National Immunization Awareness Month

August is National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM) in the United States. This is the time of year when children and teenagers are heading back to school, toddlers are entering preschools or daycare programs, and many adults are heading into college or continuing their careers in the workforce. Regardless of the situation, the need for getting vaccinated is important to be aware of year round.

 

NIAMVaccines are a vital part to healthcare at all stages of life and offers the best protection available against many potentially devastating illnesses. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages parents to follow an immunization schedule for babies and young children, protecting them from 14 life-affecting diseases. Pre-teens and teenagers should begin to innoculate against meningococcal diseases (meningitis or septicemia) and HPV (Human Papillomavirus, which can lead to cancer). Adults should continue to protect themselves with a yearly flu shot.

 

An important element of immunization awareness is to protect our populations through “herd immunity”—when a high percentage of a population is vaccinated they protect individuals who have not developed an immunity. Babies are protected by their mother’s immune system at birth and continue to be passed antibodies from their mother’s breast milk; however, surrounding infants with people who have been vaccinated further protects them from serious diseases. Some individuals may be allergic to certain vaccines, leaving them without the benefit of immunization and largely depending on herd immunity from the surrounding populations throughout their lives.

 

Measles was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000, but that didn’t stop an outbreak of over 120 cases in the U.S. in 2015. No medicine can be considered 100% effective; the measles vaccine is 93-97% effective with one or two doses, respectively. Measles is so highly infectious that 90% of unvaccinated people who come close to an infected person will contract the virus. Being unvaccinated for infectious diseases is not only putting oneself in danger of serious illness and possibly death, but also the community at large.

 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in 5 children are missing routine immunizations. With nearly 20% of the world’s population at risk for diseases such as measles, whooping cough, and other preventable diseases, there are close to 1.5 million deaths annually that could be averted.

 

In a previous blog post, we shared a graph that compared the morbidity of illnesses from the years before the vaccine was developed to the year 2000. All the applicable diseases—smallpox, diphtheria, measles, mumps, whooping cough, polio, rubella, tetanus, and influenza type b—decreased in morbidity in the United States by 95-100%. The CDC estimates that with vaccines they will save 732,000 American lives and prevent 21 million hospital visits for Americans born in the last 20 years.

 

For those in need of assistance, our database of free, low-cost, and sliding-scale clinics has information on over 6500 clinics that offer immunization services. Search your ZIP code to find medical clinics near you that may offer free or low-cost immunizations. Pharmaceutical companies also offer Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs) such as Vaccine Patient Assistance Program. Call our toll-free helpline for more information at 1-800-503-6897 Monday through Friday 9am through 5pm Eastern Time.

Psoriasis Awareness Month

August is Psoriasis Awareness Month. An estimated 7.5 million Americans have psoriasis, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF), making it the most common autoimmune disease in the United States. Despite its prevalence, many people are still unaware of its impact. Awareness offers the opportunity to educate the public and dispel myths associated with the disease.

 

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that causes raised, red, scaly patches to appear on the skin. It typically presents on the elbows, knees, and scalp, but can appear anywhere on the body. It often develops between ages 15 and 35, but can develop at any age. Psoriasis is not contagious; it is not something you can “catch” from others or transfer to someone else. Psoriasis lesions are not infectious . Stigma often surrounds those with visible psoriasis due to others not understanding there is no risk of infection.

 

Psoriasis is often diagnosed by a dermatologist or other healthcare provider examining the affected skin. There are five types of psoriasis that each present differently.

  • The Psoriasis Awareness ribbon is Orchid over Orange

    The Psoriasis Awareness ribbon is Orchid over Orange

    Plaque psoriasis is most common, presenting with raised, red patches covered with a silvery white buildup of dead skin cells. They are often painful and itchy, and can crack and bleed.

  • Guttate psoriasis appears as small, dot-like lesions and can be triggered by a strep infection.

  • Inverse psoriasis appears with very red smooth, shiny lesions and may present with other types of psoriasis.

  • Pustular psoriasis is characterized by white blisters surrounded by red skin most often on the hands and feet, but can occur anywhere on the body; the pustules are filled with white blood cells—it is not an infection, nor is it contagious.

  • Erythrodermic psoriasis is a particularly severe form of psoriasis that leads to widespread, fiery redness over most of the body. It can cause severe itching and pain, and makes the skin come off in sheets. It is rare, occurring in 3% of people who have psoriasis in their lifetime. It generally appears on people who have unstable plaque psoriasis. Individuals having an erythrodermic psoriasis flare should see a doctor immediately; this form of psoriasis can be life-threatening.

