Protecting Against COVID-19 and its Variants

Protecting Against COVID-19 and its Variants

In these uncertain times, it has never been more important to stay informed and aware. The rise of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 has resurfaced concerns in some over how to stay safe during the continuing pandemic, and we want to help alleviate your fears as much as possible and help you practice healthier hygiene habits. We have compiled a list of ways to help keep yourself and your loved ones healthy during these unprecedented times. 

Cover Your Face  

We have seen the practice of wearing a mask transform from being simply to protect your health and that of others, into something more political. However, simply covering your nose and mouth when around others greatly reduces the chances of transmission of COVID-19 and other respiratory infections. Some places require face masks; where it is not required, it is still best to wear one. Masks work best when everyone is wearing one.  

When you wear a mask, you protect others as well as yourself. COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets. Respiratory droplets travel into the air when you cough, sneeze, talk, shout, or sing. These droplets can then land in the mouths or noses of people who are near you, or they may breathe these droplets in. Masks are a simple barrier to help prevent your respiratory droplets from reaching others. 

Wash Your Hands 

Keeping up good hygiene is an important way to keep yourself healthy. The rise of COVID-19 made us all become more aware of the way we wash our hands- and this is a good thing. Washing your hands well and often is a great way to protect yourself against the virus, and other illnesses. The CDC provides a five-step reminder for handwashing:  

1) Wet your hands with cold or warm water. 

2) Lather your hands with soap. Lather the backs of your hands, under your fingernails, and between your fingers. 

3) Scrub your hands for 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the tune of “Happy Birthday” twice through. It is also okay to not scrub aggressively. Scrubbing too hard can irritate your skin.  

4) Rinse your hands under clean, running water. 

5) Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dryer 

Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to get rid of germs in most situations. If soap and water are not readily available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.  

Follow Proper Sneeze and Cough Etiquette 

To help slow or stop the spread of germs, it is important to cover your nose or mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. After tissues have been used, immediately throw them away and then wash your hands. If no tissue is available, then cough or sneeze into the crook of your arm to stop the germs from spreading.  

Stay Home if You Feel Sick 

Staying home from work, school, or other social situations when you are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 is a simple way to protect the people in your life. Symptoms to look out for include a cough, a fever, or any shortness of breath. If you are experiencing any symptoms of being ill, whether it is from COVID-19, the flu, or a cold, then staying home will help to stop the spread and keep your loved ones safe.  

Be Aware of Your Community & Covid-19 

Staying informed about outbreaks in your local community can help you be more aware of when to practice stricter safety protocols. When COVID-19 cases are higher, it is a good idea to practice social distancing and shrink your “COVID bubble” to a smaller group of people. While this can be hard to put into practice in a consistent way, it is smart to limit the number of people with whom you interact. Wearing a mask in public during outbreaks can also protect those around you. 

Get Vaccinated or Boosted 

While the vaccine has been surrounded by myths because of its politicization, it has been shown to protect against catching COVID-19 or preventing its symptoms. The Moderna, Pfizer, and Johson & Johnson vaccines do not alter your DNA, nor do they contain ingredients like preservatives, tissues, antibiotics, food proteins, medicines, latex, or metals.  

If you received your vaccine over 2 months ago (for Johnson & Johnson) or over six months ago (for Pfizer or Moderna) then you are eligible for the vaccine booster. Boosters are a half-dose of the vaccine which increase your protection against COVID-19. Moderna has been shown to increase your protection 37-fold from the new Omicron variant.  Learn more about the effectiveness of a vaccine booster, from the CDC, here.

The key to staying safe during a pandemic is understanding how it has changed and adapting your own personal habits accordingly. Although we are still in the midst of this global health emergency, there have been some great strides made towards ending COVID-19. Wearing a mask, practicing good hygiene, getting vaccinated, and social distancing all play a part in ending the spread of COVID-19 and its variants.  

6 Ways to Improve Your Mental Wellness All Year

6 Ways to Improve Your Mental Wellness All Year

It is more than okay to not be okay sometimes, but we all want to be mentally well and happy. Mental wellness is integral for living a fulfilling life but maintaining it can come with its challenges. And yet, we often neglect our own mental health in favor of other priorities like work, family, relationships, obligations, or friends. Thankfully, there are many options for those seeking to improve their mental wellbeing and their lives.

