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  • January 14, 2022

    By Allison Larson, MD

    Whether you’re a winter sports enthusiast or spend the season curled up by the fireplace, the low humidity, bitter winds, and dry indoor heat that accompany cold weather can deplete your skin’s natural moisture. Dry skin is not only painful, uncomfortable, and irritating; it also can lead to skin conditions such as eczema, which results in itchy, red, bumpy skin patches. 

    Follow these six tips to prevent and treat skin damage caused by winter dryness.

    1. Do: Wear sunscreen all year long.

    UV rays can easily penetrate cloudy skies to dry out exposed skin. And when the sun is shining, snow and ice reflect its rays, increasing UV exposure. 

    Getting a sunburn can cause severe dryness, premature aging of the skin, and skin cancer. Snow or shine, apply sunscreen before participating in any outdoor activity during the winter—especially if you take a tropical vacation to escape the cold; your skin is less accustomed to sunlight and more likely to burn quickly.

    The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends sunscreen that offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays, and offers a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.

    That being said, if you are considering laser skin treatments to reduce wrinkles, hair, blemishes, or acne scars, winter is a better time to receive these procedures. Sun exposure shortly after a treatment increases the risk of hyperpigmentation (darkening of the skin), and people are less likely to spend time outside during the winter.

    Related reading: 7 Simple Ways to Protect Your Skin in the Sun

    2. Do: Skip products with drying ingredients.

    Soaps or facial products you use in warm weather with no issues may irritate your skin during colder seasons. This is because they contain ingredients that can cause dryness, but the effects aren’t noticeable until they’re worsened by the dry winter climate.

    You may need to take a break from:

    • Anti-acne medications containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid
    • Antibacterial and detergent-based soap
    • Anything containing fragrance, from soap to hand sanitizer

    Hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer, which contains a high level of skin-drying alcohol, cannot be avoided; we need to maintain good hand hygiene to stop the spread of germs. If your job or lifestyle requires frequent hand washing or sanitizing, routinely apply hand cream throughout the day as well.

    During the COVID-19 pandemic, I have seen a lot of people develop hand dermatitis—a condition with itchy, burning skin that can swell and blister—due to constant hand washing. Sometimes the fix is as simple as changing the soap they're using. Sensitive-skin soap is the best product for dry skin; it typically foams up less but still cleans the skin efficiently.

    3. Do: Pay closer attention to thick skin.

    Areas of thin skin, such as the face and backs of your hands, are usually exposed to the wind and sun the most. It’s easy to tell when they start drying out. But the thick skin on your palms and bottoms of your feet is also prone to dryness—and tends to receive less attention.

    When thick skin gets dry, fissures form. You’ll see the surface turn white and scaly; then deep, linear cracks will appear. It isn’t as pliable as thin skin. When you’re constantly on your feet or using your hands to work, cook, and everything in between, dry thick skin cracks instead of flexing with your movements. 

    To soften cracked skin, gently massage a heavy-duty moisturizer—such as Vaseline—into the affected area once or twice a day. You can also talk with your doctor about using a skin-safe adhesive to close the fissures and help them heal faster.

    Related reading:  Follow these 5 Tips for Healthy Skin

    4. Don’t believe the myth that drinking more water will fix dry skin.

    Contrary to popular belief, the amount of water or fluids you drink does not play a major role in skin hydration—unless you’re severely dehydrated. In the winter, especially, dry skin is caused by external elements; it should be treated from the outside as well. 

    The best way to keep skin hydrated and healthy is to apply fragrance-free cream or ointment—not lotion—to damp skin after a shower or bath.
    Some people need additional moisturizers for their hands, legs, or other areas prone to dryness.

    While some lotions are made better than others, most are a combination of water and powder that evaporates quickly. Creams and ointments work better because they contain ingredients that can help rebuild your skin barrier. 

