Factors That Have Led America to Gain Weight


Dr. Michael Omidi discusses the factors that have led us to systematically gain weight over the past few decades.

Although the ramifications of childhood obesity are becoming clearer and clearer with every passing year, we, as a nation, are still flummoxed when it comes to addressing it in a meaningful way.  We know that obese children are statistically very likely to suffer from preventable and chronic illnesses when they get older, and yet we are nonetheless seduced by the ease and convenience of foods and activities that only contribute to the problem.  According to a recent study, a child’s likelihood that he or she will struggle with obesity as a teenager or adult is determined by the age of 5 years.

Fast foods, processed foods and other convenience foods are all viewed as being essential in our day-to-day lives.  Since most of us are largely not able to source our foods directly from farms or farmers markets, and we moreover do not have the time or inclination to prepare our foods from scratch, we lean on sustenance that we can access quickly and easily, with minimum preparation.  Unfortunately, the foods that satisfy us the most are the foods that serve us the lease.

We cannot rely upon marketing to help us make the better choices, either.  Foods that are ostensibly healthier and have a higher nutritional content are often loaded with sugars.  If you scrutinize the labels of seemingly innocuous foods, you are likely to find ingredients prefaced with the phrase “high fructose,” or in a more wholesome guise, like “evaporated cane juice.”   Unless you cook all of your foods without processed ingredients of any kind, and abjure prepared beverages, there is no way to accurately determine the amount of sugar you consume in a day.

Our activity levels have deteriorated as well.  We are a nation of automobile transport – we use our cars to get to destinations only a few fractions of a mile away.  While our level of exercise has been on the decline for decades, with the internet making it possible to purchase items that were once only accessible from remote locations, we are even less inclined to leave our homes than we were even in the heyday of catalogs.

In an effort to incorporate healthy lifestyle choices into our increasing dependence on communications tools, there have been numerous applications dedicated to aiding us with our fitness and weight loss goals.  There are even children’s video games that have been developed specifically for the purpose of engaging the entire body.  However, it isn’t clear if supplementary activities tied to digital media are actually successful in helping us to become more active.  Yes, there are apps designed to help us work out efficiently and eat well, but if we are so tied to our computers, are we really going to be inclined to just get out and experience the world in a personal and healthy way?

What will the future bring us in terms of our health and wellness?  Medical innovations are focused on fixing dangerous medical problems, but we don’t address our health in a meaningful way.  As we become more and more intertwined with communications technology, and as we are becoming an economy of haves and have-nots, we are very likely going to fracture into vastly different fitness categories – the very fit and the very unhealthy.  We have to develop a strategy that can be adopted across cultures and economic strata that will help to move us toward a fitter and healthier future.

By Michael Omidi

Researchers Say Childhood Obesity Costs $19,000 Per Child


Dr. Michael Omidi discusses the latest estimate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that looking at total lifetime medical costs, childhood obesity costs $19,000 more than lifetime costs for normal weight children.

The researchers were led by Eric Andrew Finkelstein, PhD, MHA, from the Duke Global Health Institute and Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore, publish their results in the journal Pediatrics. [1]

“Reducing childhood obesity is a public health priory that has substantial health and economic benefits,” said Finkelstein. “These estimates provide the financial consequences of inaction and the potential medical savings from obesity prevention efforts that successfully reduce or delay obesity onset.”

When the research team multiplied the $19,000 by the number of obese 10 year olds in the US, researchers found that the lifetime costs for that age group alone was as high as $14 billion.

It’s not just the costs added on from childhood obesity, obesity itself is linked to a number of diseases and health problems, from cardiovascular disease to type 2 diabetes and even some cancers, making obesity a major health problem for the population.

There was also an estimated lifetime cost for normal weight children who become obese in adulthood, that was estimated to be $12,900 per person.

Even though the lifetime costs are quite shocking, there are limitations to the study as that researchers only accounted direct medical costs for obesity in their analysis lie doctor’s visits and medication.  Not taking into the account of indirect costs, such as an increase of cost in the amount of food bought and lost productivity in working adults, thus they concluded that much more research is needed.

“While the cost estimates are significant,” said Finkelstein “the motivation to prevent childhood obesity should be there regardless of the financial implications.”