Lifestyle Changes 

For many people, their mood can be heavily impacted by their stresses in life. Focusing on self-care and choosing healthy coping mechanisms for challenging life situations can help you build your mental strength and actually improve your mood. There are many options for those who wish to prioritize their mental health: 

1) Keep moving 

Every little bit of exercise can help elevate your mood. It improves self-perception and self-esteem, mood, and sleep quality, and it reduces stress, anxiety, and fatigue. Physically active people have up to a 30% reduced risk of becoming depressed and staying active helps those who are depressed recover. You do not have to be a fitness fanatic to receive the mental health benefits of exercise. Even a simple 30-minute walk outdoors can drastically improve your wellness.  

2) Eat healthy 

What we put in our bodies to give us energy plays a huge factor in how our brain functions. The brain and the gastrointestinal system are intimately connected to one another. Your gut health can be a cause or a product of poor mental health. One way to help lower anxiety, depression, or stress is by being mindful of the things you eat. It is best to avoid highly processed and sugary foods, and instead opt for a healthier diet. Leafy greens, fruits, and leaner meats like salmon are all better options for those seeking to eat healthier. There are also many foods that directly improve your gut health- these include yogurt, kefir, kombucha, miso, kimchi, olive oil, peas, bananas, garlic, and ginger.  

3) Make time for yourself 

Self-care routines can look different for everyone. It is important to take time for yourself and participate in hobbies or activities that are meaningful to you and that can lessen stress or anxiety. This could be anything from reading, journaling, watching your favorite movie, or treating yourself to a relaxing night in. Taking time to explore your favorite hobbies, or even try new ones, can help relax your mind and lower stress levels. Always remember it is okay to set boundaries with work and friendships to take the time to improve your own mental wellbeing.  

4) Connect with others 

Building your own support system is also a great way to lessen stress, anxiety, trauma, and depression. It may feel difficult to open up to others about how you are feeling, but connecting with others can help our mental health improve and elevate our mood. Your support system can be family, friends, or even professionals like a therapist who can help guide you through the more challenging times in your life.  

5) Be kind to yourself 

The journey to better mental health will not happen overnight. There may be days where there is still a struggle to stay motivated, but it is important to remember that healing and growth are not linear. It may take time, but a commitment to these different lifestyle changes can lead to long-term improvements in your mental wellbeing. 

6) Check out your prescription options 

If all of these lifestyle changes still do not help your mental health improve, or if you are finding it difficult to get started on these things without extra help, then there are many prescription options that can help you. There is no shame in seeking medical help to address your mental wellbeing. If you want to turn to medications to help you manage your mental health, then it is important to always be honest with your healthcare provider.  

There are many strategies for how you can take control and overcome mental illnesses. Coping with stress, anxiety or depression may seem challenging but there is hope! Always remember you are not alone, and there is always a new option to try that can help. If all of these self-help strategies do not help, then please seek additional help from a medical professional.  

Talking to Your Partner about ED

Talking to Your Partner about ED

A lot of men do not want to talk about their erectile dysfunction (ED), but the truth is that it can affect more than just themselves- their partners are also affected by the condition. The right communication will help avoid any embarrassment and allow room for understanding and support to grow.  

Sex is a common topic in most relationships. But when one of the partners has erectile dysfunction, it can be difficult to know how to talk about it. It is important for both people to understand that this does not change anything about their relationship and love for one other. This article is designed to help you have more open conversations with your partner about ED. 

ED is common and can affect anyone. It is estimated that over 30 million men in the United States have experienced ED at some point in their lives. It may be random, occasional, or chronic, but 1 in 10 men suffer from ED. While many men with ED are over the age of 50, there are still younger men who experience it, as well. Roughly 8% of men between 20-29 and 11% of men between 30-39 experience ED.

How ED Affects Relationships 

The Sexual Dysfunction Association conducted an online survey to see how ED affected men. The results showed erectile dysfunction causes distress to those who experience it, with marked effects on their self-esteem and relationships. The most common initial reaction to erectile dysfunction was a sense of emasculation. For many men, the ability to perform sexually and to satisfy their partner was an important marker of their masculinity.  

The importance of self-esteem cannot be overstated for a successful relationship. A person who is confident and proud of themselves will often times find they are more satisfied with their romantic relationships. High self-esteem allows them to enjoy romantic connections more than if they were suffering from feelings of worthlessness.  

But it is not just the partner experiencing the ED who has lowered self-esteem. Despite the fact research has shown that ED normally has natural causes (like a circulation problem), partners of those experiencing ED have feelings of unattractiveness and tend to worry their partner has feelings for someone else. Fears of intimacy and of rejection can grow in this environment. Because of this, anxiety and depression can develop in the partner as well as the person experiencing ED.