    Look for products with ceramide, a fatty acid that helps rebuild the fat and protein barrier that holds your skin cells together. The AAD also recommends moisturizing ingredients such as:

    • Dimethicone
    • Glycerin
    • Jojoba oil
    • Lanolin
    • Mineral oil
    • Petrolatum
    • Shea butter

    For severely dry skin, you can try a “wet wrap” technique:

    1. Rinse a pair of tight-fitting pajamas in warm water and wring them out so they’re damp, not wet.
    2. Apply cream or ointment to your skin.
    3. Put on the damp pajamas, followed by a pair of dry pajamas, and wear the ensemble for several hours.

    Dampness makes your skin more permeable and better able to absorb hydrating products. If the wet wrap or over-the-counter products aren’t working for you, talk with a dermatologist about prescription skin hydration options. 

    Drinking more water isn’t the answer to dry winter skin. The best solution is to apply fragrance-free cream or ointment directly to damp skin. Get more cold weather #SkinCareTips from a dermatologist in this blog:
    Click to Tweet


    5. Don’t confuse skin conditions with dryness.

    Skin conditions are often mistaken for dry skin because peeling or flaking are common symptoms. Redness of the skin or itching in addition to dryness and flaking indicates a skin condition that may need more than an over-the-counter moisturizer.

    Skin cells are anchored together by a lipid and protein layer (like a brick and mortar wall). With very dry skin, the seal on this wall or barrier is not fully intact and water evaporates out of the skin’s surface. The skin will become itchy and red in addition to scaly or flaky. If you experience these symptoms, visit with a dermatologist.

    6. Don’t wait for symptoms to take care of dry skin.

    Be proactive—the best way to maintain moisture is to apply hydrating creams and ointments directly to your skin on a regular basis. Start by applying them as part of your morning routine. Once you get used to that, add a nighttime application. And carry a container of it when you’re on the go or keep it in an easily accessible location at work.


    You can’t avoid dry air, but you can take precautions to reduce its harsh effects on your skin. If over-the-counter products don’t seem to help, our dermatologists can provide an individualized treatment plan. Hydrated skin is healthy skin!

    Does your skin get drier as the air gets colder?

    Our dermatologists can help.

    Call 202-877-DOCS (3627) or Request an Appointment

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  • February 13, 2020

    By M. Barbara Srichai-Parsia, MD

    When it comes to heart disease, men and women are not equal. Most of what we know about heart disease, and how we approach it today, is still largely based on research studies that originally focused on men. Not long ago, researchers assumed their study insights would apply to women as well. But newer studies are showing us that women’s heart health—and how women develop and experience heart problems—can be much different than that of men. Additional research is under way, at MedStar Health and other centers, but here are a few learnings that women and their doctors should know now.

    1. A woman’s heart is physically different than a man’s.

    In general, women have smaller hearts and blood vessels. In addition, women tend to develop plaques (waxy substances) in their vessels that look and behave differently than the build-ups and blockages we typically see in men.

    This could make women more likely to develop different kinds of heart trouble than men usually experience. In particular, we think women may be more prone to developing coronary microvascular disease, in which damage to the inner walls of the smaller blood vessels can lead to spasms and decreased flow of blood and oxygen to the heart muscle.

    Both arterial blockages that are more common in men and small-vessel coronary disease are serious and can cause the same symptoms, including chest pain and shortness of breath. The latter can be harder to detect with traditional tests.

    2. Women may need different diagnostic tests than men.

    Doctors often recommend a stress test and sometimes an imaging study called a coronary angiography to diagnose classic symptoms of heart trouble. While these are good at finding blockages in the large coronary arteries, they aren’t necessarily designed to detect the coronary microvascular disease that women are more apt to have.  So their symptoms may be dismissed.

    If you continue to experience chest pain or shortness of breath after tests like these come back as “normal” or “nothing to worry about,” consider getting a second opinion. Choose a cardiologist who specializes in women’s heart health or is otherwise part of a specialty heart center, like MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute.  Other diagnostic tests, such as a cardiac PET scan or cardiac MRI, may be needed. These specialized tests are not available everywhere.