By Michael Omidi



[1] Finkelstein, Lifetime Direct Medical Costs of Childhood Obesity http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2014/04/02/peds.2014-0063.abstract

Marie Ellis, ‘Childhood obesity costs $19,000 per child,’ researchers say. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/275109.php

New Studies Indicate Exercise Inhibits Macular Degeneration a.k.a. Vision Loss


Exercise is excellent for physical health, without question, but we are only beginning to learn the extent to which we can benefit from regular physical activity.  Dr. Michael Omidi discusses new studies that indicate exercise could inhibit macular degeneration, as we grow older.

The more we learn about exercise, the more beneficial effects we find exercise can bestow.  Certainly, regular physical activity can boost the metabolic rate, help us to manage our weight, increase healthy muscle mass and strengthen our bones.  However, there are studies that have found that exercise can also boost our memory and learning capabilities and possibly stave off dementia. Now, a recent study has found that exercise might help our vision as we age.[1]

A 2009 observational study found that of 40,000 long distance runners who were middle-aged and older had few incidences of macular degeneration, but the study failed to follow comparable non-runners and collect any data, so no useful conclusions could be drawn based upon the subjects’ physical activity.  The study inspired a recent project by researchers from the Atlanta Veterans Administration Medical Center in Decatur, Georgia, and Emory University in Atlanta, which sought to study the effect of exercise on retinal neurons and the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (B.D.N.F.) in laboratory mice.

B.D.N.F. helps neurons in the brain and eyes retain their health and strength.  It has been theorized that B.D.N.F. is activated by regular exercise, helping neurons in the brain and allowing for improved cognition.  This being the case, it stands to reason that neurons in the retinas could be similarly helped by exercise.

In the study, laboratory mice were divided into two groups, half of which were made to run on small treadmills, while the other half remained sedentary.  After two weeks, both groups of mice were exposed to bright light, which causes retinal neurons to deteriorate rapidly. For another two weeks after the exposure, the mice continued with their prescribed routines – half exercising, half not.

After the trial, the neurons in both sets of mice were measured.  75 percent of the neurons in the sedentary mice had died, but the mice that had exercised had maintained twice the number of surviving neurons.  Moreover, the amount of B.D.N.F. in the active mice was far greater than in the sedentary mice.

The influence of the B.D.N.F. was certainly a factor, because in a follow up study, mice that were made to exercise were injected with a B.D.N.F. inhibitor and then tested.  It was found that their neurons died just as rapidly as the mice that engaged in no exercise.

While the results cannot necessarily be an automatic indicator of how human vision will respond, and the mice’s vision didn’t deteriorate over time, it is definitely a phenomenon worth investigating.  Encouraging people to exercise more and sit around less couldn’t be a bad thing, and it is definitely better than the current invasive retinal restoration techniques available!

By Michael Omidi

[1] Reynolds, Gretchen: Exercising for Healthier Eyes New York Times 3/26/2014 http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/03/26/exercising-for-eye-health/?_php=true&_type=blogs&ref=health&_r=0

Childhood Obesity – Teenage Girls & Academic Struggles


Dr. Michael Omidi discusses new research suggesting that obese adolescent girls tend to earn lower scores on standardized math and language skills tests than girls who are a healthy weight.

The consequences of childhood obesity are numerous. Poor health and low self esteem are just two of the issues stemming from this health catastrophe; it seems that obesity can hinder a child’s ability to function in the classroom.

Childhood obesity has become, sadly, a global crisis, requiring the best efforts of the international medical community in combatting the potentially fatal effects.  Now, it has become clear that obesity is more than just a physical health issue – it can corrupt a child’s ability to function in school.

New research from the United Kingdom suggests that obese teenage girls are more likely to struggle academically than obese boys.  The parameters of the study weren’t specific to British culture, and the researchers concluded that the results would also be applicable to American teenagers, as well.[1]

The report analyzed 6,000 pre-teen and teenage boys’ and girls’ standardized test scores through ages 11, 13 and 16 years.  The researchers found that, on average, girls who were obese by age 11 received lower scores on the math and language skills tests at all three ages studied than the girls who were at a healthy weight at age 11.  The disparity in grades was fairly high – to the extent that the difference could mean a passing or failing grade.

The researchers haven’t uncovered any specific causes for this phenomenon.  It has been speculated that the social trauma of obesity is more acute for girls than it is for boys; boys might not have to endure the same level of social stigma, and can generally be accepted by their peers even if they are overweight or obese.

The ridicule, depression and low self image could have a greater deteriorative effect on the minds of girls, causing them to perform poorly.  The stress of scholastic failure might even trigger behaviors that lead to obesity.  One researcher suggested that the stress of academic failure could trigger the desire for comforting high calorie foods.