How to Communicate with your Partner 

First, it is important to remember no one is at fault for their erectile problems. It is important to broach the subject in the right setting. Having this conversation in bed or right after an ED instance has occurred is not ideal. Instead, it is better to prepare for the conversation and have it in a more relaxed or non-threatening setting.  

Before beginning the conversation, it may help to educate yourself on why ED can occur and how to treat it so you can bring the information to your partner. Deepening your knowledge on the topic can help you and your partner better understand why ED is occurring and strengthen your support for one another as you venture into treatment or lifestyle changes that can help the condition.  

If you are the partner of someone suffering from ED and wish to broach the subject with them, it is good to remember to set the right emotional tone for the conversation. It is important to not corner your partner or make them feel like you are attacking the condition. If your partner becomes embarrassed or defensive, then do not push the topic. However, do not entirely drop the subject. Allow them some time but let them know you need a follow-up conversation. It may be good to communicate that the condition is common, but that there are many treatment options available.  

In some cases, it may be best to approach the subject with either a medical professional or with a marriage counselor. Regardless of how the topic is brought up, it is important to reiterate that you and your partner are a team and that you can lend support to one another.  

A Few Things to Know about ED 

Erectile Dysfunction is not necessarily about a lack of arousal. ED can actually be a symptom of underlying health concerns such as depression, high blood pressure or cholesterol, diabetes, low testosterone, or heart disease. Emotional triggers such as anxiety or high stress levels can also cause or worsen the effects of erectile dysfunction.  

ED is Treatable 

The sooner you get the right treatment for your ED, the better. Treatments range from lifestyle changes to oral medications and sometimes even surgery. Making healthier food choices, improving your sleep quality, and exercising regularly can be lifestyle changes that improve the symptoms of ED. When lifestyle changes are not working or are unavailable, there are multiple prescription options to combat the effects of ED. The availability of generic ED medications has revolutionized the treatment of this condition by allowing for my financially viable options. 

If you are experiencing the symptoms of ED, then it is recommended you speak to your healthcare provider.

HIV Today: A Look at the Progress We’ve Made

HIV Today: A Look at the Progress We’ve Made

In the early 1980s, HIV was a death sentence. Today, it is manageable with medication and can be treated as just another chronic disease. With new medical advancements and increased awareness, we have made considerable progress in combating HIV/AIDS since its outbreak 40 years ago. However, there are still many challenges that must be addressed if we want to make a lasting impact on this epidemic.  

A Brief History of HIV 

The 1980s saw the emergence of a new disease that would eventually come to be known as HIV. It was spread primarily through sexual contact or sharing needles, and at first it seemed like everyone who had been exposed developed AIDS and died shortly after exposure. By 1985, every region in world reported an incidence rate above 1500 cases per 100 thousand people infected. Eventually, through years of research, scientists found out how they could slow down or even stop the progression of HIV. These studies led to the creation of a prescription medication called PrEP, which stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis.  

HIV In America Today 

Despite the breakthroughs in prevention and treatment of HIV, the statistics for HIV in America are staggering. A substantial number of Americans are still impacted by the virus- 1.1 million individuals in the US are living with HIV. 1 in 7 are unaware that they are infected. According to the CDC, a total of 51% of teens and young adults with HIV do not know they have it. There are an estimated 1 million people in the US who are at substantial risk of contracting HIV, but less than 10% of those individuals take preventative medication. Because of this, the CDC recommends that anyone who is sexually active should test for HIV at least once a year.  

Protection with PrEP 

In 2012, the FDA approved Truvada as a preventative of HIV. In January 2020, California became the first state to allow pharmacists to dispense PrEP without a doctor’s prescriptions, as long as certain clinical criteria of the individual were met. When taken as authorized, PrEP is up to 99% effective at preventing HIV. PrEP is a once daily pill that works by setting up “walls” around certain cells; these walls then keep HIV from crossing into the healthy cells and replicating. If HIV enters your body, it will be unable to breach the walls to gain access to the cells. It is estimated that PrEP starts protecting you anywhere from 7 to 20 days after the first dose.  

Although there is still no cure for HIV, modern medications allow people to live long and healthy lives with HIV, without passing the virus to sexual partners.  

A Few HIV Myths 

There were still many things unknown about the virus in the early years of the HIV epidemic. During thse times of fear and uncertainty, many myths about the virus became popularized. One of those myths is that it is unsafe to have intimate contact with someone who has HIV. However, the combination of a PrEP prescription and condom use provides very strong protection against contracting HIV. If someone living with HIV is taking HIV medication, and there are no symptoms of the virus, then the virus cannot spread to their partner. This is where we get the phrase “undetectable = untransmittable” or “U=U.” 

