You probably aren’t going to read this entire blog post.

And that’s totally fine. But here’s a recent example of why you should always read beyond the headlines:

Last week, WHO Chief Scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan was quoted out of context. In Swaminathan’s original statement, the warning in regard to mixing COVID-19 vaccines was given to those who are already fully vaccinated and may be deciding for themselves if they need an extra “booster” dose (CBC News, 2021). The media’s representation of Dr. Swaminathan’s statement, however, failed to provide context as headlines along the lines of “WHO Warns Against Mixing and Matching COVID-19 Vaccines” flooded the internet. 

With one thing leading to another, false rumors about mixing and matching vaccines had essentially spread across the globe. What was initially given as a warning, had quickly escalated into a chaotic situation of broken telephone in which Canadians were beginning to doubt their own country’s vaccination strategy—which includes mixing and matching vaccines (CBC News, 2021). In a tweet following the press conference, Dr. Swaminathan clarified that mixing vaccines is completely safe and that public health agencies, not individuals, should make decisions on mixing and matching COVID vaccines, based on available data (Reuters, 2021). 

TLDR: “Context is extremely important.”

According to infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch, if there’s one thing to take away from this situation, it’s to always remember that “context is extremely important.” In his interview with CBC News, Bogoch states that WHO officials “were really referring to people who had already received, for example, a full course of a vaccine series and then were, you know, for lack of a better word, choosing their own adventure and trying to get additional doses of a vaccine” (CBC News, 2021).

References

CBC News. (2021, July 14). What the World Health Organization really said about mixing COVID-19 vaccines | CBC News. CBCnews. https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/covid-19-vaccine-mixing-and-matching-who-1.6101047.

Reuters. (2021, July 12). WHO warns individuals against mixing and matching COVID vaccines. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/who-warns-against-mixing-matching-covid-vaccines-2021-07-12/?taid=60ec9968fdc7d300011ff877&utm_campaign=trueAnthem%3A%2BTrending%2BContent&utm_medium=trueAnthem&utm_source=twitter.

About the Author

Bairavie Piravakaran (she/her) is a second-year undergraduate at the University of Toronto Scarborough. As a Psychological & Health Sciences student, she values the importance of sharing credible information and making health resources more accessible to the public. Her interests in population health, research, and design are also reflected in her non-academic pursuits—she currently with the Young Leaders of Public Health and Medicine (YLPHM) as a Social Media Manager for the Scarborough Chapter and is a Health Promotion & Analytics Member at Critical Health Innovations Lab (CHIL). At EMPOWER Health, Bairavie works closely with the Marketing Team in order to plan and execute strategies that help inform the public about current health-related topics.

The Long Haul: Post-COVID Conditions

The SARS-CoV-2 virus has directly impacted over 185 million people worldwide (including those who have deceased as a result of the virus). With just over 4 million of those 185 million+ cases being fatal (Ritchie et al., 2020), the remaining individuals are notoriously those who have supposedly recovered from their initial COVID symptoms. Recently however, a number of these “recovered individuals” have reported experiences of post-COVID conditions.

What are Post-COVID Conditions?

Post-COVID conditions, otherwise known as long COVID, post-acute COVID-19, or chronic COVID, involve a number of new and/or persisting symptoms that occur “four or more weeks after first being infected” with the SARS-CoV-2 virus (CDC, 2021). While post-COVID conditions have a tendency to affect those who experienced severe illness during their infectious period, these symptoms can affect anyone who has had COVID—regardless of whether or not they were asymptomatic during their infectious period (CDC, 2021). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has compiled a list of some the most commonly reported symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Symptoms that get worse after physical or mental activities
  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes referred to as “brain fog”)
  • Cough
  • Chest or stomach pain
  • Headache
  • Fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations)
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Pins-and-needles feeling
  • Diarrhea
  • Sleep problems
  • Fever
  • Dizziness on standing (lightheadedness)
  • Rash
  • Mood changes
  • Change in smell or taste
  • Changes in period cycles

Who is at risk?

It is common for many to assume that the older population and/or those with pre-existing health conditions are at a higher risk for experiencing post-COVID conditions. While this is most likely true, a recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Bergen in Norway reveals that long-term symptoms after having mild COVID-19 can also impact young people (Neustaeter, 2021). 

After analyzing the symptoms of 312 COVID patients six months post-COVID infection, the study found that 61% of these patients experienced post-COVID conditions (Neustaeter, 2021). Moreover, 52% of patients between the ages of 16 and 30 who suffered mild COVID-19 infection reported prolonged symptoms that included but were not limited to, loss of taste/smell, fatigue, shortness of breath, and impaired concentration (Neustaeter, 2021). The study mentions that these symptoms were “independently associated with severity of the initial illness, pre-existing conditions and increased convalescent antibodies” (Neustaeter, 2021). 

“The cognitive symptoms of impaired memory and concentration difficulties are particularly worrying for young people at school or university and [ultimately] highlights the importance of vaccination to prevent the long-term health implications of COVID-19.”

