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This Inexpensive Action Lowers Hospital Infections And Protects Against Flu Season

Harvard Medical School graduate and lecturer, Stephanie Taylor, is something of an Indiana Jones of medicine. She’s a determined scientist who can’t seem to sit still. Along with a resume full of accolades and publications, she’s a skydiver with 1,200 jumps. She solves haunting medical mysteries. “Anything that seems scary, I say I need to learn more about that,” she explained in a recent interview

While practicing pediatric oncology at a major teaching hospital, Taylor wondered why so many of her young patients came down with infections and the flu, despite the hospital’s herculean efforts at prevention. Her hunch: the design and infrastructure of the building contributed somehow.

Dr. Taylor embarked on a quest to find out if she was right. First, the skydiving doctor made a career jump: She went back to school for a master’s in architecture, and then began research on the impact of the built environment on human health and infection. Ultimately, she found a lost ark.

She and colleagues studied 370 patients in one unit of a hospital to try to isolate the factors associated with patient infections. They tested and retested 8 million data points controlling for every variable they could think of to explain the likelihood of infection. Was it hand hygiene, fragility of the patients, or room cleaning procedures? Taylor thought it might have something to do with the number of visitors to the patient’s room.

While all those factors had modest influence, one factor stood out above them all, and it shocked the research team. The one factor most associated with infection was (drum roll): dry air. At low relative humidity, indoor air was strongly associated with higher infection rates. “When we dry the air out, droplets and skin flakes carrying viruses and bacteria are launched into the air, traveling far and over long periods of time. The microbes that survive this launching tend to be the ones that cause healthcare-associated infections,” said Taylor. “Even worse, in addition to this increased exposure to infectious particles, the dry air also harms our natural immune barriers which protect us from infections.”

Since that study was published, there is now more research in peer-reviewed literature observing a link between dry air and viral infections, such as the flu, colds and measles, as well as many bacterial infections, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is funding more research. Taylor finds one of the most interesting studies from a team at the Mayo Clinic, which humidified half of the classrooms in a preschool and left the other half alone over three months during the winter. Influenza-related absenteeism in the humidified classrooms was two-thirds lower than in the standard classrooms—a dramatic difference. Taylor says this study is important because its design included a control group: the half of classrooms without humidity-related intervention.

Scientists attribute the influence of dry air to a new understanding about the behavior of airborne particles, or “infectious aerosol transmissions.” They used to assume the microbes in desiccated droplets were dead, but advances in the past several years changed that thinking. “With new genetic analysis tools, we are finding out that most of the microbes are not dead at all. They are simply dormant while waiting for a source of rehydration,” Taylor explained. “Humans are an ideal source of hydration, since we are basically 60% water. When a tiny infectious particle lands on or in a patient, the pathogen rehydrates and begins the infectious cycle all over again.”

These findings are especially important for hospitals and other health settings, because dry air is also associated with antibiotic resistance, which can devastate whole patient populations. Scientists now believe resistant organisms do not develop only along the Darwinian trajectory, where mutated bacteria produce a new generation of similarly mutated offspring that can survive existing antibiotics. Resistant pathogens in infectious aerosols do not need to wait for the next generation, they can instantly share their resistant genes directly through a process called horizontal gene transfer.

According to her research, and subsequent studies in the medical literature, the “sweet spot” for indoor air is between 40% and 60% relative humidity. An instrument called a hygrometer, available for about $10, will measure it. Every hospital, school, and home should have them, according to Taylor, along with a humidifier to adjust room hydration to the sweet spot.

Operating rooms, Taylor notes, are often kept cooler than other rooms to keep gown-wearing surgical staff comfortable. Cool air holds less water vapor than warm air, so condensation can more easily occur on cold, uninsulated surfaces. Consequently, building managers often turn humidifiers off instead of insulating cold surfaces. This quick fix can result in dry air, and Taylor urges hospitals to bring the operating room’s relative humidity up, even when it is necessary, to maintain a lower temperature. Taylor’s research suggests this reduces surgical site infections.