    3. Women’s heart attack symptoms are often different than men’s.

    Severe chest pain can be a sign of heart attack in both men and women. But women are much more likely to have subtle symptoms that are easier to ignore. These include:

    • Chest discomfort that travels to your arms, neck, or upper back
    • Sudden shortness of breath
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Sweating
    • Lightheadedness or dizziness
    • Extreme fatigue
    • Indigestion

    If you experience signs like these, don’t hesitate to call 911 and get to an emergency room. Fast action can prevent extensive heart damage and even save your life.

    4. Women have unique risk factors for heart disease.

    Both sexes share the most common risk factors, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Women, however, have additional risk factors that men never or less commonly experience. Be sure to tell your doctors if you’ve had any of the following, so they closely monitor your heart health:

    Early menopause: A recent study found that women who reached menopause earlier than age 50 had an up to 40% greater risk for cardiovascular disease than women who became menopausal in their early 50s, as is most common. A drop in the heart-protective hormone estrogen that occurs with menopause probably explains some of this elevated risk.

    Chronic inflammatory diseases: Women are more likely to have many of these conditions, including lupus, psoriasis, and rheumatoid arthritis, which also raise the risk for heart disease. Ongoing low-level inflammation can irritate the blood vessels and may promote plaques and blood clots that can put the heart and vessels at risk.

    Breast cancer treatment: Women (and men) who have undergone radiation or chemotherapy treatment to the breast area may experience more heart problems as a byproduct of these treatments. A recent study also found that women who have had breast cancer were also more likely to develop other conditions that increase heart risks, including diabetes, high triglyceride levels (fatty molecules in the blood), and atherosclerosis (stiffening of the arteries).

    Pre-eclampsia: An estimated 6%–10% of women develop this dangerous increase in blood pressure late in pregnancy, which significantly increases the risk for hypertension, heart disease, and stroke later in life, even if their blood pressure returns to normal after delivery. 

    When it comes to heart disease, men and women are not equal. Dr. Barbara Srichai explains. via @MedStarWHC

    Click to Tweet

    How to Keep Your Heart Healthy

    • Quit smoking or don’t start
    • Get regular exercise. At a minimum, walk around at least 30 minutes per day 
    • Eat healthy, including plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish or lean meat. Limit processed foods, salt, added sugars, and saturated and trans fats 
    • Know your numbers. Maintain a healthy weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar level through lifestyle and any medicines your doctor has recommended 
    • Limit your alcohol to no more than one drink per day

    Learn more by taking our women’s heart disease risk quiz.

    Questions about your heart?

    Connect with a heart health specialist.

    Call 202-877-3627 or Request an Appointment

  • February 11, 2020

    By Allen J. Taylor, MD

    Cardiovascular medicine has been changing at an incredible pace over the past 25 years. But the 2020s may prove to be the most progressive and exciting decade yet. From new drugs and surgical devices coming our way, to new ways of monitoring and caring for our patients, a compelling wave of breakthroughs in technology and medicine is already breaking at MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute. That’s great news for our patients, who will benefit from increasingly personalized care and new treatment approaches that can help them live longer and better.

    Here are just some of the innovations in cardiology that our heart health team—and patients—can look forward to:

    Expanded Use of Telehealth in Cardiology

    Think of it as a virtual house call! Telehealth services let you use live video on your computer or mobile device to connect remotely with your doctor or other care provider. As we gradually expand these services, patients will find greater convenience and more opportunities to share information with their doctor.

    Although some medical appointments are better handled in person, telehealth can make simple consults, or even post-treatment follow-ups, accessible from home. Telehealth also encompasses use of patient portals, where you can access records and results and send requests directly to your care team. It includes a growing array of monitoring devices you can wear or use at home to record and transmit health information to your doctor. It’s even enabling primary care providers to virtually consult with specialists within and beyond their hospital networks.