  • Bjorn Blomberg 

Multiorgan and Autoimmune Conditions

Those who experience severe COVID-19 illness during their infectious period may also experience multiorgan effects and/or autoimmune conditions post-infection. Multiorgan effects can involve damage to the body systems, including a combination of heart, lung, kidney, skin, and brain functions (CDC, 2021). Autoimmune conditions on the other hand occur when the immune system misinterprets and attacks healthy cells, ultimately causing inflammation and/or tissue damage (CDC, 2021). 

Associate professor and study author Bjorn Blomberg claims that more research is needed to further assess the long-term impacts of the disease on other organs (Neustaeter, 2021). Based on the Norway study findings, he adds that it is crucial to understand the need for vaccines and other infection control measures—not just for the older population, but for younger age groups as well.

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Post-COVID Conditions. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/long-term-effects.html.

Neustaeter, B. (2021, June 23). Young adults with mild COVID-19 suffering from persistent symptoms six months after infection: study. CTV News. https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/young-adults-with-mild-covid-19-suffering-from-persistent-symptoms-six-months-after-infection-study-1.5482892.

Ritchie, H., Ortiz-Ospina, E., Beltekian, D., Mathieu, E., Hasell, J., Macdonald, B., Giattino, C., Appel, C., Rodés-Guirao, L., & Roser, M. (2020, March 5). Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19) – the data – Statistics and Research. Our World in Data. https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus-data.

About the Author

Bairavie Piravakaran (she/her) is a second-year undergraduate at the University of Toronto Scarborough. As a Psychological & Health Sciences student, she values the importance of sharing credible information and making health resources more accessible to the public. Her interests in population health, research, and design are also reflected in her non-academic pursuits—she currently with the Young Leaders of Public Health and Medicine (YLPHM) as a Social Media Manager for the Scarborough Chapter and is a Health Promotion & Analytics Member at Critical Health Innovations Lab (CHIL). At EMPOWER Health, Bairavie works closely with the Marketing Team in order to plan and execute strategies that help inform the public about current health-related topics.

If you’re reading this, book your HPV vaccine at myvaccines.ca!

It is reasonable to say that COVID-19 vaccines are of utmost priority given the current situation. With that being said, it is crucial to remember that there are serious healthcare issues that have and continue to exist alongside the pandemic. 

What is HPV?

The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (CDC, 2021). It can also be passed down from a mother to her offspring during childbirth. There are many types of HPV that lead to a variety of health issues including certain cancers. Getting an HPV vaccine however, can help protect against these outcomes (CDC, 2021).

What does HPV have to do with Cervical Cancer?

According to Dr. Raymond Mansoor, Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Sir Lester Bird Mount St John’s Medical Centre, HPV is the “direct cause of 99.7 percent of all cervical cancer cases and so there is definitely some argument or discussion that can be had as to the benefits of vaccination against cervical cancer” (Williams, 2021). 

Cervical cancer is also the second most common form of cancer in females, following breast cancer (Williams, 2021). Because all females are at risk for contracting HPV, it is imperative to receive the HPV vaccine to protect against cervical cancer.

Herd Immunity and Cervical Cancer

While “herd immunity” is a term that is often used to help describe how a community can combat COVID-19, Dr. Mansoor claims that it can and should be applied to the prevalence of cervical cancer (Williams, 2021). In Australia, current epidemiological research has demonstrated a 50 percent reduction in reported cervical cancers per year, which is an indication that the HPV vaccines are a highly effective preventative measure against cervical cancer (Williams, 2021). 

If you have yet to get your HPV vaccine, easily book an appointment using myvaccines.ca!

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, January 19). STD Facts – Human papillomavirus (HPV). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm.

Williams, O. (2021, June 23). ‘Herd immunity via HPV vaccinations will reduce cervical cancer cases’ – Dr Mansoor. Antigua Observer Newspaper. https://antiguaobserver.com/herd-immunity-via-hpv-vaccinations-will-reduce-cervical-cancer-cases-dr-mansoor/.

About the Author

Bairavie Piravakaran (she/her) is a second-year undergraduate at the University of Toronto Scarborough. As a Psychological & Health Sciences student, she values the importance of sharing credible information and making health resources more accessible to the public. Her interests in population health, research, and design are also reflected in her non-academic pursuits—she currently with the Young Leaders of Public Health and Medicine (YLPHM) as a Social Media Manager for the Scarborough Chapter and is a Health Promotion & Analytics Member at Critical Health Innovations Lab (CHIL). At EMPOWER Health, Bairavie works closely with the Marketing Team in order to plan and execute strategies that help inform the public about current health-related topics.

Is It Safe to Gather With Others During The COVID-19 Pandemic? Use This Tool to Find Out: CovidVisitRisk.com

The Visit Risk Calculator (CovidVisitRisk.com) is a new assessment tool launched by the NIA (National Institute of Ageing) in partnership with the Government of Canada to help Canadians assess the risk-level associated with social gatherings.

Using the best available scientific evidence and the input of leading experts in infectious diseases, public health and epidemiology, the website was developed to help people of different ages and states of health better understand the factors that affect the risk of getting COVID-19 when visiting or gathering with others.

