This is default featured slide 1 title
This is default featured slide 2 title
This is default featured slide 3 title
This is default featured slide 4 title
This is default featured slide 5 title
 

Monthly Archives: December 2016

Can You Catch Germs From a Public Toilet Seat?

There’s no denying that public bathrooms can be germ-ridden places. According to a study presented at the Infectious Diseases Society of America annual meeting, scientists who studied samples taken from a variety of public restrooms found that the sheer number of illness-causing bacteria present was too big to measure in many cases. So it’s only natural to worry about what may be lurking on even the cleanest-looking toilet seats — forget about the ones that appear wet or dirty.

No wonder that 60 percent of Americans say they won’t sit down to use a public toilet, according to the Web site of Sani-Seat, a company that makes those nifty gizmos that automatically wrap the seat in a fresh plastic cover after each use.

But experts say our fear of sitting on the average toilet seat (one that isn’t visibly soiled) is overblown.

There’s no question that germs can inhabit the seat, says Philip Tierno, MD, director of clinical microbiology and diagnostic immunology at New York University Medical Center and Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City. “The bulk of the organisms found are basically fecal-borne bacteria.” These nasties can include E. coli (which can cause bloody diarrhea or abdominal cramps), streptococcus (the bug behind strep throat), or S. aureus (linked to serious skin problems or pneumonia).

But just because they’re on the seat doesn’t mean they’ll make you sick. That’s because your skin acts as a very effective barrier to keep germs out (unless you have an open wound or lesion on your behind).

What about the herpes virus, HIV, or other sexually transmitted diseases? These organisms don’t survive for long outside the human body, especially not on a cold, hard toilet seat. And to infect you, they need to enter either through an open cut or sore or via a mucous membrane (your mouth or rectum, for example), which wouldn’t normally come into contact with the seat. All this makes the odds of infection from just sitting down miniscule.

Are you safer if you use those paper seat protectors? Dr. Tierno isn’t a fan: “They’re too thin, they rip and fall apart.” If you want to use them, he says, you can double-fold them, or place double-folded toilet paper on the seat. The automatically replaced plastic covers are better, he says, but such barriers on the seat act more as psychological than physical protection.

That said, no one wants to sit on a visibly dirty or soiled seat. Use common sense, Tierno says: “If [the toilet seat is] dirty, don’t use it.” But in general, he says, “You’re unlikely to pick up anything from a toilet seat.”

Where Germs Really Hide

But germs aren’t only found on the seat itself. “Where you find the organisms in larger quantities would be the underside of the toilet seat, because that is not cleaned as often [as the top]. As you flush, you bring up the contents in the bowl,” says Tierno. “It’s not just your germs, it’s germs from other people.” Some toilets can aerosolize the contents for quite a distance after being flushed, he says: “five feet or so, with lower-volume flushes.” Older toilets can spray as far as 20 feet! If you’re using a public toilet that doesn’t have a lid, Tierno recommends opening the door first before you flush, to get out of the way of the spray quickly.

And those far-reaching flushes may be responsible for another germ-ridden area of a typical public restroom: the floor. An ABC News investigation of the germiest spots in public bathrooms found that the floor has about 2 million bacteria per square inch! If you carry a purse or shoulder bag, avoid putting it down on the floor while you’re in the bathroom — hang it on the back of the door if possible.

Scrub Up!

But the real danger in picking up and carrying around germs comes from your hands, warns Tierno: “The 10 dirtiest things are your fingers.” Germs left on your hands can be easily transferred to surfaces you touch or to your eyes, mouth, or nose — where they can make you and other people sick. That’s why hand-washing with lots of soap and water is so important after using the bathroom.

And we’re talking especially to you, gentlemen: In a 2010 study, the American Society for Microbiology found that only 77 percent of men wash their hands before leaving the bathroom, compared with 93 percent of women.

What’s the best way to scrub? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you rub your hands with soap lather for at least 20 seconds (the amount of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice), and be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. If soap and water is not available, Tierno says, use a quarter-sized drop of alcohol-based hand sanitizer. You can then use a paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the door to leave.

8 Little Ways to Cut Your Cell Phone Cancer

Does the World Health Organization’s statement that cell phones may cause cancerhave you thinking twice about making that phone call?

Of course it’s alarming to think that something that’s become such a can’t-live-without can be linked to brain cancer, but there’s a lot even the most cell phone-addicted people can do to minimize health risks.