    In the years ahead, I’d expect telehealth might even connect small community-based care providers—like local pharmacies or urgent care centers—with the higher-level medical expertise provided by larger healthcare centers. At MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute, we’re already using an array of telehealth services across various specialties, and this month, we’re introducing Telehealth Cardiology visits for routine follow-up heart care at one of our centers. We anticipate that it will become standard across MedStar Heart entities very quickly.

    New and Improved Health Monitoring Devices and Diagnostic Tests

    We continue to see inspiring developments in non-invasive diagnostic tools. These include new blood tests that can identify treatable biomarkers and genetic mutations associated with specific heart problems, new imaging options such as imaging inflammation in the heart, and improved versions of traditional imaging tools such as cardiac MRI and CT scans that we’ve used for years. These will continue to transform what we do in cardiovascular medicine over the next decade.

    The benefit? Your doctor won’t just be able to tell you what’s wrong, he or she will also use the tests and the enhanced information they provide to determine the best way to treat you. We’ll also be able to cross-reference your test information with a rich database of health outcomes data and make very accurately informed decisions about how to best approach your heart health and achieve the best possible outcomes.

    In addition, over the next decade, watch for greater use of personal digital monitoring devices that allow you to continuously track and monitor your own health signs—like heart rhythm and blood pressure—and transmit them to your healthcare providers. That capability will increasingly enable both doctors and patients to identify or predict potential problems, even before symptoms occur. Thanks to innovations in technology and wireless communications, we’ll benefit from a wave of personal monitoring and diagnostic devices that are becoming smaller, easily implantable, and even more comfortable to wear.

    New Treatments That Improve Heart Health Outcomes

    Extraordinary breakthroughs in new cardiac drugs and devices will alter how we handle treatments over the next decade as well. There are more than I can possibly cover in this post, but, in general, we’ll see drugs that improve outcomes in treating and preventing heart disease, and new devices made simpler and safer while delivering the same excellent results.

    I’m particularly excited about the advances we’re already seeing in cholesterol management with new adjunct drugs entering the market, including the recently approved prescription fish oil medication and the forthcoming new PCSK9 inhibitors. For the past 30 years, we’ve largely relied on statins to manage cholesterol profiles, but new adjunct therapies like these mean we’ll be able to provide even better outcomes for specific patients with or at high risk for heart disease.

    Additionally, our knowledge about genetics and the underlying causes of conditions like heart muscle diseases that can lead to heart failure has exploded. Five years ago, we would have treated every case of heart muscle disease with the same set of drugs. Today, we’re identifying new treatment opportunities for newly identified issues, such as amyloidosis or sarcoidosis, as a cause of cardiomyopathy. Brand new drugs to treat specific issues like these are coming quickly to the forefront. Many new, targeted treatments with immunologic and biologic medications will allow us to improve outcomes for heart conditions that were previously difficult to treat. For instance, patients with diabetes —a common precursor for heart disease—should ask their doctors if it’s time to consider how some of these newer treatments may help protect the heart.

    As for devices, we’re really excited about the first wave of non-invasive ways to treat heart valve disease. This includes minimally invasive approaches that allow us to replace or repair heart valves by accessing them through a blood vessel, rather than via open heart surgery. Some of these noninvasive treatments are already in successful use for aortic and mitral valve problems. We’ll undoubtedly be able to apply those same techniques to other valve issues in the near future, and many new platforms are in testing. Over the next decade, I expect that use of open heart surgery to treat a heart valve problem alone will become a thing of the past.

    In the 2020s, cardiology patients will be empowered by information and technology like never before, says Dr. @TaylorMHVIcard. via @MedStarWHC

    Click to Tweet

    More Medical Care Within the Outpatient Setting

    Thanks in part to telehealth, remote monitoring, and testing and surgical innovations, we’ll also see even more cardiology care moving from the inpatient hospital setting to the outpatient setting. This long-term trend has been accelerating. For instance, in the 1980s, cardiac catheterization required a 3-day hospital stay, yet it’s evolved into an outpatient procedure for patients who aren’t high risk. Most electrophysiology procedures, like implanting pacemakers and defibrillators, are now simply and safely handled as outpatient procedures.