As vaccination programs ramp up across the country, restrictions are slowly loosening. Canadians want more guidance on what fully-vaccinated people can do safely. Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says, “We would like to enable people to take themselves through [this] kind of risk assessment while respecting local public health requirements.”

To use the tool, you will be asked a series of questions related to your vaccination and health status, and that of the people you want to gather with, details of the event and what the local infection rates are.

“This tool uses the best available scientific evidence to support people of all ages and states of health to make more informed decisions about gathering with others during the pandemic,” says Dr. Samir Sinha, NIA Director of Health Policy Research. “After working through the questions, people are assigned a risk level in accordance with the gathering they are considering, along with public health advice on how to meet more safely with others.”

Based on your answers, you will get a “risk score” from Low to High, a personalized report to help you understand the level of risk associated with your planned visit or gathering, and tips on how to make your visit or gathering as safe as possible for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The vision behind the tool is to prepare you and your loved ones to better discuss the potential risks and benefits of visiting or gathering with each other and in the end make a well-informed decision on how to make any necessary visits or gatherings as safe as possible.

“These risk assessments depend on your individual risk, who you’re about to get into contact with, as well as the epidemiology of your specific community,” says Dr. Theresa Tam.

As of June 25th 2021, 75% of the population 12 years and older has received at least one dose and 22% is fully vaccinated. However, COVID-19 remains an important public health issue as transmission with new variants of concern continue to circulate. Careful assessment before deciding to visit, gather, or meet with others remains vitally important.

To learn more about the COVID-19 Risk Calculator or to use it for yourself, click here.

Disclosure: EMPOWER Health helped the NIA build the online experience of the risk assessment tool, and provided technical guidance along with testing.  As always, our team is proud of our work with Public Health Organizations to help conquer COVID! Visit us at empower.ca!

References

Rabson, M. (2021, June 22). Risk-assessment tool for fully vaccinated people coming soon, Tam promises. Ctvnews.ca. https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/risk-assessment-tool-for-fully-vaccinated-people-coming-soon-tam-promises-1.5481082

The wealthy bird gets the worm: Getting a head start on second doses

With the Delta variant continuing to spread in various parts of Ontario, it is crucial that second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are accessible to those who are most vulnerable. According to recent data however, it appears that those living in wealthier postal codes are moving well with the rate of second doses—even more so than the poorer and more racialized communities that need it the most.

Ontario has identified and targeted the following regions to receive an increased amount of second doses: Toronto, Peel Region, Halton and York Region. 

The independent research organization ICES claims that as of June 7, 2021,

the wealthier postal codes among the targeted regions appear to have an
increased amount of second-dose recipients  (Woodward, 2021). The postal code that led the race at the time was M5P which includes parts of Forest Hill where 17.55 percent of the residents had received their second dose (Woodward, 2021).The area around Jane and Finch, as well as Rexdale had significantly lower numbers, at 4.97 and 4.58 percent respectively (Woodward, 2021).

Dr. David Burt of the Black Scientists’ Task Force on Vaccine Equity states that “many [racialized and other vulnerable community members] are in the service industry, they can’t work from home, they have to take public transit, they have to work in the health-care sector”.

Distribution Solutions

The inequities with the rollout of second doses are no different than the first. In order to create a more balanced distribution, Toronto’s Sprint Strategy is working towards targeting areas of interest. On the other hand, pop-ups such as the ones held by Scarborough Health Network are focused on the population that lives and works in high-risk postal codes (Woodward, 2021).

References

Woodward, J. (2021, June 15). Ontario’s wealthiest zones get head start on second doses, data shows. Toronto. https://toronto.ctvnews.ca/ontario-s-wealthiest-zones-get-head-start-on-second-doses-data-shows-1.5470688.

Author, Bairavie Piravakaran (she/her)

Bairavie Piravakaran is a second-year undergraduate at the University of Toronto Scarborough. As a Psychological & Health Sciences student, she values the importance of sharing credible information and making health resources more accessible to the public. Her interests in population health, research, and design are also reflected in her non-academic pursuits—she currently volunteers with the Young Leaders of Public Health and Medicine (YLPHM) as a Social Media Manager for the Scarborough Chapter and is a Health Promotion & Analytics Member at Critical Health Innovations Lab (CHIL). At EMPOWER Health, Bairavie works closely with the Marketing Team in order to plan and execute strategies that help inform the public about current health-related topics.

Vaccination Hesitancy: Know Your Risks

Although vaccination hesitancy has been a great concern for decades, the COVID-19 vaccine rollout has increased speculation surrounding the likelihood of adverse and potentially fatal effects that vaccines may cause. In a recent Canadian study, vaccination hesitancy has been demonstrated to stem from individual safety, concerns with political and economic factors driving the vaccine rollout, having limited knowledge about vaccines in general, misleading and false information, as well as a lack of legal liability from vaccine companies. Moreover, there is a demonstrated level of mistrust due to health care institutions’ history of neglecting and ultimately marginalizing communities with fewer resources (Griffith et. al, 2021). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one of the worst threats to global health is vaccination hesitancy. 

