Memorial Day

28 05 2010

It just takes one. One friend or brother, one parent or child. Lose one person you love to war, and you know what Memorial Day is all about.

Memorial Day started perhaps during the Civil War, when women decorated the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers.  After all, it used to be called Decoration Day. But, no one really knows who started it, or where, and it’s probable that it was borne from the zeitgeist of the time.

A few years after the Civil War ended, in May of 1868, Decoration Day was established by a group of Union veterans as a day for the graves of the fallen to be decorated with flowers. The 30th of May was chosen as a day when flowers around the country would most likely be in bloom.

In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday and moved it to the last Monday in May.

Have you seen the red poppies worn by some on Memorial Day? That tradition started with Moina Michael and her poem “We Shall Keep Faith” (which was itself inspired by “In Flander’s Fields,” a poem by John McCrae):

We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.

In 2000, Congress established the National Moment of Remembrance, when at 3pm local time, on Memorial Day, Americans across the country stop for one moment to honor and remember those who’ve died for this country.

And so we come to the end of this brief history of Memorial Day. I want to buy a red poppy and pause for a moment, at 3pm on Monday, to think of those gone too soon.


Bedbugs Give Us the Willies

26 05 2010

After a long day of navigating crowded airports and chasing sleep on loud, stuffy airplane cabins, don’t you just heave a sigh of relief when you finally reach your hotel room?

Do you drop your bags and flop onto the bed, just so darn happy not to be sitting in a cramped airplane? When you do head for the bed, do you first check the mattress for bedbugs? We do.

Bedbugs are tiny bloodsuckers that give us the willies. Not only do they suck our blood, they love to hop onto our clothes or our luggage and go home with us.

Bedbugs are small, brownish-red insects with flat, oval-shaped bodies. Despite their names, bedbugs can live in other areas besides your bed including nooks and crannies on bed frames, on curtains, wall plaster, and on other materials.

These little vampires were nearly eliminated through the liberal use of DDT in the 1940s and 1950s. Bedbugs have become a problem again in the U.S. due to international travel and what experts fear is evidence of bedbugs’ growing immunity to conventional insecticides.

There’s a good chance you will come into contact with bedbugs at some point, especially if you travel often or frequently purchase and trade items like used furniture.

Sleeping on a pile of bugs has a pretty high gross factor, but the most that will happen when bitten is a red bump and some itching.

The real challenge is getting rid of them once they’re found, a situation that will probably require the aid of a pest control expert.

Here are some tips for identifying an infestation and alleviating the problem (fingers crossed):

  • Get a positive ID on the bug. You may not have bedbugs and might not need to go through the song and dance required to rid yourself and your home of the infestation.
  • Make sure you have a live infestation and not just signs (dead bugs, blood spots on bedding) of a past infestation.
  • Don’t assume the bugs are living in only one room. Check all of your rooms for bedbugs. Dismantle the bed and check the frame and head/foot boards for bugs. Pull out all of the drawers from the furniture and check behind as well as on the underside of the drawers. Turn the furniture over and check the bottom, as well as all sides and the top. Leave no nook or cranny unexplored, no matter how small. Clean all of these areas you’re inspecting.
  • Clean out the clutter in your room(s). Bedbugs will roam and love to hide in clutter.
  • Roll up your sleeves for some major cleaning. Scrub everything with a brush and cleaning agent to dislodge the eggs. Vacuum where you can’t scrub and, once it’s dry, vacuum what you did scrub.
  • Keep the bed away from the wall and your bedding off the floor to prevent bugs from crawling onto the bed. Put the bed legs into cups of mineral oil to prevent the critters climbing up that way.
  • Look around the interior of the house and seal spots where bugs can get in, such as cracks around baseboards, or holes where pipes come through the walls.
  • Talk to a pest control expert who’s experienced in bedbug infestations. Get references and find out what the plan is for removal, what insecticides might be used, and how those chemicals may affect those living in your home.

Wish we could end on a brighter note…hey, bedbugs aren’t known to carry disease-causing germs. There’s some good news! Right?


West Nile Virus – Blech

24 05 2010

Summer dreams…. cool lakes, dusty back roads, sleepy morning breezes, disease-carrying mosquitoes…

Yep, they’re a bubble burster alright.

Mosquitoes are back, and so is West Nile virus (WNV). It was first identified in Africa in 1937, and made its way to New York in the summer of 1999.It’s pretty much all over the country now.

Remember when WNV dominated the news, and we were told not to touch dead birds? Well, as it turns out, WNV transmission is through mosquitoes that bite infected birds, carry the virus in their saliva, and then bite humans or animals.

