What's It Like To Donate Blood?

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What's It Like To Donate Blood?

Tips for Surviving Shots

Do shots make you nervous? You're not alone. Lots of people dread them because they have a very real fear of needles. So next time your doc asks you to roll up your sleeve, try these tips:

1. Distract yourself while you're waiting. Bring along a game, book, music, or movie player — something you'll get completely caught up in so you're not sitting in the waiting room thinking about the shot. Some doctors' offices schedule "shot clinics" where they do nothing but give shots so the wait time is shorter.

2. Concentrate on taking slow, deep breaths. Breathe all the way down into your belly. Deep breathing can help people relax — and concentrating on something other than the shot can take your mind off it.

3. Focus intently on something in the room. Find a picture, poster, or a sign on the wall. Concentrate on the details: If you're looking at a painting, for example, try counting the number of flowers in the garden, cows in the field, or other images. Or create as many new words as you can using the lettering on a sign. Think about how the message on a health awareness poster might affect you. Whatever it takes, keep focusing on something other than the shot until it's over.

4. Cough. Research shows that coughing as the needle goes in can help some people feel less pain.

5. Relax your arm. If you're tense — especially if you tense up the area where you're getting the shot — it can make a shot hurt more.

Sometimes people feel lightheaded or faint after getting a shot. If you feel funny, sit down and rest for 15 minutes.

Don't hesitate to tell the doctor or nurse that you're nervous before getting the shot. Medical professionals are used to people who fear shots and they'll be able to help you relax.



Ways to Fight the Flu

The flu is annoying enough on its own. So it doesn't help that flu season falls at one of the most exciting times of the year. To avoid missing out on sports events, Halloween parties, Thanksgiving feasts, and holiday fun, follow these tips:

1. Get the flu vaccine. It's the best way to protect yourself against the flu. Hate shots? Most teens can get the flu vaccine as a nasal spray. Getting vaccinated doesn't just protect your own health. It also helps the people around you because there's less chance you'll catch the flu and pass it on.

This year, the flu vaccine includes immunization against regular flu viruses and the H1N1 (swine) flu.So there's no need to get two separate vaccines.

2. Wash your hands often. In addition to getting the flu vaccine, hand washing is an important line of defense against germs like flu viruses. Why? The body takes about 2 weeks to build immunity after a flu vaccine — and even a vaccine isn't foolproof if a new strain of virus starts making the rounds. Hand washing also helps protect against other germs and illnesses that there aren't vaccines for, like the common cold.

Wash your hands after using the bathroom; after coughing or sneezing; before putting in or removing contact lenses; before using makeup; and before eating, serving, or preparing food. The great thing about hand washing is it's easy protection. So get in the habit of washing your hands when you come home from school, the mall, a movie, or anywhere else where you're around a lot of people.

3. Keep your distance if someone is sick (coughing, sneezing, etc.). Flu viruses travel through the air, so try to stay away from people who look sick. Of course, people who have the flu virus don't always look sick. That's where vaccines and hand washing come in.

It's also a good idea to avoid touching your nose, eyes, and mouth — three places flu viruses can easily enter the body.

4. Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow — not into your hands.That way, you're not spreading the virus when you touch surfaces that other people may touch too.

5. Stay home if you have the flu. You don't want to pass your germs to someone else. And staying home is a great excuse to curl up and watch your favorite movie, play video games, or read. Rest can help the body recover faster.

You also can fight the flu on a daily basis by keeping your immune system strong. Some great immune boosters are getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods (including five or more servings of fruits and veggies a day!), drinking plenty of fluids, and getting regular exercise.

Don't let the flu mess with your fall and winter fun. Fight back!


Donating Blood

According to the American Red Cross, there's a 97% chance that someone you know will need a blood transfusion. Blood donors — especially donors with certain blood types — are always in demand.

Who Can Donate Blood?

To donate blood, the American Red Cross requires that people be at least 17 years old and weigh more than 110 pounds. (In some states, the age is 16 with a parent's permission.) Donors must be in good health and will be screened for certain medical conditions, such as anemia. Donors who meet these requirements can give blood every 56 days.

Before Donating

Blood donation starts before you walk in the door of the blood bank. Eat a normal breakfast or lunch — this is not a good time to skip meals — but stay away from fatty foods like burgers or fries. And be sure to drink plenty of water, milk, or other liquids.

Before donating, you'll need to answer some questions about your medical history, and have your blood pressure and blood count checked. The medical history includes questions that help blood bank staff decide if there's a risk that donors might have an infection that could be transmitted in their blood. So they'll probably ask about any recent travel, infections, medicines, and health problems.

Donated blood gets tested for viruses, including HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), hepatitis B, hepatitis C, syphilis, and West Nile virus. If any of these things are found, the blood is destroyed. Because blood can be infected with bacteria as well as viruses, certain blood components are tested for contamination with bacteria as well.

What's It Like To Donate Blood?

The actual donation takes about 10 minutes. It's a lot like getting a blood test. After you're done, you'll want to sit and rest for a few minutes, drink lots of fluids, and take it easy the rest of the day (no hard workouts!). Your local blood bank or Red Cross can give you more information on what it's like and what you need to do.

Are There Any Risks?

A person can't get an infection or disease from giving blood. The needles and other equipment used are sterile and they're used only on one person and then thrown away. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates U.S. blood banks. All blood centers must pass regular inspections in order to continue their operations.

Sometimes people who donate blood notice a few minor side effects like nausea, lightheadedness, dizziness, or fainting, but these symptoms usually go away quickly.

The donor's body usually replaces the liquid part of blood (plasma) within 72 hours after giving blood. It generally takes about 4-8 weeks to regenerate the red blood cells lost during a blood donation. An iron-fortified diet plus daily iron tablets can help rebuild a donor's red blood supply.

