The Stink About Public Bathrooms

31 03 2010

Public restrooms!  Dirty, wet, odorous endurance trials—never fun, sometimes necessary.

Most of us detest public restrooms and we all have certain rituals we perform when we have to use them: piling on a liberal amount of toilet seat covers, hovering over the seat, using an elbow to open and close doors. Sometimes we just “hold it” until a more appealing option comes along.

Public restrooms are said to harbor an unhealthy mix of microbes. This may be true, but we were surprised to find those germs waiting in unlikely places.

Myth #1: Toilet seats are the germiest places in a public restroom.

Not so, say the experts. The germiest place in a public restroom is the floor. Also in the running are routinely touched objects: latches and sink handles.

Myth #2: The womens’ restroom is usually cleaner than the men’s restroom.

While it may smell better (due to the lack of urinals) and be more appealing (due to male grooming habits), women’s restrooms usually have higher bacteria counts than men’s restrooms, due to women spending more time in the restroom and often bringing their children with them to take care of business.

Bonus disgusting fact: germs are transported from the restroom when women set their bags and purses on the restroom floor and then take them back outside. What do the experts suggest? Use a hook or, if possible, have a traveling companion on the outside hold onto it for you.

Myth #3: The farther away a stall is from the door, the less used it is.

Actually, most people believe this and use the stalls that are farthest from the door. The cleanest stalls are usually the ones closest to the door.

Myth #4: Air dryers are more sanitary because you don’t have to push a lever/button.

Surprisingly, not so! Air drying machines blow germy air directly onto your hands, your clothes, and into the air you breathe.

Myth #5: Squatting is safer than using a cover or just using a bare seat itself.

Maybe, but squatting doesn’t allow the bladder to be fully emptied, putting you at risk for a urinary infection.

Myth #6: I can hold it, I guess! No big deal.

Holding it for too long also puts you at risk for a urinary infection.

Myth #7: Bathrooms harbor germs you don’t find in normal settings.

Bathrooms have the same germs you come into contact with everywhere else by shaking hands, touching rails, and opening doors.

Myth #8: All my rituals are useless and unnecessary.

There’s nothing wrong with turning off the faucet and opening the door with paper towels. No one is going to laugh at you for using a paper toilet seat cover. Rituals are there for comfort and do contribute to your health. You don’t need to pretend a public restroom is the same as the one you have at home, but it might be easier to “go” if you aren’t thoroughly disgusted by your surroundings. Just be sure to lather those hands after you’re done!

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Hantavirus – Rare and Deadly

29 03 2010

Spring is here! Time to clean, to sweep, perchance to dust far corners.

But wait, are those rodent droppings? Does that look like a little critter’s nest inside your box of outdoor tools?

Those droppings may be perfectly harmless, or they may be full of hantaviruses.

The hantavirus is carried in the droppings, urine and saliva of various rodents.

The virus is transmitted by breathing in stirred-up dust and debris infected with the virus. It’s also transmitted by direct contact with rodent debris through small cuts in the skin.

The hantavirus is responsible for hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS).

Although only 20 to 40 cases are reported to the CDC per year, HPS is serious and can result in death. Initial symptoms include fever, fatigue and muscle aches. Other symptoms may include headaches, stomach problems, dizziness and chills. Symptoms can escalate and include shortness of breath and coughing.

The sooner you’re diagnosed, the better. It’s a serious infection and, as reported by NIH,  “Even with aggressive treatment, more than half of the cases are fatal.”

The hantavirus is found mainly in the southwestern part of the U.S., although cases have been reported in all the western states and many of the eastern states.

So, how can you prevent hantavirus infection?  The CDC says “Seal up! Trap Up! Clean Up!”.

Look around your home or work place and be sure all food, including pet food, is placed in tightly-sealed containers. Clean up food spills as soon as they happen. Eliminate food and nesting sources close to your home or place of work.

Do you currently have an infestation of rodents in your home? Check for entryways around your home, and seal any holes to keep rodents out. Continue to trap rodents until a week passes without catching new rodents. This allows for enough time to pass to ensure that the hantavirus is no longer infectious.

Finally, glove-up and carefully begin cleaning, following at least 30 minutes of ventilation of the area. You can wear a dust mask to protect against floating debris or dust, but it won’t protect you against viruses, so spray affected items and the area with diluted bleach to disinfect and help ensure the matter won’t become airborne when you clean.

Whatever you do, try not to stir up the dust that may hold the hantavirus! Don’t sweep. Carefully pick up and dispose of moistened rodent droppings and other evidence in garbage bags and then seal them.

For more information on how to safely tackle rodent debris, read all that the CDC has to say.

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Freaky Friday #3

26 03 2010

Freaky Friday: We can’t guarantee the following bits of weird news are true, but we almost did our best to find out!  Enjoy.