There are other forms of transmission, including through organ transplants and blood transfusions. Transmission from mother to unborn child and through breast milk is possible, although CDC says the chances are so remote, one should not stop breastfeeding because of risk of WNV infection.

For the most part, WNV is pretty benign, with few or no symptoms. The incubation period is 3 to 14 days.  Of those infected, 20% may develop West Nile fever, which can cause flu-like symptoms and lasts less than a week.

In fewer than 1% of those infected, WNV is a severe neurological infection that can cause lasting damage or even death.

It’s possible to become infected through transfusions or transplantation. Donated blood is screened for seven infectious agents, including WNV. The complication that arises is the lack of consistency and standardization in screening blood for WNV, as logistics play a role in the process. Protocols may be more rigorous in areas where WNV is more prevalent. The more sensitive testing is costly and time-consuming.

Then there’s screening of donated organs. Time and test sensitivity are factors. Do the risks of an organ potentially infected with WNV outweigh the benefit of the time necessary to test a donated organ for WNV?  Should a standardized protocol be utilized, or should WNV geographic prevalence play a role in determining protocols? And finally, should recipients have a choice in accepting organs that are potentially infected with WNV, without testing?

There are no certain answers to these questions.

Prevention of WNV is what you would suspect:  limiting your exposure to mosquitoes by wearing protective clothing or mosquito repellent, and by eliminating breeding areas. Check out this tool and find the perfect repellent that meets your needs! In addition to repellent, make sure you follow these suggestions to minimize your exposure to WNV-carrying mosquitoes:

  • Install/repair screens on doors and windows
  • Get rid of standing water on or near your property
  • Try to stay indoors at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are prevalent


Feeling Crowded?

21 05 2010

Aaaah, crowds. That sea of humanity one swims in at rock concerts, baseball stadiums, political rallies, the Hajj, the World Cup, and other events that draw us like kids to jam.


Courtesy Robert Molinarius

You know what else we swim in at crowded events? Germs. Lots and lots of germs. They’re in the under-cooked foods, the restrooms, the coughs and sneezes, the trails the many fingers leave behind. They’re everywhere.

This summer’s FIFA World Cup will be huge. It only comes around once every four years, so there’s a lot of pent-up excitement waiting to spill all over South Africa.

Most soccer fans around the world will scream and pound tables at home or in a pub, through their TVs, computer screens, radios, and smartphones. They’ll be exposed to germs, but the World Cup is exposure to the third magnitude.

Fans migrating toward South Africa to revel in all of that which is hockey will soon plunge into microbial soup. So, just a word about prevention please. Your loved ones want you returned in the same condition as that in which you left.

How do you do that?  How do you avoid the billions of disease-causing germs you’re sure to meet when crowded up next to 10,000, 100,000, or 1,000,000 other people?

  • If you can’t bring your own food, make sure to eat nothing that’s uncooked or under-cooked.
  • Bottled water is a must, and better to bring your own in case it’s hard to get.
  • Hand sanitizer is your friend. Use it A LOT and definitely before touching anything you will eat or drink, and don’t touch your face unless you’ve just sanitized your hands. On second thought, just don’t touch your face.
  • Check with your provider and get caught up on your immunizations.
  • Use a product to keep bugs away (some carry disease).
  • Unless you’re wearing a special mask, there’s not much you can do about the germs people sneeze and cough into the air, but you can cover your sneezes and coughs to protect others.

That’s about it, unless someone has a good tip they’d like to add.

By the way, Rift Valley fever is popping up in South Africa, so watch out for those mosquitos, and no handling of dead, uncooked animals.

Have fun!


Safety on Facebook: Does it Exist?

19 05 2010

A cartoon of a child on a computer.Ever since MySpace and Facebook exploded into pop culture, parents, teachers, and other leaders have decried how easy it is for kids to get in over their heads enjoying the very things that make social networking fun: playing multiplayer games, sending party invitations, and browsing their nearby neighbors—all things that make it easy to meet new people.

Behind all the buzz and fun is the fact that kid-magnet social networks, like Facebook and MySpace, are also popular with those who seek to do kids harm.

In response, Facebook has unveiled a new Safety Center, its latest tool to fight abuse on the network.

The safety center is a portal to information, some of which is provided by Facebook and some of which is provided by other partners like Childnet International and Connect Safely. It seems to be an easier way to find answers to questions we’ve all had at one time or another.  For that reason alone it’s worth a mention, although there’s no “Golly!” factor at work.

The network was criticized in recent years for not doing enough to keep tabs on predators who had created accounts.