The Red Cross estimates that 15% of all blood donors in the United States are high school or college students. If you are eligible and wish to donate blood, contact your local blood bank or the American Red Cross for more information on what's involved. You could save someone's life.




Desiree got out of the whirlpool at the gym and was on her way to the showers when she felt incredibly dizzy. Next thing she knew, she woke up on the locker room floor with her sister looking over her anxiously. She was pretty scared — what happened?

Desiree's sister thought she'd probably fainted. Although Desiree felt like she'd been unconscious for hours, her sister said she was out for less than a minute. Since Desiree felt fine and she'd never fainted before, she decided she didn't need to go to the ER.

When Desiree asked her school nurse about it the next day, she said Desiree probably fainted because she stayed in the whirlpool too long or the temperature was set too high, affecting her body temperature.

Why Do People Faint?

Fainting is pretty common in teens. The good news is that most of the time it's not a sign of something serious.

When someone faints, it's usually because changes in the nervous system and circulatory system cause a temporary drop in the amount of blood reaching the brain. When the blood supply to the brain is decreased, a person loses consciousness and falls over. After lying down, a person's head is at the same level as the heart, which helps restore blood flow to the brain. So the person usually recovers after a minute or two.

Reasons Why You Might Swoon

Here are some of the reasons why teens faint:

· Physical triggers. Getting too hot or being in a crowded, poorly ventilated setting are common causes of fainting in teens. People can also faint after exercising too much or working out in excessive heat and not drinking enough fluids (so the body becomes dehydrated). Fainting can also be triggered by other causes of dehydration, as well as hunger or exhaustion. Sometimes just standing for a very long time or getting up too quickly after sitting or lying down can lead someone to faint.

· Emotional stress. Emotions like fright, pain, anxiety, or shock can affect the body's nervous system, causing blood pressure to drop. This is the reason why people faint when something frightens or horrifies them, like the sight of blood.

· Hyperventilation. A person who is hyperventilating is taking fast breaths, which causes carbon dioxide (CO2) to decrease in the blood. This can make a person faint. People who are extremely stressed out, in shock, or have certain anxiety disorders may faint as a result of hyperventilation.

· Drug use. Some illegal drugs — such as cocaine or methamphetamine — can cause fainting (and even a heart attack in some cases). Inhalant use ("huffing") can lead to fainting by causing problems with a person's heartbeat. Fainting is also a side effect of some prescription medications.

· Low blood sugar. The brain depends on a constant supply of sugar from the blood to work properly and keep a person awake. People who are taking insulin shots or other medications for diabetes can develop low blood sugar and pass out if they take too much medicine or don't eat enough. Sometimes people without diabetes who are starving themselves (as with crash dieting) can drop their blood sugar low enough to faint.

· Anemia. A person with anemia has fewer red blood cells than normal, which decreases the amount of oxygen delivered to the brain and other tissues. Girls who have heavy periods or people with iron-deficiency anemia for other reasons (like not getting enough iron in their diet) may be more likely to faint.

· Pregnancy. During pregnancy the body normally undergoes a lot of changes, including changes in the circulatory system, which can cause a woman to faint. In addition, the body's fluid requirements are increased, so pregnant women may faint if they aren't drinking enough. And as the uterus grows it can press on and partially block blood flow through large blood vessels, which can decrease blood supply to the brain.

· Eating disorders. People with anorexia or bulimia may faint for a number of reasons, including dehydration, low blood sugar, and changes in blood pressure or circulation caused by starvation, vomiting, or overexercising.

· Cardiac problems. An abnormal heartbeat and other heart problems can cause a person to faint. If someone is fainting a lot, especially during exercise or exertion, doctors may suspect heart problems and run tests to look for a heart condition.

Some medical conditions — like seizures or a rare type of migraine headache — can cause people to seem like they are fainting. But they're not the same thing as fainting and are handled differently.

Can You Prevent Fainting?

Some people feel dizzy immediately before they faint. They may also notice changes in vision (such as tunnel vision), a faster heartbeat, sweating, and nausea. Someone who is about to faint may even throw up.

If you think you're going to faint, you may be able to head it off by taking these steps:

· If possible, lie down.This can help prevent a fainting episode as it allows blood to circulate to the brain. Just be sure to stand up again slowly when you feel better — move to a sitting position for several minutes first, then to standing.

· Sit down with your head lowered forward between your knees. This will also help blood circulate to the brain, although it's not as good as lying down. When you feel better, move slowly into an upright seated position, then stand.

· Don't let yourself get dehydrated. Drink enough fluids, especially when your body is losing more water due to sweating or being in a hot environment. Drink enough fluids before and during sports and exercise.

· Keep blood circulating. If you have to stand or sit for a long time, periodically tense your leg muscles or cross your legs to help improve blood return to the heart and brain. And try to avoid overheated, cramped, or stuffy environments.

What Should You Do?

If you've only fainted once, it was brief, and the reasons why are obvious (like being in a hot, crowded setting), then there's usually no need to worry about it. But if you have a medical condition or are taking prescription medications, it's a good idea to call your doctor. You should also let your doctor know if you hurt yourself when you fainted (for example, if you banged your head really hard).

If you also have chest pain, palpitations (heart beating fast for no reason), shortness of breath, or seizures, or the fainting occurred during exercise or exertion, talk with your doctor — especially if you've fainted more than once. Frequent fainting may be a sign of a health condition, like a heart problem.

What Do Doctors Do?

For most teens, fainting is not connected with other health problems, so a doctor will probably not need to do anything beyond examining you and asking a few questions.

If concerned about your fainting, the doctor may order some tests in addition to giving you a physical exam and taking your medical history. Tests depend on what the doctor thinks might be causing the problem. Common tests include an EKG (a type of test for heart problems), a blood sugar test, and sometimes a blood test to make sure a person is not anemic.

