New gay epidemic — and what you can do to end it

From the Huffington Post… 

(by Jimmy LaSalvia)

quit-smoking-man-largeThe new gay epidemic is an old one. It’s killing your gay friends and family, and it’s totally preventable. No, it’s not what you may be thinking. It’s not HIV/AIDS. I’m talking about smoking. Last week was LGBT Health Awareness Week, so this is good time to bring up a LGBT health crisis that many ignore or minimize. According to the American Lung Association, gay men are approximately 2.5 times more likely to smoke, and lesbians are about twice as likely as their straight counterparts. Most everyone knows that smoking is the leading preventable cause of death. That’s true for everyone, including LGBT Americans.

There’s not a physical reason why gay people smoke more, but there are some unique factors that contribute to the higher rate of smoking. For decades, the gay community has socialized and interacted in smoking venues such as bars. For a long time, gay bars were the only place for LGBT people to find others like them. It’s still a big part of gay culture and socialization. The American Lung Association also says that stress from social stigma and discrimination because of their sexual orientation is frequently cited as a reason that LGBT people start smoking. That’s especially the case with young people, who have a much higher rate of smoking than their straight peers.

It’s important for all of us, no matter who we are, to combat this epidemic within our own families and circles of friends. Understanding these unique pressures and risk factors can help us to urge our gay friends and family who are still smoking to stop. Quitting smoking is hard. Everyone knows that. While giving it up “cold turkey” (ideally with some advice from a doctor) is the best and most effective way, it’s just not possible for everyone. A wide range of pharmaceutical products — everything from over-the-counter nicotine gum to prescription medicine — can also help some people some of the time but also have very high failure rates particularly over the long term. Nicotine is addictive and quitting it is very, very hard.

For those who simply can’t quit or don’t want to there are products such as e-cigarettes and dissolvable smokeless tobacco that can help people with their addiction to nicotine without carrying the risks of smoking. These products are still addictive and certainly aren’t “safe” overall. But they are still safer than smoking. It’s the smoke that’s the real killer.

Continue reading on the Huffington Post.

Being out to your doctor is important in maintaining your health

Why you should consider coming out to your doctor…

There are lots of reasons why men who have sex with men (MSM) don’t tell their doctors about their sexual preferences. But whatever the reason, it is important to keep in mind that who you have sex with can have a serious impact on your health. MSM need to be aware of the unique medical issues that their heterosexual counterparts may not have to worry so much about. For example, MSM have higher rates of HIV, Syphilis, HPV, anal cancer, and hepatitis (just to name a few). In short, your doctor can help you stay on top of the added health issues if he or she knows your sexual preference.

Finding an LGBT-friendly doctor…

The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) keeps an online list of gay-friendly medical providers. It’s especially helpful if you live in or near a large city. You can go to their Website, www.glma.org, and search under their resources link by zip code. If the GLMA database doesn’t have any options near you, and you’re not willing to make a road trip, you’ll have to go about finding a doctor the traditional way: Meet potential providers and interview them. Ask questions, be honest. Doctors work for their patients, not the other way around. Keep shopping until you find one that you can be honest with. It may take some detective work but maintaining your health is worth it.

To subscribe to Pitt Men’s Study Health Alerts, send a message to PMS@stophiv.pitt.edu with the word “subscribe” in the subject line.

Gonorrhea and syphilis are on the rise among gay and bi men

From Bloodberg.com

Gonorrhea and syphilis are on the rise in the U.S., mostly in men who have sex with men, a trend the government said is linked to inadequate testing among people stymied by homophobia and limited access to health care.

The rate of new gonorrhea cases rose 4 percent in 2012 from the year before, while syphilis jumped 11 percent, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today in a report. Rates for chlamydia, the most common of the bacterial sexually transmitted diseases, gained less than 1 percent. While all three diseases are curable with antibiotics, many people don’t get tested as recommended, said Gail Bolan, the director of the CDC’s STD prevention division. That’s especially the case for syphilis, where the rise is entirely attributable to men, particularly those who are gay or bisexual.

“We know that having access to high-quality health care is important to controlling and reducing STDs,” Bolan said in a telephone interview. “Some of our more-vulnerable populations don’t have access. There are a number of men who come in to our clinic for confidential services because they’re too embarrassed to see their primary care doctors.”