 

Psoriasis can associated with other serious medical conditions. An estimated 30% of people diagnosed with psoriasis will also develop psoriatic arthritis within their lifetimes. People with psoriasis also have increased risk of type 2 diabetescardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and depression.

 

NeedyMeds has a Diagnosis Information Page for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, developed in partnership with the National Psoriasis Foundation. In addition to information and links to helpful resources, we list the medications often prescribed for psoriatic disease, which we link to available Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs). PAPs provide prescribed medication at low or no cost. We also have listings for recreational camps for children with psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis to have stigma-free environment. For help tracking your health and remembering to take your prescribed medication on time, the NeedyMeds Storylines app is available and includes the NeedyMeds Drug Discount Card. Use our website to find assistance or call our toll-free helpline at 1-800-503-6897 Monday through Friday 9am through 5pm Eastern Time.

Health Spending Plans

In a survey released in early 2018, only 37% of Americans said they would be able to pay for an unexpected $500-$1000 cost. 63% of respondents said they would need to resort to measures such as cutting back other spending, using a credit card, or borrowing money from friends or family in the event of a costly emergency. We have been writing for years on our position that people should not have to decide between health care or groceries or skipping prescriptions. There are ways to build a health spending plan to ensure you are financially able to pay for medical expenses, no matter when they arise.

 

There are a number of savings options available that can help make the most of income. Health savings accounts (HSAs) or Flexible spending accounts (FSAs) deposits are often made pre-tax through the employer, and can be spent tax-free on qualified medical expenses. FSAs and HSAs both allow people to save money in tax-advantage accounts, but there are key differences:

 

  • FSAs can be used with any type or no insurance; HSAs can only be used/contributed to in conjunction with a high-deductible health plan.

  • Money in FSAs not spent by the end of year are forfeited; money in HSAs stays in the account until withdrawn, whether or not the patient remains employed by the employer that established the account or if they remain covered by a high-deductible health plan.

  • FSAs have a contribution limit of $2650; HSAs have a contribution limit of $3450 for an individual and $6900 for families.

  • Money withdrawn from an HSA for qualified medical expenses is never taxed; money withdrawn for other purposes are taxed; those who withdraw from the account for other purposes before the age of 65 face an additional penalty.

 

Taking advantage of these employer-based resources are a huge help in preparing for the eventuality of medical expenses, and financial well-being can relieve much of the stress from worrying about paying for health care.

 

There are other cost-saving methods that can save money at the pharmacy:

 

  • Shop around.  Even pharmacies within a few miles of each other can vary widely in price, sometimes by hundreds of dollars.  Chain drug stores consistently charged the most among the medications and locations polled. Independent and local mom-and-pop pharmacies were found to have bargains on prescriptions, and sometimes are flexible to match or beat competitor prices.

  • It’s okay to not use your health insurance.  Many chain stores offer common generics at prices as low as $4-$15 for a 30- to 90- day supply when people pay out of pocket.  NeedyMeds has a database of locations and medications available through these discount programs. Sometimes pharmacists will insist you must use your health insurance, even it the price is higher than the cash price or the price with the NeedyMeds drug discount card. They are wrong – you never have to use your health insurance if you can get a better price not using it.

  • Ask for a 90-day prescription.  For drugs you will be taking long term, getting enough medicine to last three months as opposed to one can be cheaper.  We mentioned the discount programs available above, and for those using insurance it would equate to only one copay instead of three.

  • Talk to your pharmacist. There may be savings available that they are not allowed to discuss unless asked.

 

For more information on health spending plans, watch our webinar with Pack Health, discussing topics from your household budget to chatting with your employer about tools available to help you plan for healthcare costs.

 

HealthWeb Navigator

In 2014, Dr. Mark A. Kelley, a faculty member of Harvard Medical School, developed the idea for HealthWeb Navigator while serving as a Harvard Advanced Leadership fellow. Partnering with NeedyMeds in 2016, HealthWeb Navigator has since published hundreds of website reviews. Today, HealthWeb Navigator is launching the full version of its collection of health website reviews written by doctors, nurses, and other health professionals.

“Patients are more informed now than ever before,” said HealthWeb Navigator founder Mark Kelley, M.D. “Unfortunately, many people make major healthcare decisions based on something they read online. The least we in the medical community can do is guide them to the best sources.”

 

A 2013 survey found that the average American spends an hour every week looking for health information online. In fact, it’s among the top ten most popular web activities, as common as checking the weather forecast or reading the news.

But studies show that health information available to web users is often inaccurate, complex, or hard to use. Searching Google for something as common as “headache,” for example, returns tens of millions of results in less than a second. The first few pages alone contain warnings about migraines, poisoning, stroke, and brain tumors. There is now a term for the anxiety caused by online self-diagnosis: “cyberchondria.”