Seconds Anyone?

With Canada putting a pause on AstraZeneca distributions to new recipients, there has been recent controversy on whether those who have already received their first dose are at any significant risk. Public health officials have assured that those who have taken the AstraZeneca vaccine did the right thing at the time and should not feel remorse for acting quickly to receive their first shot (Arthur, 2021).

The real discussion, however, is what the next steps are for those who have already received their first dose—whether to proceed with their second dose of AstraZeneca or to mix and match with a dose of an mRNA vaccine such as Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna. According to a recent Spanish trial of over 600 participants, those who had received the Pfizer vaccine after taking their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine demonstrated a significantly greater antibody response (Callaway, 2021). However, it is still unclear how these results will compare to the antibody response from combining two different mRNA vaccines. While researchers seem to agree that mixing vaccines could provide a better overall immune response, there is currently no concrete evidence on whether mixing vaccines in general is a better option than taking a second dose of the same vaccine.  

If you have already taken the AstraZeneca vaccine and/or have underlying conditions, it is in your best interest to consult with your primary physician to help determine what the best option is for you.

Weighing the Risks

A concept that many may find difficult to digest is that the risk of contracting severe COVID-19 is substantially greater than the risks associated with a COVID-19 vaccine. Long story short, it is highly recommended to get the vaccine if you are eligible and have the means to do so because, at this point in time, your chances of ending up in the ICU are much higher than experiencing severe side effects from a vaccine. With over 19 million Canadians already receiving their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel. That being said, vaccination hesitancy is still a growing concern and needs to be addressed through the implementation of public health interventions that work to educate, resolve concerns, and rebuild trust in our healthcare system. 

At the end of the day, all vaccines come with their own set of risks and side effects. While it is important to be well aware of these individual risks, it is crucial to understand that receiving a COVID-19 vaccine not only provides individual benefits but also alleviates stress on hospitals and benefits the population as a whole. If we want to #conquercovid we need to have as many people vaccinated as possible; the more people who are hesitant and choose to “wait”, the longer it will take to reduce the number of cases and return to normal. 

References

Arthur, B. (2021, May 12). Why pausing AstraZeneca was the right move – and why you probably were right to get it. thestar.com. https://www.thestar.com/opinion/star-columnists/2021/05/11/why-ontario-made-the-right-move-by-pausing-astrazeneca-vaccines-and-why-if-you-got-it-you-probably-did-the-right-thing.html

Callaway, E. (2021, May 19). Mix-and-match COVID vaccines trigger potent immune response. Nature News. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01359-3.

Griffith, J., Marani, H., & Monkman, H. (2021). COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy in Canada: Content Analysis of Tweets Using the Theoretical Domains Framework. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 23(4). https://doi.org/10.2196/26874

Bibliography

Ferguson, R. (2021, May 11). Ontario pauses first doses of AstraZeneca over clot concerns. thestar.com. https://www.thestar.com/politics/provincial/2021/05/11/covid-19-vaccines-for-teens-coming-soon-but-adults-still-a-priority-ontario-says.html.

Bairavie Piravakaran (she/her) is a second-year undergraduate at the University of Toronto Scarborough. As a Psychological & Health Sciences student, she values the importance of sharing credible information and making health resources more accessible to the public. Her interests in population health, research, and design are also reflected in her non-academic pursuits—she currently volunteers with the Young Leaders of Public Health and Medicine (YLPHM) as a Social Media Manager for the Scarborough Chapter and is a Health Promotion & Analytics Member at Critical Health Innovations Lab (CHIL). At EMPOWER Health, Bairavie works closely with the Marketing Team in order to plan and execute strategies that help inform the public about current health-related topics.

The Barriers of Immunization

Although Canada’s vaccine distribution numbers seem promising, the inevitable barriers that come with wanting to immunize an entire country are yet to be completely addressed. Some of the most common challenges include lacking technological support and digital literacy, distribution inequities, language barriers, and an overall fear of vaccines that is instilled through misinformation and false news.

COVID-19 is complicated. Booking a vaccine appointment shouldn’t be.  

It is common knowledge that technology has its drawbacks; however, it can be difficult to process how tedious such a “simple” task can become. From long waiting times to constantly refreshing booking sites in hopes of an empty time slot becoming available—not to mention the frustration of having your appointment cancelled and having to go through the process all over again. With ‘tech savvy’ individuals struggling to book appointments on their own, those who are unfamiliar with virtual bookings are left in the dark. 

While pop-up and walk-in sites attempt to resolve this issue, the hesitancy and/or struggle to receive the COVID-19 vaccine continues to persist. 

Fighting the Inequities of Vaccine Distribution

The World Health Organization (WHO) describes the global COVID-19 vaccine rollout as a “scandalous inequity”. According to WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the “small group of countries [including Canada] that make and buy the majority of the world’s vaccines control the fate of the rest of the world” (Nebehay, 2021). In the same interview, Dr. Tedros emphasizes that nobody should assume they are safe as long as the virus continues to exist elsewhere. 

