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October news tips from the UT Health Science Center

DIABETICS, STREP AND THE FLU . . . Diabetics ought to be the first in line for this year's flu vaccinations. "Studies show diabetic patients are at higher risk for complications and death from influenza and pneumococcal disease (the source of strep throat)," says Eugenio Cersosimo, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine at the Health Science Center. "Diabetics may have less ability to fight off infections, especially if they have chronic heart or kidney disease. I suggest that they be immunized as soon as possible to cover the winter, when the number of influenza cases soars." Only half of diabetics age 50 to 64 receive their flu shots and less than a third receive their pneumococcal vaccine, the American Diabetes Association reports. Vaccine doses for influenza and pneumococcal disease are expected to be plentiful this year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Cersosimo also is medical director for clinical research at the Texas Diabetes Institute and staff physician in the University Health System.

SEAL OF APPROVAL . . . We hear a lot about dental sealants, but what are they? They are liquid acrylic or plastic polymers used to fill or seal areas susceptible to bacterial infiltration that could develop into tooth decay. "It's been shown that a combination of sealants and topical application of fluoride can reduce tooth decay by about 96 percent," says Magda de la Torre, assistant professor of dental hygiene at the Health Science Center. Sealants keep bacteria out of microscopic fissures in teeth. These tiny cracks are too small to be cleaned by a toothbrush. "Sealants primarily are placed on tooth surfaces used for chewing," de la Torre says. "They are effective in both children and adults." October is National Dental Hygiene Month. The Health Science Center's School of Allied Health Sciences trains dental hygienists, who serve as "co-therapists" with dentists to prevent oral diseases.

SCREENING . . . Controversies have arisen this year over the value of mammography and self-exams for breast cancer screening. "The controversy is, we have done all the studies we can do," says Pamela M. Otto, M.D., associate professor of radiology at the Health Science Center. "Overall, most studies do show a benefit from mammograms every year for women 40 and older. We also know mammography can miss 20 percent of all cancers." Monthly self-exams are free, meanwhile, and women find cancers earlier than their physicians can. Self-exams are easy to teach, and many doctors do so during their patients' routine physicals. "Self-examination does increase the risk that a woman may get a biopsy she doesn't need, but that's an acceptable risk in my book," Dr. Otto says. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The disease affects about 1 in 9 U.S. women.

Contact: Will Sansom