Not My Teenager! Right?

26 02 2010

Sometimes I hate reality. I have a teenage girl and I don’t want to think about STIs, but, I also don’t want to risk her health.

Turns out, teenage girls aren’t getting screened early enough for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). They’re getting infected and passing that infection on to their partners.

Recommendations based on recent studies are to screen girls within a year of their first sexual experience.  If they have an STI, they should be retested every three to four months until they become infection-free.

Prevention strategies include early sex education and routine HPV vaccination for 11 and 12 year olds.

One study examined rates of sexually transmitted infections occurring among girls in U.S. cities.  The study found that half of these teenagers had at least one of three common STIs (chlamydia, gonorrhea and trichomoniasis) within the first two years of becoming sexually active.

The study also reported that in 25% of cases, the girls became re-infected with the same STI within four to six months of completing treatment.  Seventy-five percent of the girls reported receiving treatment for at least one more STI during the two years that followed their first infection.  Four years after getting their first STI diagnosis, 92% of the girls had experienced at least one additional STI.

Another study examined a group of 838 girls aged 14-19 and found that 24% of them had had at least one of five common STIs (gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, herpes simplex virus type 2, and human papillomavirus).

Among those girls who admitted to being sexually experienced, the rate of past or present STI infection was 37.7%.  The study also confirmed that for these girls, the STI infection often occurred within the first year of becoming sexually active.  Twenty percent of girls who reported only one partner in their lifetime reported they’d had an infection.

Do you have a daughter?  Talk to her about STIs and how to prevent infection.  Do it even if you think she will not have sex before marriage.  Do it even if she’s already sexually active. If she is active, get her screened for infection so that treatment can be given, should it be necessary.


UTIs – Not Fun

24 02 2010

There are hundreds of strains of Escherichia coli, a type of bacteria more commonly known as E.coli.

Most are harmless and live naturally in the intestines of humans and other mammals without causing illness.  But, there are a few strains that cause serious illness in humans when we eat or drink contaminated food or water.

Typical symptoms of E. coli infection are stomach pain and diarrhea. E. coli can also cause urinary tract infections (UTIs).

UTIs are common in children and women.  By the age of five, 8% of girls and 1-2% of boys have had at least one UTI.

Women and girls tend to get UTIs more often than men and boys for two reasons:

  • Women and girls have shorter urethras (where urine comes out)
  • The urethra is located closer to the anus (where you have your bowel movements), which increases the chances of bacteria from the colon coming into contact with the urethra.

Usually, there are no bacteria in urine. When bacteria get into the urinary tract (the system that brings urine from your kidneys to your bladder and then out through the urethra) it can cause symptoms of fever, as well as burning and pain with urination. This is a UTI.

Most often, UTIs are caused by E. coli that get into the urinary tract from stool left on the skin around the anus after a bowel movement. Bleh.

However, some UTIs result from eating E. coli-contaminated food.

To avoid infection and the spread of E. coli, CDC suggests:

  • Thoroughly cook meats and wash fresh produce before eating.
  • Thoroughly wash your hands after using the restroom, changing diapers, before and after touching food, after touching animals or the areas in which animals reside.
  • After using the restroom, wipe from front to back to prevent bacteria from the anus from entering the urethra.
  • Avoid raw milk and unpasteurized dairy products or juices such as apple cider.
  • Drink plenty of fluids (except for the water in which you swim or play, as it might harbor E. coli).

No guarantees, but a little prevention might save you or your kids from lots of discomfort.


It’s the Mala Aria That Kills You

22 02 2010

Bad air or “mala aria,” as the Italians first called it a few centuries ago, kills over a million people every year—mostly children.

Worldwide, there are about 250 million cases of malaria each year and half of the humans on the planet continue to be at risk of infection.

Symptoms of malaria made the medical texts of ancient China almost 5,000 years ago, and King Tut was most likely helped to his death by malaria.

Malaria certainly has its bona fides as a scourge of humanity.

Egyptologist Dr. Zahi Hawass led the recent studies that found an “…important result of the DNA studies was the discovery of material from Plasmodium falciparum,  the protozoon that causes malaria, in the body of Tutankhamun. Medicinal foodstuffs (i.e., drugs to fight fever and pain) found within the tomb support the team’s contention that the young king suffered from a severe malarial infection.”

After thousands of years, science has won a few battles but the war goes on.

The current goal is to increase access to prevention and protection methods, such as drugs for treatment, protective netting, and indoor spraying, with the hope that this will greatly reduce malaria cases and deaths.

None of this gets to the core problems of that blasted mosquito and the rotten parasite that uses the mosquito as transportation to get to humans. Turns out the parasite doesn’t even hurt the mosquito, as it so obviously does humans.

The hope is that the increased access to prevention/protection can be kept up long enough for scientists to discover ways to eliminate the core problems.