Another common myth is that HIV is the same thing as AIDS. However, HIV is a virus whereas AIDS describes a condition that can possibly develop after many years if left untreated. HIV does not progress to AIDS until the immune system becomes compromised, at which point a person with HIV is vulnerable not only to certain infections but also forms of cancer. However, it is completely possible to contract HIV and never develop AIDS. 

Where we are Now 

Despite there being no cure for HIV yet, it is now possible to live a long and healthy life with the right medication. A person’s circumstances have changed quite dramatically since the earlier years of this epidemic – now they are able to lead active lifestyles that were once considered impossible due in part by discrimination against those infected as well negative attitudes concerning their own diagnosis.  

While HIV has had a devastating impact on many individuals, there have still been many advances in HIV prevention and treatment that make living with this virus easier while protecting loved ones.  

The way forward is by staying educated, testing for HIV regularly, and starting a PrEP prescription if you are at risk of contracting HIV.  

The Effects of Hormonal Birth Control

The Effects of Hormonal Birth Control

Many women are concerned about the effects that hormonal birth control might have on their health. If you are thinking of starting the pill, or if you have been on the pill for a while, it makes sense that you may have concerns about how long-lasting any side effects might be. It may seem as if adding hormones to your body may not be compatible for your long-term health. 

The good news is the pill and other forms of birth control are safe. Different forms of hormonal birth control work by introducing hormones that are already similar to the ones already in your body. Introducing these similar and natural hormones are used to prevent pregnancy by stopping ovulation or thickening cervical mucus. The pill can also help balance the hormones already present in the body to improve complexion, reduce premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and even reduce the risk of certain cancers.

Breaking Common Myths 

Fertility 

One common myth about hormonal birth control is that it can reduce your ability to conceive once you are off the pill. However, the pill works by introducing low levels of the hormones necessary to prevent pregnancy. These low levels are the reason why the pill must be taken daily. Once you stop taking the pill, your fertility goes back to normal, and chances of conception are improved within three months. One type of hormonal birth control that can impact fertility in the near term is the birth control shot. It can take between three and 18 months after your last shot for your ability to get pregnant to return. 

One thing to keep in mind is that although birth control does not affect fertility, age does. If someone has been on birth control for ten years and then struggles to conceive, it could be because they are 10 years older than they were.  

Cancer Risk 

Another common myth about birth control is it increases your chances of cancer. However, hormonal birth control actually lowers your risk for certain cancers, including ovarian cancer. In fact, certain types of birth control can actually decrease your risk of ovarian cancer by up to 50%, even for decades after stopping your prescription. Some research indicates a slight increased risk of breast cancer, however, this risk decreases once a prescription is ended. Breast cancer is also highly unlikely in pre-menopausal womxn, so the risk is still low.  
 
While not cancer, fluid-filled cysts on the ovaries can cause concern or pain for those who have them. Hormonal birth control methods actually stop your body from ovulating, and therefore lower the risk of creating cysts on your ovaries. Some birth control can even reduce the risk of forming breast cysts as well.  

Benefits of the Pill 

While birth control can have short-term health side effects, these risks disappear once you stop taking your prescription. Combination birth control (estrogen + progestin) is associated with an increased risk of stroke, blood clots and heart attack, so those at risk for these things should avoid this type of birth control. Those at risk include smokers, those who suffer from migraines with auras, and those who have a personal or family history of blood clots. Those who should avoid combination birth control can instead take the mini pill (progestin only). 

The pill does offer immediate health benefits for those who take it as prescribed. Taking birth control can improve your skin by balancing your hormones. The pill, rings, and patches, all lessen PMS symptoms like backaches, cramps, mood swings, breast tenderness, bloating, depression, and more. Periods can also be lighter and even less painful when on the pill. Some forms of birth control also allow you to skip periods so you can be in control of your own period timing. 

The Bottom Line 

Hormonal birth control can be a great option for those with certain health needs, or those wanting to avoid pregnancy. Any risk that comes with a birth control prescription is short-term and decreases or disappears once you stop taking hormonal birth control. Your ability to conceive returns once your prescription has ended, or if you do not take the daily pill as prescribed, and your long-term fertility is not affected by your birth control.  

While certain types of birth control are not for everyone, there is a type of birth control for everyone. There are plenty of options available to womxn, whether they are looking to avoid pregnancy, improve their skin, lessen PMS, or just skip periods in general.  

If you are considering starting birth control, then it is important to be informed about your options. Talk to your healthcare provider or set up a telehealth consultation in order to help you find the right form of birth control for you.