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Showing posts from May, 2016

What is Shingles?

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Thanks to my patient for allowing me to use her photo to talk about a common condition known as Shingles.  The medical name is herpes zoster and it is caused by the re-activation of the chickenpox virus (varicella zoster).  This crazy virus lays dormant in the nerves and something causes it to flare up years or decades later.

This patient noticed a small rash behind her right ear and thought it was insect bites after a camping trip.  She had some tingling (a common sign) and swollen and tender lymph nodes.  Two days later when I saw her, the rash had spread down her neck and shoulder and she definitely had lymph node swelling at the neck and above the clavicle. (nuchal and supraclavicular nodes).  She had no fever but felt a little down.

Most shingles occurs in older people but it is not uncommon in younger folks too, like this patient.
The rash takes about a week to develop and can last about 2 weeks with varying degrees of pain and annoying tingling.  Some patients have pain that …

Transparency Price Tools Did Not Lower Health Costs

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For years experts have been saying if consumers knew the price of certain health care services they would be able to decide what services bring "value" and they could be better "shoppers" of health care.  Since so many patients have large deductibles and copays, it has been conventional wisdom that providing transparent prices would lower overall costs.  As people are spending their own money, giving them prices to compare should make them savvy consumers, right?
Wrong!  The Journal of American Medical Association, JAMA, did a study of employees that were given access to price transparency tools and it did not lower health care spending.
The authors compared the rate of change in health care spending among employees of two employers who offered a tool where they could compare prices of what they would pay out-of- pocket for various physician, lab and hospital services.  Top searches were for colonoscopies, obstetric services, office visits and gastric bypass surge…

Frozen Vegetable Recall

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This week the U.S. Centers for Disease Control announced a huge recall on over 350 frozen vegetable and fruit items because of an outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.  Frozen green beans, broccoli, peas, edamame, kale, potato medley and even stir fry packages and fruits sold under 42 brands of U.S and Canadian store labels have been implicated. 
At this time the CDC reports 8 people have been infected. Six in California and one in Maryland and Washington.


Listeria is a fairly rare but dangerous bacteria.  A person with a good immune system can do fine, but it can cause severe sepsis and death if it enters the blood stream.  Immune compromised, older people, infants, and pregnant women are most vulnerable. Listeria can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.


Listeriosis causes muscle aches, fever, diarrhea and GI symptoms. Again, a healthy person can deal with it but it can cause rapid worsening with confusion and sepsis in older adults.  There have been a n…

Are Drugs Past Expiration Date OK?

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Pharmaceutical drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter come with an expiration date.  This manufacturer expiration date applies to unopened containers and many patients think they should discard expired meds or that it will be dangerous to take them. But do they really need to toss the "old" one and buy something new?  Is there a problem with safety?  What about the efficacy...will it still be potent?
The Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutic, a well respected and non-biased publication, looked at shelf life extension and the stability of expired medications.  They showed that all drugs they tested were stable for a year past the expiration date, and most drugs stored in unopened original containers were fine for 66 months. (that's 5 years!)  One drug, theophylline retained 90% of potency 30 years past its expiration date. 
Solutions and suspensions are less stable than solid medications. Epi-Pen auto-injectors may lose potency after the expiration date so that i…