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By Dr. Lakshmi Emory, MD and Chief Medical Officer

It’s been a long pandemic! Now that things are opening and we are all venturing outside for summer fun, it’s important to keep a few safety tips in mind. Summer safety guidelines don’t have to be a long list of things to avoid. Where’s the fun in that? Instead, let's consider a few changes to our routines to increase safety and fun for the entire family.

Family gatherings: Food is the one thing that we can count on to be part of most summer activities and get-togethers. Cook your fresh foods the same day you buy them. This will limit the amount of time bacteria has to grow. Bacteria in food are the main cause of food poisoning. This season, remember the four food safety steps: clean, separate, cook, and chill. Summer also offers the best time to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Produce is at its highest nutrient content in the summer months. Fruit is high in water content and eating it can also be a great way to stay hydrated while playing in the sun.

Speaking of hydration: Drinking right is also an important summer safety tip. Remember that we lose fluids when we sweat. And we typically sweat more during the summer months. Keep water ready and available to drink often and as needed, especially outdoors. Avoid too much caffeine from coffee, black tea, and colas.

Don’t forget to pack the sunscreen: Wearing sunscreen daily not only reduces the risk of skin cancer and sunburns, but it also helps to prevent the early onset of wrinkles. The higher the SPF, the better. You’re welcome!

Aetna Better Health® of Illinois is sponsoring a ton of summer events encourage summer safety and fun. Download the Aetna app to find more tips and details on events taking place in your area.

 

By Dr. Lakshmi Emory, MD and Chief Medical Officer

Did you know that having a dedicated primary care provider (PCP) can help keep you healthy? A PCP helps manage your routine care like physicals and preventive care, and they can help treat common medical issues. Also, they can educate you on healthy lifestyle choices and make referrals to specialists when needed.

At Aetna Better Health® of Illinois, we designed our website with our members in mind. With a few clicks you can find a PCP to help you live a healthy life.

Here's a list of PCP types to help you decide what you and your family need:

  • Family medicine physicians, also known as family doctors, see patients of all ages – sometimes everyone in a family
  • Pediatricians care for children and teenagers
  • Internists, or internal medicine doctors, see only adults
  • Geriatricians care for older people (age 65+)
  • Obstetricians and gynecologists focus on women’s health and pregnancy
  • Nurse practitioners and physician assistants provide primary care as part of a team that includes a physician

No matter which type of PCP you see, remember to bring your important documents to every visit. This includes your member ID card, a valid photo ID, medical history and a list of your medications. 

By Dr. Lakshmi Emory, MD and Chief Medical Officer

Influenza — also known as flu — is caused by a virus that easily spreads from one person to another. Flu can cause severe illness for some people and can even lead to hospitalization or death. Flu symptoms include:

  • Fiebre;
  • Dolor de garganta.
  • Tos
  • Body aches
  • Dolor de cabeza.
  • Chills

The best way to protect yourself and others from getting very sick from flu is to get a flu shot. Flu shots are recommended every year for people age 6 months and older, unless their doctor tells them otherwise. 

How does the flu vaccine work?

Health experts make a vaccine to match the types of flu virus that are expected to be most common during the next flu season. The flu vaccine has an inactive virus and can’t give you the flu. But it does cause your body to create antibodies that can protect you from getting very sick or spreading the flu to others. It takes about two weeks after a flu shot to be fully protected.

Flu is most common during the fall and winter months in the United States. Most health experts suggest getting your flu shot by the end of October for protection during the months that activity is the highest.

Your flu shot is free

The flu shot is covered at no charge for Aetna Better Health® of Illinois members. You can get a flu shot from your primary care provider (PCP), at your local CVS Pharmacy® or MinuteClinic®. You can even save a step and schedule your flu shot at the same time as your COVID-19 vaccine or booster. 

Members age 18 and older who get a flu shot between September 15, 2022, and March 31, 2023, can receive a $15 gift card from Aetna Better Health of Illinois. A limited number of gift cards are available. Cards will be mailed to eligible members by June 30, 2023, while supplies last.

What else can you do to stay healthy during flu season?

You can help your immune system protect against illnesses such as flu. Here are some tips:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Wash your hands with soap and water
  • Evitar tocarse los ojos, la nariz o la boca.
  • Eat a healthy diet that includes fruits and vegetables
  • Hacer ejercicio con regularidad
  • Get plenty of rest

If you have questions about getting a flu shot, talk to your PCP. 

By Dr. Lakshmi Emory, MD and Chief Medical Officer

November is American Diabetes Month. Preventing or catching diabetes in its early stages helps you to avoid serious health complications.

Diabetes is a common health condition. According to the CDC, more than 1 in 10 Americans have diabetes, and 1 in 5 don’t even know it yet. Knowing the signs and symptoms is critical, especially for people of color. Here are some important stats:

  • The CDC states Hispanic adults have a 50% chance of developing diabetes, which is 10% higher than US adults overall.
  • The US Department of Health and Human Services reports that African Americans are 60% more likely to get a diabetes diagnosis and are twice as likely to die from the disease.

Here are a few steps to help prevent diabetes:

Lose any extra pounds. Create a routine to move your body through a physical activity like walking or running. Set short-term weight loss goals. Any aerobic exercise will improve your blood circulation, lower stress, lower blood sugar and strengthen your heart.

Eat healthy. Focus on plant-based, fiber-rich food such as tomatoes and peppers. Eat whole grains, like whole wheat bread, rice and pasta. Make sure your vegetables are non-starch, like leafy greens, broccoli and cauliflower. Food with fiber and nutrients will slow your sugar absorption —something that processed foods with high sugar levels won’t.

