Q: I hear that last year’s flu vaccine was only 18 percent effective. Should I even bother with one this year?
Carissa F., Blakely,
A: It’s true, last year’s influenza vaccine was able to stop folks from getting the flu only 18 percent of the time, but it reduced the severity of symptoms for millions of people who were infected. Plus, for those 18 percent for whom it provided complete protection — and even for those additional millions for whom it reduced symptoms — it may have been life-saving. Flu can be lethal, especially among people with chronic illnesses (45 percent of the U.S. population), the elderly and the very young. Serious complications from the vaccine rarely occur: They affect fewer than 1 in 1.5 million people who are vaccinated, so it’s smart for everyone in the family, from 6-month-old infants to grandparents, to get it as early in the season as possible (it’s usually available in September).
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This year the vaccines include different and additional strains:
• The trivalent (or three-strain) vaccine has A and B strains that were not in last year’s.
• The intradermal trivalent version uses a needle that is 90 percent smaller than the intramuscular version, but it’s only for folks 18-64.
• Older than 65, you need the intramuscular trivalent shot. Ask about the high-dose version.
• There’s a quadrivalent vaccine for folks 18-65. It contains both B strains, so it should be more effective no matter which B makes an appearance this year.
• The live nasal spray vaccine (previously recommended for kids 2 to 8) is no longer recommended over the inactive vaccine, but it’s approved for anyone 2 to 49.
If you’re worried about the tiny amount of thimerosal (ethylmercury) in flu vaccines, you can request one without it. In 2014, about two-thirds of all flu vaccine manufactured for the U.S. was thimerosal-free. Check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for more details.
Q: The Food and Drug Administration has approved a nonsurgical weight-loss procedure that uses balloons inserted into the stomach so you can’t eat as much. Sounds simple. Does it work?
A: Right at the top, we want to say there are no shortcuts to becoming a healthy weight. With any of the gastric procedures — from this new balloon technique to gastric bypass surgery — you have to stick with a healthy diet and physical exercise to lose weight and keep it off. Even folks with gastric bypass can put unhealthy pounds back on; 20 percent of obese and 34 percent of morbidly obese folks do.
However, this new balloon technique is viable for people who need a bit of a weight-loss jump-start. Here’s how it works: Your doctor slides an endoscope, about the thickness of a pencil, through your mouth into your stomach. Two balloons are inserted and then filled with a sterile solution, and the endoscope is removed. After six months, the balloons are removed.
What can you expect? A clinical trial of the procedure enlisted obese and severely obese folks who had at least one of the following: high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol or Type 2 diabetes. After six months, those with the balloons lost an average 14.3 pounds, while the control group lost 7.2. Those who had the balloons also regained around five pounds over the next six months.
If you’re severely obese, losing 14 pounds (and then regaining some) may not be enough benefit to make this worthwhile. Gastric bypass surgery may help you lose more weight and reverse or improve your cardio problems and diabetes. One long-term study of 400 people with Type 2 diabetes found that six years after bariatric surgery, 62 percent had no signs of diabetes.
So talk to your doctor about all the alternatives, and get help improving your diet and adopting an exercise routine. It took a lifetime to become obese; now you can dedicate a little part of the rest of your lifetime to becoming and staying a healthy weight.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.