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By Lakshmi Emory, MD, MPH - 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 Lakshmi Emory, MD, MPH - 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 Lakshmi Emory, MD, MPH - 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:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • 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
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • Eat a healthy diet that includes fruits and vegetables
  • Exercise regularly
  • Get plenty of rest

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

By Lakshmi Emory, MD, MPH - 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 Lakshmi Emory, MD, MPH - 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 50-74 can earn Aetna Better Care Rewards for completing their annual breast screening. Learn more about the Aetna® Better Care Rewards program.

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, MPH - 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.


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 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.


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 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, 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. 

By Marilyn Griffin, MD, FAPA, DFAACAP

The “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” is filled with joyous traditions, gatherings and celebrations. While this is exciting to some, it can be a source of stress to others. About 40% of adults have anxiety around the holidays. And more than 60% of people with mental illness believe the holidays make their symptoms worse. This time of year can bring high demands, increased stress and strong emotions because of unrealistic expectations, financial pressures, social isolation and grief. Here are five tips to enhance and maintain your mental health so you can have an enjoyable celebratory season.

Set boundaries. The holidays are very busy. You may feel pressure to accept invites and overextend yourself. Know your limits and don’t let guilt guide your decisions. Only say yes to things that are important to you. Remember that setting boundaries is an act of self-care and puts your needs first.  

Don't overindulge and get enough sleep. Try to keep good habits during this festive season. There are lots of food, drinks and late nights. It’s best to eat a healthy diet with little to no alcohol. A good night’s rest has several benefits like an emotional reset, boost to your immune system and lowering your overall risk for health problems. And don’t forget to exercise.

Spend less, smile more. We tend to overspend during the holidays, and this can cause financial stress. However, smiling doesn’t cost anything. In fact, smiling can improve your mood. And it has positive health benefits like lowering your blood pressure, helping you relax and relieving stress. Set and stay within a budget and track your spending with a smile. 

Make new traditions. For many, this may be the first holiday season without a loved one.   There’s no doubt the season is going to differ from the past. It’s okay if you decide to do something different. Create new traditions focused on what makes you happy, instead of what others expect of you. 

Have an attitude of gratitude. Research shows that gratitude can decrease stress and improve physical and mental health. During the holidays, we reflect on and give thanks for all our blessings. But we don’t have to wait. Gratitude can be practiced year-round! Make it part of your daily routine by writing down 1-3 things you’re grateful for. That way, when the holidays come around you have a gratitude reserve that can help during challenges. 

To help you manage your mental health and wellness during the holiday season – and year-round – Aetna Better Health® of Illinois has two apps for members:

Pyx Health® is designed to help reduce loneliness and improve health. It connects users to health plan and community resources in real time. And has tools to support mental, social and physical health needs.

Moodfit provides a set of customizable tools to help manage your mental wellness. Learn how to reduce stress, fight procrastination, relaxation techniques and more!

Learn more at

By Lakshmi Emory, MD, MPH - Chief Medical Officer

Did you know more than half of children and adolescents have had a cavity? Or that children’s baby teeth are at risk for decay as soon as they appear? To prevent common issues from turning into serious concerns, it’s important children understand why oral hygiene and healthy diets matter.                                                                                                                             

February is a time when health professionals promote the benefits of good oral health to children, their caregivers and others. But everyone can play a role in educating children on this topic.

Cavities cause pain and if left untreated, can lead to infections that may create issues with eating, speaking, playing and learning. In fact, children who have poor oral health often miss more school and receive lower grades than children who don’t.

The good news is, cavities and other oral health issues can be prevented. There are ways to help set children of all ages on the path to good oral hygiene, which can turn into regular habits they’ll carry with them as they grow. Read below to learn how to help.


  • Begin dental hygiene as soon as possible. Before teeth appear, a baby’s mouth should be cleaned twice a day (after first feeding and before bed) by wiping the gums with a clean washcloth to remove bacteria and sugar. Avoid putting a baby to bed with a bottle of milk. Milk or juices can pool around teeth and cause severe decay.
  • Brush regularly. Once teeth come in, a baby’s teeth should be brushed twice a day with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush and water.
  •  Check when it’s okay to use toothpaste. Talk to a dentist or pediatrician about using fluoride-based toothpaste and receiving a fluoride application on a baby’s teeth.
  • Go to the dentist. By the baby’s first birthday, they should visit with a dentist to spot any potential problems early on.


