Flu and masks

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Healthcare systems across the country have been battling COVID-19 for nearly two years. Face coverings are proven to be one one of the most important tools in keeping this virus at bay. Cloth masks are a popular infection control method worldwide, but they are a new prevention strategy in American life. Although they have become controversial, it is undeniable they slow the spread of COVID-19 and the flu. The flu and masks should be a common association.

Please take a few minutes to watch this PBS program on the importance of masks.

The impact

It seems like every year, thousands of people contract the dreaded flu. This terrible illness has become a part of our seasonal culture. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention estimated that 28,000 people died from influenza from 2018 to 2019 in the United States. From 2017 to 2018, an estimated 52,000 people died in our country alone. Every year thousands meet an untimely death from this virus. Data trends and studies on the effectiveness of masks have some wondering if they should be worn more often.

Masks aren’t about necessarily protecting ourselves. They are about protecting others from contaminated droplets. Wearing a mask during the flu season might be the best way to protect our communities.

Infection prevention

Cheryl Houselog is Tri-County Health Care’s infection preventionist. She has the duty of stopping the spread of contagions. For the last two years, she has worked non-stop to provide safe working environments for the staff and patients of Tri-County Health Care. When asked what she felt was the best way to prevent the spread of the flu, she quickly stated the importance of respiratory hygiene. To her, a cloth mask is one of the most important barriers between you and sickness. Cheryl doesn’t think you need to constantly wear a mask but choosing to wear one in certain situations makes sense. When you plan to be around several different people, wearing a mask, especially during the flu season, can be a very wise decision.

“The fact that we did not see a lot of colds or influenza last year indicates that masking helps prevent transmission of many respiratory diseases,” – Cheryl Houselog

Masking is more important than ever! They may not be convenient or fashionable, but they can save lives. Data from the Influenza Surveillance Network has been included below. If you compare rates of influenza in the State of Minnesota, it is clear that mitigation efforts were having a strong impact on the spread of the flu and other respiratory illnesses. This winter, make sure you’re protected from the flu by wearing your masks and getting your flu shot.

Flu and Masks statistics.


Flu Shots Are More Important This Year

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This year presents a new challenge for health care workers and public health officials – taking on two respiratory illnesses at once. With COVID-19 still circulating and the influenza season upon us, receiving flu shots are even more important this year.

Despite the unique challenge, Tri-County Health Care is prepared. Part of that is encouraging people of all ages to receive their flu vaccination this year.

“If there was ever a year to get your flu vaccine, this is the year to get it,” said Ben Hess, M.D. and Tri-County Health Care Chief Medical Officer. “It will be important to get it now, so it’s easier for your provider to sort through what kind of illness you may have.”

If a patient presents with symptoms consistent with a respiratory illness but has received a flu shot, a provider will be more suspicious that it is COVID-19.

Tri-County Health Care flu shot covid-19 influenza prevention wadena henning bertha ottertail sebeka verndale Flu Shots Important This Year

Helping Prepare the Community

There have already been positive cases for influenza in the area. That is why Tri-County Health Care has taken steps to encourage and assist community members in getting their flu shot this year.

Patients can receive their vaccine at primary and specialty care appointments. Tri-County Health Care has also scheduled flu shot clinics throughout its service area. These options offer patients a convenient way to receive their flu shot.

Upcoming dates and locations for flu shot clinics include:

  • Sebeka Clinic: Tuesday, Oct. 13, 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (106 Minnesota Ave., Sebeka, MN 56477)
  • Henning Clinic: Wednesday, Oct. 14, 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (401 Douglas Ave., Henning, MN 56551)
  • Bertha Clinic: Thursday, Oct. 15, 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (214 1st St NW, Bertha, MN 56437)
  • Wadena Clinic:
    • Saturday, Oct. 17, 7 a.m. – 1 p.m. (4 Deerwood Ave. NW, Wadena, MN 56482)
    • Saturday, Oct. 31, 7 a.m. – 1 p.m. (4 Deerwood Ave. NW, Wadena, MN 56482)
  • Ottertail Clinic: Tuesday, Oct. 27, 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (232 Minnesota Highway 78 North, Ottertail, MN 56571)

Masking, screening and social distancing will take place at each event.