There are, of course, other factors that might contribute, as well.  Lack of cardiovascular fitness could lessen concentration, as can lack of proper sleep.  Fat can accelerate the release of stress hormones, which can result in feelings of anxiety, further diminishing the ability to focus.

The fact that there is a correlation between obesity and academic success is highly troubling.  Even if the health risks can be corrected by losing weight and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, the missed opportunities from poor scholastic performance are actually much more difficult to reverse.

If a child has spent her school years struggling to keep up, she could face a future with fewer chances to succeed professionally.  It is essential that childhood obesity is addressed as early as possible in order to stave off the potential for social decline later in life.

By Michael Omidi

[1] Poon, Linda: Obesity Linked To Lower Grades Among Teen Girls NPR.org 3/11/2014 http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/03/11/289070502/obesity-linked-to-lower-grades-among-teen-girls

Civic Duty’s Co-Founder Dr. Michael Omidi Spotlights the Work of Almamo Fatty



One of over 550 Baby Friendly Communities in The Gambia © UNICEF/2013/Gambia/Laura Clark


The communities along the Gambia River are among the poorest in the world. Dr. Michael Omidi spotlights the work of Almamo Fatty, a volunteer health worker who works with UNICEF to aid the extremely poor Cha Kunda people of the Central River region of Gambia.

In Gambia along the Central River, small children are subject to diseases and environmental conditions that children in developed nations never have to face.  Mothers and babies are vulnerable to malnutrition, anemia, and a host of other potentially fatal illnesses that would overtake the communities were it not for the efforts of a UNICEF-sponsored clinic, and a health care worker who have made it their mission to keep mothers and babies healthy and thriving.[1]

The Cha Kunda facility is without most of the amenities and equipment we take for granted – office furnishings are spare, the files are kept in boxes and the workers rely primarily on basic hygiene principles and nutrition to combat life-threatening conditions, since drugs and medications are limited, to say the least.  However, Almamo Fatty still works tirelessly to give the poor a chance at health and life with the few tools at his disposal.

One in ten children aren’t expected to live to the age of five years.  The few clinics are too great a distance for many in the community to travel for anything other than urgent care.  Mr. Fatty nonetheless is on call at all hours – travelling hundreds of miles to retrieve life-saving drugs and staying accessible to the families and children.  All of his efforts are volunteer; he receives no salary for his work, and often has to pay the costs of travel and medications himself.

The Cha Kunka region is slowly developing a network of support groups within the different communities so that all villagers have someone with knowledge enough to know when a potential health crisis is emerging.  Mr. Fatty and the support network alert community members of free vaccinations, new healthcare initiatives and infant-care best practices.

The different “Baby Friendly” communities now have, thanks to the efforts of UNICEF and Mr. Fatty, vegetable gardens filled with iron-rich greens (to stave off anemia; a big problem for mothers and children).  Moreover, the group is spreading the word about the benefits of breast feeding as well as simple hand washing.

UNICEF has more than 500 “Baby Friendly” communities throughout the region, but many of the children and families are situated so remotely that babies are always at risk for succumbing to illness and malnutrition.  However, with the efforts of Mr. Fatty and the other network of volunteers and community members, even the most underserved children are given a chance to be healthy.

We at Civic Duty applaud the selfless work of Mr. Fatty, and we hope that his example serves to inspire others to take up his cause and provide the deserving people of this region with a chance at health and happiness.

By Michael Omidi

[1] Andrews, Isabelle: Baby friendly communities: Meeting Gambia’s heroes for children UNICEF UK http://blogs.unicef.org.uk/2014/02/28/baby-friendly-communities-breastfeeding-rural-gambia/

Obesity Rates for Children Drop Yet Rise for Adults


Dr. Michael Omdi discusses the recent statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relating to the obesity rate in the United States.

Childhood obesity is improving in a minor way across the United States, thanks to public initiatives and a national awareness campaign by First Lady Michelle Obama.  However, the adult obesity rate has actually increased, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.[1]

The exclamation that childhood obesity has declined by 43 percent is true – depending upon how one looks at the data. The decrease that is being lauded is, in reality, among 2-5 year-olds which decreased from 13.9 percent to 8 percent.