The inequities of vaccine distribution are also prevalent at the provincial level. In Ontario, many of the ‘hot spot’ locations that were initially prioritized demonstrated a “lower-than-average pandemic burden” (Crawley, 2021). In early April, the CBC identified seven other postal codes that experienced a greater impact yet were not categorized as ‘hotspot’ locations. Each of these locations were located in the ridings of oppositional parties (Crawley, 2021). 

Overcoming the Language Barrier

Language barriers have always been a challenge for marginalized communities; living in a COVID-19 hotspot however only amplifies these challenges (Lampa, 2021). With over half of Canada’s Rohingya population residing in the Kitchener-Waterloo region, community leaders have claimed that the past year has been extremely difficult due to the Rohingya-English language barrier (Lampa, 2021). It is nearly impossible for many of the Rohingya to access vaccine resources as they are dependent on translators to help them understand COVID-19 protocols. In spite of the regions’ efforts to help the community by developing a video in the Rohingya language, it is not enough to overcome the divide between the non-english speaking Rohingya and the residents of Waterloo.

An ideal strategy in such scenarios would be to match patients with healthcare providers who either speak the same language or share a similar ethnic background. According to Anderson (2014), providing patients with a sense of familiarity in this context may help alleviate the concerns and questions they may want answered prior to receiving their vaccine.

Addressing Vaccine Conspiracies: Educating Gen Z

In an attempt to target Gen Z, medical worker Steven Ho utilizes his biting humor to address the common myths of the COVID-19 vaccine through TikTok (Pikett, 2021). Through this medium, Ho educates the younger generation in hopes of allowing them to teach their elderly caregivers who may not understand the notion of vaccines in general. In a particular video, Ho compares the COVID-19 vaccine to a birth control pill or a seatbelt—while all three of these entities provide a high degree of protection, Ho explains that there is a fine line between having a high degree of protection and 100% protection. Ho also sheds light on the theory that the COVID-19 vaccines contain tracking microchips and satirically claims that there is no need for a microchip vaccine as our cellular devices have already fulfilled the job.

When all is said and done

Immunization barriers will not go away on their own, and will continue to persist beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, it is crucial that as Canadians we are aware of these barriers to help better understand the needs of marginalized communities as well as the privilege we have of being able to receive a vaccine at all.

References

Anderson, E. L. (2014). Recommended solutions to the barriers to immunization in children and adults. Missouri medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6179470/.

Crawley, M. (2021, April 13). Some areas not hard-hit by COVID-19 getting vaccination priority in Ontario, data reveals | CBC News. CBCnews. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ontario-covid-19-vaccination-postal-code-hot-spots-1.5983155.

Lampa, N. (2021, April 15). ‘We feel like we are on an island’: Cultural, language barriers difficult for Rohingyan population living in COVID-19 hot spots. Kitchener. https://kitchener.ctvnews.ca/we-feel-like-we-are-on-an-island-cultural-language-barriers-difficult-for-rohingyan-population-living-in-covid-19-hot-spots-1.5389196.

Nebehay, S. (2021, May 24). ‘Scandalous inequity’: WHO says 75% of vaccines given out in just 10 countries. Global News. https://globalnews.ca/news/7888608/who-covid-vaccine-sharing-inequity/.

Pickett, J. (2021, February 1). Tiktok docs you should be following. stethoscopemagazine.org. http://stethoscopemagazine.org/2021/02/01/tiktok-docs-you-should-be-following/.

Bairavie Piravakaran (she/her) is a second-year undergraduate at the University of Toronto Scarborough. As a Psychological & Health Sciences student, she values the importance of sharing credible information and making health resources more accessible to the public. Her interests in population health, research, and design are also reflected in her non-academic pursuits—she currently with the Young Leaders of Public Health and Medicine (YLPHM) as a Social Media Manager for the Scarborough Chapter and is a Health Promotion & Analytics Member at Critical Health Innovations Lab (CHIL). At EMPOWER Health, Bairavie works closely with the Marketing Team in order to plan and execute strategies that help inform the public about current health-related topics.

Great Things Come in Small Apps

I’m just going to break the fourth wall for a second here, but as a relatively short person I’ve been perpetually pelted with the phrase “Good things come in small packages”. As a kid, that made me believe that I was destined to be awesome… but as I got older, I saw it more as something I’d just say to validate my human condition.

However, I’m starting to rethink it again, as this theme of small but powerful has been exploding in the modern technological world. From immense amounts of memory storage compacted into tiny micro SD cards, to the rise of mini-tablets, to entire libraries of books stored into one portable e-reader, it seems like that one thing my mom keeps telling me stands stronger as a prophecy than it does as proverbial solace to my woes.

iamsick.ca – A Digitally Small Package

Ever had to do the app-deleting rounds when your phone’s memory gets maxed out?

With the average app size of 50MB, and with higher allowable app sizes for both iOS and Android, apps are just going to keep getting bigger – eating away at the very finite memory space on our mobile devices.

Did you know that the iamsick.ca app is only 3MB on Android and 4MB on iOS?