 

HWN-logo2HealthWeb Navigator’s reviews assess the accuracy, credibility, and usability of each website in its growing collection. Visitors can search for specific health topics to find trustworthy websites, or they can verify sites they already use.

“We want to eliminate the guesswork,” Kelley added. “Our expert reviewers show you which websites are credible and why.”

 

Each review is written collaboratively by a team of medical professionals with backgrounds in clinical practice, research, patient advocacy, and public policy. There are currently over 50 different reviewers working for HealthWeb Navigator, with multiple reviewers assigned to every website. All website reviewers have practiced medicine at the level of nurse practitioner or higher. They also undergo training on how to spot outdated or misleading information online.

HealthWeb Navigator’s collection of reviews expands daily and includes hundreds of vetted health resources focusing on diseases, health insurance, doctors and hospitals, prescription medicine, pediatrics, and women’s health, among others.

 

“We want people to feel empowered when researching their health online,” said NeedyMeds president Rich Sagall, M.D., “not helpless.”

And for doctors and patients who already have a list of websites they trust? “Hopefully they can find credible resources they might not have heard of otherwise and recommend them to others,” Sagall said.

 

Staying up-to-date on the latest reviews is as easy as checking HealthWeb Navigator’s homepage or following them on Twitter and Facebook. Users can even submit websites for HealthWeb Navigator to review.

Health Tips & Resources for the First Day of Summer

Today is the first day of summer in the United States. Over the next few months, it will be important to protect ourselves from the health risks posed by the sun and heat. Regardless of skin color, exposure to the sun carries many dangers to one’s skin—from freckles and wrinkles often associated with aging, to sunburns, benign tumors or cancerous skin lesions. Prolonged heat exposure can also have many negative impacts on one’s health ranging from a rash, exhaustion, fainting, or even death.

sunglasseslotionAlthough everyone should take precautions to protect their skin, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) encourages those with pale skin; blond, red, or light brown hair; or who has a personal or family history of skin cancer to be especially careful while in the sun. The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage one’s skin in as little as 15 minutes, and the best tool in combating that skin damage is sunscreen. The American Academy of Dermatology suggests applying SPF 30 (at least) liberally 15 minutes before going outside, and to reapply at least every two hours to remain protected.

 

An often overlooked risk to health over the summer are biting insects. Illnesses from mosquito and tick bites have increased in the United States over recent years. Mosquitoes can spread viruses like Zika, West Nile, chikungunya, Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), and dengue; ticks can infect people or pets with lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and other tick-borne illnesses. People should protect themselves by using insect/bug repellent and be mindful to check for ticks after spending time outside, especially in wooded areas or in tall grass. Pet owners should use a veterinarian-approved tick collar or preventative medicine to protect their dogs or outdoor cats.

To further protect your skin where sunscreen and bug spray are ineffective, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants when possible, and at least a t-shirt when the heat makes long clothing uncomfortable. Hats and sunglasses also protect vulnerable areas from the sun. Staying in the shade or avoiding the outdoors altogether during the midday hours can also lower one’s risk of skin damage from the sun.

Over 600 heat-related deaths occur per year in the U.S. The CDC has many recommendations including staying in air-conditioned or climate-controlled areas, taking cool showers or baths, drinking more water than usual to stay hydrated, avoiding alcohol or sugary drinks, and to be aware of local weather reports.

It is very important to know the symptoms of heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Muscle cramping is often the first sign, and could lead to heavy sweating, weakness, clammy skin, fast weak pulse, nausea, or fainting—the signs of heat exhaustion. Cramps can also lead to heat stroke, a medical emergency; if body temperature rises above 103°F with rapid and strong pulse or unconsciousness, call 911 immediately. In times of extreme heat, people are encouraged to check on friends and neighbors who are at higher risk to the heat such as people aged 65 and older, infants and children, people with chronic medical conditions, outdoor workers, and people with low income.

 

For low-income households, there is the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The program provides federally funded assistance in managing costs associated with home energy bills or weatherization, helping those in need stay cool in the summer or warm in the winter. You can find your local LIHEAP service provider on their website.

It is important to know the dangers of sun and heat exposure, and that there are resources available for those in need. NeedyMeds has information on national Diagnosis-Based Assistance programs (DBAs) offering testing for those at risk for skin cancer or lyme disease as well as financial assistance for those already diagnosed. For more help finding information, call our toll-free helpline Monday-Friday 9am-5pm Eastern Time at 1-800-503-6897. We hope everyone enjoys the beautiful weather this summer and stays safe and healthy.

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