LIFE IN WILLISTON: Don’t fall behind on health

By Karen Wyman

As the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, it is so tempting to stay inside and eat comfort food and sleep. Too bad we couldn’t hibernate and pause our lives until spring comes. However, fall is a critical time of year to take important precautions to protect your health and the health of those around you. It is no time to fall behind!

Many families schedule health check-ups and physicals, vision and hearing tests and dental cleanings right before school starts. If you cram all of these critical appointments into a few weeks, then you can just slack off for a few months, right? Unfortunately, there are many more preventative measures that should be done during these next few months but often get overlooked.

I know the topic of immunizations opens up many debates. As a mother and a health care professional, I believe the majority of recommended vaccinations have an excellent risk-versus-benefit ratio for the majority of people. I also realize that everyone has a unique background and medical history, so a medical professional should always be consulted to help analyze each individual’s own risk-versus-benefit assessment.

That being said, I want you all to know that this year is slated to be the worst year for Pertussis (whooping cough) in more than 50 years. Quite a few people have asked me why there are so many cases, many in our own community, despite immunizations against it. The short answer is that 15 years ago the CDC switched the pertussis vaccine for infants to a version that is better tolerated. It now appears that immunity wanes more quickly with this form of the vaccine. As the CDC reevaluates its recommendations for boosters, it’s reassuring to know that those who have been vaccinated and still happen to develop the disease will have milder symptoms, a shorter duration and won’t be as highly contagious. I encourage you all to check with your doctor to make sure you are up to date, especially those of you who will have contact with infants.

Of course, no fall health check is complete without including a flu shot! If you don’t get a flu shot because of a fear of needles, you will be happy to know there is a nasal spray formulation and a new intradermal vaccine with an extremely small needle now available. If you worry about the use of mercury as a preservative, you can always request a preservative-free shot. If you’re age 65 or older, there is a high-dose flu vaccine that helps seniors to build up a stronger immunity. Also, if you qualify, there is a pneumonia vaccine as well. Ask your doctor or pharmacist (sorry for the shameless plug!) for more information. I also want to remind all senior citizens that the Medicare Part D annual enrollment period is Oct. 15 through Dec. 7, 2012. You can call the Champlain Valley Agency on Aging (CVAA) at 1-800-642-5119 for assistance with this often confusing and overwhelming process. Ok, I’m getting off my pharmaceutical soapbox right now!

I would be totally remiss if I didn’t also mention preparing your home in the fall to protect your and your family’s health. The Williston Fire Department kindly posts important safety reminders in front of the station, including changing smoke alarm batteries and this week’s message to get chimneys and heating units inspected. We recently had our fireplace inspected and cleaned, and we were shocked when both a carbon monoxide and a natural gas leak were discovered. These hidden dangers made me even more paranoid than usual, and I immediately scheduled a furnace inspection and a dryer vent cleaning, which I knew were overdue. These findings were also what prompted me to write this column about my fall prep list in the hopes that some of you may remember vital actions that need to be completed for your home and family before winter. I know automobiles should also be included in this winterizing list, but I just can’t bring myself to think snow tires yet. Now that I have totally stressed you out, I do want to wish you a happy, healthy and safe autumn. And no, despite my fervently spreading the word in today’s column, I am not going as the town crier for Halloween!

Karen Wyman has been a Williston resident for seven years, and lives with her husband and twin 5-year-old daughters.