That’s equivalent to the size of about 2 snapchat videos!!  By taking up such insignificant space, our app isn’t a thorn to your memory capacity’s side, but will not hesitate to be your hero in your time of need. At less than 10% of the average app size of 50MB, a strange echo begins to sound. It’s a small package… so it must be a good thing, right?

Well, of course! iamsick.ca is good because it’s small… and, it’s more than just “good”. Together with its convenience, functionality, and purpose, iamsick.ca is a great thing in a small package.

Greatness Lies Within

Well, what does iamsick.ca do?

First, it’s an app that helps you access healthcare whenever and wherever you need it.

What exactly does this mean though?  Well, first and foremost, our app uses your geographical location (or address/place you enter) to immediately show all of your nearby healthcare options! With a click on one of the icons (shown below), you’re immediately directed to the address, contact information, and hours of operation of all services (including holiday hours, which are updated regularly!).

Screenshot_2016-05-27-13-59-51.jpg

iamsick.ca scanning for all nearby emergency rooms, pharmacies, family doctors, and walk-in clinics

You can also use our filter to find the exact type of healthcare service you’re looking for. Whether you need to rush to an urgent-care centre or find a family doctor accepting new patients, you can find exactly what you need in just a couple of taps!

Screenshot_2016-05-27-15-19-54.jpg

Our filter system for healthcare options

Our additional filters increase the specificity of your search to include more information about that healthcare providers or service, whether you’re searching after-hours and are looking for a pharmacy that is “currently open”, a clinic that is wheelchair accessible, a walk-in clinic with e-booking, or a family doctor accepting new patients.

On top of all of this, iamsick.ca also includes a language filter with over 80 languages spoken by healthcare providers!

Screenshot_2016-05-27-15-56-45.jpg

This user is filtering healthcare options so that only those with healthcare professionals who speak Nepalese displayed

In light of the current Syrian Refugee Crisis, iamsick.ca also implemented a newcomer initiative (as highlighted by Huffington Post and TechCrunch), and many Arabic-speaking healthcare providers are being added to our database. Additionally, the website and mobile apps are also translated into Arabic (along with French, Spanish, and Chinese).

translate.JPG

How the website looks like translated. Translation on the mobile application is automatically synced to your language settings!

I know what you’re thinking. “All this, packed into ONE application?!”

Yes. That’s right. Good things come in small packages, but Great things come in small apps.

Check it out for yourself on Android, iOS, and Blackberry.

 

——

Sources:

http://www.ibtimes.com/heres-crazy-amount-cellular-data-snapchat-consumes-how-stop-it-1938313

How does your mobile app measure up to industry average?

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Health Hacks For Canada’s 149th Birthday & Canada Day Holiday Hours

Over here at iamsick.ca, we’re all about boosting and improving the health of our fellow Canadians.

For the Canada Day long weekend, we’ve collected holiday hours for healthcare services, so you can easily use the iamsick.ca website or iPhone, Android or BB10 app to see whether a pharmacy or clinic is open.

And, to celebrate Canada Day, we’ve created a list of 10 cool health hacks that celebrate and advance our daily marriage with our own health.  Here they are!

1 – Nappuccinos
What is this sorcery? Nap…puccinos? The last time I had coffee before taking a nap, I lay awake on my bed jittering uncontrollably for 40 minutes. But as with all techniques, effective execution is necessary for its success.

Time for a super quick (simplified) science lesson:Your body consumes molecules called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to release energy, and produces adenosine molecules as a result. In the brain, adenosine can act as a central nervous system depressant, which makes us sleepy. The longer we stay awake, the more adenosine accumulates; when we sleep, the body replenishes ATP from the produced adenosine (a.k.a. rest). Caffeine keeps us awake because it essentially acts by blocking the effects of adenosine.In concept, napping and caffeine both do the same thing – they make us more awake by reducing the effects of adenosine. So it’s really no surprise that the two paired together are an effective strategy to potentiate naps. You see, caffeine takes about 20 minutes to kick in – so if you consume a cup of coffee and immediately take a quick power nap, you wake up with a wonderfully compounded wakefulness!

2 – Train your brain! (with music)
Music is such an intrinsic and natural component of life. Everywhere from the rustle of the leaves to the whispers of the wind, melodies arise and caress our ears. But we usually don’t pay much attention to what this could actually be doing for us. Music is actually shown to exert many benefits on our health that are worth learning about:
– Music, as a distraction element, can effectively reduce the perception of pain, and improve performance during physical activity.
– Music has a huge impact on mental health, being shown to help combat depression, relieve stress, and just to elevate moods in general.
– Music (especially when playing music) is shown to boost neuroplasticity and cognitive performance.
So why not try exploring some new genres or types of music this Canada Day? Taking care of mental health is equally if not more important than physical health, and music is a very easy way to do it.