The good news is that low income children participating in federal health education, physical education and healthy meal plans seem to be benefiting from the lifestyle changes.  However, it is also possible that this is the result in the typical statistical fluctuations that have been known to occur in the surveyed subjects.  Recent studies that have found that a major predictor of obesity and weight issues in adults is obesity between the ages of 2-5, so if this group experiences a drop in obesity, in the long term, this is the generation that might benefit the most in the sense of struggling with weight the least.

Adults are a different story.  Previous survey years, 2003-2004 and 2009-2010 indicated that the adult obesity rate was at 30 percent – and it still is.  However, among women aged 60 years and older, the rate has increased from 31.5 to 38 percent.

Obesity, which has been classified as a disease by the American Medical Association, seems to merit intervention.  It is a legitimate indicator of potentially fatal health events, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.  Reducing the obesity rate will be a strong step towards lowering and preventing the epidemic of preventable illnesses.  But if the obesity rate statistics are fluctuating and not markedly declining, are the initiatives really working?

Awareness campaigns might have led to the drop in obesity in 2-5 year olds.  The perils of regular consumption of sugary drinks has declined, and the breast feeding rate has gone up.  It is widely believed that artificial behavioral changes – such as new laws and programs targeting eating – do not work.  People rebel; they feel as though their rights are being infringed upon.  However, it is also argued that if the programs enter the culture and last more than a generation, there is the possibility that behaviors are modified in subtle and lasting ways.

So, what about the adults who actually got fatter?  We can only speculate, but there has not been the same flood of public programs geared toward them.  Although calorie listings have become mandatory in many cities, the older we get, the more deeply ingrained our habits become, and lifestyle changes are not typically made unless a major health event forces the issue.

As tempting as it may be to want significant changes to occur overnight, it might not exactly be a societal failure if they do not.  Behavior changes evolve over time, and even though they might not be apparent immediately, incremental shifts can make a big difference.  While we must continue to monitor progress, we have to nevertheless stick to the programs already in place, because abandoning them for several years and then returning to them suddenly will yield no results at all.

By Michael Omidi

[1] Walton, Alice: Still Struggling: U.S. Obesity Rates Largely Unchanged Over Last 10 Years Forbes Magazine 2/26/2014 http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2014/02/26/still-struggling-u-s-obesity-rates-stalled-over-the-last-10-years/

New Studies About Babies’ Appetites May Determine Obesity

BabyDr. Michael Omidi discusses two studies, published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics, which found that babies’ appetites might determine whether or not they are likely to become overweight or obese.

A healthy appetite is often an indicator of robust physical health.  New parents are often anxious about a baby’s willingness to eat, and rightly so – a baby that refuses food is often displaying signs of physical illness.  But what about a baby that likes food a little too much?  New studies have found that a baby with a hearty appetite might be overweight or obese later in life.[1]

Two studies conducted in the United Kingdom measured what is called the satiety responsiveness of newborn babies.  Satiety responsiveness is the acuity of the sensation of fullness.  The first study was conducted for 15 months, and followed non-identical twins, whose satiety responsiveness was measured along with their food responsiveness.

Food responsiveness, as opposed to satiety responsiveness, is the willingness to eat extra food only when that food is particularly appealing.  The study authors found that the babies with the low satiety responses were, on average, 2 lbs heavier than their twins, while the babies with high food responsiveness were an average of 1.4 lbs heavier.  The study was important because the subjects were being raised in the same environments, and yet displayed marked dissimilarities depending upon their individual relationships with food.

The second study tested more than 2,200 children born between 1994 and 1996.  They received genetic tests to determine the number of alleles known to be high risk for obesity, which in turn determined their polygenic obesity risk score.  The children were also weighed and measured, and their satiety responsiveness was calculated.  It was found that the children who were genetically more likely to be obese had higher body mass indexes, but the researchers were surprised to note that they also had lower satiety responsiveness.

Because it is now believed that a child who is overweight or obese beyond the age of five years old will struggle with obesity throughout his or her life, regulating a baby’s eating habits is critical.  It is true that most babies are capable of recognizing when they are hungry and when they are not and responding accordingly, but it is still important to consult his or her pediatrician in order to determine how much food is appropriate in order to maintain optimum health for the long term.

It has been suggested that regulating portion control and encouraging eating slowly could help to establish healthy satiety recognition.  Maintaining unvarying meal times will also control hunger responses as children grow.  Of course, avoiding giving babies frequent food treats and edible rewards will help to prevent the child from viewing food as a comfort.

In order for the fight against obesity to be successful, it must be curbed early. If we don’t allow our children to experience early weight fluctuations, we might be able to create a strong foundation for healthy eating habits and physical fitness for the rest of their lives.

