Health Information


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Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV)

The virus first surfaced in Saudi Arabia in September 2012 and since then has spread to parts of Europe including France, UK and Italy. The virus belongs to a family that includes SARS and the common cold. What’s shocking is the virus’ high fatality rate – it has claimed 45 of the 82 people detected with the virus. India’s health ministry has said that there they haven’t detected a single case of the MERS-CoV yet. However, the WHO held an emergency meeting to discuss the virus on Wednesday and concluded that the matter was ‘serious and of great concern’ but it wasn’t a ‘public health emergency of international concern’.

What exactly is the MERS-CoV?

The MERS is a viral respiratory illness caused by a Coronavirus which has been christened Middle East Respiratory Coronavirus.

How is it similar to the SARS virus? Why are experts worried?

The virus belongs to the same family as SARS and the closest virus is found in bats. Most people who’ve got infected by the virus developed severe acute respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath. The major cause of worry is due to its high mortality rate as the virus has claimed over half of the people who’ve been infected. Common symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

While specific tests for the MERS-CoV aren’t available yet, diagnostics like PCR based viral assay will help. Also, the Pune-based National Institute of Virology is well-equipped to diagnose such viral infections with accredited methodology.

Q: What are the symptoms of MERS?

A: Most people who got infected with MERS-CoV developed severe acute respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath. About half of them died. Some people were reported as having a mild respiratory illness.

Q: Does MERS-CoV spread from person to person?

A: MERS-CoV has been shown to spread between people who are in close contact. Transmission from infected patients to healthcare personnel has also been observed.

What precautions can people take?

Simple measures of hygiene as follows:
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, and help young children do the same. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact, such as kissing, sharing cups, or sharing eating utensils, with sick people.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs.
  • Be aware that the risk may be higher for travelers with chronic medical conditions (e.g.: diabetes, heart disease) who may require medical care while abroad.
  • Practice safe water and food precautions
  • Monitor your health
  • If you develop influenza-like symptoms such as fever, cough and/or shortness of breath within 10 days after your return to Canada, especially if you have a chronic medical condition:
  • Seek medical attention immediately.
  • Tell your health care provider which countries you have visited while travelling.

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Ten life-saving health tests you should take

Health often takes a back seat in our fast paced, multi-tasking lives chasing wealth and happiness. And as Elbert Hubbard said ‘If you have health, you probably will be happy, and if you have health and happiness, you have all the wealth you need’.

Most fatal health problems including cancer and heart disease can be prevented if they can be identified in their early stages. Here are ten very important health tests that could save your life.

  1. Heart Health Test – Get this test done to ensure that you are not at risk for heart disease. You can start yearly checkups as early as 20 years of age but it is a must if you are 45 years old or older, you have a family history of heart disease including high blood pressure, or if you smoke. In this routine exam your doctor will check your blood pressure, and if it is higher than 130/90, you may be developing hypertension. Your doctor will listen to your heart for murmurs or irregular heartbeats and in case of abnormalities, order a stress test and an electrocardiogram to evaluate for heart disease.

  2. Cholesterol Test – Lipid profiling (checking cholesterol levels in your body) is another test for detecting heart disease risk. The test measures ‘bad’ LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, ‘good’ HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, and triglycerides. If your total cholesterol is over 200, your HDL is less than 40, or your LDL is over 130, you are at risk for heart disease. In that case, your doctor may also test your apoB levels to measure fat particles in the blood. Elevated cholesterol levels are also high risk for gall bladder disease. Start the tests when you are 20 and if the results are negative, get checked again after 5 years. If you have a family history of heart disease, get the tests done yearly.

  3. Diabetes – Glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test is a blood test generally done to check your average blood sugar level for the past two to three months. An A1C level of 6.5 percent or higher on two separate tests indicates that you have diabetes. The doctor may further order random blood sugar test or fasting blood sugar test. A reading of 200 mg/dL or higher for random blood sugar test and a reading of 126 mg/dL or higher for fasting blood sugar test indicates diabetes. Get tested for diabetes if you are older than 45 years, you have a BMI of 25 or higher, you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, have heart disease yourself or family history of diabetes. You may also need to get tested for diabetes if you delivered a 9 pound or heavier baby, or had gestational diabetes or you have a history of polycystic ovarian syndrome.

  4. Bone Mineral Density Test – You need to do this orthopedic test to find out if you are at risk for osteoporosis, especially if you are a woman. Women can lose up to 30 percent of their bone mass within 5 to 7 years following menopause. So get tested at menopause. Men can do the test at the age of 60 or when their physician advises it. Currently the most widely used technique for measuring bone mass is DEXA (Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry). The person lies on a flat padded table and remains motionless while the “arm” of the instrument passes over the whole body or over selected areas. While the measurement is performed, a beam of low-dose x-rays from below the table passes through the area being measured. The machine converts the information received by the detector into an image of the skeleton and analyzes the quantity of bone contained in the skeleton.