World Malaria Day is 25 April. Buy a net for a kid.  The net is cheap and the child’s life is priceless. Who knows, this child who lives because of the net you buy may grow up to be the scientist who discovers a cure for malaria.

Wouldn’t that be something.


Teens and Sleep – Unlikely Partners

19 02 2010

Got teens? Bet they groan and moan in the morning, too exhausted to speak.

When our teenagers don’t get the sleep they need, their drowsiness leads to traffic accidents, poor grades, and stronger, more negative emotions. The same is true for adults, but teens have a particularly hard time getting enough sleep.

How much sleep we get is closely tied to how well the immune system works. Not enough sleep, we’re going to get sick.

Just as sleep affects our immune systems, challenges to our immune systems (such as fighting a virus or bacteria) can negatively affect our sleep.

Although science has long recognized that sleep and the immune system do have a relationship, we haven’t really known why or how it works.  One study found that among mammals (humans are included in this category), the species that sleep the longest have the most white blood cells.

White blood cells help keep infection out and fight infection once it gets in to keep the body healthy.  It’s possible that sleep stimulates the immune system to make the white blood cells that fight infection.

To test the sleep/immune system connection, one researcher gave flu vaccines to a group of college students who had only slept four hours in the previous six nights.  Follow-up testing found that this group of students only produced half of the normal number of antibodies in response to the vaccine.

This doesn’t bode well for the 69% of high school students who don’t get enough sleep each night.  In fact, studies show that only 8% of teenagers get the optimal amount of 9 hours of sleep they need.

What keeps these kids up at night?  Well, social factors such as employment, activities, caffeine consumption, increased amounts of electronic devices in the bedroom, and early school start times are most often to blame.

Teens can turn things around by:

  • Prioritizing the demands on their time so that they get the sleep they need.
  • Establishing a bedtime routine by going to bed and getting up at a regular time. (In order for kids to get enough sleep, they should be going to bed before 10pm, although this may go against natural sleeping rhythms that occur during the teen years.)
  • Not trying to catch up on sleep on the weekends. Specialists think that it doesn’t work. Rather, they suggest teens sleep in a little later on the weekends, but generally keep their bodies in the same sleep-wake pattern they establish during the week.

How much sleep we each need is not an exact science, but there are guidelines and it’s worth it to try to get sufficient sleep.

The bottom line is that all humans need adequate sleep—it boosts our immune systems and keeps us healthy.  It also helps us live longer.  And, we’re not so grouchy.


Private Parts in Public Places

17 02 2010

Privacy is no longer a “social norm.” So says Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg also has said that if Facebook were created today, user information would be public by default, much like it is on Twitter.

These comments came during the “Crunchie Awards,” a show organized by popular blog TechCrunch to recognize the most talked-about and noteworthy Internet innovators of the year.

Newly overhauled privacy options on Facebook seem to be headed in that more public direction and Facebook users, notorious for hating change, are howling.

Similar howls were heard after massive re-designs of the social network’s interface in 2008 and 2009.

Many of the users’ arguments could be boiled down to, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

And, the Facebook privacy change is more significant than a simple re-design.

But who’s to say if it’s even reasonable to expect privacy on the Internet?

We’ve all heard the stories of employees being fired due to content placed on their social media pages—pages that are provided free of charge. Excellent example of no privacy on the Internet.

Lack of privacy is becoming more and more prevalent, if not always welcome.

Data collection services provide detailed personal information to anyone with a credit card with a few clicks of the mouse. Visual technology, such as the popular Google Earth service, lets anybody travel anywhere on Earth, often with richly-detailed “street level” views of a specific address.

Before mourning the loss of anonymity, remember that it works in positive ways, as well. For instance, it’s easier to keep in touch with acquaintances, colleagues, and organizations, and form lasting connections. For businesses and organizations, potential customers are more inclined to share and interact with such a group if they feel there is a human on the other end with whom they can form a relationship.

The Internet is becoming one ginormous small town. Everyone knows everyone else’s business. Feels like we’ve come full circle.


Kids and Sex, Gotta Have That Talk

15 02 2010

We have got to talk to our kids about sex (and related topics).  They’re going to snicker and act goofy or scowl and pretend to be annoyed, but they won’t run screaming from the room.  That’s because they want to know!

And we have to do it sooner rather than later.

On four separate occasions over the course of a year, 141 families of children aged 13-17 were surveyed concerning the timing of their chats about sexual topics.

Researchers found that over 50% of the teens had already experienced genital touching by the time their parents talked with them about birth control, sexually transmitted diseases and condom use.

More than 40% of the teens had already had intercourse by the time their parents talked with them about sexually transmitted diseases, condom use, choosing birth control and what to do if your partner refuses to wear a condom.

Why do we as parents allow this to happen?  Research suggests that we don’t have an accurate sense of where our children are in the stages of sexual exploration.