The Importance of Flu Shots

Everyone 6 months and older should receive immunization every flu season. For people who are at high risk of serious complications and adults 65 years and older, the flu shot is more important than ever this year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 39 million people were affected by flu-related illnesses from Oct. 1, 2019, through Apr. 4, 2020. More people receiving this vaccination leads to increased protection throughout the community. A flu vaccine this season will also help reduce the burden on our health care systems responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and save medical resources for the care of those patients.

In addition to receiving the annual flu shot, it’s important to continue taking steps to reduce the spread of both respiratory illnesses. Mitigation strategies include washing your hands often, social distancing and wearing a face mask.

“Anything we can do to lessen both of those illnesses is important for the community,” said Dr. Hess. “It’s something we should all be striving for.”

Tri-County Health Care flu shot covid-19 influenza prevention wadena henning bertha ottertail sebeka verndale Flu Shots Important This Year

 


COVID-19 FAQ: How to Keep Schools Open

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Many months have passed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. However, there are still unknowns surrounding COVID-19 and what its effect will be moving forward. Tri-County Health Care, Wadena-Deer Creek Schools and Sourcewell hosted a community town hall to answer questions from the public. Topics addressed included how influenza differs from COVID-19 and how to keep schools open this year.

Tri-County Health Care COVID-19 Coronavirus Schools Reopening Germs Hand Hygiene Masks

What are the differences between COVID-19 and influenza?

Ben Hess, M.D.: The main symptoms of COVID-19 and influenza are similar. Nobody can look at a patient and tell if they have one or the other. That is why we must do testing to sort through it and find an answer. We have quite a few treatments that are effective for the flu.

The main difference is that COVID-19 is more dangerous than the flu. If you look at the statistics, the flu kills around 30,000 Americans every year. We have already lost 180,000 to COVID-19.

How can people prepare for the flu season? Will this flu season be different this year?

Dr. Hess: Both the flu and COVID-19 are spread through droplets. That means the measures people are taking to protect themselves from COVID-19 will be effective at limiting the spread of the flu. These mitigation efforts include social distancing, wearing a mask and practicing good hand hygiene.

Another way to prepare is to get the annual flu shot. It will be important because if a patient is showing symptoms and has had the flu vaccination, it will be easier for the provider to determine the illness. If a patient presents with a fever, muscle aches, runny nose and sore throat and have had a flu shot, the suspicion that it’s COVID-19 is much higher.

In a typical year, I recommend getting the flu shot in October or November for this region. However, with COVID-19 active in the community, it’s more important to get it sooner.

What will school look like this year?

Wadena-Deer Creek School District Superintendent Lee Westrum: We plan to keep the schools open and students in the classroom, but we know we will likely have to shift between the three learning formats described below, depending on the COVID-19 data in our community. We’re also offering distance learning as an option for any family who wishes to choose a more consistent schedule as part of a full-time, at-home learning model.

When students are in school, we will follow the Minnesota Department of Health guidelines to mitigate risks associated with the spread of COVID-19. Our safety protocols include:

  • Physical distancing of individuals in classrooms and common areas, and visual reminders for physical distancing
  • Face coverings for all staff and students in our buildings
  • Handwashing with soap and/or hand sanitizer in each classroom
  • Limited sharing of supplies.
  • Increased daily and weekly enhanced cleaning and disinfecting
  • Increased circulation of outside air into buildings due to our advanced HVAC system

What happens to the learning model if there is a surge of COVID-19 cases in the area?