  5. Breast Cancer Screening – Mammogram (a type of X-ray) is the screening test for breast cancer. Get a mammogram done every year once you turn forty. It is best to schedule your mammogram right after your period when the breasts are least tender. If the mammogram picks up an abnormality, then you may have to undergo a breast ultrasound or maybe a breast MRI.

  6. Cervical Cancer Screening – Cervical cancer is the easiest female cancer to prevent. The Pap test and HPV (Human Papillomaviruses) testing are the two screening methods to detect cervical changes leading to cervical cancer. If your Pap test results are unclear, your doctor may want to perform an HPV test. The Pap test is recommended for all women between the ages of 21 and 65 years old. If you are 30 years old or older, ask your doctor if the HPV test is right for you. The tests are done during a pelvic exam. Your doctor takes a few cells from your cervix (opening to the womb) and the cells are then checked for cancer. This test takes only a few seconds. Interestingly an Indian study led by Dr. Surendra Shastri from the Tata Memorial Center in Mumbai, found a cheaper test to rule out cervical cancer. The test uses sterilized vinegar made from combining acetic acid with water (not the household vinegar stuff). The vinegar is applied to a cotton swab and brushed onto the cervix. After one minute, normal tissue stays the same color, but cancerous tissue turns white. This screening strategy is however has not yet been implemented.

  7. Colonoscopy – This diagnostic test is done to detect colorectal cancer even before the symptoms of the disease occur. This disease is curable in more than 90 per cent of cases if detected at very early stage. So get your colonoscopy done if you are 50, and earlier if your parent or sibling had the disease. Doctors recommend getting tested 10 years before they were diagnosed, that is, if your parent or sibling was diagnosed with this cancer at the age of 52, you should get the screening done when you are 42. During a colonoscopy, a colonoscope which is a long, flexible instrument about half an inch in diameter is used to view the lining of the colon. The colonoscope is inserted into the rectum and advanced through the large intestine. If necessary, small amounts of tissue can be removed for analysis (a biopsy) and polyps can be identified and entirely removed. The procedure typically lasts from 30 minutes to 1 hour.

  8. Oral Cancer Screening – Unfortunately there is no standard screening procedure for this cancer. This is because most oral cancers have already spread to lymph nodes or other areas by the time they are found. Your dentist or doctor will screen to rule out oral cancer during regular dental checkup. They may examine for lesions and abnormal white or red patches in your mouth. They may also use additional tests if required to identify areas of abnormal cells in your mouth. This is why it is important that you don’t miss out on your dentist appointment. And if you are heavy on tobacco and / or alcohol, then you should certainly consider oral cancer screening.

  9. Prostate Cancer Screening – There are two tests to screen prostate cancer:

    • Digital Rectal Exam where the doctor inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to estimate the size of the prostate and feel for any lumps or other abnormalities.
    • Prostate specific antigen test (PSA) to measure the level of PSA (a protein produced by the prostate gland) in the blood.

    Most doctors consider PSA levels of 4.0 ng/mL or lower to be normal. Higher the PSA level in the blood, the more likely you have a prostate problem. However, factors such as age and race, certain medical procedures or medications, an enlarged prostate and prostate infection, can affect the PSA levels, so your doctor is the best person to interpret your PSA test results. Begin PSA screening at the age of 50, but you need to start earlier (40 to 45 years of age) if your father or brother had prostate cancer.

  10. Eye Tests– An eye test can pick up early signs of conditions including diabetes and glaucoma. Have your eye tested regularly by the age of 40 and every two years hence forth and every 6 to 12 months after the age of 65. Two routine eye tests are tonometry where the inner eye pressure is measured and ophthalmoscopy which examines the shape and colour of the optic nerve. Your ophthalmologist may recommend other tests as well –

    • Perimetry to examine the complete field of vision,
    • Gonioscopy to check the angle in the eye where the iris meets the cornea, and
    • Pachymetry to measure the thickness of the cornea.
    • Why wait till it’s too late for you to do anything? Get the life saving tests done and take control of your life.

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Inspire your child to go from fat to fit: Tips to tackle childhood obesity

Cases of childhood obesity are on the rise these days and there are enough reasons which contribute to the growing numbers. The prime one is sedentary lifestyles. Children don’t play outdoor games these days. There aren’t many facilities for playing games like basketball, football, cricket, etc. Moreover, they have options aplenty at home like watching TV, playing video games, mobile and computer games. This reduces their physical activity to a large extent.
     The easy availability of junk foods like pizzas, fries, burgers which are high in unsaturated fats and are difficult to digest also add to the problem. These days, both parents are working in most families and kids are at the mercy of maids who don’t necessarily take care of their diet. Even in joint families, grandparents over pamper kids by offering sweets and chocolates which attributes to weight gain.

So how can parents handle this situation?

Here are a few recommends:
  • Discipline your child and enforce some restrictions regarding their diet
  • Give them tasty and fresh home-made foods than outside, readymade food
  • Keep a balance in time spent on studies and playing
  • Encourage physical activities as a family like going for swimming, badminton, etc together
  • Let them take part in sports too and not only be focused on academics

What’s a healthy diet for children?