We all know that kids are exposed to sexual images and ideas through movies, music, magazines, and television at ever earlier ages.  This influences them in ways we parents may not be prepared to anticipate.

We want to protect our kids.  Most parents aren’t willing to bet their child’s health or life on an assumption that the child will abstain from sex until the parent thinks he or she is ready.

Experts suggest starting the conversation two years earlier than the age we think is appropriate. Don’t wait until just before we think the child is ready to explore sexual contact.

Sexuality is natural, it’s a part of being human, and it’s not just about sex.  Sexuality encompasses gender, interactions with the opposite sex, how men and women and boys and girls express emotion, body image, intimacy, and sexual orientation.

The kids may not listen when we tell them to take out the trash, but 63% of teens say being able to talk to their parents about sex makes it much easier to postpone sexual activity and avoid teen pregnancy.

Wooohooooo!  Parents doin’ the happy dance!


EMRs and Privacy. Mutually Exclusive?

12 02 2010

Has your doctor been walking into the exam room with a computer or some sort of electronic gadget instead of the paper-stuffed chart that holds your medical history?

If so, she’s switched to the Electronic Medical Record (EMR), a modern-day version of that paper chart.

An EMR system has a lot of pluses going for it. It links with other electronic systems, allowing the physician to do evidence-based research on the fly, it’s easier to quickly find laboratory and diagnostic testing results that can reduce test duplication and delays in treatments, and it improves the accuracy and reliability of medical records in the patient’s chart.

Great as all this sounds, physicians can identify the drawbacks of widespread access to very personal, highly confidential health information. One study in Massachusetts found that over half of the physicians reported being somewhat or very concerned about the possibility of privacy abuses. Another study among mental health care providers found that over half of the psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses and therapists surveyed were uncomfortable recording highly confidential information in an electronic health record.

The HIPAA Privacy Rule exists to protect abuses of a patient’s confidential information by requiring safeguards within the electronic system to protect private health information and by setting limits and conditions on how the information can be used and shared.

This is the challenge of EMRs: to allow appropriate access for health care providers while ensuring that personal health information is secure and safe from the potential for abuse.


Slacktivists of the World, Sign Here!

10 02 2010

Are we activists? Don’t know, sounds a bit … athletic, and therefore the answer would be probably not.

Perhaps we’re slacktivists. Sounds more likely.

There’s a term floating around – slacktivism – that is basically activism on lots and lots of valium. describes slacktivism as “the search for the ultimate feel-good that derives from having come to society’s rescue without actually getting one’s hands dirty, volunteering any of one’s time, or opening one’s wallet.”

For instance, a slacktivist signs a petition to stop the killing of dolphins. An activist films the killing, stands in front of the post office each day asking people to sign the petition, takes the film and the petition to the International Whaling Commission, and demands that they stop those who kill dolphins.

Big difference.

But, if no one bothers to sign a petition to show there is support (let’s get a plug in for slacktivists), then where are we?

Is there a place for slacktivists, and is slacktivism useful?

We think yes.

There are websites that cater to the slacktivist approach and still manage to get things done, most notably FreeRice, which lets users earn points while playing educational games. The points earned can be spent on grains of rice which are sent to hungry people around the world.

Slacktivism making a difference!

No, the slacktivist doesn’t have to give up his time to go out and dig a new irrigation system, plant rice and then harvest it in order to feed the hungry, and yes he is sipping a latte while comfortably playing a game on his computer, but he is helping.  No matter how cozy he is while doing so.

While there is no substitute for generous donations and getting off the couch to volunteer for those who are in need, it appears that slacktivism has a role to play and could be considered activism’s (junior) partner.

And that’s OK, just as long as the clicking of (computer) mice and flourishing of pens are balanced with a bit of cash and a drop of sweat.


Herpes – Even If You Can’t See It

8 02 2010

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) most often caused by the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).

About 45 million people in the U.S. over the age of 11have been infected. When a person becomes infected with the virus, it causes lesions in the genital area. Once a person is infected with HSV-2, there’s no way to get rid of it. The body carries the virus forever, although there may not always be symptoms.

Scientists used to believe that the life cycle of the virus in the body moved through stages of activity and inactivity. When the virus was active, it caused genital lesions. When the lesions went away, the virus was considered inactive.

Newer evidence suggests the virus may not ever be completely inactive. Now scientists believe that the virus continuously sheds small amounts of itself to the genital area along the nerves from the spinal column, even when lesions are not present.

This information suggests that people may be more contagious during “inactive” times than previously thought. Use of condoms can help prevent transmission, but it’s still possible to become infected when using a condom. Even though there are treatments available that help reduce transmission, there’s nothing that provides 100% protection against infection.

Herpes can be painful, and it can be life-threatening to newborns. Practice safe sex to give yourself the best chance to avoid this and other STDs.