If test results show that fainting is a symptom of another problem, such as anemia, the doctor will advise you on treatments for that problem.

Helping Someone Who Faints

If you're with someone who has fainted, try to make sure the person is lying flat, but avoid moving the person if you think he or she might have been injured when falling (moving an injured person can make things worse).

Instead, loosen any tight clothing — such as belts, collars, or ties — to help restore blood flow. Propping the person's feet and lower legs up on a backpack or jacket can also help move blood back toward the brain.

Someone who has fainted will usually recover quickly. Because it's normal to feel a bit weak after fainting, be sure the person stays lying down. Getting up too quickly may bring on another fainting spell.

Call 911 if someone who has fainted does not regain consciousness after about a minute or is having difficulty breathing.

Figuring Out Health News

Jordan was gathering information for a research project on teens and suicide. She came across a news article about how some antidepressants increase the chances of suicidal thinking and behavior in kids and teens. Jordan was confused. How could a medicine that was supposed to help kids with depression actually make them feel worse? She was also worried because her sister was taking an antidepressant. After Jordan did some of her own research and looked into the issue further, though, she discovered things that set her mind at ease.

Often, news reports on health and medicine can be confusing — and sometimes they can be downright scary. How do you know what is important and accurate?

A Study — or Just a Story?

Large newspapers, magazines, TV networks, and radio stations often have medical reporters on staff to cover developments in health and medicine. Their job is to report complicated scientific information in a way that's easy for regular people to understand. Many health stories are accurate and balanced. But not all are. Sometimes, reporters try to quickly cram information into a short news story, and they may oversimplify the information. What you see may not be the whole picture.

To catch a viewer's attention, news reports sometimes make dramatic claims. In addition, medical news reports often focus on people's personal stories, not scientific studies. Personal stories are interesting, but often they don't prove anything about health or treatments in general. It takes a well-done study to do that. And sometimes these studies just aren't dramatic or exciting enough to make the news.

Questions to Consider

When you hear about a new medical development, the first question to ask yourself is whether the news is based on a scientific study. Knowing there's a study behind the news is only the first step, though. How the study was done (and who did it) matters too.

For example:

Who Was in the Study?

Even if a study was done in people, it may not apply to you. For instance, findings from studies involving only adults may not be true for teens. Results of all-male studies may not apply to women. Research studies usually list who took part — their sex, age, and other characteristics. Are these people like you?

In addition to who is in a study, you'll also need to keep in mind how many people took part in it. The more people in the study, the more likely it is that the study's findings will hold true for the whole population. Sometimes a study's results are announced with a big splash and then it turns out that the study only involved a few people. When researchers do the same study using the hundreds or thousands of people necessary to get really accurate (or "significant") results, those results might be different.

It's also important for the study to follow patients long enough to be sure that a treatment really works, and that additional or more serious side effects don't develop over time.

How Was the Study Designed?

There are lots of ways researchers look into new treatments and information that can help people stay healthier. Sometimes they look back at people's medical records or ask them questions to find out what might have put them at more (or less) risk for a health condition. Those studies, called retrospective studies, can provide useful clues, but they're only as reliable as a person's memory or the accuracy of medical records.

Prospective studies are usually better. They look forward, not backward. The best of these studies follow thousands of people long enough to see whether the things they do — like diet and exercise — have a good or bad effect on their health.

For new drugs or treatments, randomized, controlled clinical trials are the best way for deciding whether a treatment works. In this kind of research, some of the participants get the drug, vitamin, or other therapy being tested. Others get what is called a placebo (a fake treatment or sugar pill that contains no medicine at all). In this type of study, the patients are "blinded" — they don't know who is getting the treatment and who is getting the placebo until the trial is over. That way, their response to the drug or placebo can't be influenced by whether they think they have been taking the real drug or not. In a double-blind study, neither the patients nor the researchers know which patients have taken the drug or the placebo until the study is over.

It's rare for one study to be the final word. Medical knowledge comes from many studies done over time — and frequently there are contradictions along the way. Often, different studies of a particular treatment or condition, all done properly, can still have different (or even completely opposite) results.

Also, the news media (and even researchers themselves!) are more likely to report the findings of a study if that study shows results that are different from what is thought to be true. For example, the media are much more likely to do a story about a study that shows that eating a particular type of food may help prevent cancer. But other studies may show that eating that food doesn't really make much difference.

The scientific community can take into account all the different studies and decide that eating the food might not really help a person avoid cancer. But to the regular person who just hears about one study through the news, that food suddenly becomes a cancer-fighting miracle.

Doing Your Own Research

You can get additional information about a news report on the Internet. Put keywords from the news report into a search engine and see what comes up. The results will give you lots of different perspectives — particularly if the issue is big news — so you're not relying on just one news report for the facts. You'll need to screen what you see, though. Many of the sites that show up in search results may not have the most accurate and up-to-date information.

On commercial websites (sites with URLs that end in .com), look to see if the site has advertising. If it does, it may be biased in favor of the advertiser. Of course, having advertising on a site doesn't necessarily mean it is biased. But if you're going to be a good "information consumer," you need to take that possibility into account.

Also check to see whether a doctor or other medical expert has reviewed the information you're reading, and whether the date on the information is recent.

The websites of government health agencies — such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — usually give accurate and unbiased information. Established medical organizations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, and associations, such as the American Psychiatric Association, are other good sources.

Getting Help

The best way to get a full understanding of medical news is to ask someone like a doctor or science teacher for help in figuring out what it all means.