In order to ensure that your child is eating right, nutritionist devises a healthy meal plan for kids. A growing child needs all the nutrients in adequate amounts to promote growth and development both mentally and physically. Their diet must have foods from all food groups. Include the following in their meals:
  • Cereals: Oats, brown rice, whole wheat, jowar, bajri, ragi for energy, fibre, and B-complex vitamins
  • Pluses: Dals, sprouts, soya beans for proteins and muscle formation
  • Milk and milk products: Curds, cheese, paneer for calcium to promote bone and teeth development
  • Eggs, chicken, fish (if non-vegetarian) for protein. Fish also contains DHA for brain development of the child
  • Fruits of all varieties for vitamins, minerals and fibre
  • Green leafy veggies like spinach, methi, broccoli for iron and blood formation
  • Healthy oils like olive oil, rice bran oil, sunflower oil for essential fatty acids and overall good health


Do no force the child to gulp the food he does not like. Rather change the recipe or the way of cooking or presenting that particular food or replace it with some other ingredient to make sure he/she gets the desired nutrients. A child is highly influenced by the parents. So it is up to us to inculcate healthy habits in ourselves first before we preach to kids. Exercise at home; get the kid to do it with you. Make it a fun activity by calling their friends over. Serve food in fun plates and make healthy yet interesting dishes. Regulating junk food, it can be negotiated with your child – keep it to once a week, once in two weeks, then once in a month.

An hour of physical activity in any form every day is enough to keep your child healthy. It is important is that the child enjoys what he is doing and considers it a recreation rather than forceful exercise.

Parents need to keep a constant check on their child’s height and weight. Habituate them to regular small meal pattern rather than three large meals to increase their metabolism. Avoid feeding them with excess butter, ghee and other fatty foods hoping that their child will become healthy. Inculcate the habit of eating two portions of salad and fruits every day.

  • Accept your child just as he or she is. Psychologists say this is the most important thing you can do. Otherwise, he or she will feel direct or implied disapproval which could undermine all your other attempts.
  • Try not to make his or her weight a big deal by engaging in lots of serious discussions or lectures. Instead, begin incorporating changes into your family's daily activities as naturally as possible.
  • Realize you have more control than you think. Commit yourself to making small changes over time rather than large ones all at once.

Family Changes Mean Healthier Kids

Tackling childhood obesity is a family affair. Everyone will benefit from healthier habits, so rather than focus on just one member, get everyone involved. Here's how:

  • Lead by example. Studies show one of the most important things you can do is to model healthy behaviour. If you want your child to eat more fruits and vegetables, you must eat more fruits and vegetables. If you want your child to exercise more, you must exercise more. Talk to your child about your new habits and invite him to join you.
  • Turn off the television. Studies show inactivity is the most significant factor in childhood obesity. You may say that your child doesn't want to do anything but watch TV or play video games, but try inviting her to do something with you, like take a bike ride, a trip to the park, a walk around town, or a game of catch. Start small--30 minutes a day--then ask your kids for their ideas on how they'd like to get moving.
  • Shop healthier. Help your child develop a better relationship with food by taking him or her grocery shopping. Let your child decide which fruits and vegetables will make the weekly menu.
  • Make meals a priority. Children who eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight than those who don't. Similarly, families who eat a healthy dinner together are more likely to teach healthy eating habits. Keep meals at regular times to avoid unhealthy snacking.
  • Get help. If after a few months you don't see your child making progress, you may want to consider getting help from a dietician, psychologist, or even a weight-control program. New ideas and trained experts may be just what your child needs to turn his or her health--and life--around.

What to do if your child is overweight or obese?

  • Make sure your child exercises for an hour every day.
  • He/she should not consume more than 3-4 tsp oil per day.
  • Give them salads before lunch and dinner.
  • Include healthy mid-meal snack options like sprouts, eggs, sandwiches.
  • Reduce dinner quantity. Keep it light like soups, salads, veggies/ chicken/ fish.
  • Avoid canteen food as it is loaded with fats.
  • Avoid overeating.
  • These days, many obese people are turning to bariatric surgery. But should children be allowed to undergo this surgery at such a young age? Can all children opt for bariatric surgery?

    He says that ideally this surgery is considered for adults above 18 years of age. However extremely obese children suffering from associated diseases can consider it. Even then, not all can undergo it as many lifestyle changes need to be made by both the family and child and they need to be ready for it. Girls above 12 years and boys above 15 are eligible for the surgery. As per international guidelines, children with BMI greater than 50 or greater than 40 with associated illnesses can be candidates for the surgery.

    What precautions should they take after the surgery?

    Children have special requirements as they are physically, psychologically and socially growing. They need regular counselling, nutritional requirements and support. This is only possible in a dedicated paediatric bariatric programme. Parents need to be supportive at all times for the child to overcome his illness.


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