3 – Download our app!
Sometimes health might escape us. But that’s okay. The most important thing to do when we fall is to get up. And we can help you with that. Remember to download iamsick.ca app on Android, iOS, or Blackberry (or just use the web app). Our app is tiny in size and big in impact, so you won’t need to worry about it taking up your precious smartphone storage space while also having it ready to help you when you least expect it.  You can do all sorts of things with our app.. like check where the nearest walk-in clinic is, book your doctor’s appointment online, find doctors accepting new patients (including clinics with doctors that let you book appointments online), look for diagnostic labs, and even see real-time wait times for walk-ins that use our virtual waiting room service! What’s even better is that for the upcoming Canada Day long weekend, we’ll display updated holiday hours.. so you can access healthcare when & where you need it. Even if you just need to pick up some sunscreen at a local pharmacy, we’ll help you protect your skin! Our service is especially useful to keep those on great Canadian road trips healthy.. if you’re visiting a new place, you can rely on use to ensure that your nearest healthcare options are just a couple of taps away if anything (hopefully not) happens.

4 – Ditch the whiskers
Allergy season got you down under the weather? Rocking a sick moustache? Well… it’s time to make a decision. It turns out that moustache hair is very good at trapping pollen and other airborne allergens (like pollen grains) that trigger seasonal allergies. A very easy and quick fix to this without having to take those drowsiness-inducing antihistamines would be to…ditch the whiskers and shave that ‘stache. Alternatively, as hygiene is ALWAYS important, making sure to clean your facial hair regularly throughout the day could achieve a similar effect.

5 – Offer to dog sit
Ever heard of dog therapy? It turns out that having dogs as company has great therapeutic effects. Playing with a dog can increase levels of the stress-suppressing hormone oxytocin, while simultaneously lowering your body’s production of the stress hormone, cortisol. Other benefits include lowering blood pressure, increasing
post-heart-attack lifespans, and a general increased happiness. So… if your neighbours are planning a road trip for the Canada Day weekend but can’t take their dog with them… why not be a  benevolent member of the community and pick up on some dog-sitting with a side of mental therapy?

6 – Hypothermia
Okay, this one’s even weirder than the nappuccino tip. Hypothermia? And the summer? Compromised heat regulation…in the heat of the summer? It just doesn’t make sense… Well, as it turns out, the CDC has found that there’s been an alarming number of deaths occurring due to hypothermia… in June.Why? Well, the answer is simple, really. People are unprepared. In the winter, everybody likes to bundle up with layers upon layers upon layers. But in the summer, it’s very common for people to go for a dip in the lake at the cottage (even at night), and just walk around in swim-clothes, unaware that their body heat may be declining rapidly. The tip here, is to stay prepared. Towels and light extra layers are key, especially if you’re planning on getting wet!

7 – Apply cold (tea) to area of burnThis tip is super useful for the summer. If you find yourself sunburned in the hot summer sun (you should be putting on sunscreen to prevent this in the first place), or brushed against some poison ivy, or bitten by mosquitoes, you can use TEA as a remedy! The many natural organic compounds in tea have many powerful therapeutic effects. Black tea applied to sunburns can speed recovery. Anti-inflammatory agents in chamomile tea can reduce irritation from poison ivy and bug bites. Biting into tea bags can also be used to relieve cold sores! Check out this article on Greatist.com for more information about the amazing benefits of tea: http://greatist.com/health/treat-sunburns-tea-and-other-tips

8 – Sniff some fruits and flowers
Having a bad day? Headache’s got you down? Can’t sleep? Mother nature’s full of solutions – and they’re easier to access than you think. Studies have found that odorous molecules released by oranges can relieve anxiety and boost mood, the scent of green apples can reduce the magnitude of pain perception in some individuals, and the scent of lavender oil has soothing effects that can facilitate the sleeping process. I guess whoever said that you need to take time to “step back and smell the roses” was on to something… 

9 – Exercise with your immune system!
People are always nagging you to do exercise because “it’s good for you”, but often don’t really offer much more information beyond that. So how do you actually know it’s good? Well… it goes deeper than “it boosts your metabolism” or “it makes you feel good”. It turns out that when you regularly do exercise, you are concurrently training your immune system (that part of your body that defends against illnesses and infections) to be stronger. Ever heard of a white blood cell? Well, there are several types of these, and two of them are directly impacted by your levels of exercise.Natural Killer Cells (NK Cells) are the virus and cancer-killing white blood cells. Your body is constantly producing “busted” cells that have the chance of developing into cancers… but the reason why everyone doesn’t have cancer is that their NK cells are there to destroy the bad cells before they can do damage. Macrophages (a.k.a. “big-eaters”), are another member of your body’s general immune defense, and literally eat up illness-inducing pathogens that may enter your system. Doing exercise has been found to boost the number of NK cells AND making them more powerful, while also making macrophages more responsive to your body’s chemical signals, and more capable of destroying unwanted invaders. Exercise, then, not only makes you stronger, but makes you more resistant to disease and keeps you healthier for longer!So…yeah. Next time someone tells you that “exercise is good for you”, make sure THEY know why too.

