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Q: Apparently, HPV is rampant among college students. As a female, I’m afraid of getting it and then developing cervical cancer. How can I protect myself against contracting HPV? Is the Gardasil vaccine a good idea and how expensive is it?
A: HPV is a virus that is very commonly spread through intimate contact, however, in most cases it causes no problems. But some strains can cause warts, and infection may also lead to cellular changes that can lead to cancers. Your best protection is primarily to use condoms as a barrier to infection, and for both men and women to get a series of three immunizations (Gardasil) to boost your immune system’s ability to fight this infection if your body encounters the HPV virus. Although the vaccine costs hundreds of dollars, it is covered by health insurance up to age 26 and available at Student Health without any additional charges. No appointment is needed to drop in daily between 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. for immunizations.
Q: I have a friend that always reeks of alcohol yet won’t acknowledge it as an issue. Is there any way to help them get some counseling here at UCSB?
A: Absolutely, our campus has so many free resources to help students take control of their lives and become healthier. Our Alcohol & Drug Program (ADP) is located in Embarcadero Hall right in Isla Vista, and a student can drop in or call the Student Health number (893-3371) for a free individual appointment. Our campus Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) has free psychological appointments, with drop-in urgent care available in the pink building located across from Stroke Tower or by appointment (893-4411). Student Health can always see your friend in Urgent Care or by appointment too. All these campus programs have useful information on their websites too, and if you want to come in yourself and get tips on how to help your friend from the ADP Counselors, they’re happy to help (893-5013).
Mary Ferris, M.D. is a family medicine physician.
Q: I have pretty bad allergies this time of year. I’m not into taking medicine for the sniffles, but I need something nonsedative that will help me not gross out my classmates with my constant sneezing and leaky faucet nose. What’s inexpensive and effective?
A: As long as your allergy problems do not include signs and symptoms like fever, chills, gross yellow/green/bloody phlegm (“luggies” in the vernacular), then you are probably correct in assuming the problem is, in fact, allergies. Allergies involve a hypersensitivity response by your body to a foreign protein (e.g. dust, dust mites, danders, pollens, etc.) that results in excessive release of histamine (and other chemicals). Histamine is the key chemical largely responsible for itchy or watery eyes, runny nose, scratchy throat, need-to-clear-throat incessantly, etc. So, using a good safe anti-histamine drug is a good way to modify/preclude allergy symptoms. Meds over the counter that have the above mentioned attributes include Claritin/generic loratadine and Allegra/generic fexofenadine. Only one person in 1,000 taking these meds gets drowsy. Another drug is Zyrtec/cetirizine, but approximately 50 percent of folks who take this get drowsy. Decongestants like Sudafed/pseudoephedrine also help, but they are fairly stimulating (e.g. may make you hyper). They work by decreasing the blood supply to the mucous membranes lining the nose and sinuses.
Kevin Cook, M.D. is also a family medicine physician.
A: For the purest, medication-free approach, go for a Kleenex (only 35 cents). Another nondrug option is Simply Saline ($5.60), a preservative-free nasal rinse that will help to clear out your nasal passages. If you decide to consider a nonprescription allergy medication, I recommend starting with generic Claritin, which is loratadine 10 mg tablets ($3.50 for 30 tablets). You only need one tablet a day and it’s the least sedating antihistamine we stock. It may take a couple of weeks to see a full effect, but it helps with runny nose and itchy eyes. There are other nonprescription options available; these include generic Zyrtec ($2.90), Allegra ($15.80) and Benadryl ($1.80). UCSB Student Health pharmacists are available for consultation to help you customize your allergy care. Take good care of yourself and boost your immune system with enough sleep, good nutrition and exercise. If your allergies need medical attention, you can make an appointment with a UCSB Student Health provider who can prescribe medications for allergies.
Diane Ozasa Bell is a pharmaceutical doctor and pharmacy manager at Student Health.
Q: Whenever my housemates and I find the time to make cookies, we devour half of the dough before it even makes it into the oven. Is this practice really as bad for you as my grandmother says it is?
A: It depends on what you mean by “bad.” The typical concern with dough is that the raw eggs may contain salmonella bacteria. Salmonella is a leading cause of food poisoning (diarrhea, vomiting, etc.). So that is why most grandmothers (and health practitioners) caution against eating raw dough.
Q: They say hydration is one of the most important aspects of a healthy lifestyle. If I get bored with drinking so much water every day, can I substitute some of my water intake with a few cups of tea?
A: Sure! Tea, herbal or not, is a good way to get additional fluids. Many people are concerned about the effects of caffeine in beverages. However, although caffeine may initially cause increased urination, over the course of a day, even (normally) caffeinated beverages contribute to hydration.
Betsy Reynolds-Malear, R.D., M.S., is a dietician and nutrition specialist at Student Health.