Jordan talked to her science teacher about the antidepressant story. She helped Jordan understand that certain antidepressants (like the one Jordan's sister was taking) are OK for teens. She also helped her discover that the study results didn't mean all the teens in the study committed suicide while on the medication. In fact, in this study, none of the patients on the medication committed suicide. Instead, some reported thinking about suicide more. Jordan also learned about how important it is for teens on antidepressants to see their doctors regularly so their medications can be monitored and adjusted.

Reading or watching medical news isn't a substitute for seeing a doctor. Trying to diagnose yourself or changing or stopping your medicine based on something you've read or heard can be dangerous. News reports often focus only on the positive and don't mention the downsides, or side effects, of a medication or other treatment. Or they may report a dramatic or scary side effect of a medication that is really very rare, or fail to mention the large number of patients who might get very sick if they didn't take the drug. Your doctor can help you weigh the benefits and risks.

As Jordan discovered, understanding what's behind medical news can take away worry and concern. And knowing more can help you ask good questions about your own health when you see your doctor.



Hand Washing

"Wash your hands!" How many times have you heard that from your parents? You might think they're just nagging you, but actually the most important thing you can do to keep from getting sick is to wash your hands.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if you don't wash your hands frequently, you can pick up germs from other sources and then infect yourself. You're at risk every time you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. In fact, one of the most common ways people catch colds is by rubbing their nose or their eyes after the cold virus has gotten on their hands.

If people don't wash their hands frequently (especially when they're sick), they can spread germs directly to other people or onto surfaces that others touch. And before you know it, everyone around you is coming down with something!

Defensive Hand Washing

Did you know that an estimated 1 out of 5 people don't wash their hands after using the restroom? In 2005 the American Society for Microbiology did a survey of hand washing. They asked people questions about their hand-washing habits and also watched people in public restrooms. The results were kind of gross. For example:

· People don't always wash their hands after using the bathroom — 91% of adults say they always wash their hands after using public restrooms, but just 83% were seen doing so.

· People wash their hands less at home — 83% say they wash their hands after using the bathroom at home. Germs are germs, and a bathroom is a bathroom.

· Only 32% of people in the survey said they wash their hands after coughing or sneezing. So it's nice that you protect the people around you by covering your mouth with your hand when you cough. But if you then reach for your friend's pizza, you might as well not have bothered.

· Just 21% wash their hands after handling money.

· Only 42% of the people in the survey washed up after petting a dog or cat. You've seen your dog roll in that mystery smell in the park or your cat rub against you after using the litter pan. Fido and Fluffy are dirtier than you think.

And even if you're a good hand-washer, your friends may be harboring some dirty little secrets: Students don't wash their hands often or well. In one study, only 58% of female and 48% of male middle- and high-school students washed their hands after using the bathroom. Yuck!

If you need a parent's help with medical care after age 18. In the United States, the law protects the privacy of medical records for everyone over age 18. (The age is 16 or younger for mental health records, depending on the state.) If you want parents to help with your care, you'll need to sign a document that gives them access to your records.

If you are younger than 18 but want certain information kept private. Many states now allow doctors to decide whether or not they disclose certain information to parents — about sexual health or substance abuse, for example. If you want your records kept private, talk to your doctor to see what can be done.

Health Insurance Basics

Premiums, co-pays, deductibles, in-network, out-of-network ...welcome to the wonderful world of health insurance. And you thought advanced calculus was confusing!

Chances are, up until now you've been covered by your parents' health insurance. They probably chose your doctors, oversaw your care, and paid your bills. But maybe you're getting to a different point in your life.

Beginning to take charge of your own health care is a big step and it can be a little overwhelming. Here's a quick crash course on insurance.

Do I Really Need It?

You're young, you spend more time in the gym than David Beckham, you rarely get anything worse than a cold, and your great-grandparents are still kicking at 99. Why bother spending money on insurance? The odds are pretty good that you'll never get seriously sick, right?

We certainly hope so. But every day, thousands of "perfectly healthy" people break bones, need stitches, get into car accidents, find out they have illnesses, or are told they need surgery for one condition or another.

You may never be one of them. But what if you are? Medical bills from even a minor car accident can wreak havoc on your finances. A major illness can wipe out your family's savings as well. Insurance may be expensive, but not having it may cost way more.

Indemnity Plans

With this kind of plan you can see any doctor you want any time you want. You pay the doctor directly and then send your claim to your insurance company. The company pays you back for part of the total cost. (For example, if your doctor charged $100, you might get 80%, or $80, back.)

Indemnity plans (also called fee-for-service or reimbursement plans) generally don't pay for preventive care, like annual physical exams. Because they offer you the most choice, the monthly premium is usually higher than other types of health plans.

Managed Care Plans

When you get insurance through an employer, it is often through a managed care plan. With managed care, a health insurance company negotiates a contract with certain health care providers, hospitals, and labs to provide care for its members at a lower cost.

The four basic types of managed care plans are:

1. HMO (Health Maintenance Organization). When you join an HMO, you choose a primary care doctor. This doctor coordinates all your medical care, from annual physicals to hospitalizations. Although the co-pay for these services is usually fairly low, the tradeoff is that you can only use doctors and hospitals who are approved by your plan. Also you can't see any kind of specialist without a written referral.

2. PPO (Preferred Provider Organization). A PPO is like an HMO, only with more flexibility. Instead of choosing a primary care doctor, you can see any doctor you want. However, if you choose a doctor who participates in your plan, you will pay less.

3. POS (Point of Service).With a POS plan, you generally choose an in-network doctor for most of your care, but you may go outside the network if you need to see a specialist. If you do go out of network, you may have to pay more.

4. EPO (Exclusive Provider Organization). An EPO is like a PPO, only the network of participating doctors is smaller.

How to Fill a Prescription

There are lots of small but significant responsibilities you take on as you become an adult: Doing your own laundry. Making sure you keep the gas gauge off "E." Filling a prescription.

