November 2004 Health News Tips

Note to media: To reach the media contacts for any of these health news tips, call the Office of News and Publications at 214-648-3404.

Pneumonia vaccinations could help those at high risk for flu

As we wait for more flu vaccines, Dr. Paul Pepe, professor of emergency medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, says groups considered at high-risk for the flu should also consider getting a certain pneumonia vaccine. The flu kills more than 40,000 people a year. These deaths are often associated with bacterial "super-infection" - a bacterial infection accompanying a serious viral infection.

"In a way, the same group of people we need to target for influenza vaccination - the very young, the very old and those with chronic lung and heart disease or compromised immune systems - should also receive pneumococcal bacteria vaccines," Dr. Pepe says.

Symptoms of pneumonia can include cough with "mucous" production, fever and chest pain. A pneumococcal vaccine can lower the risk of pneumonia caused by the common types of bacteria by the same name. Medicare covers the vaccine.

Media Contact: Kara Lenocker

During pregnancy, frequent hand washing can help prevent parvovirus infection

Pregnant women are always on alert for potential dangers to their unborn child: they avoid raw foods, take extra vitamins and get plenty of rest. Frequent hand washing would be another wise precaution with the arrival of parvovirus season, says Dr. Kevin Magee, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

Parvovirus is a viral infection that is spread by coughing and sneezing.  It is a common infection among elementary school and daycare children that can be spread to adults, and is most common from winter months until early spring.

"It produces a rash on the face that looks like 'slapped cheeks' and also usually brings fever," Dr. Magee says. "If you are pregnant and exposed to a child with Fifth's Disease - or parvovirus - you should notify your obstetrician immediately. The effects on pregnancy can range from a fever and malaise for the mom to a severely affected fetus that might require a blood transfusion in utero.

"Women who are diligent hand washers and avoid contact with sick children can reduce their odds of catching parvovirus as well as other illnesses," he says.

Media Contact: Staishy Bostick Siem

A change in hearing? Ringing in your ears? Time to get hearing checked

Experts at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say it's important to recognize symptoms of hearing loss and to talk to your doctor about treatment options.

Dr. Angela Shoup, assistant professor of otolaryngology, says approximately 28 million people in the United States have hearing loss.

"When you notice a change in hearing, if you are exposed to loud sounds, if you have ringing in your ears or if you have a family history of hearing loss, get your hearing checked," Dr. Shoup says.

Some symptoms or high-frequency and/or mild hearing loss include difficulty understanding in background noise, difficulty understanding people at a distance and difficulty understanding dialogue in television shows and movies.

Media Contact: Katherine Morales

Symptoms of major depression not always easy to recognize

Major depression often goes undiagnosed because its symptoms may be confused with those of other illnesses, says Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

 "A high percentage of patients with depression who seek treatment in a primary-care setting report only physical symptoms and may not even realize they are suffering from anxiety or mood disorders - making depression very difficult to diagnose," says Dr. Trivedi, director of UT Southwestern's mood disorders research program and clinic. "These physical symptoms are common in major depression and may lead to chronic pain and complicate treatment."

Depression can manifest itself in such physical signs as joint pain, limb pain, back pain, gastrointestinal problems, fatigue, sleep disturbances, psychomotor activity changes and appetite changes - symptoms not often immediately associated with mental illness.

In general, the worse the physical symptoms, the more severe the depression, Dr. Trivedi says.  In addition, physical symptoms have been found to increase the duration of a person's depressed mood, as well as result in higher and earlier relapse rates after treatment for emotional and mental symptoms has been discontinued.

Media Contact: Donna Steph Hansard

Pipe-smoking - it's addictive and as risky as smoking cigars

When it comes to smoking, all forms carry risks - including pipes.

Pipe smokers have five times the risk of lung cancer and nearly four times the risk of throat cancer as people who use no tobacco, the American Cancer Society reports. They also have a higher risk of cancers of the esophagus, larynx, colon and pancreas as non-smokers.

"Pipe smokers often state that they do not inhale and therefore feel they are at lower risk," says Dr. Jonathan Dowell, assistant professor of internal medicine and a lung cancer specialist at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. "In fact, the nicotine is absorbed well through the lining of the mouth, so pipe smokers still become addicted. The increased exposure to smoke in the oral cavity likely results in the increased incidence of oral cancers."

Pipe smoking - perhaps not as harmful as cigarette smoking, but equivalent to smoking cigars - has decreased in the United States in recent decades, while the use of hookahs, or water pipes, has become a growing trend among young adults.

"The hookah is still mostly tobacco and is therefore still addictive and carries the risk of cancer and other tobacco-associated diseases," says Dr. Dowell. "The bottom line is that pipe smoking is addictive and harmful."

Media Contact: Scott Maier


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