Taylor travels the country speaking with health care and business groups to urge adoption of the 40%–60% relative humidity standard. And she practices what she preaches. “My husband has ongoing respiratory problems and had at least one serious illness each winter. Ever since we started monitoring our indoor relative humidity and keeping it around 40%, even when using our wood stove, he has not been sick. Our dogs also love it because they do not get static electricity shocks when being petted in the wintertime!”

The bad news is that it takes on average of 17 years for scientific evidence to be put into medical practice, according to a classic study. The good news is that Taylor is on the case, and she’s on a crusade against the destruction of bacteria and viruses. She’s not waiting 17 years. Jock, start the engine.

Follow me on Twitter. Check out my website.

I run an organization called The Leapfrog Group with a membership of highly impatient business leaders fed up with problems with injuries, accidents, and errors in hospitals. I can’t stand the sight of blood but I’ve worked in healthcare over 20 years, including a rural hospital system, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s health policy office, and the National League for Nursing. Follow me on twitter: @leahbinder.

Source: This Inexpensive Action Lowers Hospital Infections And Protects Against Flu Season

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The flu season in the U.S. has already claimed a number of lives in what the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) has called one of most severe flu seasons in nearly a decade. “People often forget that tens of thousands of Americans will die each year from influenza infection; the vast majority of those who die are those who have underlying medical comorbidities,” says Dr. Pritish Tosh, an infectious diseases specialist at Mayo Clinic. “They have heart disease or lung disease, and influenza tips them over and they end up dying from their underlying medical comorbidity, or chronic illness.” More health and medical news on the Mayo Clinic News Network http://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/

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Immigrants Arrive With Flourishing Gut Microbes Then America’s Diet Trashes Them – Ben Guarino

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An empire of germs dwells inside you, trillions strong. About a half-pound of bacteria plus their genes make up our microbiome. Though each microbe is small, a healthy and diverse microbiome is mighty. Its influence, studies suggest, spans the human condition  from mood swings to weight gain. The microbiome begins as a departing gift from mothers at birth, but many factors alter its composition. Growing evidence shows location has a profound impact on the diversity of microbes, and some places are much less diverse than others. A study published this week in the journal Cell follows multi-generation immigrants from Southeast Asia to the United States……..

Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/2018/11/02/immigrants-arrive-with-flourishing-gut-microbes-then-americas-diet-trashes-them/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.1057c116fcf5

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How to Turbocharge Flu Protection – Carl Zimmer

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The oncoming flu season has claimed its first lives, among them a child in Florida who had not gotten a flu shot. This year’s vaccine significantly reduces the odds of getting sick — and you should get one now if you haven’t already — but it’s far from perfect. For one thing, its effectiveness fluctuates from year to year. At best, the vaccine may reduce the risk of illness by about 60 percent. Last year, during one of the worst flu epidemics in recent memory, that figure was just 40 percent……..

Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/01/science/flu-vaccinations.html

 

 

 

 

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Many Intermittent Fasters Skip Breakfast Here’s Why That’s Not a Good Idea – Ellie Krieger

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As if there isn’t enough whiplash-inducing nutrition advice out there, now skipping breakfast is being lauded by some as a good thing. The meal has become a casualty of a popular diet called intermittent fasting, which requires going extended periods of time without eating. The diet is such a big trend that, according to an article in Bloomberg Businessweek, Google searches for “intermittent fasting” have increased tenfold over the past three years, to rival the number of searches for the words weight loss……..

Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/many-intermittent-fasters-skip-breakfast-heres-why-thats-not-a-good-idea/2018/10/23/976aba7e-d311-11e8-83d6-291fcead2ab1_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.adf2d2d9f80e

 

 

 

 

 

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Why Every Woman Should Get Her Hormones Checked in Her 20s – Lauren Valenti

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Hormones are like music played in a beautiful but sometimes discordant symphony, explains New York City–based holistic ob-gyn Eden Fromberg, D.O., likening the different glands in the endocrine system that produce distinct hormones to an array of musicians that create unique sounds in an orchestra, with each having to listen to the other so to play in progression. “When hormones play too loud or soft, too fast or slow, and don’t coordinate with the others, the sound produced may be jarring to the system………