  • Brush twice a day. Encourage children to brush their teeth twice a day — in the morning and right before bed — using fluoride toothpaste.
  • Brush properly and don’t forget the tongue. Poor brushing can be just as bad as not brushing at all. Children should take their time and use gentle, circular motions as well as gently brush their tongue.
  • Don’t forget to floss. Flossing once a day is a great way to stimulate the gums and reduce plaque.
  • Consider using mouthwash. Mouthwash can help reduce acid in the mouth, clean hard-to-brush areas and strengthen the teeth. A dentist can provide specific mouthwash recommendations for children.
  • Visit the dentist regularly. Children should see the dentist at least twice a year for cleanings and checkups. The dentist can help remove plaque, look for cavities and spot for potential oral health issues. 


  • Model good brushing habits. Brush your teeth with the children to encourage proper brushing technique and habits.
  • Avoid sugar-based food and drinks in your diet. Set a good example for children and help them establish a lifetime of good dietary habits.

Aetna Better Health® of Illinois wants to make sure everyone has the knowledge to help children learn good oral health habits. Together, we can create happy, smiling children.

By Lakshmi Emory, MD, MPH - Chief Medical Officer

Starting school can be an exciting time for young children. It’s a chance to learn new things and meet new friends. But, before heading into the classroom for the first time, children need to get vaccines to protect them and others from getting sick.

According to the National Library of Medicine, most recommended childhood vaccinations are 90-99 percent effective. Vaccines can provide protection against serious illnesses such as measles, mumps and polio, that can easily spread between children.

Before they start school, children need to be up to date on their shots. Your child’s doctor can tell you what vaccines are needed for their age. If a child is behind on their shots, their doctor can help them get caught up before school starts.

Some vaccines that are recommended for children before starting school include:

  • Diphtheria, Pertussis, Tetanus
  • Polio
  • Measles
  • Rubella
  • Mumps
  • Varicella
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)

An annual well-child visit is covered for members of Aetna Better Health® of Illinois. These visits are a great time to ask your child’s doctor what vaccines they need to get ready to start school. You can also discuss any concerns you may have about your child’s health or development.

If you need help finding a doctor, call Member Services at 1-866-329-4701 (TTY 711). Always ask your child’s doctor about their health care needs.

By Marilyn Griffin, MD, FAPA, DFAACAP

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and it’s also a time to celebrate mom. As we approach Mother’s Day, focus on the path to becoming a mom. Postpartum depression can be part of that journey.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, mental health issues are common during pregnancy and childbirth. About one in eight women in Illinois experience depression during pregnancy and postpartum.

Postpartum depression is often diagnosed within the first four weeks after giving birth. However, it may be identified later. The earlier screening begins, the sooner people can get treatment.

Signs include:

  • Feeling low, hopelessness or frequent crying
  • Changes in eating and sleep patterns
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Severe anxiety or panic attacks
  • Feelings of helplessness or shame
  • Trouble bonding with your baby or fearing you're a bad mother
  • Difficulty thinking clearly
  • Thoughts about harming yourself and others

Understanding symptoms of depression is important. But dealing with them is too. Aetna Better Health® of Illinois covers mental health care for our members. You can use our website’s Find a Provider tool to find care in your area.

We also offer extra benefits to help moms identify, track and address mental health. To qualify for these additional benefits, members must:

Know when to ask for help. Identifying the condition is the first step. Doctors can provide a diagnosis. Look for signs like mood swings, sadness, changes in sleeping or eating habits. These signs are key indicators of mental health issues.

Use available resources. Moodfit is a mobile app that’s available to Aetna Better Health of Illinois members. Moodfit learns what most affects your mood. It provides tools to help manage mental wellness. Users also learn how to reduce stress with relaxation tips and more.

The Pyx Health® app is another great option. Users can connect with a chat robot or staff for support. It can also help reduce stress and encourage positivity. Support services are available 24 hours a day.

Improve your mood. Make self-care choices. We provide services to help improve your mood and create lifestyle changes aimed at improving your physical and mental health. These extra benefits include a gym membership and weight management support. Call Member Services at 866-329-4701 (TTY: 711) to enroll in your extra benefits.

It takes a village. We’re part of that village. We even help during the baby shower stage! Aetna Better Health of Illinois hosts free baby showers throughout the year. People who attend have access to:

  • Tips and education on baby safety
  • Nutrition, healthy cooking demos and food samples
  • Games, prizes and giveaways

We also provide eligible members with a free convertible car seat and diaper bag. There are many benefits available. Take the time to learn more about them.

Pregnancy and the time that follows can be difficult, but you’re not alone. If you have questions, talk to your OB/GYN or doctor. There are also tips available online.

Aetna Better Health of Illinois is here to support you at any stage of your motherhood journey. Happy Mother’s Day!

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