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Wipe Out the 10 Worst Germ Hot Spots

March 6th, 2009

You may scrub your toilet and countertops until they shine, but when it comes to the war between you and germs, consider yourself outnumbered. Germs (the catch-all name for bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms) are everywhere—at home, in the office, even in your car. Luckily, about 99 percent of them can’t harm us. But the other 1 percent can be annoying, uncomfortable, or downright scary: Most of these pathogens are either viral or bacterial and can cause everything from a runny nose to a potentially life-threatening infection.

You may think you know the obvious places that germs propagate—the doctor’s office, the soles of your shoes—but many more germ-friendly locales are completely unexpected yet no less dangerous. We uncovered a host of surprising new spots where germs like to lurk, and offer easy solutions to keep you and your family safe and healthy.

Hot spot: The kitchen faucet

That metal aeration screen at the end of your kitchen faucet reduces water flow, which is good for the environment, but not so much for your health: Running water keeps the screen moist, an ideal condition for bacteria growth. Because tap water is far from sterile, if you accidentally touch the screen with dirty fingers or food, bacteria can grow on the faucet, explains microbiologist Kelly Reynolds, Ph.D., an associate professor of community environment and policy at the University of Arizona College of Public Health. Over time, bacteria build up and form a wall of pathogens called biofilm that sticks to the screen. “Eventually, that biofilm may even be big enough to break off and get onto your food or dishes,” she notes.

Keep it clean: Once a week, remove the screen and soak it in a diluted bleach solution—follow the directions on the bottle’s label. Replace the screen, and let the water run a few minutes before using.

Hot spot: The garbage disposal

That raw chicken or spinach you’re rinsing for dinner is often loaded with harmful bacteria, which can make the young, the elderly, or anyone with a compromised immune system seriously ill. In fact, there are often more than 500,000 bacteria in the kitchen sink—about 1,000 times more than the average toilet has. Although the metal part of the disposal produces ions that can help kill germs, they still love to grow on the crevices in and around the slimy rubber stopper. That means your disposal can become party central for bacteria, contaminating whatever touches it—dishes, utensils, even your hands.

Keep it clean: At least once a week, clean the disposal’s rubber stopper with a diluted bleach solution—soap and water aren’t enough.

Hot spot: The welcome mat

It serves to greet not only your guests but also all the bugs on the bottoms of their shoes. One study found that nearly 96 percent of shoe soles had traces of coliform, which includes fecal bacteria. “The area near your front door is one of the dirtiest in the house,” says Reynolds. Once bacteria plant their stakes in your mat, anytime you walk on it, you give them a free ride into your home.

Keep it clean: Spray the doormat once a week with a fabric-safe disinfectant (such as Lysol Disinfectant Spray). Leave shoes at the door, and avoid resting bags and groceries on the mat, too.

Hot spot: Your vacuum cleaner

“Vacuums—including the brushes and bags—are like meals-on-wheels for bacteria,” says Charles Gerba, Ph.D., professor of environmental biology at the University of Arizona. “You suck in all this bacteria and food, creating an atmosphere for growth.” A recent study by Gerba and his team found that 13 percent of all vacuum cleaner brushes tested positive for E. coli, which means you could spread it around the house each time you use the appliance.

Keep it clean: Change your vacuum bag frequently, and do so outdoors to avoid the cloud of bacteria that filters into the air. (Vacuum bags that feature antibacterial linings are best, and are available for many major brands.) Clean the cavity of a bagless vacuum with diluted bleach and let it air-dry.

Hot spot: A dish towel

You know a sponge can harbor nasty germs, but a recent study of hundreds of homes across the United States found that about 7 percent of kitchen towels were contaminated with MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), the difficult-to-treat staph bacteria that can cause life-threatening skin infections. Dish towels also rated tops for dangerous strains of E. coli and other bacteria. We often use towels to wipe up spills, says Reynolds, then reuse before washing them, which spreads germs.

Keep it clean: Stick to paper towels to clean countertops, and save the dishrag to dry just-washed pots and plates. Change towels or launder at least twice a week in hot water and bleach.

Hot spot: Your car’s dashboard

In tests of 100 vehicles from across the United States, the dashboard was found to be the second-most-common spot for bacteria and mold. (Food spills were number one.) The researchers’ rationale: When air—which carries mold spores and bacteria—gets sucked in through the vents, it’s often drawn to the dashboard, where it can deposit the spores and germs. Because the dashboard receives the most sun and tends to stay warm, it’s prime for growth.

Keep it clean: Regularly swipe the inside of your car with disinfecting wipes. Be more vigilant during allergy season—about 20 million Americans are affected by asthma, which is caused in part by an allergic reaction to mold.

Hot spot: Soap dispensers

Soap that harbors bacteria may sound ironic, but one recent study found that about 25 percent of liquid soap dispensers in public restrooms were contaminated by fecal bacteria. “Most of these containers are never cleaned, so bacteria grows as the soap scum builds up,” says Gerba. “And the bottoms are touched by dirty hands, so there’s a continuous culture going on feeding millions of bacteria.”

Keep it clean: Be sure to scrub hands thoroughly for 15 to 20 seconds with plenty of hot water—and if you have an alcohol gel disinfectant, use that, too.

Hot spot: Restaurant ketchup bottle

It’s the rare eatery that regularly bleaches down condiment containers. And the reality is that many people don’t wash their hands before eating, says Reynolds. So while you may be diligent, the guy who poured the ketchup before you may not have been, which means his germs are now on your fries.

Keep it clean: Squirt hand sanitizer on the outside of the bottle or use a disinfectant wipe before you grab it. Holding the bottle with a napkin won’t help—they’re porous, so microorganisms can seep right through, says Reynolds.

Hot spot: The refrigerator seal

A University of Arizona survey of 160 homes in three U.S. cities found that the seal around the fridge tested positive 83 percent of the time for common molds. The mold can spread every time the refrigerator door opens—exposing anyone who’s susceptible to allergies, and potentially contaminating the food.

Keep it clean: Wipe fridge seals at least once a week with a diluted bleach solution or disinfectant.

Hot spot: Your cell phone

You probably put it down any place that’s convenient, but consider this: Several studies on cell phones and PDAs found that they carry tons of bacteria, including staph (which can cause skin infections), pseudomonas (eye infections), and salmonella (stomach ailments). Many electronic devices are sheathed in leather or vinyl cases, which provide plenty of creases and crevices for germs to hide.

Keep it clean: Use a disinfecting wipe a few times a week, and be conscious of where you rest personal items.

SOURCE: HEALTH.MSN.COM

MRSA is not the Only Superbug

March 3rd, 2009

PARIS (AFP) — Scientists said on Sunday they had exposed key workings of a deadly superbug that has become one of the biggest nightmares for hospitals today, opening up paths for new drugs or vaccines to roll back the peril.

Clostridium difficile ranks alongside Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) as a hospital threat, inflicting a rising toll each year as it spreads insidiously through health facilities.

Known as “C-diff,” the bug comprises a bacterium that comes in a spore, or a hardy shell-like jacket. It naturally colonises the gut, but is not a problem for people who are healthy as it is kept in check by other intestinal bacteria.

But when antibiotics are used to treat someone who is sick, the drugs can wipe out the “good” bacteria, which leaves C. difficile to multiply uncontrolled.

As the germ reproduces, it releases toxins that cause severe diarrhoea, sometimes fatally, and colitis that can need surgical removal of the colon.

In a study published in the journal Nature, microbiologists in the United States reported that they had identified which of the two toxins released by C-diff does the big damage.

“For 20 years, we have been focusing on Toxin A. But it turns out the real culprit is Toxin B,” said researcher Dale Gerding of Loyola University in Chicago.

“This is a major finding in how C-diff causes disease in humans,” he said in a press release released by the university.

“It completely flips our whole concept of what the important toxin is with the disease.”

The team devised separate strains of the two toxins and tested them on hamsters.

Separately, scientists at Imperial College London have used X-ray crystallography to produce the first high-resolution images of the germ’s protective jacket.

The work, published in the latest issue of the journal Molecular Microbiology, is important because it opens up a theoretical path for drugs that crack open the shield, disabling the bacterium inside.

C-diff is resistant to many types of antibiotics and can bounce back in a patient who has fallen sick with the germ. In addition, the jacket makes it easily transportable on surfaces and hands.

It causes about half a million cases of sickness, and between 15,000 and 20,000 deaths, in the United States each year, the Loyola University press release said.

SOURCE: AFP

Omaha Provides Individual Stethoscopes

March 2nd, 2009

OMAHA (KPTM)- If you take a walk around the Nebraska Medical Center these days, you’ll notice a crucial instrument missing from the necks of the doctors and nurses that work there… a stethoscope.

Nearly two weeks ago, the Med Center told doctors and nurses to leave their own stethoscopes at home - that instead, a brand new one would be provided to them in all hospital rooms as part of a new policy to help reduce hospital born infections. “It makes obvious sense to people.

When they hear about this project, they’re like, ‘yeah! Why haven’t we already done this?’” said Dr. Mark Rupp who introduced the idea to Med Center doctors. Since February 3rd, the heart of the hospital has been going strong with it’s individual stethoscope campaign. “It’s a really good stethoscope, and the doctors are pleased with it. They can listen to the heart and lungs just like they want to,” said Rupp.

In each of the 500 hospital rooms, patients are given their own stethoscope, which Rupp says decreases their chances of getting hospital born infections from bacteria that can grow on the surface of a stethoscope. “Rather than just get contaminated, and go from patient to patient, it stays there and is disinfected when that person is discharged from the hospital.” Which is good news for recovering surgery patients like Gina Behr, who can’t risk getting an infection. “I think it’s great because I don’t feel like I’m getting stuff from the next person’s room or gown.

These I’ve seen cleaned more than anybody ever cleans their stethoscope,” said Behr. Each of the stethoscopes cost about $100, and were paid for by the hospital. Doctor Rupp says, he hopes all hospitals across the Omaha metro adopt this same method.

Fit Body Makes a Fit Mind

February 27th, 2009

Exercise can not only buy you a fit body but also a better memory. A new study has revealed that physically fit people tend to have a bigger hippocampus, which is responsible for the formation and storage of new memories as well as for spatial navigation.

Researchers from the University of Illinois and the University of Pittsburgh have found that fitness increases hippocampus size, which in turn improves spatial memory, making it easier to record information about one’s environment and its spatial orientation and consequently ensuring the convenience of navigation around a familiar city.

Previous studies have depicted that the volume of hippocampus can be increased by exercising its spatial skills and its memorizing abilities. Cabbies in London are known to have a larger hippocampus than other citizens, and experienced cabbies have it bigger than the new ones. Constantly making use of the memory-making skills of hippocampus can also help it grow; study of German medical students revealed that their hippocampus got larger, while studying for finals.

Studies in the past have shown that exercise increases hippocampus size and spatial memory in rodents, but scientists have demonstrated for the first time that exercise can affect hippocampus size and memory in humans.

In the new study, researchers measured the cardiorespiratory fitness of 165 adults (including 109 females) between 59 and 81 years of age. After measuring their hippocampus, the volunteers were given a test of spatial memory. Later, their aerobic fitness was measured by VO2 max.

The scientists found a “triple association” – physical fitness was associated with a larger hippocampus, which in turn was related with better spatial memory.

Hippocampus is a brain structure inside the medial temporal lobe of the cerebral cortex, which known to shrink with age, causing small but significant cognitive decline. However, the rate of its deterioration is different among individuals.

“The higher fit people have a bigger hippocampus, and the people that have more tissue in the hippocampus have a better spatial memory,” said University of Illinois professor Art Kramer, who led the study along with Pittsburgh psychology professor Kirk Erickson.

“Basically, if you stay fit, you retain key regions of your brain involved in learning and memory,” said Erickson.

SOURCE: THE MED GURU

Laughter Really is the Best Medicine

February 24th, 2009

You know you feel better after a good laugh and laughter has long been associated with happiness and emotional release, but studies now suggest that a good gut-busting can also be good for your health. In fact, there is growing evidence suggesting that laughter boasts a wide range of health and fitness benefits, including everything from stress relief to blood flow.

Seriously, no joke intended … studies have found that laughter therapy is a viable form of cardiovascular exercise, powerfully working the body’s heart and lungs in the same fashion that a rowing machine or exercise bike might work.

Take stress for example. We know untreated stress is a precursor and risk factor for many disease processes including high blood pressure, heart disease, and various cancers. However, laughter really can elevate your mood and diminish the potential ill effects of a stressful or depressing day and help alleviate anxiety too. What’s more, scientists say that the body can’t actually differentiate between real and fake laughter so if you’re feeling down, a fake chuckle could still trigger feelings of happiness and hormones in your brain and help reduce potential illness.

Laughter also burns calories. As well as relieving stress, laughter offers an even better punch, it burns excess calories. Early research suggests that a strenuous, one-minute laugh can burn as many calories as 10 minutes on a rowing machine or bike. And if you laugh a lot, remember 3,500 calories equals 1 pound of fat.

Laughing has also been shown to boost blood flow. Studies have found that laughing can raise the flow of blood in the body by as much as 22 percent, because the heart and lungs work harder to supply oxygen to key muscles. As well as boosting blood flow, relaxed arteries also help regulate blood pressure at normal levels.

Need more convincing? How about a healthy immune system? Laughing has been linked to strong immune system function as well. While it may be too soon to tell if we can stop taking our vitamins, help is at hand if you’re willing to lighten and not take everything quite so seriously. A quick dose of laughter can significantly boost the immune system of even the most resistant skeptics. Research has found that the body’s level of killer cells, essential in attacking viruses and cancers, increase significantly after a good giggle. In contrast, these killer cells are reduced during lengthy periods of stress. So if you want to stay healthy and free of disease, it might be time for you to laugh.

SOURCE: NEWS-PRESS.COM

Fitness for the Body & the Mind

February 20th, 2009

The NeuroActive Bike is the world’s first exercise equipment that works out both the body and the brain. This fitness bike combines a solid cardio workout with a fun brain-training program designed to increase memory and cognitive function to offer your readers a better body and a sharper mind, all at the same time.

Users of the NeuroActive Bike may select from 22 brain-stimulating exercises that train different parts of the brain, including: memory of names and faces, 3D visuo-spatial skills, concentration, word naming and arithmetic. As they pedal, they manipulate a wireless mouse to interact with the computer and complete the NeuroActive Program, the only brain-fitness program that uses an advanced artificial intelligence and a series of word problems and visual exercises to train the entire brain and sharpen 16 cognitive functions – more than any other brain program on the market.

Unlike simple brain games, NeuroActive is developed by doctors and based on scientific research that proves that brain-training exercises increase cognitive function by 20%, improve processing speed and memory and sharpen the brain so that it performs as well as it did at its peak.

To keep both the mind and the body in top shape, Dr. Bergeron, the president of Brain Center America, recommends three to four 20-minute sessions per week on this unique fitness equipment, which he says is more entertaining and rewarding than the typical alternative for those using cardio equipment, watching TV or reading magazines.

SOURCE: EMAXHEALTH.COM

All’s Fair in Love & Fitness

February 19th, 2009

A bottle of wine (or two), an order of calamari, a nice filet, and of course, chocolate cake. Sounds like the perfect romantic, candlelit dinner, right? Not necessarily. These romantic dinners could be doing more harm to your body than good for your relationship.

Laura Delcore, Leawood senior, says some of her favorite evenings with her boyfriend, Patrick, are spent dining at The Eldridge. However, these dinners can make it a challenge for her to maintain a slim physique. When Delcore started dating Patrick a year ago, she wondered if her health habits would have to take a backseat to their relationship. Delcore is not alone in her struggle to balance healthy eating and exercise with her relationship.

According to The Obesity Society, young women in romantic relationships gained an average of 15 pounds over five years and men saw similar upward trends.

Your partner’s health habits can have a large influence on your diet and exercise routine, too. “Oftentimes our behavior is shaped by the people around us,” says Jenny Prohaska, M.A. in clinical psychology. “When one member of the relationship is more sedentary than the other, the lazy person influences the more active.”

Students in relationships may have a hard time finding activities to do together that are healthy. In the beginning of Andrew Wank’s relationship, the Leawood senior says he tried to impress his girlfriend, Kristen Conway, by taking her out to dinner and to movies. Both found it hard to continue their healthy diet and exercise habits with meals at restaurants and movie popcorn every weekend.

“I transferred from a school where my only focus was tennis. When I came here, I no longer played a sport and I spent more time with her so I got away from diets,” Wank says.

However, as a beauty pageant competitor, it was not a choice for Conway to let her diet and exercise go. Being in the pageants kept Conway motivated and showed how the trend of conforming to your partner’s habits can work both ways.

This fall, Conway suggested they make a commitment to having a healthier relationship. “We both had to be ready to do it for ourselves before we could do it for each other,” Conway says.

Since then, Conway and Wank spend time going on walks, playing tennis and cooking dinner for each other. It is a far cry from the fat-laden meals and hours spent in front of the TV that consumed their relationship before. Cori Colombe, holistic health counselor with Your Wellness Connection, says this is a perfect example of how to resolve a diet-related relationship issue.

Colombe says communication is the key. She says people have a hard time understanding when their partner says “ugh, I’m fat … ” Colombe says it is much more effective to say you want to be healthier or have more energy. From there you can find things you would enjoy together, such as yoga, golf, tennis and the gym.

Some suggestions for maintaining a healthy and fit romantic relationship include taking up a new sport together, parking farther from dinner or exploring new, healthy recipes at home. Colombe recommends going back to what made you happy as a child—being outside, playing sports, or playing a simple game of tag.

No one is saying you have to throw those romantic dinners out the window, just modify them. In the end you will be a happier and healthier couple.

SOURCE: KANSAN.COM

MRSA Study Continues

February 18th, 2009

Drug-resistant staph infections are more common in Illinois hospital patients than previously thought, according to new data from the Illinois Hospital Association.

But medical centers may not be to blame: The overwhelming majority of hospital patients with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, were already infected before being admitted, the data suggests.

The findings highlight how prevalent the drug-defying bacteria have become in Illinois communities as well as the importance of measures to stem the spread of infections.

For its latest snapshot, the association relied on expanded diagnostic data reported by hospitals in 2008. Also last year, medical centers screened all intensive care and “at risk” patients for MRSA under a new state law.

During the first nine months of 2008, the association documented 19,428 MRSA cases in hospitals, a 147 percent rise from 7,845 cases during the same period the prior year. The increase was largely due to better reporting by medical centers.

Just 5.3 percent of infected patients contracted MRSA during their hospital stay, according to nine months of 2008 data analyzed by the association. That’s much lower than the 23 percent figure reported nationally by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control in 2007, and the reasons for the disparity remain unclear.

There was also good news Tuesday about the effort to prevent the spread of infections within medical centers, both locally and nationally.

The Illinois Hospital Association found that hospital-acquired MRSA infections declined in each of the first three quarters of 2008. Hospitals’ efforts to screen patients for the bacteria, take precautionary measures with those infected and improve cleaning regimens are likely factors in the decline, said Patricia Merryweather, a senior vice president with the association.

Nationally, researchers from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association that MRSA bloodstream infections in intensive-care patients dropped dramatically from 2001 to 2007.

The infections commonly develop when catheters known as central lines are inserted in major blood vessels, providing an opportunity for bacteria to migrate into the bloodstream.

Efforts under way to address the problem include sterilizing the area where the catheter is to be inserted; stressing hand hygiene; making sure medical personnel wear gowns, gloves and masks, and draping patients to minimize the chance of germs invading the site.

When Johns Hopkins physician Peter Pronovost asked Michigan hospitals to follow a checklist of precautionary measures when inserting central lines in intensive-care-unit patients, all catheter-related bloodstream infections were eliminated within three months, according to a well-known 2006 study.

This week, the Illinois Hospital Association is announcing a new voluntary initiative to bring the Pronovost checklist to intensive-care units in hospitals across the state.

SOURCE: CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Beaches May Harbor Staph Bacteria

February 16th, 2009

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Swimmers at crowded public beaches are likely to bring home more than a bit of sand in their bathing suits, according to U.S. researchers, who said as many as one in three swimmers may be exposed to contagious staph bacteria.

They said people who swim in subtropical marine waters have a 37 percent higher risk of being exposed to staph bacteria, including an antibiotic resistant staph known as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.

“We think that people are the instruments for bringing their organisms into the water and leaving it behind,” Dr. Lisa Plano of the University of Miami told reporters at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago on Friday.

“I don’t know if that is the only source. The bacteria may still be in the sand left over from other people, but we haven’t studied that. These are things we plan to do in the future.”

People who have open wounds or are immune compromised have the greatest risk of infection, she said.

In one experiment with more than 1,000 bathers on a popular Florida beach, people spent 15 minutes dunking themselves in the sea, then bringing sea water back with them in a jug.

They then tested the water for staph and MRSA and found 37 percent of the samples contained staph, and 3 percent of those contained MRSA.

“I don’t think you should fear going to the beach,” Plano said, particularly if they take a few simple precautions.

She recommends people shower before going to the beach, to keep from depositing their own germs into the water. And she suggests they shower once they leave, to wash off any pathogens.

“If you don’t go into the water with a gaping wound, you should be fine,” Plano said.

SOURCE: REUTERS.COM

Google Has Some Tracks For You

February 13th, 2009

Are you ready to share more of your location information with Google (NSDQ: GOOG)? If so, Google’s My Tracks software for Android will let cyclists, hikers, and joggers record their routes and share them with others.

Last week, Google announced Latitude, a product that allows friends to share their location information so they may see one another on a map.

Google’s My Tracks takes the same idea and wraps it around the idea of improving fitness and the community of those who like to share their fitness activities.

My Tracks is only for the Android-based HTC G1 at the moment.

According to Dylan Casey, product manager and former professional cyclist, “My Tracks records tracks of outdoor activities using the phone’s built-in GPS. It shows these tracks on a map and presents live statistics, including an elevation profile. And here’s the best part: it lets you easily share your activities with friends and the world using Google Maps, as well as archive your training history with Google Docs.”

Not only will you have a way to record your circuit, but you’ll be able to share it with friends who may enjoy that particular road, path, or route.

It offers a bunch of tools and capabilities. With My Tracks, you can record and visualize GPS tracks while running, hiking, biking, skiing — or any other outdoor activity; get live statistics, such as total/moving time, (average) speed, distance, and elevation profile; send performance statistics to Google Docs to build a training history; and mark places and describe activities for others to discover via Google Maps.

SOURCE: INFORMATION WEEK