Read more: https://www.vogue.com/article/womens-hormones-hormonal-imbalance-testing-fertility-long-term-health-benefits

 

 

 

 

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This Is The Best Time To Eat Breakfast, According To A Nutritionist – Noma Nazish

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Growing up, we’ve all heard the saying – “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Famous sci-fi writer Robert A. Heinlein went so far as to say, “one should not attend even the end of the world without a good breakfast.” And he couldn’t be more right. A healthy breakfast doesn’t just provide you energy to seize the day, it jumpstarts your metabolism, balances blood sugar levels, assists in weight management, even promotes heart health and improves cognitive function…….

Read more: https://www.forbes.com/sites/nomanazish/2018/10/25/this-is-the-best-time-to-eat-breakfast-according-to-a-nutritionist/#60233146d55e

 

 

 

 

 

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You Should Get Your Flu Shot & Ignore This Supplement Advice – Bruce Y. Lee

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If you are 6 months or older, get the flu vaccine. That’s the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) unless you have a true life threatening allergy to the flu vaccine or its components. If you are younger than 6 months and can read this, congratulations because you are remarkable. If you think you may have an allergy, talk to your doctor. It may not really be an allergy. Yes, the flu vaccine is not perfect. Its effectiveness in reducing your risk of the flu tends to range between 30% and 60%, depending on how well the strains in the vaccine match the circulating strains…..

Read more: https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucelee/2018/09/30/you-should-get-your-flu-shot-and-ignore-this-supplement-advice/#49c837cc64c0

 

 

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The Vaccination Debacle – Julian Vigo

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The topic of vaccination invariably provokes polarized debates, often manifesting in Twitter and Facebook. This is the case on my wall at this moment after I posted an article about the recent measles outbreak in Europe which shows 41,000 cases of measles recorded during first six months of 2018 surpassing the annual totals of every year since 2013.

This is not chicanery, this is not scare-mongering. This is a fact. And the level of vitriol surrounding this subject is par with debates about gun control while the debate looks more like faith-based debates around Creationism being taught in schools.

But science and technology are not incidental here as the WHO employs scientists who just a year ago predicted this very situation we find ourselves in. Why do so many people disbelieve proven science and opt for conspiracy theories?  Yes, medical research has been in bed with big with Big Pharma to the extent that many doctors and patient groups are distrustful of these conflicts of interest.

But to put one’s faith in a charlatan like Andrew Wakefield, the British surgeon behind the original hypothesis linking autism with the MMR vaccine, would be a tragic error not only because Wakefield has been for some time discredited and stripped of his medical license, but because there is zero science behind his claims.

Technology has a positive impact on our lives if we engage with it honestly. Let’s take a few facts about this year’s measles outbreak in Europe. First, even thought half of the measles cases this year were reported in Ukraine, the infection rates also took a hit in other countries renown for low immunization rates such as Serbia, Greece and Georgia.

Even countries like Italy, Romania, France and Germany have seen outbreaks in recent years. All these areas have issues with getting the population vaccinated with France being one of the highest vaccine skeptic nations on the planet. Hence, France, Italy, and Romania have passed laws making vaccinations mandatory just in the past two years with Italy’s Senate overturning the newly establish law earlier this month. This is a tragic U-turn for Italy since it had 5,000 cases of measles in 2016 occupying 29 per cent of all cases in the EU or European Economic Area as opposed to 870 cases in 2016.

At this point the science is in, and to ignore what medical technology offers us today is quite dangerous for society at large with many people still citing a fraudulent study that has been proven to be pure hokum. The biggest irony of those who resist getting their children vaccinated is that many of these parents work in the science and tech fields, are affluent and have the economic means to buck the system that would have previously prevented their unvaccinated child attending a public school.

For instance, before California’s strict vaccination law SB 277, was passed in 2015  after a measles outbreak that originated at Disneyland in 2013 as a result of parents who refused to vaccinate their children due to vaccine exemptions allowed for private schools. In August 2013, a Texas megachurch was at the centre of a measles outbreak.