Guinea worms—in through the mouth, and out through the… knee?? In some countries, larvae of guinea worms living in water fleas lives are ingested when people drink the water. The worms grow for about a year, unbeknownst to their human host. Then they begin the painful process of leaving the body through the skin, which can take up to 2 months.  Yes, that’s right, two months with a worm hanging out of some place on your skin. The host seeks out water to soothe the burning sensation, which is when the worm deposits its larvae—and the cycle begins again. Successful eradication efforts are now taking place.

Male walruses have a baculum the size of some baseball bats.  Modesty prevents us from saying more.

Hey, need some progesterone and just don’t have time to see your provider for pills?  Here, have a walnut.

Let’s see, if a hard working adult sweats up to 4 gallons per day, then here at PKIDs, we sweat up to…anybody got a measuring spoon?

How many kids go off to school with peanut butter sandwiches?  A pound of peanut butter can contain up to 150 bug fragments and 5 rodent hairs.  Eeeewwww. Where do we come up with this stuff?  More importantly, why do we do it? Hey, it’s fun.  And it’s Friday!

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Medical Waste – A Waste of Life

24 03 2010

Photo: Robert Maletta

Children, ravaging dump sites filled with toxic treasures waiting to be resold or reused, are not an uncommon sight in some parts of the world. They’re on the lookout for syringes, among other items, as they feel a perfectly good syringe is too valuable to be used only once.

This scene replays itself in many developing areas of sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, the former Soviet Republics, and Latin America.

Infectious diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C are also not uncommon in many of these areas.  A significant source of infection is the reclamation and reuse of improperly disposed medical waste, including syringes, needles, tubing, soiled dressings, and contaminated medical devices.

Part of the problem is cultural.

In some areas of developing countries, there is a cultural belief that an injection cures all ails. The patient complains of fatigue or general malaise? He gets a vitamin injection. Is there a skin infection or respiratory illness? An injection of antibiotics is the answer.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that in developing countries, 5% or less of injections are given as immunizations, which prevent infections. The other 95% are given as curative therapy, to treat an existing illness rather than prevent infection, and most of these injections are unnecessary.

Oral medications could easily take the place of an injection. However, culturally, injection therapy is deemed most effective and is popular. There is a deep, underlying sense of value associated with injections.

WHO estimates that at least 50% of injections given for curative reasons are unsafe injections. This is based on data from five regions of the developing world, representing 19 countries. This would include single-use syringes that have been reused, multi-use syringes that have not been adequately sterilized, and the contamination of multi-dose vials.

It’s conservatively estimated that a single syringe might be used on three to ten patients before it is disposed of or sterilized. Because of the high incidence of infectious diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C, the likelihood of continuing to spread these diseases, even to the healthy population, increases.

AD or Auto-Disable syringes are one way to prevent the reuse of syringes and, consequently, the spread of disease.  Proper disposal of medical waste is another way to prevent infection.

However, education and supervision of health care workers, and patient education, are primary to changing these risky practices.

Support PATH in its work to develop safer methods of medical waste disposal.

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TB Today

22 03 2010

For many of us, the words “TB” and “tuberculosis” conjure up black-and-white images of sanatoriums and large, antiquated medical equipment. Or maybe we hear those words and think, “That can’t happen to us.”

But it does. One of our staff members recently caught up with an old friend of hers, a 30-something woman living in the U.S., and discovered she’d undergone treatment for latent TB. Being who we are, we couldn’t resist the opportunity for an interview!

Abandoned sanatorium for tuberculosis

Abandoned sanatorium for tuberculosis

When/how did you find out you had latent TB?

Two and a half years ago, I was registering to be an on-call chaplain. For that type of position, you have to have a yearly TB skin test, and mine came up positive. The test is a skin prick—if you’re positive, it reacts. I immediately felt something, and the pricked area swelled up like a bad spider bite.

What were the first thoughts you had?

I was freaking out a little, because TB has such a stigma attached to it. There’s a place in Seattle that is on the site of a former tuberculosis sanatorium—a friend of mine remembers standing outside, waving to her father in the window.

I think I might have contracted TB in the mission field. It’s fairly common for mission workers or hospital workers to have it. My sister has latent TB also, possibly from working in the inner cities.

What did you do first?

You’re required to report to your local health department if you have a positive skin test, so I did. They scheduled me for treatments.

What was the treatment process like?

I had to go to the health department twice a week to take 3 pills—they watch you take them. I only missed one treatment. It was a day that I had the stomach flu and a funeral, and the health department was calling me. They were very on top of things!

It was a 9-month course of treatment. The drugs make you feel lethargic, and they upset my stomach and gave me heartburn-like symptoms. I chose the twice weekly treatment because it was less inconvenient, and also, by the third day, I’d feel better, which was better than feeling bad every day for 9 months.

