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World Aids Day

Leah Sarich | posted Thursday, Nov 28th, 2013

World Aids Day is Sunday December 1st. And here in Southern Alberta, our fight against the disease is going remarkably well.

I spoke with the Medical Director of the Southern Alberta HIV Clinic, Dr. John Gill, and he says we have about1550 patients in regular care in the area, with 85 percent on treatment. This is great news because this means these people are living relatively normal lives and their risk of transmitting the infection is dramatically reduced.

The other 15 percent of patients have chosen not to start treatment for a variety of reasons… they’re scared, in denial or dealing with other challenges like drug addiction. But Dr. Gill is really hoping to get these people into treatment so they can become productive members of society once again. Doctors are also concerned about those not diagnosed, and those who are diagnosed and were in care, but have a dropped out of care for unknown reasons.

Dr. Gill also wants to be very clear…even though people are living well now with HIV, this is still not an infection anyone would want to get. So, prevention is still the big message. And the best way to avoid getting HIV is to never have unprotected sex and never use or share needles.

As far as research goes, the federal government has announced today 10 million dollars for research into looking for a cure. Dr. Gill says there have been a couple of cases where humans have been cured of the HIV infection, and the goal now is to figure out how to replicate this result in the general population. So it’s a long way off, but the research is ongoing.

Research is also underway for a vaccine, but there is still no vaccine to prevent the infection.

For more information on the HIV program in Southern Alberta visit the clinic’s website.

New ADHD Medication

Leah Sarich | posted Tuesday, Nov 26th, 2013

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder affects between five and 10 percent of Canadian children. It’s the most common neuropsychiatric disorder in children.

Treating the disorder can be very challenging. I spoke with University of Calgary Neurologist Dr. Tamara Pringsheim who says it’s very important to look at the child’s environment first – what’s going on at home, what’s going on at school and make modifcations there first. Medication should be considered a sort of last resort.

The first line of medical treatments for ADHD are the psycho-stimulant medications like Ritalin, Adderall and more. Dr. Pringsheim says these medications offer the greatest improvement of symptoms in the most patients.

However, in about 2o to 25 percent of cases, these stimulant meds don’t work. Either the patient doesn’t like how they feel on them, or they have intolerable side effects. For example, if you have a child who is thin or has trouble eating, the stimulants may be decreasing their appetite, so the stimulants may not be a good treatment for them. Or for example, these  meds can cause trouble sleeping so if your child already has problems sleeping, the stimulants may not be a good fit.

This is where Intuniv XR comes in. Dr. Pringsheim says this medication is another treatment option for these patients. It can be used on it’s own or added to the stimulants if complete control of symptoms has not been achieved. Intuniv XR is taken once a day and is a 24 hour formulation. It must be taken continuously. Unlike the stimulants, you do not go on and off this medication.

And like all medications, it has side effects. Dr. Pringsheim says the most common is sedation – it causes sleepiness. So in her practice, she has been recommending patients take the medication before bedtime. This side effect does tend to lessen the longer you are on the medication.

For more information on Intuniv XR talk to your doctor and visit this website.


Leah Sarich | posted Thursday, Nov 21st, 2013

Craniosynostosis is a birth defect that affects about one in every two thousand babies. Normally the bones in a babies’ head are separated by a series of gaps to allow for brain growth. But in these infants, the bones have fused together prematurely. The fusion of these bones can prevent the brain from growing properly and lead to the child’s head becoming misshapen.

I spoke with Dr. Ryan Frank, a Pediatric and Reconstructive Surgeon at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. He says most children are diagnosed at around the age of 6 months. And about half of the children diagnosed with require surgery to separate those fused bones. One of his patients, little Ethan Smith who is almost 2, had surgery last year to separate the bones in his head. It was a huge surgery. And his mom Ashley wants to raise awareness about the fact, had Ethan been diagnosed earlier, he could have had a much less invasive procedure done.