The CDC rate for gonorrhea was 107.5 cases out of 100,000 in 2012, while syphilis was 5 cases per 100,000 people. The infections cost the U.S. health-care system about $16 billion every year, according to the report.

Read the full article on Bloomberg News.  

Unprotected anal sex up 20% among men who have sex with men

2222293557_condoms_xlargeFederal health officials are reporting a sharp increase in unprotected sex among gay American men over the last decade. The same trend has recently been documented among gay men in Canada, Britain, the Netherlands, France, and Australia.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of men who told federal health investigators that they had had unprotected anal sex in the last year rose nearly 20 percent from 2005 to 2011. In the 2011 survey, 33 percent of men who were HIV positive but unaware of their status reported having unprotected anal sex.  This was more than twice the rate reported in men who knew their HIV positive status.  The survey also found that a third of the men interviewed had not been tested in the past year.

As a result, the CDC is urging gay and bisexual men to get tested for HIV. Regular testing allows people who have HIV to know their status, get life-saving treatment and care, and prevent HIV transmission to others. Call 1-800-CDC-INFO or visit http://www.hivtest.org/ to find free, confidential HIV testing locations near you. Some locations have rapid testing, so you can get results on the spot.

To find out how to prevent HIV infection, go to the CDC Website: (http://www.cdc.gov/msmhealth/HIV.htm ).

You can also find more HIV and STD information on our Website: www.m4mHealthySex.org.

To subscribe to Health Alerts, send an email to rgy2@pitt.edu with the word “subscribe” in the subject line.

HPV common among young gay men

(Reuters Health) – Gay teenagers who have had at least four sexual partners are at increased risk of contracting human papillomavirus (HPV), a new study suggests. At least half of sexually active people get HPV at some point in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Previous research has suggested most adult gay men have the sexually transmitted infection. HPV is usually cleared by the immune system but can cause genital warts and anal cancer, as well as cervical cancer among women. “In this study we found rates of anal infection increased rapidly with increasing numbers of partners with whom they have received anal sex,” senior author Marcus Y. Chen said. “The virus is presumably being transmitted from penis to anus.” Chen is an associate professor in the School of Population and Global Health at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

The CDC recommends boys and girls get vaccinated against HPV at age 11 or 12, before becoming sexually active. There are two versions of the HPV vaccine, one of which is available for boys. The vaccine is very effective if given before a person is exposed to HPV but provides “diminishing protection” after that, Dr. Ross D. Cranston told Reuters Health. “Thus if there is a high rate of HPV acquisition, as we also see in girls, there is a lost opportunity to provide protection if the HPV vaccine is not given early,” he said. Cranston, who was not involved in the new study, directs the Anal Dysplasia Clinic and Research Program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pennsylvania.

Chen and his team tested 200 young gay men age 16 to 20 for HPV and genital warts and gave them a sexual history questionnaire. risk forms of the virus, and 11 percent tested positive for two or more forms. Men who’d ever had vaginal sex or anal sex were more likely to test positive for penile HPV, according to results published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. Among men who had never received anal sex, 10 percent tested positive for anal HPV. That compared to nearly half of those who said they’d had at least four anal sex partners. The finding that some young men who reported never receiving anal sex tested positive for anal HPV suggests the virus can be transmitted in other ways, the authors write.

About 7,000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with anal cancer in 2013, according to the American Cancer Society. Rates are higher among gay men than heterosexual people, Chen noted. Of the many types of the HPV virus, HPV 16 is most commonly associated with anal cancers. “Our study found that gay male teens acquire the HPV virus including HPV 16 very soon after they first become sexually active,” Chen told Reuters Health. “This means that the HPV vaccine, which has been shown to be effective in preventing HPV infection in males, including anal infection in gay men, needs to be given very early on, preferably before gay teens start to have sex.”

Many countries routinely vaccinate all girls against HPV. But as of 2013, Australia is the only one to implement universal and free vaccination of boys at school, Chen said. “This is great news for boys in Australia including those that are gay but in other countries the absence of such a program means gay males will miss out on anal cancer prevention,” he said. Some gay teens might be reluctant to admit their sexuality and ask for the vaccine, he said. Gay men are no more susceptible to HPV than heterosexual men, but more often have anal infections, Cranston said. He said doctors can increase awareness and the likelihood that boys will be vaccinated against HPV through conversations with their parents.