Any potential links to cancer stem from the low levels of radiation cell phones emit. Lower your exposure to the radiation, and you’ll reduce the potential links to cancer or other health problems:

  1. Use a headset. Sounds obvious, but headsets emit much less radiation than cell phones do, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), and they keep your cell phone away from your head. The farther away you are from a source of radiation, the less damage it can do.
  2. Text when you can. Your constantly texting teens are onto something: Cell phones use less energy (and emit less radiation) when you text than when you talk, says the EWG. Texting also keeps the radiation source farther away from your brain.
  3. Use cell phones for FYI-only calls. Don’t use your cell phone for that long overdue, hour-long catch-up with your sister. Keep calls as short as possible —Do you need me to get the dry cleaning, honey? — and switch to a landline if they’re veering off into chitchat territory.
  4. Watch the bars. Can you hear me now? If you’re struggling to maintain a connection, ditch the call and wait until you have better service. When your phone has fewer signal bars, it has to work harder (and, therefore, emit more radiation) to connect.
  5. Keep the phone away from your ear when you can. EMF-Health.comrecommends waiting for the call to connect before you bring the phone to your ear, which minimizes radiation exposure. And when you talk, tilt the phone away from your ear and bring it in close when you’re listening. That’s because the radiation levels are “significantly less when a cell phone is receiving signals than when it is transmitting,” Lin Zhong, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice University in Houston, told The New York Times.
  6. Don’t make calls in elevators or cars. You already it’s dangerous to talk and drive; EMF-Health.com says that cell phones use more power to establish a connection in enclosed metal spaces like cars and elevators.
  7. Make sure your kids use the landline. It seems like even toddlers are using cell phones today, but experts say kids are the most vulnerable to potential radiation dangers. The EWG says children’s brains absorb twice as much cell phone radiation as adults. According to The New York Times, health authorities in Britain, France, Germany, and Russia all have warnings against letting children use cell phones.
  8. Buy a low-radiation phone. Some cell phones emit more radiation than others; if you’re in the market for a new phone, EMF-Health.com recommends that you consider the phone’s SAR (specific absorption rate), a way of measuring the radiation absorbed by the body. It’s usually listed in the phone’s instruction manual. You can also look at the EWG’s report of cell phone SARs here — from the LG Quantum’s 0.35 W/kg on the low end to the Motorala Bravo’s 1.59 W/kg on the high end.

The Facebook Effect For Your Self

Is it us, or are news headlines about Facebook’s impact on our health popping up more and more these days? Considering that 51 percent of Americans over age 12 now have profiles on the social networking site compared to 8 percent just three years ago, according to new data from Edison Research, it’s no wonder there are entire scientific journals devoted to the psychology of social networking, and piles of studies analyzing such sites’ effects on our moods, body image, friendships, and marriages.

Negative conditions such as “Facebook depression” or Facebook-fueled divorces bear the brunt of the media blitz, but much of the body of research actually points to positive perks from Facebook use. Here, a deeper look at how all those “likes,” “pokes,” and status updates are really affecting you and your family’s well-being, and how you can outsmart some of the potentially negative side effects.

Health Benefits of Facebook

Research shows that Facebook can:

  1. Fuel self-esteem. In a Cornell University study, students felt better about themselves after they updated their Facebook profiles; a control group of students who didn’t log onto the site didn’t experience such a mood lift. The very act of posting something about yourself — regardless of what you write — can boost your self-confidence because you control the image you present to your network of friends, according to researchers.Similarly, according to a Michigan State University study, students with low self-esteem and happiness levels who used Facebook more frequently felt more connected to friends and campus life than those who logged on less often.
  2. Strengthen friendship bonds. In a small study of heavy Facebook-using young British adults between ages 21 and 29, Lancaster University researchers found that the site helped cement positive interactions among friends. Both private messages and wall posts allowed Facebook users to confide in their friends, surf down memory lane, and laugh out loud, promoting happy feelings.
  3. Stamp out shyness and loneliness. In a soon-to-be-published Carnegie Mellon study, researchers who surveyed more than 1,100 avid Facebook-using adults found that receiving messages from friends and consuming info from friends’ news feeds boosted feelings of connectedness, especially in people with self-described “low social skills.” Authors say that for shy people, gleaning information from news feeds and profiles can help start conversations they otherwise might not be comfortable enough to strike up. “People who are uncomfortable chatting face to face gain more through their use of the site,” says study co-author Moira Burke, a PhD candidate in the university’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute.Similar benefits hold true for tweens and teens: Australian researchers who studied more than 600 students between age 10 and 16 found that communicating online helped improve communication skills for lonely adolescents, giving them an outlet to talk more comfortably about personal topics.

Health Risks of Facebook

Research also shows that Facebook can:

  1. Cause depression. A recently published American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) paper made a major splash when it described Facebook depression — a condition said to result when tweens and teens spend too much time on social media, leading them to turn to “substance abuse, unsafe sexual practices, or aggressive or self-destructive behaviors.”However, the phenomenon is more anecdotal than based on solid science, and some experts suggest that it’s more of a correlation — that people who are depressed may simply be more likely to use Facebook. “People who are already feeling down or depressed might go online to talk to their friends, and try and be cheered up,” wrote John M. Grohol, PsyD, founder and editor-in-chief of PsychCentral.com on his blog. “This in no way suggests that by using more and more of Facebook, a person is going to get more depressed.”

    In one of the papers cited by the AAP report, researchers found that the more time first-time Internet users spent online, the more likely they were to experience loneliness and depression but a follow-up study showed such effects disappeared a year later, according to Dr. Grohol. “It may simply be something related to greater familiarity with the Internet,” he wrote. In another paper referenced by the AAP report, the depression-Facebook link only held true among people with “low-quality” friendships; people with good pals did not experience depression with increasing Facebook use.

