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By John Schieszer
Medical Minutes 

Parkinson's and pingpong; shingles vaccine and stroke

Medical Minutes


April 1, 2020

Protecting yourself from COVID-19

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning that the new novel corona virus will be spreading around the country and everyone in Alaska should be as prepared as possible. Anyone who is older than 65 and anyone who is being treated for cancer need to take special precautions. The disease caused by the new coronavirus is called COVID-19. The most common symptoms include fever, cough and breathing difficulties.

Although symptoms are very similar to those of a seasonal flu, this virus is different and so for suspected cases of coronavirus, laboratory tests are required to confirm the diagnosis. A saliva sample from an individual’s throat can identify if an individual has contracted the pathogen and are therefore able to spread it. The incubation period is the time between the infection and the development of clinical symptoms. It currently is estimated that it can be between 2 to 11 days, and even up to a maximum of 14.

“We all should be thinking about preparedness,” said Dr. José Cordero, who is an epidemiologist with the University of Georgia College of Public Health, Athens, Georgia. He studies infectious diseases and how they spread and impact families. He said the purpose of a quarantine is to keep people that may be infected or have been exposed in some way to coronavirus from having contact with others, so it’s really important for people to heed a community quarantine.

Everyone should create a household plan of action, says Dr. Cordero. This plan should include a list of supplies the family would need to sustain itself in the case of a community quarantine, such as food, water, medication, pet food and toiletries. He advocates a plan of action if a member of the family gets sick and a plan for care if home health aides can’t attend a family member.

You should have enough food to last for at least two weeks, Dr. Cordero says. Stock up on canned foods, frozen foods and dry goods and think about meals that you can prepare without power, just in case there are utility gaps. He also recommends having a supply of water on hand for drinking, but also for cooking, cleaning and bathing. He said now would be a good time to refuel generators and gas grills, and stock up on your favorite foods, especially if you have a picky eater in the family. “For me, I made sure we had enough Special K with strawberries for breakfast,” he said.

It’s important not to forget about medications, and first aid kit supplies. For families with a disabled loved one, it is important to have all the medications and tools you need to manage at home. He recommends getting in touch with any specialty care provider to get their input on your household care plan.

Shingles vaccine may also lower risk for strokes

A new study presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2020 has found that getting the shingles vaccine may help prevent some older adults from suffering a stroke. More than 99% of people aged 40 or older in the United States carry the dormant chickenpox virus, also known as the varicella-zoster virus. Shingles is a reactivation of the chicken pox virus and typically occurs after age 50. The risk of developing shingles, a painful condition that causes skin blisters and can have serious complications, increases with age and other health conditions.

“One in three people who have had chickenpox develop shingles in their lifetime,” said lead study author Quanhe Yang, PhD, who is a senior scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia. “The Zoster Vaccine Live helps to prevent shingles and reduces the risk for shingles by about 51%. But its effect declines with increased age.”

Yang and colleagues reviewed the Medicare health records of more than one million Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries age 66 or older who had no history of stroke and who were vaccinated with the Zoster Vaccine Live between 2008 and 2014. All the subjects were followed for an average of almost four years. The group was matched with the same number of Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries who did not receive the shingles vaccine with the same four-year follow-up.

The researchers found that receiving the shingles vaccine lowered the risk of stroke by about 16%, lowered the risk of ischemic (clot-caused) stroke by about 18% and lowered the risk of hemorrhagic (bleeding) stroke by about 12%. The vaccine’s protection was strongest among people ages 66 to 79 years. Among those under the age of 80 years, the shingles vaccine reduced the risk of stroke by nearly 20% and in those older than 80, reduced the risk by about 10%.

“The reason for increased risk of stroke after a shingles infection may be due to inflammation caused by the virus,” according to Yang.

This study was conducted when the only shingles vaccine was Zoster Vaccine Live, which has been available since 2006. The newest shingles vaccine, Adjuvanted, Non-Live Recombinant Shingles Vaccine (available since 2017), confers even greater protection and is now the preferred vaccine recommended by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Two doses of Adjuvanted, Non-Live Recombinant Shingles Vaccine is more than 90% effective at preventing shingles and is recommended for adults age 50 and older.

Health benefit found with picking up a pingpong paddle

Pingpong may hold promise as a possible form of physical therapy for Parkinson’s disease. Individuals with Parkinson’s who participated in a pingpong exercise program once a week for six months showed improvement in their Parkinson’s symptoms, according to a preliminary study. Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder in which a chemical in the brain called dopamine is gradually reduced. This process results in slowly worsening symptoms that include tremor, stiff limbs, slowed movements, impaired posture, walking problems, poor balance and speech changes.

“Pingpong, which is also called table tennis, is a form of aerobic exercise that has been shown in the general population to improve hand-eye coordination, sharpen reflexes, and stimulate the brain,” said study author Dr. Ken-ichi Inoue of Fukuoka University in Fukuoka, Japan. “We wanted to examine if people with Parkinson’s disease would see similar benefits that may in turn reduce some of their symptoms.”

The study involved 12 people with an average age of 73 with mild to moderate Parkinson’s disease. These older adults had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s for an average of seven years. Each participant was tested at the start of the study to see which symptoms they had and how severe the symptoms were. Participants then played pingpong once a week for six months. During each weekly five-hour session, they performed stretching exercises followed by table tennis exercises with instruction from an experienced table tennis player. The program was developed specifically for Parkinson’s disease patients by experienced table tennis players from the department of Sports Science of Fukuoka University.

The study found that at both three months and at six months, study participants experienced significant improvements in speech, handwriting, getting dressed, getting out of bed and walking. For example, it took participants an average of more than two attempts to get out of bed at the beginning of the study, compared to an average of one attempt at the end of the study. Participants also experienced significant improvements in facial expression, posture, rigidity, slowness of movement and hand tremors.

Two participants experienced side effects. One person developed a backache and another person fell.

“While this study is small, the results are encouraging because they show pingpong, a relatively inexpensive form of therapy, may improve some symptoms of Parkinson’s disease,” said Dr. Inoue. “A much larger study is now being planned to confirm these findings.”

John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute. He can be reached at

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John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute.

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