Source: http://www.chicagotribune.com/health/sns-rt-us-hpv-common-20131205,0,3548102.story#ixzz2mzRm0gTb

Unprotected sex among gay men on the rise

From the Boston Globe

Federal health officials are reporting a sharp increase in unprotected sex among gay American men over the last decade, a development that makes it harder to fight the AIDS epidemic. The same trend has recently been documented among gay men in Canada, Britain, the Netherlands, France, and Australia, heightening concerns among public health officials worldwide.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of men who told federal health investigators that they had had unprotected anal sex in the last year rose nearly 20 percent from 2005 to 2011. In the 2011 survey, unprotected sex was more than twice as common among men who said they did not know whether they were infected with HIV.

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Health Alert – time to get a flu shot

Getting a flu shot is good advice for pretty much anyone. Even more so if you’re HIV positive.

For patients with HIV, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting the flu shot instead of the live attenuated flu vaccine or “FluMist.” The flu shot is an inactivated vaccine (containing a killed virus) that’s given with a needle. FluMist contains a weakened form of the live flu virus and is only approved for use in people ages 2 to 49 with unimpaired immune systems.

Preventing the flu is important for people with HIV/AIDS due to an increased risk from serious influenza-related complications. Studies have shown an increased risk for heart and lung-related hospitalizations in people infected with HIV during influenza season, as well as a higher risk of influenza-related deaths. Other studies have indicated that influenza symptoms might be prolonged for certain HIV-infected people.

And, no, you can’t get the flu from the vaccination. For more information about HIV and influenza, go to the CDC Website.

You can find a place to get the flu shot here. You can also ask your doctor for additional options.

Gay men should be tested for Hepatitis C

 (Co-founder, GMHC; author, ‘We Must Love One Another or Die: The Life and Legacies of Larry Kramer’) writes on the Huffington Post…

Hepatitis C is the most common blood-borne infection in the U.S., and one of the most common worldwide. One in 50 Americans is infected. It accounts for more than 50 percent of all cases of end-stage liver disease and 50 percent of cases of liver cancer, and it is the reason for more than 50 percent of liver transplants. Yet it remains severely underdiagnosed. It’s estimated that upwards of 75 percent of those infected remain untested and undiagnosed, as compared with 25 percent of those with HIV. More people now die from hepatitis C than from HIV.

Those of us who struggled through the early period of AIDS understand the meaning of “Silence = Death,” the motto used by the AIDS activist organization ACT UP. So when hepatitis C began to emerge among MSM (men who have sex with men), the silence that ensued seemed eerily familiar. When I first started reporting on hepatitis C in gay men nearly a generation ago, the disease was already being called “the stealth epidemic,” in part because of the typically long, silent progression of the disease in its chronic form, sometimes taking 20 to 30 years from acute infection to cirrhosis of the liver, but also because of the public silence about it. If people had the disease, they mostly didn’t know it, and if they did have it and did know it, they didn’t go public with it. Nor did those with the disease often seek treatment, which had the reputation of being prolonged, difficult and of mixed efficacy. Since the principal risk group for the disease was injection drug users, the public wasn’t exactly clamoring to know more or be more involved.

Continue reading on the Huffington Post.

Health issues for gay men: Prevention first

From the Mayoclinic.com

Understand important health issues for gay men — from sexually transmitted infections to depression — and get tips for taking charge of your health. Men who have sex with men are at increased risk of contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, as well as other sexually transmitted infections, including gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis.

To protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections:

  • Get tested and have your partner tested. Don’t have unprotected sex unless you’re certain you and your partner aren’t infected with HIV or other sexually transmitted infections. Testing is important because many people don’t know they’re infected, and others might not be honest about their health.
  • Use a condom or other protection. Use a new latex or polyurethane condom every time you have sex — especially during anal sex, but ideally during oral sex as well. Use only water-based lubricants, not petroleum jelly, hand lotion, cold cream or oils. Oil-based lubricants can weaken latex condoms and cause them to break. Don’t share sex toys, and keep them safe by protecting them with a condom and cleaning them before and after every use.
  • Be monogamous. Another reliable way to avoid sexually transmitted infections is to stay in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who isn’t infected.
  • Consider the drug Truvada. In July 2012, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of the drug Truvada to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted HIV infection in those who are at high risk. Truvada is also used as an HIV treatment along with other medications.