By Michael Omidi

[1] Monakhova, Kate: Baby’s Appetite May Be Predictor of Future Obesity Risk CBS News 2/19/2014 http://www.cbsnews.com/news/childs-appetite-may-predict-future-obesity-risk/

Euthanasia of Copenhagen Zoo Giraffe, ‘Marius.’

Dr. Michael Omidi discusses the euthanasia of the giraffe named “Marius,” at the Copenhagen zoo.  Dr. Omidi is cofounder of the charitable organization Animal Support with his brother, Julian Omidi.

The recent outrage about the euthanasia of the giraffe that was 18 months old from Copenhagen Zoo sparked international outrage. The young giraffe, who was healthy but the product of inbreeding, was killed and fed to the zoo’s lion population as school groups watched.

The giraffe, unofficially named “Marius,” was given his favorite snack, a loaf of rye bread, and when he bent down to take it, the zookeeper shot him in the head with a rifle according to the Chicago Tribune.

The fact that the giraffe was physically healthy was what caused the widespread outcry, since numerous European zoos wanted to house the giraffe, and reached out to Copenhagen Zoo.  Copenhagen Zoo located in Copenhagen, Denmark declined all of the offers, and proceeded with the euthanasia.

Zoo officials offered a series of reasons for the euthanasia – not all of them consistent and many of which defied logic.  At first, they claimed that the zoo simply didn’t have enough space for the young male giraffe. After they rejected the offers from other zoos, many of which have the same international certifications (including credentials from the European Association of Zoos) and were able to keep an additional male, they insisted that the euthanasia of the animal was necessary to prevent further inbreeding and protect the giraffe gene pool.

However, critics claim that the animal could have merely been neutered. Furthermore, if the goal was to breed physically healthy giraffes, why kill a healthy one?

Marius the giraffe had been a favorite among the Copenhagen Zoo animals, and there are many videos online posted by zoo attendants who filmed themselves lovingly feeding Marius snacks.  The announcement that Marius was to be euthanized inspired the posting of an online petition entitled ‘Save Marius,’ was signed by 27,000 people.

According to Copenhagen Zoo officials in a statement released online, “Our giraffes are part of an international breeding program, which has a purpose of ensuring a sound and healthy population of giraffes.  When giraffes breed as well as they do now, then you will inevitably run into so-called surplus problems now and then.”

What the statement failed to acknowledge, was that the “international breeding program,” that ensures “a sound and healthy population of giraffes,” is specifically for captive giraffes held to make a profit for large zoos. Apparently, releasing a genetically inconvenient giraffe to a sanctuary just isn’t an option when you want to attract revenue.

The Copenhagen Zoo wanted to remove a giraffe no matter what – and they did.  This zoo’s actions must make us seriously rethink our affection for zoos and all enterprises that house captive animals for profit.  Although most large zoos claim to serve to protect a vanishing population of wild animals, what they are really doing is holding animals far from their natural habitat and making it impossible to reintroduce them into their own ecosystem. 

 By Dr. Michael Omidi

Exercise – Never too Late to Start!


Dr. Michael Omidi discusses the numerous benefits to exercise later in life.

Exercise is one of the most important components in the foundation of a healthy body and healthy mind. Children need to exercise and play in order to develop crucial social skills, build muscle and bone and facilitate cognitive development. Adults who exercise regularly – an hour a day, five or more days per week – have fewer incidents of cardiovascular disease, cancer and obesity.

Now, new studies have shown that is possible to reap the golden-years benefits of exercise when you begin in late adulthood – even if you’ve lived a largely sedentary life up to middle age.

One study, conducted by researchers in Australia, found that even 150 weekly hours of activity (one-half hour per day, five days per week) was an excellent predictor of successful aging (successful aging being defined as retaining cognition and being without major physical debilities that would make independent living difficult).

More than 12,000 men, aged between 65-83 years, participated in the study over the course of 13 years. Of the 12,000 men, 17 percent qualified as being physically active under the study’s guidelines. After the study period, the surviving subjects who were active demonstrated higher cognition, better mood and better overall health than the subjects who were not active. Even when the results were adjusted for health and behavioral factors (heart disease, smoking, body mass index), the results were the same.[1]

Another study wanted to assess the parameters of late-life exercise – when would a person have to begin a regular exercise routine in order to benefit from it in old age? The University College London Physical Activity Research Group analyzed decades of data that had been collected on thousands of British citizens on their health and lifestyle habits.