Lee Westrum: The three learning models in our safe learning plan include in-person learning, hybrid learning and distance learning. These three learning formats may shift depending on COVID-19 data in our community. The state of Minnesota has put together a system to help guide schools about what learning model to use. This system is based on the number of positive COVID-19 tests per 10,000 people in the county over a two-week period. Our district plans to discuss shifting models at these positive case levels:

  • 10 positive cases per 10,000: Students in grades 7-12 would shift to hybrid learning. Elementary students would remain in school.
  • 20 positive cases per 10,000: All students shift to hybrid learning.
  • 30 positive cases per 10,000: Students in grades 7-12 shift to distance learning. Elementary remains with hybrid learning.
  • 50 positive cases: All students shift to distance learning.

How can the community help keep our schools open with in-person learning this year?

Lee Westrum: The main factor in keeping our students in school is by keeping our community COVID-19 infection rates low. We all agree we want our kids in school. It’s important for our parents and community members to be partners with the school on this. That means committing to mitigation efforts at home and in the community. By making this commitment, it will allow us to keep our infection rates low and help us achieve our goal of providing an excellent education while maintaining a safe environment for everyone.

Is it still important to flatten the curve?

Joel Beiswenger, President and CEO: The original concept of flattening the curve was to make sure health care systems didn’t get overrun with the virus. The efforts allowed time for training on how best to care for patients and to acquire personal protective equipment. Now, it’s important to flatten the curve to manage community spread and allow our schools to maintain in-person learning. It’s the same concept with a different perspective on it.

Dr. Hess: When you’re dealing with a virus like this, it has the potential for exponential growth. It only takes a few cases to turn into hundreds or thousands. We’re always flattening the curve, but now we’re focused on doing it to avoid a large-scale shutdown. It’s how we keep our schools and businesses open this year.

Tri-County Health Care COVID-19 Coronavirus Hand Hygiene Schools Reopening Social Distancing Face Masks

 


The flu: It’s coming

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By Amy Sweere, Immunization/Vaccine Coordinator

 

It’s that time of year again. The leaves are changing colors, pumpkin spice is running rampant, and the influenza virus is getting ready to pounce. Tri-County Health Care and I want to make sure you’re equipped this season to prevent the spread of the virus.Shot of a young woman sick with the flu blowing her nose.

 

What is influenza?

Influenza, otherwise known as the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness that is caused by various viruses that affect the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs. These viruses can cause mild to severe illness and could lead to hospitalization and even death.

 

How does influenza spread?

Influenza virus is transmitted through the air or by direct contact with respiratory droplets from an infected person. You can pass the flu onto others before you even know you are sick. If you have the flu, you are most contagious in the first 3-4 days after your illness begins.

 

What are the symptoms?

You will begin experiencing symptoms 1-4 days after you are exposed to the virus. The onset of symptoms will be SUDDEN. The primary symptoms of influenza are cough, fever, chills, fatigue, headaches, muscle/ body aches, runny/stuffy nose and sore throat. Some people, mainly children, might also experience vomiting and diarrhea. People with the flu will often experience some or all of these symptoms.

 

People at risk for influenza and complications from influenza:

Anyone can get influenza, even healthy people! The risk for complications, hospitalization and death is higher for people age 65 or older, young children, and people of any age who have chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease. Pregnancy also increases the risk for serious medical complications from influenza.

 

When should you get vaccinated?

You should receive your influenza vaccination in late fall before the flu season begins. Once administered, the vaccine takes about two weeks for the antibodies to develop in the body and protect you from influenza. If you are traveling in the late summer or early fall, you should get the vaccine as soon as it is available.

 

Influenza misconceptions:Woman sick with the flu sneezing into a tissue.

  • The inactivated influenza vaccine cannot cause influenza. The injectable vaccine contains only dead virus fragments and therefore cannot cause influenza.
  • Less than 1 percent of people who are vaccinated may develop flu-like symptoms such as mild fever, muscle aches. These side effects are not the same as having influenza.
  • It takes about two weeks for immunity to build after being vaccinated. In that time, it is possible for people to be exposed to the virus and develop influenza before the vaccine becomes effective.
  • The “flu” is often perceived as any illness that causes a fever and cold symptoms or stomach symptoms. These symptoms may be blamed on the influenza vaccination, but they are caused by a different illness entirely.

