as a possibility.”  

Wiener said he began taking the medication earlier this year. This preventive approach is also referred to as pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP.

“I am using PrEP as a personal health choice that I made in consultation with my physician,” he said in an interview at his office at City Hall. “My hope is that by disclosing my PrEP use publicly that I can help move the conversation forward and get more people thinking about PrEP as a possibility, and encouraging people to consult with their medical provider.”

Truvada combines two different drugs into a single pill that, when taken daily, can reduce the risk of HIV infection by more than 90 percent. It was approved by the FDA in 2012, and was developed by the Foster City company Gilead. Both the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization recommend its use by people who are at high risk of HIV infection. Still, it is the subject of debate, especially within the gay community. Continue reading

Put Down the Heating Pad: Physical Therapists Say It Doesn’t Help

Physical therapy is about being, well, physical, new guidelines say. (Getty Images)

Physical therapy is about being, well, physical, new guidelines say. (Getty Images)

By Nancy Shute, NPR

I have fond memories of listening to NPR while lounging at the physical therapist’s with a heating pad on my shoulder. Don’t do that, the nation’s physical therapists’ association says.

Heat therapy, electrical stimulation, ultrasound and other “passive physical agents” almost never help, according to a list released Monday by the Choosing Wisely campaign. Instead, they siphon time and money away from what you really want from a physical therapist — an exercise program that will restore strength and mobility.

Well, this is certainly going to make physical therapy less restful.

But seeing as I’ve been to several physical therapists over the years and they’ve all used this stuff, the fact that the American Physical Therapy Association put passive physical agents on top of their list of things not to do seems like big news. Continue reading

Our Vaccine Database Methodology

By Olivia Allen-Price and Lisa Aliferis

Entering kindergarteners in California are required by state law to be vaccinated against a range of diseases. While the overwhelming majority of children are vaccinated, some parents opt-out of vaccines for their children. In California, this “personal belief exemption rate” (PBE) has doubled over seven years.

State of Health published a database where people can look up any school in the state to see the PBE rate for its kindergarteners.

We obtained data from the state from its kindergarten assessment of vaccination rates which is conducted each fall. The data shown in our post cover seven years, from the 2007-2008 school year through the 2013-2014 school year, the most recent year for which survey data are available. More than 500,000 children at 8,220 public, private and parochial kindergartens in California are included in the survey annually. The assessment is done at the school level and reported to local health departments and to the state. Continue reading