OK, so maybe that last one isn't one of the first things that come to mind. Still, it is an important step toward independence. It means you're starting to take responsibility for your own health care.

In the Doctor's Office

The prescription process starts in the doctor's office or at the health clinic. Tell the doc if you're taking any medications — even over-the-counter (OTC) or herbal medicines. With some medications, there's a risk that one might cause problems with the other (known in the medical profession as an interaction). For example, certain prescription medications can make birth control pills less effective.

Speaking of birth control, your doc will probably ask about birth control or whether you use alcohol or drugs. It may seem awkward to talk about these topics, but your doc needs to know if you've taken anything that might interact with the prescription medication. Don't worry, though — your doctor isn't there to judge you or report back to your parents. Many doctors find a way to speak privately with teen patients so they can share confidential information. So don't hesitate to talk openly.

Your doctor may hand you a written prescription to take the pharmacy of your choice. Lots of docs submit prescriptions electronically, though — in which case your doc will ask which pharmacy you'd like to use.

If you're away at school or you'll be traveling, you might want to fill your prescription at a large chain pharmacy. Most chains use one prescription database for all their stores, allowing you to pick up prescriptions at different stores in the same chain.

Before you fill your prescription, find out if it's covered by insurance. Some medications may not be. For example, your insurance company may not cover certain acne medications or your doctor may have to contact the insurance company to get these approved. If that's the case, you'll want to know so there are no surprises at the pharmacy.


Why Do I Need Shots?

Missing a shot may not seem like a bad thing — nobody wakes up in the morning thinking they'd love to go out and get a jab in the arm. But there are good reasons to get shots:

One little "ouch" moment protects you from some major health problems. For example, older teens and adults who get diseases like mumps may be at risk for side effects of the illness, such as infertility (the inability to have children).

Vaccinations are about protecting you in future, not just as a kid. Many of the diseases that we are vaccinated against when we're kids — like hepatitis B or tetanus — actually affect more adults than kids. Plus, anyone can get "kid diseases" like chickenpox, and they can be far more dangerous to teens and adults than they are to little kids.

Shots could even save your life. Hepatitis B attacks the liver and can eventually kill. The new HPV vaccine can protect girls from a type of cancer. And scientists are constantly working on new vaccines against deadly diseases like HIV.

Are Vaccinations Safe?

Like any medicine, vaccines may cause side effects, but receiving one is far safer than getting the disease it prevents. The most common reactions include soreness, redness, and swelling in the area of the shot or a low-grade fever. Usually acetaminophen or ibuprofen will take care of these side effects.

It's rare to have any kind of bad reaction to a vaccine. If you've had reactions to vaccines in the past, let your doctor know. Before getting a vaccine, discuss any concerns that you have about it with your doctor.

Still Dreading That Shot?

We usually think of vaccines as shots, but not all vaccines are given that way. Some are given orally (by mouth) or in other forms like nasal sprays.

But it's impossible to escape the fact that some immunizations are just best given as shots. And it's completely normal to feel nervous about them. If you're one of the many people who dread shots, you can try a few techniques to make shots easier, like taking calming breaths and even coughing as the needle goes in.

The good news is that the shot itself only lasts for a second, but you'll be protected for a long, long time after that!



Refilling a Prescription

Use the Label

No matter how you choose to refill a prescription, it will be easier if you have all your prescription information handy. Most of what you need is printed on the label.

The prescription label is usually wrapped around the medicine bottle. In some cases — especially with medicines like eye drops and skin creams — it may be stuck on the outer box instead. Check the box when you first get your prescription so you don't throw it out by mistake.

What if know your prescription is refillable but you threw the carton away? You may have to go in person to the same pharmacy where you first got the prescription and ask them to look it up in their database. They'll probably ask for ID and want to see your prescription card before giving you a refill.

Here's what to look for on the label:

· Pharmacy phone number. This is the number you'll call to place the refill.

· Prescription number. This number is often shown on the label as "Rx#". Although a pharmacist can look up your prescription in the computer, the refill process will go a lot faster if you have this number handy.

· Refills remaining. The prescription label will tell you how many refills you have left. Most labels show a number of refills with a cutoff date. If you refill your prescription before that date, you should be able to place your order with no problem. However, if the label says something like "Refills require authorization" or if your refills have expired, you'll need to get in touch with the doctor who prescribed the medication. Sometimes the pharmacy can do that for you, but other times the doctor will want to see you or talk to you before authorizing the pharmacy to refill the prescription.

Make Sure You Don't Run Out

Probably the trickiest part about refilling a prescription is remembering to check when you're running low. If you wait until you've taken your last pill to place your refill, and for some reason end up having to wait for it, it could be a mere annoyance — or a major ordeal. Missing even one daily dose of some medications can be dangerous.

On the flip side, if you try to get a jump on things and place a refill weeks in advance, your insurance might not cover it. So keep your eye on the bottle and try to time your refill so the pharmacy has a few days to get things ready for you — especially if they're going to need to contact your doctor.

Talk to the Pharmacist

When you pick up your refill, you'll probably be asked if you have any questions for the pharmacist. This is a good time to go over how you should be taking the medication — such as whether you should take it with or without food. If you're at all unsure about your medication, ask to see the pharmacist. Most pharmacies ask you to sign a "waiver" if you don't have questions.

Since you've already been taking the medication for a while, you might have noticed side effects. For example, does your acne cream leave your face red and irritated? Do you notice headaches after using your prescription eye drops? These are all good things to mention to your pharmacist — especially as people can sometimes notice new side effects even after they've been taking a medicine for many years.

When you pick up your prescription, let your pharmacist know if you've started using any new medications. Even over-the-counter medications (like cold medicines) or herbal supplements can sometimes affect how well prescriptions work or interact with prescription medications to cause health problems.