Tackle depression:

Gay men and men who have sex with men might be at higher risk of depression and anxiety. In addition, youth who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender might have a higher risk of depression and attempted suicide. Contributing factors could include social alienation, discrimination, rejection by loved ones, abuse and violence. The problem might be more severe for men who try to hide their sexual orientation and those who lack social support.

Left untreated, depression can lead to risky sexual behavior and a downward spiral of emotional, behavioral, health, and even legal and financial problems. If you think you might be depressed, talk to your doctor or seek help from a mental health provider. If you’re reluctant to seek treatment, confide in a trusted friend or loved one. Sharing your feelings might be the first step toward getting treatment.

Address body image concerns:

Gay men are more likely to experience body image problems and eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia nervosa, than are their straight counterparts. One potential explanation is that gay men identify with the cultural value placed on an ideal — yet often unattainable — body image. Gay men might also be more likely to view their bodies as sexual objects, which can lead to dissatisfaction and poor body image. If you’re struggling with body image concerns or an eating disorder, get help. Talk to your doctor or a mental health provider about treatment options.

CDC warns gay men of ‘epidemic’ HIV rates

A fact sheet released at the end of June by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warns that HIV rates, already at epidemic proportions, are continuing to climb steadily among men who have sex with men (MSM).

“Gay and bisexual men remain at the epicenter of the HIV/AIDS epidemic,” says Jonathan Mermin, the director of the CDC’s division of HIV/AIDS prevention.

 The CDC notes that while homosexual men make up only a very small percentage of the male population (4%), MSM account for over three-quarters of all new HIV infections, and nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of all new infections in 2010 (29,800). “Men who have sex with men remain the group most heavily affected by HIV in the United States,” the fact sheet states.

If HIV infections among men who have sex with men (MSM) continue to rise at the current rates, more than half of college-aged homosexual men will have HIV by the age of 50. When broken down by age group, the CDC reported that new infections among the youngest MSM, aged 13-24, increased from 7,200 infections in 2008 to 8,800 in 2010, which translates into a 22 percent increase in that time span. Young black MSM continue to have the highest infection rate, according to the CDC, accounting for more than half (55 percent) of new infections among young MSM.

You can search by zip code to find free HIV testing at http://hivtest.cdc.gov.

For more information about HIV and how you can protect yourself, visit the CDC Website at http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/risk/behavior.

Health Alert – meningococcal meningitis

From the Pitt Men’s Study

You may have heard about the recent cases of bacterial meningitis among gay men in in New York and LA County.  Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes surrounding your brain and spinal cord. The swelling associated with meningitis often triggers the “hallmark” signs and symptoms of this condition, including headache, fever and a stiff neck.

Most cases of meningitis in the U.S. are caused by a viral infection, but bacterial and fungal infections can also cause the disease.  The recent cases of meningitis in New York and LA County were caused by a bacteria called meningococcus.  This bacteria can spread through intimate contact such as sharing eating utensils, kissing, and close physical contact (including all forms of sex, of course).

Viral infections usually get better on their own.  However, bacterial infections require immediate medical treatment with antibiotics and can result in serious illness and death. It is also worth noting that persons with immune system deficiencies are particularly susceptible to the disease.

Initially, meningitis symptoms may resemble the flu, with worsening headache, vomiting, and a sudden high fever (over 101.3). People may also often develop neck stiffness and sensitivity to light.  If left untreated, people often progress to confusion, coma, and ultimately death.

There are vaccinations to prevent the deadly forms of meningitis and the Pitt Men’s Study recommends that if you are traveling to New York City or Los Angeles, and plan to be in close quarters with other gay men, you might want to consider getting vaccinated with the meningococcal vaccination.

For more information about meningitis, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Website:
http://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/bacterial.html

For more information about the recent outbreak of meningitis among gay men in New York and LA County, go to:http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/health/for-gay-men-a-fear-that-feels-familiar.html

May is Hepatitis Awareness Month

awarenessmonth_211x205From AIDS.gov

May 1 marks the start of the month-long observance of Hepatitis Awareness Month. The observance is an important element of government-wide efforts to raise awareness about viral hepatitis and decrease health disparities by educating communities about the benefits of viral hepatitis prevention, testing, care, and treatment.