    In the near term, certain heart valve procedures that once required a 5- to 6-day hospital stay may also become outpatient or 1-day procedures, thanks to simpler, non-invasive surgical techniques and new devices. Over the next decade, we’ll have an even greater ability to deliver outstanding medical treatment safely, successfully, and more conveniently without disrupting people’s lives with an extended hospital stay.

    More Empowered Patients, More Personalized Care

    Overall, the 2020s will be the decade of the more informationally empowered patient—in cardiology and beyond. Equipped with smart devices and data-capturing technologies, connection to their electronic health records, and feeding anonymized data into augmented intelligence networks, patients and doctors will have more powerful interactions and information insights to work with.

    This will better equip both you and your care providers to identify and predict problems early, so we can act early to help prevent and treat them. It will also allow us to better customize treatment care recommendations, with an eye to what’s really best for each individual.

    The greatest payoff that I anticipate? Our patients will actually benefit from stronger healthcare and better outcomes, both at a lower overall cost.

    Visit our all-new MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute website to learn more about our innovative and award-winning cardiology care.

    Your heart deserves expert care.

    Our specialists are here to help.

    Call 202-644-9526 or  Request an Appointment

  • February 11, 2020

    By MedStar Health

    Pelvic organ prolapse, often just called prolapse, is a common condition in which the walls of the vagina drop (bulge) from their usual position. The most common symptoms of prolapse include:

    • Bulging at or through the opening of your vagina
    • Pelvic pain, pressure, or fullness
    • Urinary incontinence
    • Incomplete bladder or bowel emptying
    • Vaginal bleeding or spotting
    • Vaginal pressure
    • Pain or blockage during sex

    Prolapse most often develops in women who had a vaginal delivery—especially if their doctor used instruments during delivery, such as forceps (tools that resemble large spoons) or vacuums. This is because many women’s pelvic floor muscles weaken after delivery. Other common causes of prolapse include:

    • Age, as postmenopausal women are at higher risk
    • Connective tissue disorders
    • Chronic constipation or anything that chronically increased abdominal pressure
    • Family history

    Symptoms of prolapse affect the quality of life for many women, making it difficult to perform a variety of everyday activities. As a result, it’s important to understand what treatments are available and ways to prevent prolapse, if you don’t already have it.

    How Can We Treat Prolapse?

    Our urogynecology team is nationally recognized for the expert care we provide to patients with prolapse and other pelvic floor disorders. We generally treat prolapse in three ways:

    1. Monitor it: Prolapse in general isn’t dangerous if you aren’t experiencing symptoms. In this case, we create a care plan for you in which we explain prolapse symptoms and ask that you come back to see us right away if you experience them so we can help you manage symptoms with the treatments listed below.
    2. Use a pessary: This is a vaginal support device made of silicone that’s placed inside the vagina and worn throughout the day. While pessaries don’t treat the actual prolapse, they are nonsurgical and normally relieve symptoms of prolapse. Pessaries have to be removed, cleaned and replaced periodically and are fit in the office by your doctor.
    3. Surgical treatment: We offer a variety of minimally invasive procedures in an outpatient setting in which we resuspend and repair your prolapse. A majority of these surgeries are done through the vagina, not requiring any external incisions, and often don’t require general anesthesia. Other surgeries are performed with “keyhole” surgery. The exact surgery can vary depending on type of prolapse however, so make sure to speak to your doctor to understand how surgery will work for you and your particular situation.

    Our No.1 goal when treating your prolapse is to make you happy. One of my mantras is to fit the surgery to you, not fit you to surgery. It all depends on your goals and your particular situation. We want to work with you to ensure you receive the treatment that works best.

    Using a pessary is one way to treat #PelvicOrganProlapse, or #prolapse, a condition in which one of your pelvic organs drops down from its usual position. Learn how pessaries work and other treatment options, via @MedStarHealth

    Click to Tweet


    How Do We Diagnose Prolapse?