If the pharmacy seems busy or you don't want to ask about something personal (like birth control) in front of other people, call and ask to speak to the pharmacist after you leave. Mention that you just refilled your prescription and have questions. No matter how busy they are, pharmacists are still willing and eager to help — it's their job to make sure people take their medications safely and effectively.


The 5-Second Rule

Almost everyone has dropped food on the floor and still wanted to eat it. Some people apply the "5-second rule" — that random saying about how food won't become contaminated with bacteria if you pick it up off the floor in 5 seconds or less.

The 5-second rule has become such a part of our culture that scientists actually tested it. As you can probably guess, they found that the "rule" is mostly myth: Bacteria can attach to food even if you pick it up super fast. So, depending on which types of bacteria happen to climb on board, you could still get sick.

Here are two facts to consider whenever you feel tempted by the 5-second rule:

1. A clean-looking floor isn't necessarily clean. A shiny linoleum floor is probably cleaner than a 1970s-era carpet. But even clean, dry floors can harbor bacteria. Newly washed floors are only as clean as the tools used to wash them (picture eating food off the mop in the cafeteria if you need a visual). Even with a brand-new mop or sponge, stubborn germs can still remain on the floor after cleaning.

2. Fast is better — but it may not be fast enough. Although a piece of food does pick up more bacteria the longer it's on the floor, bacteria can attach to it instantly. So any food that makes contact with the floor can get contaminated if conditions are right. And foods with wet surfaces, like an apple slice, pick up bacteria easily.

When in Doubt, Toss It Out

Some bacteria are not harmful. But others can torture you with miserable stuff like diarrhea. Even if there's no visible dirt on your food, you can still get sick. You just can't tell what kinds of bacteria may be lurking on the floor.

So what are you to do with the piece of watermelon that just slipped from your grip? The safest choice is to throw it out. Or let the dog have it. (And there's another thing to consider — even the 5-second rule can't get around the fact that your food may have landed right in a spot where Fido parked his butt.)


What Is a Gene?

To understand how genes (pronounced: jeens) work, let's review some biology basics. Most living organisms are made up of cells that contain a substance called deoxyribonucleic (pronounced: dee-ahk-see-rye-bow-noo-klee-ik) acid (DNA). DNA is wrapped together to form structures called chromosomes (pronounced: krow-muh-soams).

Most cells in the human body have 23 pairs of chromosomes, making a total of 46. Individual sperm and egg cells, however, have just 23 unpaired chromosomes. You received half of your chromosomes from your mother's egg and the other half from your father's sperm cell. A male child receives an X chromosome from his mother and a Y chromosome from his father; females get an X chromosome from each parent.

So where do genes come in? Genes are sections or segments of DNA that are carried on the chromosomes and determine specific human characteristics, such as height or hair color. Because each parent gives you one chromosome in each pair, you have two of every gene (except for some of the genes on the X and Y chromosomes in boys because boys have only one of each).

Some characteristics come from a single gene, whereas others come from gene combinations. Because every person has from 25,000 to 35,000 different genes, there is an almost endless number of possible combinations!

Genes and Heredity

Heredity is the passing of genes from one generation to the next. You inherit your parents' genes. Heredity helps to make you the person you are today: short or tall, with black hair or blond, with green eyes or blue.

Can your genes determine whether you'll be a straight-A student or a great athlete? Heredity plays an important role, but your environment (including things like the foods you eat and the people you interact with) also influences your abilities and interests.

How Do Genes Work?

DNA contains four chemicals (adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine — called A, T, C, and G for short) that are strung in patterns on extremely thin, coiled strands in the cell. How thin? Cells are tiny — invisible to the naked eye — and each cell in your body contains about 6 feet of DNA thread, for a total of about 3 billion miles (if all your DNA threads were stretched out straight) of DNA inside you! The DNA patterns are the codes for manufacturing proteins, chemicals that enable the body to work and grow.

Genes hold the instructions for making protein products (like the enzymes to digest food or the pigment that gives your eyes their color). As your cells duplicate, they pass this genetic information to the new cells. Genes can be dominant or recessive. Dominant genes show their effect even if there is only one copy of that gene in the pair. For a person to have a recessive disease or characteristic, the person must have the gene on both chromosomes of the pair.

What Are Genetic Disorders?

Cells can sometimes contain changes or variants in the information in their genes. This is called gene mutation, and it often occurs when cells are aging or have been exposed to certain chemicals or radiation. Fortunately, cells usually recognize these mutations and repair them by themselves. Other times, however, they can cause illnesses, such as some types of cancer. And if the gene mutation exists in egg or sperm cells, children can inherit the mutated gene from their parents.

Researchers have identified more than 4,000 diseases that are caused by genetic variants. But having a genetic mutation that may cause disease doesn't always mean that a person will actually get that disease. Because you inherit a gene from each parent, having one disease gene usually does not cause any problems because the normal gene can allow your body to make the normal protein it needs.

On average, people probably carry from 5 to 10 variant or disease genes in their cells. Problems arise when the disease gene is dominant or when the same recessive disease gene is present on both chromosomes in a pair. Problems can also occur when several variant genes interact with each other — or with the environment — to increase susceptibility to diseases.

If a person carries the dominant gene for a disease, he or she will usually have the disease and each of the person's children will have a 1 in 2 (50%) chance of inheriting the gene and getting the disease. Diseases caused by a dominant gene include achondroplasia (pronounced: ay-kon-druh-play-zhuh, a form of dwarfism), Marfan syndrome (a connective tissue disorder), and Huntington disease (a degenerative disease of the nervous system).