The Safety Center just answers some questions, it’s no substitute for the oversight only parents can provide—even if our kids think it’s a drag.

Here are some tips for helping your family stay safe online, courtesy of Julia Angwin at The Wall Street Journal:

Savvy parents should treat the Internet like an unsupervised playground. Set some rules and then stick around to make sure they’re enforced.

  • No chat rooms
  • Only instant message with people that kids know in real life
  • Immediately report any cyber-bullying (parents should then contact the parents of the perpetrator)
  • Never give out personal information online
  • Use web filtering software


Itching to Get a Tattoo?

17 05 2010
A collection of tattoos.

Credit: Skype user "SwanDiamondRose"

Humans have adorned their bodies with tattoos for thousands of years. Even the Iceman, whose remains are about 5,200 years old, was so marked.

Why, then, is tattooing viewed with raised eyebrows by parents and secret longing by our youth?

As parents, we’ll put aside the whole “It’s a lifelong commitment and that cute butterfly on your arm is going to go all funhouse mirror on you when you’re old!” thing, and concentrate on questions of health.

We can’t speak for the secret longing of youth because those years have evaporated into the ether for us.

So, the health of it…

Those tattoos aren’t painted on. Your skin is punctured and the ink injected underneath. Because of this, you may end up with severe and long-lasting itching, skin infections, or even HIV, hepatitis, or other bloodborne diseases.

Tattoo regulations vary by state, and sometimes within a county or city.  Some are governed by the health department, while others are regulated by the department of cosmetology.

While there are regulations, not all tattoo parlors are diligent in following safe, accepted precautions.

A professional tattoo artist takes pride in his artistry and safety habits, and will encourage you to ask questions. If you’re determined to get a tattoo, do yourself a favor and follow these suggestions:

  • Ask if you can observe a tattoo in process.
  • Look around and note the following about your tattooist and the parlor:
    • What are the qualifications of your tattoo artist?  Ask to see certificates and credentials.
    • Is the tattoo shop neat and clean?  Ask to see the autoclave. Does it work?
    • Does the artist wash his hands and use and dispose of sterile gloves appropriately?
    • Latex gloves can be used only with water based ointments.
    • All equipment including needles, tubes, pigments (ink), ointments and water must be single use only, and come out of sterile, sealed, dated packages, or disposed of after use.
    • Ensure that all non-disposable equipment is autoclaved.
    • Watch for cross-contamination.
    • Be sure that the area is completely disinfected after each client with a commercial disinfectant or bleach solution.
    • Tell your tattooist if you’re pregnant or nursing, have a heart condition, severe eczema, or problems with keyloids. Your tattoo might have to wait, or may not be recommended.

This is not the time to look for a bargain!  If you want a tattoo, seek out a professional tattooist who is experienced, and follows strict safety practices in his tattoo shop.

And finally, please think twice about getting a tat where cellulite may form. It’s just, we can’t, it’s too…gah! (You’ll thank us later.)


HPV Vaccine – Not Just for Girls

14 05 2010

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine came out a few years ago and it’s recommended for routine use in females.

Now, there’s an HPV vaccine for males, and for good reason.  Boys and men can get genital warts as well as oral, penile, anal, and other cancers from HPV infection.  Also, if a male is infected with HPV, he can infect his partner.

Late last year, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended the vaccine for optional use in males.

So, why is the recommendation optional for males?  ACIP members are not sure if the benefits of vaccinating boys outweigh the costs to do so.

This leaves parents with a recommendation, of sorts, but nothing very clear.

Should you have your boys vaccinated against HPV?

Talk to your son’s healthcare provider. It’s important to get vaccinated prior to one’s first sexual contact, so that’s something to consider as you mull over your choices.

CDC provides some good information about males and HPV infection, if you’d like to start researching the topic a bit more.


Chocolate and Depression? Nah.

12 05 2010

No, no, no.  Chocolate does not lead to depression. Chocolate takes us kindly by the hand and leads us away from depression.

Dr. Beatrice Golomb and colleagues recently took a look at rates of depression and chocolate consumption. They found that the more depressed one is, apparently the more chocolate one consumes.

Hello! Of course we eat chocolate when we’re depressed. We will stake our Michel Cluizel chocolates on the fact (as yet unsupported, but one day…) that chocolate is a mood elevator, not the cause of our depression.

To even suggest that chocolate might be a downer leaves us sputtering and practically speechless.

Let’s take a look at this study. It was a cross-sectional analysis, a snapshot in time, not exactly the most accurate.