Choose unsaturated fats, like nuts and seeds, salmon and sardines. If you eat dairy and red meat, consider low-fat options, or lean chicken and pork.

Get regular checkups. See your doctor at least twice a year. Get your blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, feet, and eyes checked. See your dentist to get your teeth and gums checked.

Watch for signs. Have excessive thirst? Extra weight gain? Changes in vision? Frequent urination? These are just some of the signs of diabetes. Talk to your doctor if you have any of these signs.

Managing your diabetes

Already living with diabetes? Take steps now to manage your condition. Keep eating healthily, exercising and seeing your doctor regularly. You should also do the following:

Stop smoking. Smoking will increase your risk of other health problems like heart disease, stroke, nerve damage and blood vessel narrowing

Avoid alcohol. Beer, wine and liquor contain sugar and can push your blood sugar levels up. Soda, juice and energy drinks are also loaded with processed sugar.

Manage your stress. Your blood sugar levels spike when you feel anxiety. Exercise and eating right will help. Work in other ways to manage your stress, like doing yoga, meditating, visiting a mental health counselor and/or support groups. Even gardening or reading can help to relax your body and mind.

Take your medicine. Create a routine to make sure you don’t miss a day and get refills before you run out.

Educate yourself on managing your blood sugar levels and then create a plan to prevent or control it. The time to start is today.

By Dr. Lakshmi Emory, MD and Chief Medical Officer

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women. When it comes to finding breast cancer, sooner is often better. Regular screenings may help to spot it as early as possible when there are more treatment options.

Breast cancer occurs when cells in the breast area begin growing in a way that is not normal. Sometimes the cancer can spread from the breast into nearby areas — and even to other parts of the body. Screenings can find lumps and other signs of cancer before it starts to spread.

A mammogram is a type of screening exam. This X-ray scans the breast area for any signs of cancer. Women ages 40 and older who are at an average risk for breast cancer are encouraged to get a mammogram every year. Women with a family history of breast cancer may need to start screening earlier and should check with their provider.

Breast screenings are covered at no charge by Aetna Better Health® of Illinois for eligible members. Members ages 50 to 74 can earn $50 through the Aetna® Better Care Rewards program for completing their annual breast screening.

Schedule your screening by calling your doctor’s office or Member Services at 1-866-329-4701 (TTY: 711).

The Aetna Better Health of Illinois community outreach team hosted Pamper Me Pink events across the state during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. Each event offered health screenings, education and resources for healthy living and giveaways. See our upcoming events on our calendar of events.

By Lakshmi Emory, MD, Chief Medical Officer

Cold, flu and other types of respiratory illness are common during the winter months. As the weather gets colder, it’s important to watch for signs of illness and learn how to keep from getting sick.

Some of the most common winter illnesses — and their symptoms — are listed below. Remember: symptoms won’t be the same for everyone. Always call your doctor’s office if you need testing or treatment, or if symptoms get worse.

Cold

A cold is the most common type of illness seen by doctors in the winter months. It  can be caused by a number of different viruses, including one called rhinovirus.

When you have a cold, you may cough, sneeze and get a runny nose or scratchy throat. A cold can make you feel really tired, so it’s important to get plenty of rest. Over-the-counter medicines can help your feel better until the symptoms are gone.

COVID-19

COVID-19 is caused by a virus that is easily spread to others. The winter months could bring a rise in cases as people are indoors more. COVID-19 can cause fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, headache and other symptoms.

If you think you have COVID-19, get tested and ask your doctor what medicine or other treatment you may need.

Vaccines are recommended for people ages 6 months and older to protect against serious illness from COVID-19. Boosters are also recommended to enhance the primary vaccination series. See current guidelines for COVID-19 vaccines and boosters.

Influenza

Flu is caused by a virus that easily spreads from one person to another. It spreads when a person with the virus coughs, sneezes or touches surfaces that other people use.  

Flu can develop suddenly with fever, chills, body aches, sore throat and a headache. If you think you have the flu, your doctor can do a test and prescribe medicine to help you feel better.

The best protection against the flu is getting a flu shot every year. If you haven’t already had a flu shot, ask your doctor about getting one. Aetna Better Health® of Illinois members ages 18 and older who get a flu shot between September 15, 2022, and March 31, 2023, can receive a $15 gift card. Learn more here.

Pneumonia

Pneumonia is a serious condition that affects the lungs. Some people get pneumonia from a virus, other illnesses or bacteria.

Symptoms of pneumonia include fever, a deep cough, chills, shortness of breath and pain. If you’ve been sick and are getting worse, have a cough that doesn’t get better or have pain when you breathe, call your doctor right away.

RSV

RSV, which is short for respiratory syncytial virus, can have symptoms of runny nose, cough and congestion. RSV can also cause wheezing and rapid breathing. Babies and young children with RSV may be fussy or not as active as usual.

RSV can turn into a serious illness for some people, including babies, young children and those with other health conditions. Parents should call their child’s doctor if they aren’t drinking enough, having trouble breathing or if symptoms are getting worse.

Protecting against illness this winter

To stay healthy, avoid being close to people who are sick, wash hands often and avoid touching your face. Be sure to clean surfaces that are touched often, like doorknobs, phones and bathroom surfaces.

Remember that vaccines are available to protect against COVID-19, flu and some types of pneumonia. They can help you avoid getting sick or make your symptoms less severe. Ask your doctor what vaccines you may need.

If you do get sick, check with your doctor about medicines or other treatment you may need. Be sure to get plenty of rest and always call your doctor’s office if symptoms are getting worse. 

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