People who have one recessive gene for a disease are called carriers, and they don't usually have the disease because they have a normal gene of that pair that can do the job. When two carriers have a child together, however, the child has a 1 in 4 (25%) chance of getting the disease gene from both parents, which results in the child having the disease. Cystic fibrosis (a lung disease), sickle cell anemia (a blood disease), and Tay-Sachs disease (which causes nervous system problems) are caused by recessive disease genes from both parents coming together in a child.

Some recessive genetic variants are carried only on the X chromosome, which means that usually only guys can develop the disease because they have only one X chromosome. Girls have two X chromosomes, so they would need to inherit two copies of the recessive gene to get the disease. X-linked disorders include the bleeding disorder hemophilia (pronounced: hee-muh-fih-lee-uh) and color blindness.

Sometimes when an egg and sperm unite, the new cell gets too many or too few chromosomes. Most children born with Down syndrome, which is associated with mental retardation, have an extra chromosome number 21.

In some cases, people who are concerned that they might carry certain variant genes can have genetic testing so they can learn their children's risk of having a disease. Pregnant women can also have tests done to see if the fetus they are carrying might have certain genetic illnesses. Genetic testing usually involves taking a sample of someone's blood, skin, or amniotic fluid, and checking it for signs of genetic diseases or disorders.

Changing Genes

Sometimes scientists alter genes on purpose. For many years, researchers have altered the genes in microbes and plants to produce offspring with special characteristics, such as an increased resistance to disease or pests, or the ability to grow in difficult environments. We call this genetic engineering.

Gene therapy is a promising new field of medical research. In gene therapy, researchers try to supply copies of healthy genes to cells with variant or missing genes so that the "good" genes will take over. Viruses are often used to carry the healthy genes into the targeted cells because many viruses can insert their own DNA into targeted cells.

But there are problems with gene therapy. Scientists haven't yet identified every gene in the human body or what each one does. Huge scientific efforts like The Human Genome (pronounced: jee-nome) Project and related projects have recently completed a map of the entire human genome (all of the genetic material on a living thing's chromosomes), but it will take many more years to find out what each gene does and how they interact with one another. For most diseases, scientists don't know if and how genes play a role. Plus, there are major difficulties inserting the normal genes into the proper cells without causing problems for the rest of the body.

There are also concerns that people might try changing genes for ethically troubling reasons, such as to make smarter or more athletic children. No one knows what the long-term effects of that kind of change would be.

Still, for many people who have genetic diseases, gene therapy holds the hope that they — or their children — will be able to live better, healthier lives.


What's the Difference Between Infectious and Contagious?

What's the difference between infectious and contagious?

- Nick

Infections are diseases that are caused by microscopic germs (such as bacteria or viruses) that get into the body and cause problems. Some — but not all — infectious diseases spread directly from one person to another. Infections and other diseases that spread from person to person are said to be contagious.

Some infections spread to people from an animal or insect, not another human. Lyme disease is an example: You can't catch it from someone you're hanging out with or pass in the street. It comes from the bite of an infected tick.

Contagious diseases (such as the flu, colds, or other infections) spread from person to person in several ways. One way is through direct physical contact, like touching or kissing a person who has the infection. Another way is when an infectious microbe travels through the air after someone nearby sneezes or coughs. Sometimes people get contagious diseases by touching or using something an infected person has touched or used — like sharing a straw with someone who has mono or stepping into the shower after someone who has athlete's foot.

Even if an infection or other disease is contagious, being exposed to it does not mean a person will automatically get sick. Our immune systems do a great job of warding off the germs that cause many diseases, often because we've had the disease before or because we're up to date on our shots!



Germs Basics

The term germs is really just a generic word for four different types of organisms: bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa.

Bacteria are tiny, single-celled organisms that are found throughout nature, including in the bodies of human beings. A certain number of bacteria are good for our bodies — they help keep the digestive system in working order and keep harmful bacteria from moving in. Some bacteria are even used to produce medicines and vaccines.

But bacteria can cause trouble, too — ever had a urinary tract infection or strep throat? These infections are caused by bacteria.

Viruses are even smaller than bacteria and can't live on their own. In order to survive, grow, and reproduce, they need to be inside other living organisms. Most viruses can only live for a very short time outside other living cells. For example, they can stay on surfaces like a countertop or toilet seat in infected bodily fluids for a short period of time, but they quickly die there unless a live host comes along. But some viruses, such as the kind that cause hepatitis (an infection of the liver), can survive on surfaces for a week or longer and still be able to cause infections.

Once they've moved into your body, viruses spread easily and can make you quite sick. Viruses are responsible for not-so-serious diseases like colds as well as extremely serious diseases like smallpox.

Fungi (pronounced: fun-jye) are multi-celled, plant-like organisms that usually aren't dangerous in a healthy person. Fungi can't produce their own food from soil, water, and air, so instead, they get nutrition from plants, food, and animals in damp, warm environments.

Two common fungal infections are athlete's foot and ringworm. People who have weakened immune systems (from diseases like AIDS or cancer) may develop more serious fungal infections.

Protozoa (pronounced: pro-toe-zo-uh) are one-celled organisms like bacteria. Protozoa love moisture, so intestinal infections and other diseases they cause are often spread through contaminated water.

Once organisms like bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa invade your body, they get ready to stay for a while. These germs draw all their energy from you! They may damage or destroy some of your own healthy cells. As they use up your nutrients and energy, most will produce waste products, known as toxins.

Some toxins cause the annoying symptoms of common colds or flu-like infections, such as sniffles, sneezing, coughing, and diarrhea. But other toxins can cause high fever, increased heart rate, and even life-threatening illness.

If you're not feeling well and visit your doctor, he or she may order testing to examine your blood and other fluids under a microscope or perform cultures to determine which germs (if any) are making you sick.