Dr. Frank explains if babies could be diagnosed before 3 months of age, doctors could perform a simpler surgery to separate the bones. Most children, because they’re diagnosed later like Ethan, are opened up ear to ear, they have their skull removed, separated and returned to their head. And following surgery, children usually wear a special helmet to help their head return to a more normal shape.

Ashley, along with Dr. Frank, are hoping to raise awareness about this defect so that more children can be diagnosed earlier and can avoid the big surgery required to address craniosynostosis.

Ashley also wants other families dealing with craniosynostosis to know they’re not alone. She has been instrumental in setting up a support group here in Calgary.

Here is the information on this support group.

For more on craniosynostosis, I like the information on the Mayo Clinic’s website.


Cold Sores

Leah Sarich | posted Tuesday, Nov 19th, 2013

Between one and five Canadians gets a cold sore every year. And about 80 percent of adults is carrying the virus, though not all of them will get a cold sore.

So these fever blisters are very common, yet they can be very debilitating and challenging to treat. And Dermatologist Dr. Kirk Barber says we often forget just how contagious they are as well. Dr. Barber says a cold sore is a viral infection of the skin that is transferred by skin to skin contact. For example, a mom with a cold sore may kiss her child on the cheek and give their child the infection.

The cold sore is ultimately the skin’s reaction to the virus. The virus lives on the nerve and hangs out in the nerve route until it is brought to the surface of the skin by various triggers. Dr. Barber says the most common triggers are sunlight, emotional triggers like stress and generally being worn down.

The good news is there are many treatment options. Dr. Barber says the best thing to do is talk to your doctor about the severity of your cold sores and go from there. In Dr. Barber’s opinion, the best treatment for cold sores is an antiviral pill whether it be used intermittently or as supressive therapy. There are also numerous creams by prescription that work. In fact, there is a new topical cream in Canada called Xerese. It works by both treating the infection and reducing the inflammation.

As for over the counter creams, Dr. Barber says they work, though they may not work as well as a prescription cream. On the natural side, Lysine also works for some people, though Dr. Barber says the scientific evidence is inconclusive.

Bottomline, whatever therapy you choose, find the one that works for you and use it. If your treatment is by prescription, make sure to fill the prescription immediately so you have it on hand and the first sign of that tingling, burning sensation.

For more about cold sores, I like the Mayo Clinic’s information.

Post Partum Depression in Men

Leah Sarich | posted Wednesday, Nov 6th, 2013

Ten to 25 percent of new moms will suffer from post partum depression. And now new research shows 10 to 13 percent of dads are suffering too.

And the biggest risk factor for dad developing PPD is if his partner has PPD. So, you end up with both parents in a major depressive episode which can have a devastating effect on the child.

Nicole Letourneau, the Alberta Children’s Hospital Chair in Parent Infant Mental Health, says symptoms of PPD are very similar in both men and women… they’ll be depressed for at least two weeks, it will interfere with their daily activity causing irritability, fatigue and mood changes. PPD will interfere with their ability to care for and nuture their baby. But men with PPD, moreso than women,  are prone to anger and violent episodes. Men are also more likely to to use drugs and alcohol to cope.

Research shows when two parents are suffering from PPD, the child is more likely to develop mental health problems like anxiety and depression. And cutting edge research shows the child is also more likely to develop biological problems such as inflammatory disorders, heart disease and obesity.

Letourneau says all new moms need to be screened for PPD. And not just asked, but actually given a screening tool like a questionaire. She says moms will often lie when asked because they feel admitting to PPD means they’re a bad mother. However, these same moms will answer a questionaire honestly. Letourneau suggests if mom screens high for PPD, their partners should be screened too. We also need more supports and services for moms  and we need to create them for dads.

Letourneau says we need to support families because they’re the ones producing the children that will be our future leaders, innovators and thinkers. Supporting families means creating a more prosperous society in the future.

For more information on this topic visit Troy Media for Letourneau’s article, or visit her website.