10 – Tune your mind to your body
Have you ever just looked at your hands and marvelled at how, with barely a thought, you can make your fingers move exactly how you want? Have you ever sat down and just wondered how all the multiple molecular intricacies in your body dance together to create the fully functioning organism that is you? So many of us simply take our bodies for granted, without realizing how amazing this complex vessel we are born with and grow with for our entire lives really is. Cited in multiple realms with different names, such as “mind-muscle connection” in weightlifting, “zen” in Buddhism, or “mindfulness” in colloquial terms, establishing a connection between your mind and your body is a topic of increasing importance. This mindfulness allows for the defusing of stress, a momentary reset, and just feeling more in tune with yourself as a person. Check out these 5 bonus health tips to get started on your journey to become more mindful in your everyday environment: http://www.mindful.org/5-tips-for-practicing-mindfulness-at-the-office/

Happy Canada Day everybody!!!  We hope these health hacks are useful to help you live happier every day.

Love,

The iamsick.ca Team

Sources

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16453980

http://greatist.com/happiness/unexpected-health-benefits-music

http://www.bodyandsoul.com.au/news-story/0937a947dbc07abd0ca0e643adf44e85

http://www.bodyandsoul.com.au/health/health-advice/nine-weird-health-tips-that-work/news-story/0937a947dbc07abd0ca0e643adf44e85

http://animalsmart.org/species/dogs/dogs-help-reduce-stress

http://www.theactivetimes.com/summer-hypothermia-4-tips-preventing-unexpected

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16095639

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2008/01/02/green-apple-scent.aspx

http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/9129266

http://www.nature.com/icb/journal/v78/n5/full/icb200075a.html

http://www.helpguide.org/harvard/benefits-of-mindfulness.htm

When Food Bites Back

It’s a beautiful May day. The sky’s a deep pregnant blue, the sun smiling bright and true. The flowers, they flourish and dance in the wind, flashing colours of every hue.

After a long day you’re headed to a friend’s place to relax and bask in the lazy spring air. They offer you fresh-baked cookies –  your greatest gastronomical weakness! Your heart compels you to accept. As you bite into the warm, soft, center, molten chocolate oozes into your mouth. Crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside, the flavour is mind-blowing. What a beautiful May day.

Moments later, at the back of your throat, a malignant itch erupts. It spreads to your tongue and your throat. A seeping sense of illness spreads throughout your body. Cold sweat bursts along your forehead. You feel weak. You tremble. You fall. What’s happening? What do you do?

May day. Mayday. M’aider.

Food Allergy Awareness Month (FAAM)

May is Food Allergy Awareness Month.  A month that recognizes the need to create a safe environment surrounding the activity we all must do to survive: eat.

With symptoms varying from a mild itch, to hives, or even death… all food allergies and anaphylaxis must be treated seriously.

Food allergies and anaphylaxis currently affect 1 in 13 Canadians, representing approximately 3 MILLION people. That’s even more than all the people in Toronto!

Moreover, researchers at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre are finding that the rate of food allergies among Canadians is increasing. Equally alarming is the apparent lack of awareness, where almost 50% of anaphylaxis victims do not receive a dose of life-saving epinephrine prior to entering the emergency department, rendering treatment more difficult.

New_Oval_EpiPen_Classic _Too

The increasing population at risk and the lack of awareness indicates that it’s important for us to spread knowledge and understanding about food allergies (and substance sensitivities in general)!

How iamsick.ca is Allergy Aware

If you have a food allergy, you’re not alone!  Many members of the iamsick.ca team are affected by food allergies too! From peanuts to eggplants, chickpeas to lychees, and even bananas to watermelons, we’ve (unfortunately) got it all… It’s really no question that we’d want to participate in FAAM!

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Unsure how to embark on the journey to awareness?

iamsick.ca has you covered:

  • If you or any of your family members have experienced discomfort while eating a food and think it may be food allergy, please visit an allergist! Allergists need referrals, so use the iamsick.ca website or app to book an appointment with your family doctor or find the nearest walk-in clinic to get your referral now!
  • Need a fresh or refilled autoinjector? You can also use iamsick.ca to locate the closest pharmacy. Even if you need to find one in the middle of the night, iamsick.ca will show the nearest open pharmacy!
  • In the (unlikely) event that you’re transporting someone with an allergic reaction requiring emergency medical attention, you can use iamsick.ca to find the exact location of the emergency department of nearby hospitals so treatment may be received ASAP!

How Else Can You Help?

There are plenty of things you can do to raise awareness about food allergy:

  • Learn how and when to use an epinephrine auto-injector
  • Make sure you always ask someone about food allergies before serving them food
  • Make a donation to Food Allergy Canada
  • Try baking some allergy-friendly cookies
  • Talk to your friends and share what you know
  • Anything else that would help spread awareness of food allergies!

A Reminder About the Upcoming May Long Weekend

Victoria Day is coming up (May 23rd), which means that it’s a long weekend to celebrate with family and friends! It also means that many healthcare service providers will have reduced hours of operation. If you need to access healthcare services this upcoming long weekend, or you’d like to check the holiday hours of a nearby local pharmacy or clinic, make sure to check out iamsick.ca!

Sources:

http://www.allergen-nce.ca/wp-content/uploads/SPAACE_prevalence_data.pdf

https://www.mcgill.ca/newsroom/channels/news/increasing-cases-anaphylaxis-among-children-260563