To be clear, this church advocated that people refuse vaccinations. And the 2010 whooping cough epidemic in California, this too is directly linked to vaccination refusal. And while there are cases of vaccine failures, it is becoming clearer that people themselves are unaware that you need to have, for instance, two vaccinations against measles—not one. So the information for vaccine failures has not taken into account the masses who believe wrongly that having one jab is enough.

Too many people are treating technological advances in medicine as a belief system with many parents reverting to their skepticism in Big Pharma and others constructing vast generalizations as to how peer-reviews are carried out because of one single flawed study.

We need to speak out in favor of medical technology and call out the pseudo-science that is killing people and dispense with the conspiracy theories that governments around the world have concocted a method to control all members of the human race. Read the reports from this year’s outbreak where only 31% of Ukraine’s infected with measles never had the vaccine as irregular supplies afflicted the country.

Many parents also don’t realize that the “herd immunity” (where enough people from a community have been vaccinated such that the unvaccinated are protected) will not protect their child if more and more of the “herd” decide to not vaccinate. And this is what is happening today with many Americans deciding that the chances of their child getting sick are slim.

And then conversely, of the parents who are aware of the herd immunity, this becomes their reasoning for skipping their child’s inoculations—that others are already protecting them.

We need to stop treating flawed skeptic arguments against medical advice as the new gospel.  We also need to inform ourselves of the danger implicit in holding the health of an entire community in our hands all because we read a book or watched a documentary about how evil Big Pharma is. 

So too, we need to stop treating vaccination as a taboo topic of debate, as if speaking out is akin to telling someone that their religion is bad. That’s the thing, it’s science, not a personal religious belief.

 

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Beer, Drinking Water And Fish & Tiny Plastic Is Everywhere – Christopher Joyce

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Plastic trash is littering the land and fouling rivers and oceans. But what we can see is only a small fraction of what’s out there. Since modern plastic was first mass-produced, 8 billion tons have been manufactured. And when it’s thrown away, it doesn’t just disappear. Much of it crumbles into small pieces.

Scientists call the tiny pieces “microplastics” and define them as objects smaller than 5 millimeters — about the size of one of the letters on a computer keyboard. Researchers started to pay serious attention to microplastics in the environment about 15 years ago. They’re in oceans, rivers and lakes. They’re also in soil. Recent research in Germany found that fertilizer made from composted household waste contains microplastics.

And, even more concerning, microplastics are in drinking water. In beer. In sea salt. In fish and shellfish. How microplastics get into animals is something of a mystery, and Chelsea Rochman is trying to solve it.

Rochman is an ecologist at the University of Toronto. She studies how plastic works its way into the food chain, from tiny plankton to fish larvae to fish, including fish we eat.

She says understanding how plastic gets into fish matters not just to the fish, but to us. “We eat fish that eat plastic,” she says. “Are there things that transfer to the tissue? Does the plastic itself transfer to the tissue? Do the chemicals associated with the plastic transfer to the tissue?”

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Rochman says she has always loved cleaning up. She remembers how, as a 6-year-old, she puzzled her parents by volunteering to clean the house.

In high school in Arizona she got even more ambitious. “I used to take my friends into the desert and clean up a mile of trash every Earth Day,” she says. “I remember finding weird old dolls and strange old toys that I thought were creepy, but that I would also keep.”

As a graduate student, she landed a spot on a research vessel to visit the infamous floating garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean. She and the other scientists on the trip were supposed to count the plastic as it drifted by.

She remembers the moment they sailed into the patch, “Everyone runs up to the bow and says, ‘There’s trash, there’s trash, everyone start counting the trash.’ And so we all start counting the trash.”

But something was wrong. “We’re looking and it’s, like, basically a soup of confetti, of tiny little plastic bits everywhere,” she remembers. “Everyone just stops counting. [They] sat there, their backs up against the wall and said, ‘OK, this is a real issue, [and it’s] not an island of trash you can pick up.”

To Rochman, a third thing was also clear: “The tiny stuff, for me as an ecologist, this is really getting into the food chain. You could spend a career studying this stuff.”So she did.