Throughout the month of May, HHS and our partners who support the Action Plan for the Prevention, Care and Treatment of Viral Hepatitis will be engaged in a variety of activities to increase awareness—among the public and healthcare providers—about viral hepatitis, including the importance of testing, the availability of care and treatment, and associated adverse health effects resulting from undiagnosed and untreated viral hepatitis. In the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing several blog posts about implementation of the Action Plan. On May 19, we will observe the second annual Hepatitis Testing Day. Viral hepatitis is the leading cause of liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation in the United States. An estimated 4.4 million Americans are living with chronic hepatitis; most do not know they are infected. This places them at greater risk for severe, even fatal, complications from the disease and increases the likelihood that they will spread the virus to others.

Hepatitis Testing Day was established in the Action Plan as a means to raise awareness and educate health care providers and the public about who should be tested for chronic viral hepatitis. Unfortunately, many communities and populations remain uninformed about various facets of viral hepatitis, including associated adverse health effects, the need for testing and care, and the availability of vaccines (for hepatitis A and hepatitis B) and treatment – especially priority populations at high risk for viral hepatitis, such as injection drug users; people living with HIV; gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men; baby boomers (people born between 1945-1965); African Americans; and Asians and Pacific Islanders.

Please join us in promoting both of these important observances—Hepatitis Awareness Month and Hepatitis Testing Day—to enhance public awareness of viral hepatitis prevention, testing, care and treatment across the United States. Here are a few things you can do:

  • Learn more about awareness activities, including testing events, taking place in communities around the country to mark Hepatitis Testing Day. This page from CDC allows people to search for Hepatitis Testing Day events taking place near them in May. Event organizers can also list their events.
  • Review the web badges, digital tools, fact sheets, posters and other resources available from CDC on this page and find one you can use this month.
  • Take this 5-minute online hepatitis risk assessment developed by the CDC and get a personalized report on hepatitis testing and vaccination recommendations.
  • Read more about the Viral Hepatitis Action Plan on our recently updated page.

Won’t you please commit to learning more yourself and/or sharing information about viral hepatitis with at least two other people this month?  Working together, we can raise greater awareness about the epidemic of viral hepatitis in the United States and, in so doing, make great strides in improving the health of persons who are at risk for or living with viral hepatitis.

Expanded meningococcal vaccination recommendation to MSM who have traveled to NYC

From GLMA:

On March 25, 2013, the New York State Department of Health (DOH) expanded a recommendation issued earlier in March by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYCDOHMH) regarding meningococcal vaccinations for men who have sex with men (MSM). These meningococcal vaccine recommendations have been issued in response to an outbreak of invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) in New York City.

Meningococcal disease is a severe bacterial infection of the bloodstream. Common symptoms include high fever, headache, vomiting, stiff neck, and a rash. Symptoms may occur two to 10 days after exposure, but usually within five days. Since 2010, 22 men residing in NYC and one man who resides outside the City, but spent significant time there, have become ill in this outbreak, seven have died.

The recommendation by DOH has been expanded to include MSM residing outside NYC who have traveled to the city and engaged in the risk behaviors described below since September 1, 2012.

The following groups were identified by NYCDOHMH as being at highest risk of IMD and are being advised to obtain a quadravalent meningococcal vaccination:

• All HIV-infected MSM
• MSM, regardless of HIV status, who regularly have close or intimate sexual contact with men met through an online website, digital     application (“app”) or at a bar or party. (Previously, meningococcal vaccination was recommended only for those with contact in certain high risk areas in New York City.)

More information about the meningococcal disease outbreak among at-risk men is available here. Contact your health care provider or local department of health if you need to be vaccinated.

Almost half of Grindr users engaged in unprotected sex despite knowing better

From Huffington Post Gay Voices:

cell phoneA new survey focused on gay and bisexual men who use apps such as Grindr, Scruff and Manhunt to meet sexual partners found that nearly half had engaged in unprotected sex.

Conducted by New York’s Community Healthcare Network (CHN), “Zero Feet Away: Perpective on HIV/AIDS and Unprotected Sex in Men Who Have Sex With Men Utilizing Location-based Mobile Apps” found that although 80 percent of respondents said they were knowledgable in how the HIV virus was transmitted, 46.4 percent admitted to having bareback sex always, often or sometimes.

The most frequently-cited reason for barebacking among the 725 gay and bisexual men who were surveyed was “with condoms, [sex] does not feel the same.” The poll reportedly received responses from men in Australia, South America, Europe, the United Kingdom, Canada and the U.S.