  2. Trigger eating disorders. The more time adolescent girls spent on the social networking site, the more likely they were to develop eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and extreme dieting, Israeli researchers recently found. Exposure to online fashion and music content, as well as watching TV shows like Gossip Girl, were also associated with an increased risk for eating disorders.But researchers aren’t saying that social networking sites necessarily cause eating disorders; as with Facebook depression, it may be that people prone to eating disorders spend more time online. What’s more, the researchers found that parents can help protect their daughters from harmful effects of media: The children of parents who were aware of what their daughters were viewing online — and talked to them about what they saw and how much time they spent — were less prone to develop eating disorders, according to study authors.
  3. Split up marriages. Facebook was referenced in 20 percent of divorce petitions processed in 2009 by Divorce-Online, a British law firm. Time magazine reported that feuding spouses use their Facebook pages to air dirty laundry, while their lawyers use posts as evidence in divorce proceedings. Sexual health expert Ian Kerner, PhD, recently blogged on CNN that he’s seen many relationships destroyed by “Facebook bombs” — people reconnecting with high school sweethearts or other blasts from the past that can lead to emotional, if not actual, cheating.

    “The mistake I often see is when someone gets friended or messaged by an ex and doesn’t tell their partner,” Kerner told Everyday Health. “It’s a slippery slope from the moment you don’t disclose information.”

    He warns that it’s easy to over-romanticize the past, which can cause people to check out of their current relationship. Kerner advises couples to not keep secrets about whom they’re chatting with on Facebook. And while the site certainly makes it easy to reconnect with old flames and flirt behind the façade of your computer, the potential damage it can do depends on the stability of your relationship in the first place. “It all depends on your level of trust in your spouse,” says Kerner. “Have a dialogue, set some rules. The key is transparency.”

Live Long and Be Positive

Patients with coronary heart disease who have positive expectations about recovery, expressing beliefs such as “I can still live a long and healthy life,” had greater long-term survival, researchers reported.

Among a cohort of almost 3,000 patients undergoing coronary angiography, those with the highest expectations for outcomes actually had the best outcomes, Dr. John C. Barefoot, and colleagues from Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.

“Patients differ widely in terms of their psychological reactions to major illnesses such as coronary heart disease,” Barefoot’s group explained online in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

To explore the specific potential influence of recovery expectations, rather than overall optimistic personality traits, the investigators enrolled 2,818 patients with clinically significant disease and followed them for about 15 years.

Recovery expectations were assessed on the Expectations for Coping Scale, in which patients agreed or disagreed with statements such as “I doubt that I will ever fully recover from my heart problems” and “My heart condition will have little or no effect on my ability to do work.”

Patients were stratified into quartiles according to their expectation scores.

After adjustment for multiple variables, the mortality rate in the highest quartile — the most optimistic group — was 32 per 100 versus 46 per 100, respectively, “illustrating a substantial magnitude of this effect even after taking multiple covariates into account,” Barefoot and colleagues observed.

“These observations add to a compelling body of evidence that endorsing optimistic expectations for one’s future heart health is associated with clinically important benefits to cardiovascular outcomes,” Dr. Robert Gramling, and Dr. Ronald Epstein, of the University of Rochester in New York, wrote in a commentary accompanying the study.

“The degrees of evidence observed in these studies suggest that optimism is a powerful ‘drug’ that compares favorably with highly effective medical therapies,” they wrote.

Other experts advised caution, however.

“Like all observational studies, unmeasured patient characteristics may have contributed to the better outcomes,” observed Dr. Steven E. Nissen, of the Cleveland Clinic.

“Patients with a ‘positive’ attitude may simply be healthier than patients with a negative attitude. In fact, their ‘attitude’ may reflect their health status,” Nissen wrote to MedPage Today and ABC News in an e-mail.

Two “plausible” hypotheses can help explain the study findings, according to Barefoot and colleagues.

First, patients who are optimistic may use more effective strategies to cope with recovery from illness, by addressing the problem and reducing risk factors.

Second, patients whose outlook is more negative may experience worse stress that in turn could have harmful cardiac effects.

Limitations of the study, according to the investigators, included the possibility of confounders and selection bias.

“These findings argue for expanded efforts to understand the influence of recovery expectations and the potential benefits of attempts to modify them,” Barefoot’s group concluded.

However, the potential efficacy of such efforts is uncertain, according to Dr. James Kirkpatrick, of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

“Whether a patient’s outlook can be changed (or patients can change their outlook) and improve results, and whether there are other factors which might make these patients do better, is unknown. One of those factors might be that cardiovascular providers give better care to patients with a positive outlook — perhaps spending more time with them or being more conscientious,” wrote Kirkpatrick in an email toMedPage Today and ABC News.

“Future studies will need to take this possible mechanism into account,” wrote Kirkpatrick.

The study was supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Institute on Aging.

One author has a patent pending on an allele as a marker of cardiovascular disease and stress, and is a founder and major stockholder in Williams LifeSkills Inc.

Editorialist Gramling is funded by the National Palliative Care Research Center and the Greenwall Foundation.