A world of plastic

A typical day for Rochman might start alongside sparkling Lake Ontario, where parks line the shore and joggers and picnickers enjoy the shoreline scenery. The lake, however, hides a mostly invisible menace.

To see it, Rochman’s student, Kennedy Bucci, brings us to an inlet that’s ankle-deep in washed-up debris. An apartment building looms overhead. They squat down, reach into the muck and quickly find what they’re looking for. “I’m digging and just finding more and more,” Rochman says. “Like whole bottle caps. This is insane.”

“It’s so ingrained in the soil,” says Bucci.

She comes here regularly to collect plastic for Rochman’s research. They work quickly, filling a jar with bits of plastic. Rochman, who’s not wearing gloves, inadvertently picks up something she wishes she hadn’t. “Oh!” she laughs, flinging it aside. “That’s why you’ve got gloves on,” she tells Bucci, and then gets right back to digging.

Since she started studying microplastics, Rochman has found them in the outflow from sewage treatment plants. And they’ve shown up in insects, worms, clams, fish and birds.

To study how that happens, Bucci makes her own microplastics from the morning’s collection. She takes a postage stamp-size piece of black plastic from the jar, and grinds it into particles using a coffee grinder. “So this is the plastic that I feed to the fish,” she says.

The plastic particles go into beakers of water containing fish larvae from fathead minnows, the test-animals of choice in marine toxicology. Tanks full of them line the walls of the lab.

Bucci uses a pipette to draw out a bunch of larvae that have already been exposed to these ground-up plastic particles. The larva’s gut is translucent. We can see right into it.

“You can see kind of a line of black, weirdly shaped black things,” she points out. “Those are the microplastics.” The larva has ingested them.

Rochman says microplastic particles can sicken or even kill larvae and fish in their experiments.

Plastic can also get into fish tissue, particularly plastic fibers from clothing such as fleece. Rochman found fleece fibers in fish from San Francisco Bay. She also looked in fish from Indonesia, a tropical country whose residents are not known for dressing in fleece. She found plastic in Indonesian fish guts, but no fibers, suggesting that fish bodies tell a story about what kind of plastic resides in local waters.

Rochman took this line of research a step further when she bought a washing machine for her lab and washed fleece clothing. Lots of plastic fibers came out in the filter she added to collect the wastewater. In fact, she has found microplastics floating in the air. “If you put a piece of double-sided sticky tape on a lab bench for an hour, you come back and it’s got four plastic fibers on it,” she says.

Resilient, durable and potentially dangerous

Most plastic is inert; it does not readily react chemically with other substances, and that’s one reason it has been so successful. Plastic is resilient, durable and doesn’t easily degrade. It’s a vital part of medical equipment and has revolutionized packaging, especially food storage.

But, over time, plastic can break down and shed the chemicals that make it useful, such as phthalates and bisphenol A. These substances are common in the environment and their effects on human health are of concern to public health scientists and advocates, but few large-scale, definitive studies have been done.

Plastic also attracts other chemicals in the water that latch onto it, including toxic industrial compounds like polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. Plastic becomes a chemical Trojan horse.

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Tracking all those chemicals is researcher Clara Thaysen’s job.

“Right now we’re starting with the common types of plastic, so polyethylene, polypropylene [and] polystyrene,” she explains.

“But, there’s…” she pauses and sighs. “There’s tons.” Plastic comes in many forms, with a wide variety of chemical additives depending on how the plastic is used. What happens to plastic over decades just hasn’t been studied deeply.

“This happens all the time,” says Thaysen. “We invent something that seems really great and … we don’t think and we become so dependent on it.”

Rochman notes that this kind of research is relatively new; most of the environmental studies on microplastics have come out within the past 10 years.

“The things we don’t know,” she says, are daunting. “What are all the sources where it’s coming from, so that we can think about where to turn it off? And once it gets in the ocean, where does it go? Which is super-important because then we can understand how it impacts wildlife and humans.”

She says she’s ready to spend the rest of her career finding out.

 

 

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