The project focused on 3,400 reports that were taken from healthy men and women between the ages of 55-73 who had given specific details about their state of health, eating habits and exercise routines for eight years.

The subjects were divided into the physically active or not physically active groups (physically active in this case being one hour per week of exercise, which could include housework or gardening), and their reports were again categorized based upon whether they continued exercising consistently during the eight years, stopped exercising, or started later. The researchers then contacted the subjects and asked them to wear physical activity monitors for one week so that their activity levels could be verified.[2]

It turns out that, yes, the subjects who exercised all the way through adulthood through the conclusion of the study had aged largely without significant physical or mental deterioration. But it was also found that subjects who began to exercise after middle age had also managed to stave off physical decline to a large degree almost as well as those who had been exercising all along.

These studies show us that physical activity – even as little as one hour per week – can benefit us greatly in the long term. No matter how old or young we are, getting up and getting fit will help us to live our lives in a more vigorous, happy and healthy way.

By Michael Omidi

[1]Almeida, Osvaldo P; Khan, Karim M; Hankdey, Graeme P; Yeap, Bu B; Golledge; Flicker, Leon: 150 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week predicts survival and successful ageing: a population-based 11-year longitudinal study of 12 201 older Australian men British Journal of Sports Medicine 9/3/2013 http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/48/3/220.abstract

[2] Reynolds, Gretchen: Exercise to Age Well, Whatever Your Age New York Times 1/29/2014 http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/29/exercise-to-age-well-regardless-of-age/?_php=true&_type=blogs&module=BlogPost-Title&version=Blog%20Main&contentCollection=Phys%20Ed&action=Click&pgtype=Blogs&region=Body&_r=0

Flu Season & Precautions You Can Take


Flu season is upon us, and this season seems to be unusually aggressive. Dr. Michael Omidi discusses this year’s flu strain, as well as precautions you can take to avoid illness.

The new H1N1 flu strain seems to be one of the most virulent in recent history if we are to take the mortality rate into account. In California, there have been 95 reported deaths since October of 2013, and we are only at the halfway point in the annual “flu season.” Medical scientists have found that this is the same aggressive strain – type A – that hit in 2009, which turned into a pandemic.[1]

Unlike many of the other previous flu strains, the type A H1N1 strain seems to attack young and fairly healthy people. Other strains are exceptionally hard on the population over the age of 65, but it has been found that the type A strain is similar to the legendary 1918 influenza outbreak, which resurfaced regularly until about 1957.

The population that survived the older strain may have developed a resistance to the current outbreak. The younger generation has not been exposed to the strain, and therefore has not developed an immunity. Furthermore, the population between the ages of 20-50 are statistically less likely to get vaccinated than the older population.

Of the 95 California deaths related to the H1N1 flu, the vast majority have been young or middle-aged adults. Additionally, it seems that the obese population is exceptionally vulnerable. Other people who are exceptionally vulnerable to the disease are people who are pregnant, suffer from compromised immune systems or have heart disease.

Fortunately, hospital statistics show that the number of patients with severe flu symptoms is decreasing, indicating that the worst could be over. But it is very possible that this strain might resurface next year or the year after that.

So, what can we do to protect ourselves? Here are some basic precautions:

Get a flu shot. Many people avoid flu shots because they believe that the shots will definitely cause them to get sick. While it is possible to become ill immediately after being vaccinated, it isn’t the vaccination that causes the illness. It can take up to two weeks for the body to become fully immune to the flu virus, so if you were carrying it at the time of your vaccination or caught it a day or two later, you may become ill.

Wash your hands. Make sure you wash your hands frequently and thoroughly before you eat or touch your mouth or nose. If you’ve touched a door knob, a railing, a car door or yours or anyone else’s keys, you definitely want to wash your hands well, since these are the locations where viruses are most efficiently spread. Wash your hands with soap, and keep lathering for approximately 20 seconds before rinsing.

Ask about antiviral medications. If you have been exposed to the flu, investigate the option of antiviral medications. Antiviral medications are not antibiotics, and they can help to increase your resistance to the flu virus.

By Michael Omidi

[1] Allday, Erin: H1N1 Flu Strain Has Returned with a Vengeance San Francisco Chronicle 1/29/2014 http://www.sfgate.com/health/article/H1N1-flu-strain-has-returned-with-a-vengeance-5183305.php#page-1