Answer Man

For now, you still need a flu shot

Chicago Tribune Service

Q: A friend told me he heard that there is now a flu vaccination you can give yourself that doesn’t involve needles. Since I dread these every year, I’m wondering if you know where I might get one.

A.N., of O’Fallon

A: Such an advance would be a welcome shot in the arm for people afraid of needles, but, alas, it’s a promising technique that is at best several years away.

Here’s what your friend probably heard: Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been testing a prototype of a skin patch that would allow just about anyone to give himself a flu vaccination in the comfort of his own home

Instead of a doctor or nurse coming at you with that long needle, the patch features an array of 50 microneedles that are about as tall and thick as a short strand of hair. When pressed into the forearm, these needles inject the vaccine into the outer layers of the skin, where the body will start to mount an immune reaction that hopefully will leave the recipient immune or at least less susceptible to the worst ravages of the flu.

So far, however, the patches tested did not contain any flu vaccine. Testing was done merely to see how well the tiny needles penetrated the skin and whether it would be an effective option for patients. Researchers found that those using the needles were able to insert 93 percent to 96 percent of the needles over three tries. Perhaps more important, they found that when offered the patches, the willingness to vaccinate rose from 44 percent to 65 percent. There were no side effects, either.

Should these experiments continue without a hitch, such a patch might be available within five years, experts estimate.

While we’re on the subject, how about a few more recent medical findings you might find useful and interesting:

▪  Defib advance: Area doctors have begun implanting defibrillators that pose no hazard to heart patients during magnetic resonance imaging scans.

Until now patients with implantable cardioverter defibrillators have not been able to undergo MRI scans because they could interfere with the functionng of the ICD and put the patient at risk. Yet studies have shown that more than one-third of patients with ICDs are likely to need an MRI within four years of their implant.

“Through this device, patients can safely have access to an MRI, which for older adults with multiple health issues is often common,” said Dr. Ali Mehdirad at St. Louis University Hospital, which implanted the new ICD for the first time on Oct. 7.

An ICD monitors electrical activity in the heart and delivers a shock when it senses a need to restore a proper rhythm. The Evera MRI SureScan ICD System by Medtronic was approved by the Food and Drug Administration last month.

▪  Oh, baby: An Indiana University study suggests that couples who are having trouble conceiving a child should have regular intercourse rather than simply concentrating on peak monthly ovulation periods.

Researchers studied 30 women, about half who were sexually active and half who were abstinent. They found the sexually active women showed greater changes in their T helper cells, which play an important role in the immune system by activating other cells that destroy intruders in the body.

“The female body needs to navigate a tricky dilemma,” said Timothy Lorenz, a visiting research scientist at IU’s Kinsey Institute. “In order to protect itself, the body needs to defend against foreign invaders. But if it applies that logic to sperm or a fetus, then pregnancy can’t occur.”

The study suggests that intercourse even during the so-called non-fertile period may help prime the body for pregnancy. Such a change was not seen in women who were abstinent.

▪  Get moving: While cancer patients may have more important things on their minds in the midst of treatment, they should not forget how much an exercise regimen might help them in both the short and long run, according to Lee Jones, an exercise physiologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

In the past, doctors often recommended against too much physical activity, fearing the combination of chemotherapy and exercise would be too difficult for many women to handle. But Jones told U.S. News & World Report he found that chemotherapy took a particularly heavy toll on patients who did not exercise.

“Ten weeks of chemotheapy is equivalent to 10 years of normal aging,” he said. However, he said he found that cancer patients who exercised regularly showed no premature aging. Moreover, some tumors thrive in low-oxygen environments. Pumping extra oxygen into tissues through exercise may be a way to slow or prevent their growth, he suggested.

While many of these studies are merely observational, they provided enough solid evidence to prompt Sloan Kettering to schedule 14 more studies during the next five years.

▪  Sitting pretty: On the other hand, you might want to save the money you were going to spend on that stand-up desk with a treadmill. British researchers say recent studies that link sitting to increased mortality may not stand up to scrutiny in many cases.

For 16 years, researchers followed more than 5,000 men and women aged 35 to 55. The participants were asked to report how much time they spent sitting at work and sitting during leisure time while watching TV or doing other things. Even when they took age, alcohol, smoking, diet and vigorous physical activity into account, the researchers said they found no association between any type of sitting time and increased mortality from any cause.

This doesn’t mean you can or should be a 24-hour-a-day couch potato. Study participants were described as a group with a higher-than-average daily activity level. However, the study does suggest that sitting does not seem to add to the mortality risk of those who otherwise follow a reasonable exercise regimen.

Today’s trivia

How many restrooms could you choose from along the 17 miles of hallways in the Pentagon?

Answer to Friday’s trivia: In the late 1800s, Dr. Jules Bengué, of France, developed an ointment that delivered a soothing feeling of warmth to strains, sprains and other bodily aches. When it was brought to the United States in 1898, the doctor’s name was Anglicized to Ben-Gay, and we’ve been buying it ever since, although in 1995 it was changed to simply Bengay.

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer