Tag Archives: germs

The Pearls – or Perils – of Holiday Living

We are a society committed to excess in all things, which is perhaps never more apparent than the holiday season.

Bring on the holiday feast – more food, more wine, more sweets and eats (sorry, I found myself channeling Dr. Seuss for a moment). So let’s sort out the Christmas elves from the gremlins.

christmas tree in marunouchiphoto © 2006 François Rejeté | more info (via: Wylio)

This, more than anything else, is a season of exhaustion. We struggle through hundreds of self-imposed Christmas chores, struggling to fit more into an already overwhelmed schedule. Something must give, and that something is usually sleep.

Sleep Deprivation
It’s no small medical issue. The symptom list that results from not getting enough sleep is extensive: muscle aches, memory loss, lack of coordination and stomach distress. Diseases such as hypertension and diabetes are worsened by insufficient sleep time. And you can actually die from extreme lack of sleep. This has been proven in lab animals, but scientists have been reluctant to do the experiment on humans. However, some of us are experimenting with this on our own.

Pass the Eggnog
What is eggnog anyway? Traditional eggnog is made from milk, cream, sugar and raw eggs, with a shake of cinnamon or nutmeg. It’s not surprising that it’s quite high in fat and cholesterol, although some modern versions are a bit lighter. Brandy, whisky or rum is usually added. Interestingly enough, adding liquor actually improves the safety profile of eggnog. That’s because alcohol kills germs often found in raw eggs, like salmonella. That jigger of brandy you add may just prevent an unscheduled time out in your festivities.

Alcoholic Beverages
Eggnog isn’t the only holiday beverage consumed in excess. Has there ever been a holiday gathering where liquor consumption isn’t encouraged? We drink wine, spirits and aperitifs in celebration, and gift them as well. No self-respecting host would let a guest’s cup run dry. Because of this over-indulgence, the Thanksgiving to Christmas interval is famous for record amounts of DUIs and highway fatalities. Add a little liquor to the sleep deprived, and you are living dangerously. It may be time for a cab.

The feast wouldn’t even be a feast without a ridiculous abundance of food. Actually the ham or turkey dinner and accompaniments isn’t the big problem with holiday eating, not at least until the third or fourth serving. It’s the fast food that’s a much bigger threat, as well as the steady intake of sweets that seem to surround us. Running around too short on time, we skip eating until it’s practically an emergency. Then we make hasty choices and go for immediate gratification. Fast food is represented in all its appealing variations at the food court at your local mall – how convenient. Does healthy food even stand a chance?

“Christmas Crud”
It’s a medical euphemism for the colds, strep throat, influenza, bronchitis and pneumonia that circulate this time of year. Our exposure to respiratory germs is greatly increased as we spend more time in crowds, at stores, gatherings and assemblies. Seldom are we not in sight of someone coughing, sniffling or sputtering.

Our immune system also isn’t at its best. Your body’s defenses work best when we follow our mother’s advice: get plenty of rest, consume good food and keep a low stress level. That is the makings of top functioning immune systems. On what planet does this exist at Christmas time? The result – a lot of exposure and little energy to defend yourself, a veritable “bug fest.”

Did we mention stress? Pick your flavor: money stress, shopping stress, party stress, over-commitment stress. Stress to decorate the house, wrap the presents and send out personalized and meaningful handwritten cards. We all suspect that stress can be a problem. Stress affects everyone a little differently, but insomnia, anxiety, chest pain and irritability are common. Stress is magnified when we don’t feel in control of our situation. Anybody’s Christmas list getting the best of them or is it just mine?

christmas tree 2004photo © 2004 scott feldstein | more info (via: Wylio)

Take a deep breath, maybe two. Your true friends and family don’t need to be impressed with your perfect cards – they like you anyway. Maybe your card list has too many people that you are no longer close to – they won’t miss you. What’s the real chance you can buy somebody the perfect gift, something truly special that they haven’t gathered in 40 or 50 years of consumerism? You don’t have a prayer. Make the gifts you give be time and attention – how about you make a lunch date with them and get caught up…in February.

This holiday season can be less of a heath disaster if you simply avoid excess in order to make your Christmas a merry one.

Happy Holidays!

Dr. B

Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.

The Top 5 Places to Catch the Flu

Here we are just into the opening weeks of a new year, and influenza is well into its annual assault on America. Germs aren’t hard to find this season, but where they hide might surprise you.

At the Office
We spend more than a third of our lives at the workplace. This tops our list for flu exposure. Depending on the layout of where you work, you may find yourself uncomfortably close to a sneezing, sputtering coworker. Perhaps you share a telephone with several others. Breath is heavy with moisture and creates a nice warm place for bacteria and viruses to multiply in the telephone mouthpiece. So you may be sharing more that simply a telephone.

Keyboards also get pretty germy. Our fingers are moist and a bit oily, and leave a film on the keyboard surface. This is a perfect place to grow germs. Keyboard use is a good way to both leave and pick up germs. One study found more germs on a keyboard than a toilet handle. Where is that can of Lysol?

How about that break area at the workplace. Which refrigerator gets cleaned more often, the one at home, or the one at work? Washing coffee mugs at work usually takes a quarter of the time and half the amount of soap that the same mug would get at home. Not surprisingly, they don’t get too clean and can be a source of influenza germs. Has that sponge in the break room been replaced since the company opened? Old sponges smell bad for a reason. Old magazines in the break room have been read by generations of people, few of which wash their hands. Put those same magazines in a doctor’s waiting room, and they get to heroic levels of germs rather quickly. Magazines don’t do too well in the washing machine.

DSC_3958photo © 2005 Michael | more info (via: Wylio)

At Home
We all try pretty hard to not leave used tissues lying around the house – these are the hand grenades of the germ world. Germs are sneaky and inventive in their hiding places. The remote control gets handled by many greasy hands – chips and TV anyone? The kitchen at home is cleaner than the one at work but still contains more germs than the bathroom. When is the last time you cleaned the cabinet door to the kitchen waste basket? How about the refrigerator handle? Care to guess how many germs get tracked in on your shoes from the outside?

On the Go
Start with your own car. Rarely do we risk an accident by sanitizing the steering wheel after a good sneeze. Anyone else drive your car? Public transportation in its many forms also serves as a germ reservoir. From elevators and escalators to city buses, large numbers of often sick people pass though, leaving more than a footprint. Who last pushed that elevator button? Who last used the hand rails? I need to take a break and wash my hands.

Airplanes are particularly worrisome as far as influenza virus is concerned. The air in a commercial jet is re-circulated, perhaps better put, recycled. A couple hundred people are shoulder-to-shoulder and breathing the same recycled air. The air is filtered but lots of interesting germs can be cultured right off the filter. There is not enough space to separate you from the germ factory sitting next to you, and it’s always next to you, isn’t it? The aircraft bathroom holds the record for the “germiest” of public bathrooms – all of the usual sources of germs in one-tenth the space. The interesting roaring sound the aircraft toilet makes actually can put colonic bacteria (ecoli) into the air for all to breathe.

Your Retail Life
At least they have figured out shopping cart handles and placed disinfectant wipes close by. You might wipe more than just the handle, as the last user could have had a sick child in the cart seat.

Credit Cardsphoto © 2008 Andres Rueda | more info (via: Wylio)

Everybody knows money is dirty, but credit cards get handled a lot more and are never cleaned. How about the keypad in the grocery line with the credit card swiper? None are cleaned on any kind of regular schedule.

The gas pump handle also sees a lot of hand traffic but no cleaning.

Finally, your cell phone is not always your best friend. Pass it to friends to make a call, show a picture or share a Facebook comment – lots of hands, no cleaning.

Although it seems tempting, I don’t recommend you actually live your life in a bunny suit. Your immune system is designed to help you survive the various insults. You can give it a big help with a yearly flu shot.

Be well,

Dr. B

Combating Household Germs

Do you know your kitchen sink may be as dirty as your toilet bowel?

The kitchen sinkphoto © 2009 Alan Cleaver | more info (via: Wylio)

Given the amount of use, high traffic of organic material and moisture with relatively warm temperatures, the kitchen sink is a perfect breeding ground for many germs. Most people forget to sanitize their kitchen sink and don’t appreciate the potential bacterial source it is for contaminating food, utensils and hands. Many household areas where there is high traffic and surfaces that are touched frequently by family members can be potential sources of germs and contaminants. Most of these high traffic areas are taken for granted or cleaned only occasionally, but rarely sanitized.

The kitchen is not the only source but remains the single biggest reservoir of germs in the house. This is the area that gets a lot of traffic from adults, children, animals, and dirty and decaying food. As an area that is so intimate to our daily lives, it is easy to see how we can contaminate ourselves with germs in this room.

Kitchen towels and sponges are also very contaminated objects that easily transmit contaminants to hands and other surfaces. A dirty or musty sponge is used on most surfaces without a thought to how it is likely transporting and spreading germs. The towel that is used on your hands or counters to mop up spills also harbors germs. Also, don’t let dirty dishes stay in the sink overnight breeding germs. If your kitchen is as busy as most, the sink and countertops should be sanitized once a week or more often.

Commercially available products can be convenient for this purpose. Economical solutions of ¾ of a cup of bleach to one gallon water can be used on a cloth or in an inexpensive spray bottle on most counters or sinks.

• It is important to remove any food particles or organic material before this is done. Then let air dry.
• Cleaning cutting boards as well with a sanitizing solution is also important – just wash, rinse and allow to air dry.
• Towels should be cleaned and rotated frequently. They could be replaced entirely with a paper towel.
• A sponge can be sanitized in the microwave for 30 to 60 seconds. A well used sponge should also be replaced every 2 weeks.
• Hand washing is still an important part of good hygiene during food preparation.
• Plastic garbage can liners can help control spills and leakage from the trash collection.
• One last spot in the kitchen/dining area that is often overlooked is the salt and pepper shaker. Handled frequently by many people and never cleaned, they can harbor illness producing bacteria and viruses, so don’t forget to sanitize these as well.

The bathroom is another culprit when it comes to germs; however, the locations of the germs are again often overlooked. Toothbrushes easily harbor germs because of the moisture and usage. They should be located where they are not close to the toilet and where they air dry after each use. A single toilet flush can send a fine spray of mist several feet contaminating other areas of the bathroom.

bathroom paintedphoto © 2006 cara fealy choate | more info (via: Wylio)

• Since most bathrooms are quite compact, closing the lid before flushing will help.
• Storing personal hygiene products, towels and toothbrushes away from the toilet is prudent.
• A new toothbrush should be used every 2-3 months.
• If you have recently been sick, you may want to switch to a new toothbrush sooner.
• Toothbrushes can only be rinsed thoroughly with water and allowed to air dry completely.
• Areas of caulking between sinks, counters or tubs, and enclosures commonly accumulate high bacterial and mold counts due to their intrinsic traffic, chronic moisture and difficulty cleaning. Applying the same techniques of cleaning as in the kitchen with focus on the problem areas is necessary.

Other areas in the house that can be a problem are door knobs, computer keyboards and remote controls. They all get a lot of traffic from contaminated hands. Actually the amount of germs here are less than some of the previously mentioned areas. Nonetheless, a periodic wipe with a disinfectant like alcohol, bleach solution or one of the commercially available products for disinfectant cleaning is very smart. Also, change bed linens and rotate towels weekly.

Still, the most important and basic technique is covering a cough or sneeze and regular hand washing. Hand washing after using the bathroom or cleaning these areas, before food preparation or eating, is still the gold standard for prevention. Hand sanitizers can be useful in areas of the house where water is not available; however, 15-20 seconds of simply rubbing your hands thoroughly with soap and water is something that germs can’t beat.

– Dr. Bruce Kaler

Healthy Holiday Travel Tips

Here are some tips to make sure you reach your destination this holiday season without contracting a nasty cold or the flu.

long checkin line at st. louis airportphoto © 2010 The Consumerist | more info (via: Wylio)

Get a flu vaccine as soon as possible. The current vaccine is widely available in almost all communities. It takes a minimum of two weeks to develop any immunity after receiving the flu shot. Although this requires acting soon and planning ahead, it is the absolute most important factor.

Get adequate rest the night before travel. Having seven to eight hours of restorative sleep will give you a fighting chance of resisting whatever exposure you get when traveling. Travel days are usually long and hectic. If it can be avoided, you don’t want to start your day already run down.

Make sure you have a pocket-sized Kleenex, Purell, and saline nasal spray. Using hand sanitizer periodically after touching public surfaces once you settle into your seat and before eating is important. Avoid touching your own face, nose or mouth with contaminated hands. Usually illness such as the flu and other common respiratory illnesses are not airborne. They don’t fly over your left shoulder while you are looking the other way. The majority of transmission is self-inflicted. You have the germs on your hands and then eat, touch your nose or mouth.

Keep an arm’s length from other travelers and airport attendants when possible. Be aware that others may be sick and not be so mindful when they cough or sneeze. This is tough to avoid in close quarters, especially in your seat on an airplane. However an understanding and awareness could prevent you from being the unsuspecting target of their germs.

During your flight, stay well hydrated. The cabin air is usually very dry. For comfort, occasional use of saline nasal spray is good. Keeping the nasal mucosa moist and generally staying well hydrated will make you less vulnerable to the unavoidable germs you may encounter. Eat wisely and avoid alcohol during your flight.

Prolonged sitting in cramped positions puts you at risk for blood clots or phlebitis. Even a healthy person is at risk. The cramped position, lack of regular muscle movement in the lower extremities, high altitude and not drinking enough water can put you at risk. Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT) is a very serious medical condition caused by blood clots in the legs. If untreated, it can lead to life threatening problems. Wear comfortable nonrestrictive clothing. Wiggle toes and feet. Stretch legs periodically if the space allows. Get up and move around the cabin briefly every 20 to 30 minutes. Changing position and physical activity can help restore sluggish circulation which puts you at risk.

If you have any chronic medical problems, consult your health care provider before your trip. Even some medications can increase your risks. Your physician may recommend a medication or aspirin prophylaxis for the trip.

Don’t let paranoia about germs or DVT distract you from the enjoyable goals of holiday travel. A few simple steps and planning should help you have a happy, healthy and successful trip.

– Dr. Bruce Kaler

Can Your iPhone, Droid or Touchscreen Device Transmit the Flu?

According to British researchers, mobile phones harbor 18 times more bacteria than a flush handle in a typical men’s restroom.

And Stanford University research suggests that the risks of transmitting pathogens from glass surfaces to a person’s skin are relatively high. Especially considering that 30 percent of the virus or germ will get on your fingertip when you touch the infected screen.

Since we were little, our mothers admonished us to wash our hands and cover our mouths when we sneezed – pretty good advice in this germy world; however, we received that guidance before anyone had ever heard of a touchscreen device.

But just how are infectious diseases passed from person to person?

People with upper respiratory infections sneeze and cough, blow and snort – spreading germs all over the place. These germs can live on surfaces, sometimes for hours or even days, just waiting for someone to touch them and rub their nose. The fancy word for this is autoinoculation, meaning you gave yourself the disease.

Washing your hands before eating is a good start, but I would take it a step further and wash your hands before you touch your face – always.

What about that smartphone on your hip – the one with the touchscreen?

If you are like me, you pick it up whenever it rings and put it to your mouth. I can almost hear my mom saying, “You don’t know where that cell phone has been!” You also pass it around freely to share the latest music, video or photo.

But when is the last time you disinfected your phone? Do you even think of it as an object capable of transmitting respiratory germs? How would we even go about doing germ warfare with your smartphone?

Clearly, boiling your phone is a really bad idea. I have personally tried the immersion technique – in a lake and in a toilet (two different phones … I’m not stupid), with identical results. In the medical world, we autoclave instruments to make them sterile, a kind of a steam pressure cooking. I haven’t yet tested that method, but I expect it would be a variation on the drowned phone phenomena.

Operating rooms use ethylene chloride gas sterilization to kill germs on sensitive electronic equipment. This would probably work well on the average smartphone, but it is a rather expensive and cumbersome technology for personal cell phone cleaning. Maybe this is a business opportunity for someone: set up ethylene chloride sterilizing equipment in a truck and sterilize cell phones for five bucks a piece. Franchise anyone?

But let’s be practical.

We can be a little bit low tech here and still get most of the bad germs off the touchscreen. There are a number of germicidal wipes available at drug or grocery stores. You can even grab one when you get your grocery cart. Take one that is moist, not dripping wet, and wipe off the screen of your touchscreen device periodically. It’s as easy as that.

Most wintertime respiratory infections are the result of us touching germy surfaces and then touching our face. The germy surface can be the counter, the grocery store cart or even your cell phone. Get in the habit of washing your hands before you touch your face, and give your cell phone the occasional swipe.

Stay well,

Dr B.

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