    Prolapse is typically diagnosed during a doctor’s visit in which you discuss your symptoms and undergo a physical exam. Physical exams often involve your doctor taking measurements of the areas of your body that could be prolapsing. In rare cases, an imaging test, such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), is required for a diagnosis.

    Can You Prevent Prolapse?

    One way to help prevent prolapse is to maintain a healthy body weight, as studies show that overweight and obese women are signficantly more likely to experience pelvic organ prolapse, compared to women of normal weight.

    Pelvic floor training, such as Kegel exercises, may also be helpful in preventing prolapse symptoms, as they strengthen the muscles in and around your pelvic floor. Make sure to speak to your doctor if you’re interested in pelvic floor training to learn proper technique, as incorrect form can actually be counterproductive. If your doctor determines that you would benefit from seeing a physical therapist, MedStar Health has a large network of physical therapists who specialize in pelvic floor training.

    If you’re experiencing symptoms of prolapse, make sure to schedule an appointment with a fellowship-trained urogynecologist. Treatment is widely successful—and it can get you back to your everyday activities symptom-free.

    Are you experiencing vaginal bulging, difficulty emptying your bladder or bowels, pain during sex, or another symptom of pelvic organ prolapse? Click below to contact Dr. Sokol for an appointment.

    Make An Appointment

  • February 07, 2020

    By MedStar Health

    Getting a flu shot is the best way to protect yourself against the wrath of the flu. But many people are surprised to hear that they can still get the flu, even if they’ve been vaccinated.

    Here’s why.

    The flu is caused by different types of the influenza virus.

    The seasonal flu is typically caused by two types of the influenza virus and their related classifications, including:

    • Influenza A - Type A influenza is the most common cause of flu and is spread from person to person. The A subtypes that commonly affect people are A(H1N1) and A(H3N2) according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
    • Influenza B - Type B influenza is less common but still spreads among humans. It’s dangerous but less severe than Type A. Type B influenza is classified by lineages, including B/Yamagata and B/Victoria.

    The flu shot protects against both A influenza viruses and at least one B influenza—sometimes both. Since influenza viruses change rapidly, the flu shot is developed to mimic the virus strains most prominent in other parts of the world during the six months before the flu season in the U.S.

    Yes, you can still get the #flu after a flu shot. Primary care doctor Jesus Gonzalez, MD, explains why the flu shot doesn’t offer 100% protection via @MedStarHealth’s #LiveWellHealthy blog.

    Click to Tweet


    But, the flu shot doesn’t offer 100% protection.

    The flu shot is generally an effective way to protect yourself from the flu because it helps your body develop necessary antibodies to fight back against the virus. When the flu shot is well matched to the influenza strains that are circulating, you are less likely to get the flu. In fact, the CDC says the flu shot reduces your chances of catching the flu by 40% to 60%.

    Related Article: Who needs a flu shot, and how does it work?

    However, it’s not a perfect science, and some years, the flu shot doesn’t match as well as we would hope. For example, in 2017, the flu strain mutated right in the middle of the season. As a result, millions of people got sick with the flu, and 80,000 Americans died, according to the CDC.

    It takes two weeks to kick in.

    Another reason you can still get the flu even if you got a flu shot is that it takes time for your body to build up the antibodies it needs to fight off the flu. In most cases, this can take nearly two weeks. If you come into contact with someone with the flu virus before your body has developed enough antibodies, your immune system may not protect you from the flu.

    Related Article: Learn about the differences between a cold and the flu.

    Other factors may affect your risk of getting the flu.

    Age can greatly affect how effective the vaccine is in reducing your risk of getting the flu. Infants and young children are at an increased risk of catching the flu because their immune systems haven’t had enough time to build up the antibodies they need to fight off a new infection.