There were over 900 men and women in the study, none of whom were on antidepressants. Participants were studied weekly for one month. Those that consumed an average of 5.4 servings (serving size = 1 oz) of dark chocolate or less appeared to show no depression. Those who scored in the major depression range consumed almost 12 servings per month. This is where it all falls apart for us.

Who doesn’t eat at least 12 ounces of dark chocolate a month? A month!  Please.  Amateurs.

And have you taken that depression test online?  Try it and see how you rate.

Let’s stick with something that we do know, and that is all that is good about dark chocolate.  Dark chocolate contains antioxidants. Big word, but apparently antioxidants hate free radicals, which should not be free but in jail somewhere.

Here are some key benefits that we remind ourselves of each time we bite into a bit of dark chocolate:

  • Dark chocolate has important antioxidants and we all know about that free radical business.
  • Dark chocolate lowers blood pressure.  Score!
  • Dark chocolate helps with liver disease and portal hypertension.
  • We hum when we eat it. Almost a borderline purr, actually.


The Girls and Women of Haiti

10 05 2010

The girls and women of Haiti are in trouble.

They have little protection. Some lost their husbands or loved ones (their protectors) in the earthquake, and some never had protection. Whatever the case, if they’re living in tents, there’s nothing to save them from the rape gangs. Fear keeps them from sleep.

They cannot escape disease. Rape, assault, and lack of decent medical care or basic nutrition put them at increased odds of getting infections. Add to that the cyclical challenge of mosquitos carrying malaria and their burden becomes overwhelming.

Pregnancy and childbirth, always difficult in this poor country, are made more so by the rough living conditions. Babies are being delivered in tents or on the street. If there are any complications, the outlook for a safe birth is grim.

Thieves roam the streets. A female with a bag of rice in her arms is no match for a group of hungry men. Caring for a family is at times a life-threatening chore for the girls and women of Haiti.

We sit in our office chairs, writing this as part of our Haiti Habit series of postings. They’re not just postings, though. They’re people in pain.

We can’t all fly to Haiti and lend a hand, but we can pick up the phone or go online and give a few bucks. A little bit from each of us makes for a pile of cash, and boy do they need it.

If you already support a charity working in Haiti, contact them for more information and donation opportunities. If not, here’s a list of charities to consider.


School Lunches: What Can YOU Do?

7 05 2010

On the ladder of cuisine jokes, school cafeteria food is probably the biggest target around, edging out horrifying airline meals and bland hospital fare.

Apologies if your child’s school has a good chef in the house, but most of us remember our school lunches for what they were: nightmarish concoctions of mystery meat and formless flavors garnished with a spork.

After a couple of weeks at school, you learn the menu and act accordingly: reach for the favorites and avoid the scary stuff. It’s no wonder kids get hooked on fatty burgers, cheesy pizza, and sugary soft drinks.

A man you might have seen on TV recently aims to halt the trend (and before you read on, in the interest of disclosure, no, we do not have any financial interests in anything connected to him, but we think he’s doing a heck of a job). His name is Jamie Oliver, a TV celeb, chef, and restaurateur who gained fame in Britain for pushing healthier eating habits on Britain’s children.

Bringing his bold form of nutrition intervention stateside, he can be seen coaxing children to identify various vegetables and demonstrating what really goes into those tasty chicken nuggets (put chicken leftovers in a blender and press a button) on ABC’s Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.

And, he’s not the only one on a crusade to see what goes into the morsels our kids eat at school. One teacher pledged to eat each school lunch, just as her students did each day.

Others see it as a cultural studies opportunity, comparing U.S. school lunches to those served around the world.

Even if cafeterias aren’t award winning bistros, some families depend on school food programs. Sometimes it’s the only meal kids get all day.

Making quality meals with nutritional ingredients can spike the food bill—something cash-strapped school districts don’t have the luxury of fixing quickly.

So, what can you as a parent do?

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation suggests:

  • Meet Over Lunch: Read the school menu with your child and look for the healthiest choices.
  • Pack a healthy lunch: Fill your child’s lunchbox with healthy, tasty foods–like whole grain bread, fresh fruits and veggies, lean meats, low-fat (1%) or fat-free milk and 100% juice.
  • Get Growing: Get a group of parents together, pick a place, and design the perfect garden for students. Then set a budget, raise a few dollars and start digging!
  • Study: Find out whether your kids can get healthy foods in the cafeteria or vending machines. And see if the school is selling healthy foods at fundraisers.
  • Appreciate: Tell teachers and school staff that you value their efforts to provide healthy foods and beverages at school.
  • Work with your school principal, district school board or food service department to adopt nutrition standards like the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Guidelines for all food and beverage sales outside of school meals, including through vending, a la carte, school stores and fundraisers.