Your Medical Records

Don't look now, but you're being followed. You have been, in fact, since the day you were born. The good news is that the people following you are doctors, nurses, and other health care providers. And the way they're tracking you is on paper, through your personal medical history.

What Are Medical Records?

Each time you hop up on a doctor's exam table or roll up your sleeve for a blood draw, somebody makes a note of it in your medical records. All that scribbling adds up over time. Even if you're the healthiest person alive, you'll still manage to accumulate crate upon crate of paperwork by your 21st birthday.

Chances are you won't ever pore over all those pages. But there might come a time when you want to get information from your medical records: Maybe you'll need to provide your college or new job with a record of immunizations before you can start. Or perhaps you want a new doctor to know your full medical history.

As you start taking charge of your own medical care, it helps to know what's in your medical records, how you can get them when you need to, who else is allowed to see them, and what laws are in place to keep them private.

Can I See My Records?

U.S. law gives patients the right to see, get copies of, and sometimes even change their medical records.

If you're younger than 18, your parent or guardian will probably need to ask for copies of medical records on your behalf. However, more states are allowing minors to take charge of their own health services, so ask your doctor, hospital, or health system about what access you have to your records.

Medical records — particularly test results or imaging studies like X-rays — can be confusing for people who aren't trained in reading them. Something that might look scary on an X-ray or MRI might be nothing to worry about. So if you do look at your records on your own, keep that in mind and ask a doctor if you have questions.

How Do I Get Them?

Start by figuring out who has the information you want. If it's dental information you're after, contact your dentist's office. If it's a general health issue, you'll probably want to talk to your family doctor.

When it comes to requesting medical records, different providers have different ways of doing things. Some might ask you to fill out an authorization form. If so, you'll want to be ready with information like this:

· Dates of treatment or service (such as a hospital stay). If it's been a while and you don't remember exact dates, ask for records from a range of dates, such as 2000-2005.

· Which information you want. Do you need the entire record or just part? Specific test results? X-ray films, blood work results, etc.?

· How you want the information. Do you just want to look at your records to find out what's in them? Or do you need to get your own copy, have a copy sent to another physician, or both?

A health care provider's office might charge a fee to cover the cost of having someone make copies. Some offices put test results and imaging studies on a CD-ROM. You'll probably have to pay for mailing the records to you or another doctor (if you won't be picking them up in person).

How Long Does it Take?

The law gives health care providers up to 30 days to provide copies of medical records, but almost all health care organizations supply records a lot faster than that. Most people get their non-critical care records within 5 to 10 business days. If records are needed faster — like when a patient needs medical treatment — the health care provider holding the records usually releases them immediately.

If you need to get records for non-emergency situations (such as switching to a new doctor), it's safest to give plenty of notice. Let the medical provider who has your records know that you'd like copies a few weeks ahead of any appointments with your new health care provider.

Can They Say No?

They can — but it almost never happens. When it does, it's because a doctor's office is trying to protect a patient's privacy or safety. For example, they may withhold medical information if they're not sure the person requesting the records has a right to see them. Or they may not release records if they think it will lead to the patient being harmed.

If health care providers deny access to records, they must give the reasons why in writing within 30 days. If any request for medical information is denied, a patient has the right to ask for the decision to be reviewed again.

What About My Parents?

Parents have access to their kids' medical records until the child is 18. However, many states now allow doctors to decide whether or not they disclose certain information to parents — like about sexual health or substance abuse, for example. The law also states that parents no longer have access to their teens' health records if they agree to let them have a confidential relationship with their doctors.

Most hospitals or doctors make every effort to protect patients' privacy when it comes to sensitive information that's in their medical records. Sometimes a health care provider will feel that it's not in the best interest of the patient to release information to parents, even when a child is younger than 18.

For mental health records (such as the notes a therapist takes during counseling sessions) the age when parents no longer have access to a child's medical records is 15 or 16, depending on the state.

After you reach 18, your parents cannot see your records — by law. For some people, that may not be a problem. It may even seem like a good thing! But what if you have a health problem and need your parents to make decisions about your care if something happens? If you want your parents to have access to your records after 18, you'll need to sign a document authorizing them to do so, just as you would with anyone else.

Tips for Surviving Shots

Do shots make you nervous? You're not alone. Lots of people dread them because they have a very real fear of needles. So next time your doc asks you to roll up your sleeve, try these tips:

1. Distract yourself while you're waiting. Bring along a game, book, music, or movie player — something you'll get completely caught up in so you're not sitting in the waiting room thinking about the shot. Some doctors' offices schedule "shot clinics" where they do nothing but give shots so the wait time is shorter.

2. Concentrate on taking slow, deep breaths. Breathe all the way down into your belly. Deep breathing can help people relax — and concentrating on something other than the shot can take your mind off it.

3. Focus intently on something in the room. Find a picture, poster, or a sign on the wall. Concentrate on the details: If you're looking at a painting, for example, try counting the number of flowers in the garden, cows in the field, or other images. Or create as many new words as you can using the lettering on a sign. Think about how the message on a health awareness poster might affect you. Whatever it takes, keep focusing on something other than the shot until it's over.

4. Cough. Research shows that coughing as the needle goes in can help some people feel less pain.

5. Relax your arm. If you're tense — especially if you tense up the area where you're getting the shot — it can make a shot hurt more.

Sometimes people feel lightheaded or faint after getting a shot. If you feel funny, sit down and rest for 15 minutes.

Don't hesitate to tell the doctor or nurse that you're nervous before getting the shot. Medical professionals are used to people who fear shots and they'll be able to help you relax.



Ways to Fight the Flu

The flu is annoying enough on its own. So it doesn't help that flu season falls at one of the most exciting times of the year. To avoid missing out on sports events, Halloween parties, Thanksgiving feasts, and holiday fun, follow these tips:

1. Get the flu vaccine. It's the best way

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