    Similarly, older adults may have a declining immune system as a result of other health conditions, such as diabetes, kidney or liver disease, or cancer. The CDC offers a higher dose vaccine for some adults over the age of 65 to help strengthen their immune system’s response.

    The flu shot is still worth it.

    While the flu shot can’t eliminate your risk of coming down with the flu, it does offer many benefits, including greatly reducing your chances of getting sick.

    And if you do get the flu after getting vaccinated, you’re more likely to get a milder case with less severe symptoms. The vaccine also lowers the likelihood of serious flu-related complications, like pneumonia or being hospitalized.

    Take additional precautions to protect yourself against the flu.

    An annual flu shot is the best way to protect yourself against the flu. But since you can still get the flu even if you get the flu shot, there are additional things you should do to minimize your chances of getting sick.

    • Wash your hands often.
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
    • Practice healthy habits, like getting plenty of sleep, exercise, water, and nutrients.

    If you do get the flu, try to stay home so that you don’t spread it to others. For additional advice, watch the video below.



    When should you see a doctor?

    While the flu shares many of the same symptoms as a cold, it can be more serious, especially for infants, young children, pregnant women, and older adults.

    Most of the time, the flu resolves itself at home with rest and plenty of fluids. However, if you have any of the following severe symptoms, you should seek medical attention:

    • Fever more than three days
    • Chills and body aches
    • Shortness of breath
    • Persistent weakness and fatigue

    Do you need medical care for the flu? Schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor or click below to find a MedStar Health Urgent Care Center near you.

    See Our Locations

  • February 07, 2020

    By Glenn W. Wortmann, MD

    This article was updated on March 30, 2020.


    It’s been just over two months since Chinese authorities reported the first case of a mysterious respiratory virus, with origins linked to a seafood and animal market in the large city of Wuhan in central China. In that short time, scientists and medical professionals around the world have worked at unprecedented speed to help halt its spread. 

    To date, more than 110,000 cases of the aptly named 2019 Novel Coronavirus have been confirmed, mostly in mainland China. More than 37,000 cases have been reported in other countries so far, including the United States. 

    While things are changing rapidly as we learn more, here’s what you should know and act on now.

    1. People in America are currently at tremendously low risk for infection.

    To date, only a few people within the United States have been confirmed to have the virus. Most had recently visited China or been in close contact with someone who had. While we know that person-to-person transmission is possible, current estimates indicate that this new coronavirus is less contagious than other viral infections, such as measles or chickenpox.   

    Because of this and the quick action to limit travel to and from China, at the current time, Americans are highly unlikely to become infected with this new virus. In fact, your risk for developing influenza (or flu)—another serious respiratory infection—is much greater right now. You should take steps to prevent the flu, such as getting a flu vaccine.   

    People in America are at tremendously low risk for the new coronavirus infection, says Dr. Glenn Wortmann. via @MedStarWHC

    Click to Tweet

    2. There are still important things scientists don’t know about this new virus.

    While this new strain is clearly more severe than the common cold (also caused by certain coronaviruses), it remains to be seen how it will compare with similar first-of-its-kind outbreaks in recent years. They include SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which started and spread from Asia in 2003, and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Both caused severe illness and deaths early on, since they had never been encountered before. 

    Thus far, we know most people infected with this novel virus have recovered. Those who have gotten worse, primarily the elderly and people with other medical conditions, have progressed from flu-like symptoms to pneumonia. To date, the fatality rate is thankfully lower than what we saw with SARS and MERS. But it’s too soon to know exactly what kind of toll it will take over the coming weeks. To play it safe, public health officials are responding by preparing for a worst-case scenario. It’s also possible that the virus will become less “pathogenic” or less harmful as it spreads person to person. Time will tell. 

    Researchers also don’t know yet all the ways that this new virus is transmitted. Thus far, we think it probably spreads by droplets, spewed from a cough or sneeze, then inhaled into the respiratory tract. There may be other ways we haven’t confirmed yet.  