 

You can help prevent the spread of the flu!

The best way to prevent the spread of influenza is to receive the vaccine. Here are other methods for preventing the spread:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your sleeve whenever you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue away after you use it, and wash your hands!
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand cleaner, especially if you been coughing or sneezing.
  • Try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Stay away from others who are sick! If you are sick, avoid interacting with others, especially babies, children and the elderly.
  • If you get influenza, stay home from work or school for at least 24 hours after the fever has ended.

 

TCHC Flu Clinics

Tri-County is providing local residents the chance to receive the flu vaccine. Clinics will be held on the following dates:

  • Wadena – Tuesday, Oct. 9; Wednesday, Oct. 17 – 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Sebeka – Wednesday, Oct. 10 – 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Verndale – Thursday, Oct. 11 – 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Ottertail – Monday, Oct. 15 – 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Bertha – Tuesday, Oct. 16 – 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Henning – Thursday, Oct. 18 – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Pre-registration is encouraged by calling the clinic of your choice. Click here for more information.

 

Sources: Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Immunization Action Coalition

 

Amy Sweere, immunization and vaccine coordinator

About the Author: Amy has worked for Tri-County Health Care for almost seven years. Her roles include well child nurse, well child coordinator and vaccine coordinator. When she is not working, she helps her husband, Jeremy, on Pine Breeze Farms raising cattle and growing several types of crops. She enjoys watching her 21-year-old daughter, Riley, grow into an amazing adult. She also has a cat named Freddie Charles and a dog named Belle Rue.


Flu vs. flu: what kind do I have?

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By Alison Meyer, APRN, CNP

 

Right now in Minnesota, the flu season has reached peak numbers, including hospitalizations and deaths. As a result, there have been concerns raised about the flu vaccine and its effectiveness.

One of the common misconceptions I have heard is that the vaccine is given to prevent the stomach flu (gastroenteritis). This is not true as it is only used for preventing influenza.

What’s the difference, you might ask? Despite both being called the flu, influenza and the stomach flu are different viruses.Doctor holding a card with Flu Season., medical concept

The stomach flu is just as its name suggests, an illness that infects your stomach and intestines. Influenza is a respiratory illness. While complications can happen with the stomach flu, influenza is much more likely to cause serious side effects.

Certain symptoms may overlap, but for the most part, they have defining features.

 

You might have the stomach flu if:

  • You experience nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhea or low fever
  • Symptoms only last for a day or two

You might have influenza if:

  • You experience high fever, coughing, congestion, body aches or fatigue
  • Symptoms last one week or longer

I’ve also heard other concerns from community members related to influenza and the vaccine.

 

Is it too late to get a flu shot?

Although flu season has reached its peak in Minnesota, it’s not too late to get vaccinated, as the season could last for many more weeks. Take note, however, that the Sick boy with the flu with thermometer laying in bed and mother hand taking temperature. Mother checking temperature of her sick son who has thermometer in his mouth. vaccine takes a couple weeks to build up your immune system, so you are at risk of encountering an infected individual and catching the virus in that time.  Even so, by getting the vaccine now, you may be able to lessen symptoms and the risk of complications if you should become ill or prevent the virus altogether.

 

Will I get the flu from the vaccine?

Though you could experience mild side effects such as fever or pain at the injection site, you cannot get influenza from the vaccine. Click here to read a past Tri Living Well blog with more on this subject.

 

How effective is the vaccine?

The effectiveness of the vaccine changes every year because influenza itself constantly changes. Flu migration patterns across the world are extensively researched each year to estimate which strains of the virus will be most prevalent in the coming season. To ensure the vaccine is readily available before the flu season, it must be manufactured well in advance, which leaves room for the virus to mutate. For this reason, there is a potential for a bad match.

So far this season, the CDC reports that the vaccine is 36 perfect effective at preventing influenza, as noted in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Though this number might seem low, reports by the CDC show that vaccine effectiveness can vary between 40 and 60 percent in seasons where there is a good vaccine/virus match.Young man suffering from the flu with cold and coughing.

