University of Pennsylvania Health System

Penn Health and Wellness

Thursday, December 12, 2013

I Got the Flu Vaccine. Now I Have the Flu.

Alicia Travis, CRNP, from the Penn Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine practice discusses some known – and not-so-known – drawbacks to flu season.

Alicia Travis, CRNP
Alicia Travis, CRNP
As is required for all health care workers, I got my flu vaccine in October and figured this would protect me throughout this flu season. As I am writing this, though, I am under my heated blanket with a cup of green tea in one hand and a box of tissues in the other. My throat is sore, my nose is dripping, my temperature is 100.8° F, I have a deep chest cough, and worst of all, my body aches all over.

I have the flu and I am miserable!

The reality is that influenza is an ever-changing virus with several common strains that can cause an array of troublesome symptoms. These symptoms include fever, cough, congestion, sore throat, body aches, fatigue, headache, nausea, vomiting and generalized malaise. In immunocompromised patients, or people whose immune system is not capable of resisting the infection, influenza can be a much more severe, even fatal, illness. It is for this reason that every fall, your doctor and/or nurse recommends you get that pesky needle pinch (or inconvenient intranasal spray) to be protected.

Unfortunately, like most things in life, the flu vaccine is not 100% effective. When vaccine researchers formulate the components of the vaccine, they are speculating months in advance as to which strains will be dominant that year. Therefore, the effectiveness of the flu vaccine can vary year to year based on viral resistance patterns and the accuracy of vaccine researchers’ predictions.

According to an article published by the Center for Disease Control, researchers approximate the flu vaccine is around 60% effective most years. Meaning, this leaves me, and roughly 40% of the vaccinated population, at risk of contracting influenza despite getting the vaccine. That may seem like unfavorable odds, but 60% is better than nothing.

To put this in perspective, as a nurse practitioner in a busy adolescent and young adult practice, I have seen upwards of 100 patients in the past couple months with flu-like symptoms. Influenza is very contagious and, if I had not received the vaccine, I would have certainly been at a higher risk of contracting influenza.

The key to staying flu-free is to wash your hands frequently, stay away from anyone who has flu-like symptoms, stay well rested and get your flu vaccine.

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Friday, December 6, 2013

Managing Holiday Stress

Elizabeth Y. Fung, DO, a primary care physician at Spruce Internal Medicine, located at the new Penn Medicine Washington Square building, discusses healthy tips for managing stress during the holiday season.

As the brilliant colors of the fall foliage fade and the crisp winter air settles in, a flurry of activities begin and it is now time to prepare for the holidays.

The holiday tradition started as a period of time set aside for religious or cultural celebrations. Today, many of us have an unrealistic or overly romantic notion of what the holidays should be, and often aren’t.

To help, here are a few tips to rekindle the holiday spirit:


  • Put together a list of what you expect from the holidays and be realistic with what can be accomplished.
  • If you’re looking to take it easy over the holidays, consider a vacation or simply a ‘stay-cation.’ Take it easy and relax, refresh and re-energize.
  • If family, friends and feasts are on your holiday horizon, prioritize commitments and schedule them on your calendar. Don’t forget to include time for rest and relaxation.
  • Plan your travels – purchase tickets in advance and arrive early for departure.

Holiday Gatherings

  • If you’re hosting a holiday party, divide up the menu and give guests an opportunity to prepare and “show off” one of their favorite dishes.
  • Prepare in advance – I have a patient who bakes 20 pies the week before her holiday parties in preparation to give to friends and relatives.
  • Those who break bread make bread together - Share in the peeling, dicing, chopping and cleanup in the kitchen. It is a great opportunity for everyone to catch up while preparing the meal.
  • Purchase prepared menu items to reduce the amount of cooking and increase the amount of family time.
  • Avoid overindulgence - have a healthy snack before your holiday parties, continue to exercise and get a good night’s sleep.

Gift Giving

  • Set a budget. You will be surprised how creative you can be with a budget in place.
  • Ask people what they want for the holidays. This eliminates the guesswork and holiday returns.
  • Online shopping – Shop at your leisure. Last year, I did most of my shopping online while on the train to/from work!
  • Get creative with gift-giving. During my medical training, I gave my brother and his wife a “gift certificate” redeemable for a weekend of babysitting my nieces and nephews.

Holiday Blues

  • Surround yourself with family and friends if you’re feeling lonely and sad. Reminiscing about the past, the loss of loved ones or being away from home during this time of the year can be difficult.
  • Volunteer – Helping others can help us better appreciate what we have.
  • Despite your best efforts, if you find yourself feeling severely anxious, persistently sad or hopeless and these feelings are affecting your daily activities, please talk to your doctor.
The holidays are an exciting time celebrating with family and friends. With some planning and a positive attitude, it is possible to be jolly during this season and to find peace and joy as we celebrate.

Happy Holidays!

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