    3. Virus transmission from animals to humans isn’t common, but it happens.

    Based on preliminary data, the 2019 Novel Coronavirus appears to live in bats and probably transferred from them to other animals. Although it’s rare, animal viruses can mutate and evolve in ways that make them transferrable to humans, who then spread it to other humans. A crowded city setting like Wuhan, with markets selling swine, fowl, and other wild animals, may be a perfect mixing bowl for that kind of virus transfer to happen. The good news is that we’ve learned from experience with SARS, MERS, and other viruses to work together and mobilize quickly around the globe to help minimize the potential risks of these unexpected transmissions when they happen. 

    4. You should protect yourself the same way you do against flu and other respiratory viruses.

    Clearly, this new virus is contagious to some degree. In addition to avoiding travel to China and contact with infected people, here’s how to protect yourself:

    • Wash your hands, and young children’s hands, with soap and water or hand sanitizer for at least 20 seconds several times each day
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands
    • Cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow or with tissues you immediately throw away, not your bare hands
    • Keep your distance from people who are sick. Stay home if you are sick
    • Clean frequently touched objects and surfaces

    5. Efforts to develop effective treatments and a vaccine are in high gear.

    Thanks to the speedy work of Chinese scientists who identified the RNA sequence for this virus and published it worldwide, researchers have been able to quickly jump on developing and testing treatment options. Among them, scientists are studying whether certain therapies that were developed for SARS may work against this new strain. In addition, researchers are working on preventive options, including a potential vaccine. 

    In the meantime, U.S. hospitals, like MedStar Washington Hospital Center, are fully prepared to evaluate patients for the virus and to provide supportive care for anyone who might develop severe symptoms. 

    6. You should stay informed about the latest research on the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.

    • Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for daily updates at
    • Ask your MedStar Health provider for the latest insights and recommendations on how to keep yourself and your loved ones healthy

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  • February 02, 2020

    By MedStar Health

    Surafel Zenebe was awarded the SPIRIT of Excellence Award for the third quarter of 2019 during a presentation at MedStar University Town Center. Surafel is the Sponsored Award Manager, Office of Contracts and Grants Management at MedStar Health Research Institute. Nominated by Grant Gonzalez, Director, Financial Operations (Office of Financial Management), the award was presented by Neil Weissman, President, MedStar Health Research Institute.

    Often nominated by the manager, this was by a peer. Tina Stanger, Assistant Vice President, Research Administration said “Teamwork is such a small word for what he does. He can work with anyone, PI's, SCAs, and treat them all with respect.” Surafel was recognized for his commitment and his ability to maintain relationships between the Central Business Office (COB), Office of Financial Management (OFM), Office of Contracts and Grants Management (OCGM) and Scientific Awards Administration (SAA). During the presentation, everyone had wonderful remarks to say about Surafel:

    • “He is extremely helpful with other teams. Helping us understand transactions and what is happening. He balances the work and makes each request feel important.”
    • “Surafel is constantly thinking of ways to improve processes within his respective team and MHRI. He tries to apply processes that create efficiencies within his own department. Similar, he is always looking at the overall MHRI financial health for was to improve it.”
    • “He forms relationships with those he works with, from admin to managers to coordnators to colleagues at different institutions and even patients calling about reimbursements, aiding in his successes. These relationships have allowed Surafel to successfully provide the support required from his job.”

    The SPIRIT Award is given to recognize and reward one associate (management or non-management) each quarter, who excels in Service, Patient First, Integrity, Respect, Innovation, and Teamwork.  Based on valuable feedback, the nomination process for the MHRI Spirit Award has been revamped to best serve our managers and associates to ensure that we are recognizing an associate of the quarter.

    The new process will leverage the KUDOS that are submitted by all associates. Each quarter, the MHRI Executive Team will review the KUDOS submissions and select an associate or manager who best exemplifies all our SPIRIT values.This method is similar to programs at different entities at MedStar Health. We hope this new process will allow us to recognize associates for their continued commitment to the MedStar SPIRIT values.

    Please contact if you have any questions.