I could taste the pills for months afterward every time I drove by the health department. Pregnancy is a lot easier!

Were your friends or family concerned they might be infected?

My husband was concerned at first! Also, a relative of a friend with a son who has medical issues was very concerned about my husband being around her son, even though I’m not even symptomatic.

Another acquaintance of mine who also had latent TB began to have health problems and was concerned that my TB had activated hers, but it turned out she had other medical issues that were unrelated.

It was odd, people not understanding that people with latent TB are not contagious.

Did you have any specific concerns about TB and pregnancy?

You’re not supposed to get pregnant while on the drugs. But other than that, it hasn’t been a concern for me.

Do you ever worry you’ll develop active TB?

Taking the drugs made it less likely that I’ll get it. Night sweats, coughing—they tell you to watch out for those symptoms. I’m glad I did the treatment now, when I’m more physically capable, instead of having it be an issue at some later time when I’m not as healthy. But I don’t worry about it.

Is your life today affected by having latent TB?

No. I just keep my letter on hand stating that I’ve done the treatment so I can provide it when a convalescent center or someplace requires routine testing. I’m surprised at how TB is much more common than we think it is!

When a person has latent TB, it means that the body’s immune defenses hold the TB bacilli, preventing them from multiplying. However, any number of factors – age, cancer, steroids, to name a few – can suppress the immune system, allowing the bacilli to multiply, causing active TB disease. Treating latent TB reduces the chances of this happening by over 90%.

If you or anyone you know has been exposed to active TB disease (not latent TB), you should get tested for TB. To learn more and to help prevent the spread of TB, visit the World TB Day website.

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Freaky Friday #2

19 03 2010

Freaky Friday: We can’t guarantee the following bits of weird news are true, but we almost did our best to find out!  Enjoy.

It’s getting harder to break the law and get away with it.  We can be identified by fingerprints, ear prints, tongue prints, and now our germs are ratting us out. We each have billions of microbes in us or on us, and those critters leave a “unique bacterial genetic signature” behind as we go about our daily business.

A meal for a person with pica might start off with a pebble salad, laundry starch on the side.  Then a couple of light bulbs, perhaps halogen, and hunter green paint chips sprinkled with needles for extra crunchiness.  For dessert, soft little clouds of plastic wrapped in string.  Hey, it’s an eating disorder.  What did you think?

Botox wipes the frowns lines away.  But does it also paralyze our emotions?  The brain tells the face to frown and waits for the report indicating there was a successful frown.  With Botox, there are no frown lines, the report gets screwed up, and emotions are misunderstood.  Good news is, Botox also prevents excessive sweating!  Boooyaaaaa.

Big rains brought abundance of bugs for thousands of spiders, who decided to make nice and work together to build the biggest freaking 600+ foot web your nightmares have ever conjured.

Where do we come up with this stuff?  More importantly, why do we do it? Hey, it’s fun.  And it’s Friday.

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A Hundred Years to Live

17 03 2010
Picture of Gertrude Baines, 115th birthday

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

How many people would wish for an unusually long life, if they had their druthers?

The average lifespan in the U.S. (around 77 years) doesn’t seem like enough time to experience…everything.

Extending the lifespan is a hot topic in the health world. Everywhere we look, there’s a new fountain of youth beckoning. Whether it’s antioxidants, calorie restriction diets, or extreme exercise regimens, everybody is looking to live just a little longer, or to sell the idea that we can.

Centenarians—those among us who’ve made it to their 100th birthday or beyond—get honors galore from the rest of us, but we also view them with puzzlement.

They’ve outlived their friends, their children, numerous presidents, and probably a spouse or two.  They have memories of events most of us only read about in history books.

Everyone wants to know what their big secret is.

Some know exactly how they lasted so long (“I ate three raw eggs for breakfast every day!”), while others are more modest, happily unsure of how they passed the hundred-year mark.

And then there are the old-timers who’ve flown in the face of accepted science. One supercentenarian (aged 110 or greater) credited her many years to crispy bacon and regularly enjoyed fried chicken and ice cream.

Studies have shown that women generally live longer than men, and it is thought that most centenarians have some sort of genetic mutation giving them an advantage when fighting off disease. All are usually thin or of average weight and most never smoked or drank to excess. Most have interests or a purpose beyond themselves—family or religion, for example. More obscure reasons, like where their ancestors hailed from, also seem to play a role.

We’re a a long way from pinpointing what body processes, genes, and environmental factors exert the most control over how long one lives. But in our fast-food, 24-hour, desk job society, the advice on how to live to be a centenarian holds as much common sense as ever:

“Eat sensibly. Keep walking. Keep knitting. If you can’t keep friends, make new ones. Plan so much invigorating work that there’s just no time to die. And no regret when you do.”

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