There is still enough evidence this season to suggest getting the flu vaccine can be beneficial. Not only are there minimal risks, but any protection is better than no protection at all.

 

CDC Statistics for the 2017-2018 season:

  • Total hospitalizations in Minnesota as of Feb. 10 are 4,271 compared to 3,738 in the 2016-2017 season.
  • A total of 84 pediatric deaths were reported as of Feb. 10. Among those, only 26 percent of children who were eligible for the vaccine received it.
  • A new study found that vaccination reduced the risk of flu-associated death by 65 percent among healthy children.
  • The median age of those hospitalized in Minnesota is 74.

 

About the Author: Alison Meyer is an advanced practice registered nurse and certified nurse practitioner at TCHC’s Bertha Clinic. She takes a special interest in pediatrics, women’s health, and health promotion and disease prevention. Alison and her husband, Jeremy, reside in Hewitt and have two children, Elsie and Harrison.


Why should you get the flu vaccine?

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By Ben Hess, M.D., Chief Medical Officer

 

As we look ahead to peak influenza season in Minnesota, now is a good time to consider getting your annual flu vaccine. The vaccine is absolutely safe and can protect you from contracting the virus and suffering severe symptoms that can put you down and out for one to two weeks.

 

Cold and Flu Season Street SignAbout this year’s vaccine

This year’s vaccine contains four strains of influenza, including H1N1 or swine flu. The strains included in the vaccine change every year based on extensive research and well-documented flu migration patterns in other parts of the world.

On average, about once every seven years, there is a bad match or the virus changes from the time of production to when flu season actually arrives. This is why the vaccine is not very effective some years.

In the U.S., the peak flu season is approximately November to February. However, in Minnesota, the peak is from January to February. The virus typically affects coastal states and large metro areas first, which is why I recommend that snowbirds and those who travel get their vaccinations early.

Check out this map that shows the steady progression of the virus.

 

Feeling sick after getting the vaccine?

One argument I commonly hear for why people opt out of the flu vaccine is they are worried they will get the flu from the vaccine. Here are some important things to consider:

Dead virus. The flu vaccine that we give here at TCHC is a dead virus. You would never get the flu from this vaccine.

Delayed effect. The vaccine takes about two weeks to become fully effective. It is possible to contract the flu in this time period, which is why it’s important to get the vaccine early.Sick woman sneezing to tissue. Medicine, hot beverage and dirty paper towels in front. Girl caught cold. Cough syrup and handkerchiefs on table. Very ill person feeling bad and having fever.

Specific strains. The vaccine contains specific strains of the flu that researchers believe will be most prevalent during the current season. It is possible to contract a strain that is not included in the vaccine.

No response. A certain percentage of people simply don’t respond to the vaccine. The reasons are unclear, and because the vaccine changes every year, it is hard to research.

Already infected. The flu has an incubation period of up to four days. If you were already infected with the flu before you get the vaccine, then the vaccine will be ineffective.

Immune response. It is possible to have an immune response to the vaccine, which can give you muscle aches and pains or a mild fever for two to three days. This is reassuring because it means your immune system is responding to the vaccine and you are likely more protected from the flu.

 

Influenza – a serious illness

Influenza is extremely contagious and is spread through droplets when people talk, sneeze or cough. Typical symptoms last about one week and include high fever, muscle aches, upper respiratory infection and fatigue. Most people will experience weakness and fatigue for another one to two weeks after the actual illness.

Those most at risk are the elderly, people with weakened immune systems and children, especially infants younger than 6 months old because they can’t be vaccinated.

Flu vaccine calendar noteTo a certain extent, the younger you are, the more severe your reaction will be. Most symptoms that come from the flu are caused by your immune system, so the healthier your immune system, the potentially more severe your symptoms will be.

If you come down with the flu, your best course of action is to stay home from work or school, drink plenty of fluids, get lots of rest, and take anti-inflammatory medications such as Ibuprofen or Aleve.