“Clearly, we’ve come a long way in educating people about HIV and AIDS,” Dr. Freddy Molano, Assistant Vice President of HIV Programs and Services at CHN, said in the report. “Yet among certain populations, HIV/AIDS is on the ride, and that’s alarming.”

Added co-author Renato Barucco: “The survey findings show a clear disconnect between the reasons why men engage in unprotected anal intercourse and the way prevention initiatives attempt to address risk behaviors.”

Read the full survey here.

HPV in men…what you need to know

From the Huffington Post:

We’re honoring Cervical Health Awareness Month by bringing you the latest information on human papillomavirus, the virus associated with cervical cancer — and with several other types of cancer, including anal, penile and oropharyngeal cancer. HPV is also the virus underlying genital warts. Although much of the conversation about the virus relates to women’s health — cervical cancer is the most common HPV-related cancer by magnitudes — there are many health concerns that uniquely or disproportionately affect men. These include genital warts and anal cancers. And since HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world, it affects a massive percentage of the male population, as well.

Read more on the Huffington Post.

Research supports high-dose flu vaccine for people with HIV

From philly.com:

A quadruple-dose flu vaccine for the elderly also provides better protection for people with HIV, researchers reported Tuesday in the first of several studies to publish results of high-dose vaccine for people with compromised immune systems.

The team of researchers from Philadelphia institutions will ask a federal advisory committee to recommend high-dose vaccination for HIV-positive people, said Pablo Tebas, an infectious-diseases physician at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and senior author of the paper in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Read the full article on the Philadelphia Enquirer online.

Syphilis and HIV: A dangerous duo affecting gay and bi men

From the AIDS.gov blog:

Trend data released today in CDC’s 2011 STD Surveillance Report show that primary and secondary syphilis rates are increasing among gay and bisexual men, who now account for more than 70% of all infections.

Annual syphilis surveillance data published in the just released 2011 STD Surveillance Reportcontinue to emphasize the disproportionate burden of disease among gay and bisexual men. While the health problems caused by syphilis in adults are serious in their own right, it has been shown that the genital sores caused by syphilis make it easier to transmit and acquire HIV infection sexually. There is an estimated 2- to 5-fold increased risk of acquiring HIV if exposed to that infection when syphilis is present, and studies have also shown that syphilis will increase the viral load of someone who is already HIV infected. This is especially concerning, as data from several major cities throughout the country indicate that an average of four in 10 MSM with syphilis are also infected with HIV. The stakes are too high to ignore these health disparities. It is critically important that syphilis infections among MSM be promptly diagnosed and treated in order to decrease the rates of subsequent HIV infection.

Read more on AIDS.gov.

Allegheny County health director urges flu vaccinations

From the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:

Now that the flu season has officially begun — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said so Monday — Allegheny County Health Department Interim Director Ronald E. Voorhees has a message for those still unprotected:

“Get vaccinated. It’s here, and the clock is ticking.”

According to the CDC’s weekly surveillance report published Friday, 48 states and Puerto Rico have reported cases of laboratory-confirmed influenza and, nationally, the percentage of specimens testing positive for influenza is rising fast. Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas all are reporting above-normal cases of flu. Such an uptick usually doesn’t happen until after Christmas.

Read more: allegheny-county-health-director-urges-vaccinations-amid-flu-uptick

Not too late to get your yearly flu vaccine

NIVW_web-button_180x150_AABy Ronald Valdiserri, M.D., M.P.H., Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health, Infectious Diseases, and Director, Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

***

As daylight hours get shorter and temperatures are falling, we’re not only approaching winter but also flu season. While we can all find ways to enjoy the change of seasons, no one enjoys the flu — a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses spread between people. Seasonal flu is a special concern if you are a person living with HIV (PLWH) since HIV can make your body too weak to fight off the flu. HIV also increases your risk for serious flu-related complications. Experts agree that getting the flu vaccine is the most effective way to prevent the flu.

CDC has designated this week as National Influenza Vaccination Awareness Week, so we encourage you to learn more about the seasonal flu and take steps to protect yourself. Here are some resources to help you:

Remember, it is not too late to get your yearly flu vaccine to protect against the flu viruses experts predict will spread this season. As long as flu viruses are spreading and causing illness, vaccination can provide protection against the flu.