The flu is also a fairly significant cause of mortality in the U.S. From the 1976-1977 season to 2006-2007 season, flu-associated deaths ranged from as low as 3,000 to as high as 49,000 annually, according to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Because the severity of the virus is unpredictable, I highly recommend getting the vaccine as soon as is convenient for you. By doing so, you potentially avoid illness for yourself while ultimately preventing the spread to vulnerable individuals.

 

For additional information about influenza, visit www.cdc.gov.

 

About the Author: A board-certified family practitioner and Chief Medical Officer at Tri-County Health Care, Ben Hess, M.D., was inspired to study medicine because he wanted to make a difference in people’s lives every day. While not at work, Hess enjoys hunting, fishing, bowling and listening to public radio. He and his wife have three daughters and make their home in Verndale.Dr. Hess


Flu Season is Near: Why You Should Get a Flu Shot Today

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By: Amy Severson, FNP, APRN

Have you gotten your flu shot for this upcoming winter season? Influenza, otherwise commonly known as the flu, is a potentially serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and even death.

flushot1The Center of Disease Control (CDC) states:

  • Between 1976 and 2007, flu-associated deaths ranged from 3,000 – 49,000 people.
  • In recent years, 80 – 90% of flu-related deaths occurred in people 65 years and older.
  • Flu vaccine is recommended for nearly everyone starting at 6 months of age.
  • If an expectant mom gets a flu shot during pregnancy, the vaccine also helps protect her baby during its first six months of life.

Flu activity typically begins in the fall months and peaks in January and February, though depending on the season, it can last until May. The CDC recommends getting an annual seasonal flu vaccine to best prevent getting the flu, and not spread it to others. The more people get covered, the less flu we will see in our communities.

A lot of patients ask me, “When is the best time to get a flu shot?”

Since it can take one to two weeks for the flu vaccine to become effective, it’s best to get vaccinated in the month of October if possible. Though Federal Health Officials say it’s better to get a shot anytime, then skip the vaccine altogether.  For the 2016-2017 season, CDC recommends getting a flu shot, and not the nasal spray flu vaccine. Unfortunately, CDC studies found in the past few years, FluMist hasn’t protected against certain influenza strains as well as the flu shot. For this reason, FluMist will not be available this season until more studies are conducted to figure out the reason why this is.

Get your flu shot disease ill illness healthy health doctor

Why bother with getting a flu shot?

The Center for Disease Control states that a flu vaccine can reduce the risk of getting the flu by 50 – 60% when given at the optimal time. So do yourself and your neighbor a favor, and get a flu shot this fall!

Upcoming Area 2016 Flu Shot Clinics:

Tri-County Health Care will be hosting a Flu Shot Clinic at each one of our clinics in the month of October. Pre-registration is encouraged, but not required. Refreshments will be served.

Ottertail: October 14 – 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. 218-367-6262

Wadena: October 18 – 7 – 8:30 a.m. 218-631-1100

Henning: October 19 – 7 a.m. – 6 p.m. 218-583-2953

Verndale: October 24 – 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. 218-445-5990

Sebeka: October 26 – 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. 218-837-5333

Wadena: October 27 – 5:30 – 7 p.m. 218-631-1100

Bertha: October 28 – 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. 218-924-2250

To get more information about these upcoming clinics click here.

 

Amy Severson, APRN, CNP

Amy Severson, APRN, CNP

 

About the Author: Amy has worked for TCHC for the past 14 years, the last nine years at the Henning Medical Clinic.  She feels privileged to work in the town she was raised in, and take care of families she’s known her whole life. She lives with her husband Eric on East Battle Lake with their three children; Ethan, age 14, Emma, age 12, and Elliot, age 8.  In her time away from the clinic, you’ll find her at Ottertail Central football games and supporting the Henning Hornets in volleyball and basketball.  She also is the head of the youth group at her church.

 

 

 

 


The information and opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author, and are not designed to constitute advice or recommendations as to any disease, ailment or physical condition. You should not act or rely solely upon any information contained in these articles without seeking the advice of your personal physician.