Six tips for staying healthy in a world of germs

Dr. Crutchfield, it seems like everyone at work is sick. What can I do to protect myself from getting sick at work?

Here are some tips on protecting your health in the workplace in spite of all the germs that may be lurking there.
 


Tip 1: Wash your hands.
As you entered your office, you probably touched one of many common surfaces just teeming with germs. These common surfaces include elevator buttons, escalator railings, and door handles. Whenever possible after such contact, wash your hands for 15 seconds with warm, very soapy water.
I was at a professional sporting event this weekend and the men’s bathroom was extremely full. I counted 30+ people. I paid very close attention, and half the people did not wash their hands.

The ones who did attempt to wash their hands did so in such a poor manner that they really only wasted their time. Many just splashed or rapidly rinsed their hands under the water for less than five seconds. No soap. It was almost like a theatrical performance or a gesture of washing hands so as not to look bad in front of the other bathroom patrons. They did not engage in a significant, worthwhile, useful hand-washing event. 

Remember, you should engage in at least 13-30 seconds of hand washing with warm, soapy water. True story: When I did wash my hands, I did it properly, and the man behind me commented, “Dude, you’re washing your hands like you’re a doctor!” Wow, did that bring a smile to my face.
Also, be sure to keep a bottle of hand sanitizer handy. Make sure it contains at least 60 percent alcohol. It can be almost as effective as washing your hands with warm, soapy water.

When it comes to your desk, the area is mainly contaminated with your own germs, so they are unlikely to make you sick unless you brought germs in with you (as from doorknobs, elevator buttons) and did not clean your hands.

Also if you have other people who may work in your personal work area, like an IT person working on your computer, then you should clean your area. This is best done with commercially available disinfectant wipes. Keep these handy and use daily or whenever someone else works in your space or uses your computer.
 
Tip 2: Try not to touch your face.
This is much easier said than done, but with practice and concentration, you can minimize or decrease how much you touch your face. Studies have shown that most people touch their face 60-100 times per day, and some people even much more.
Your hands carry germs, and they can enter your body through your mouth, eyes and nose. Minimizing the number of times you touch your face will minimize how often you get sick.
 
Tip 3: Keep your distance.
Maintain a safe distance from your co-workers. You can’t control if your co-workers arrive sick, but you can control the distance between you. Most germs, including the flu virus, are unlikely to spread beyond three feet.
For good health, be sure to stay three feet away from co-workers, especially anyone who is sick. Wearing a mask may seem safe, but in most work environments it is not practical.
 
Tip 4: Sneeze into your elbow. 
In the old days, we were taught that when sneezing we should do so into our hands to prevent propelling germs into an aerosolized cloud that could contaminate those around us. Unfortunately, our hands subsequently touch many surfaces like telephones, coffee pot handles, refrigerator door handles, doorknobs, vending machine buttons, etc.
Sneezing or coughing into our hands just allowed germs to spread differently, not to mention transmission by shaking hands. Coughs and sneezes should be done into one’s elbow or a tissue.
 
Tip 5: Get vaccinated.
Vaccination is one of the best things that you can do for your good health. It protects you and also those around you, including people who can’t get vaccinated, like infants or those with weakened immune systems.
Sure, there are all kinds of cold medicines that can make you feel better if you are sick, but the best strategy is to prevent getting sick in the first place. Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables that will help boost your immune system — and get vaccinated.
 
Tip 6: If you are sick, stay home.
You will recover faster at home and not spread your illness to your co-workers. The rule of thumb is that if you have a fever, do not go to work. If you are ill but not feverish and can work, this is the one time to wear a mask and keep your distance from coworkers.
 
Remember, you can’t completely eliminate getting sick at work, but you can do many things to minimize your risk of getting sick that will protect both you and your coworkers.

New technology could revolutionize food safety

Rarely does a month go by that there is not some national recall or warning about tainted foods. Food contamination is a worldwide problem. Recently, there was a nationwide ban on romaine lettuce in the U.S.

In 2008, for another example, 50,000 babies were hospitalized in China after eating infant formula contaminated with melamine, an organic chemical used in the manufacture of plastics. Melamine is toxic when present in high concentrations.

In April of last year, more than 90 people died and many others were blinded in Indonesia after drinking alcohol contaminated with methanol. Methanol is a toxic and cheap alcohol that is frequently used to dilute and extend liquor that is sold in black markets around the globe.

Here are some other facts bearing on the issue of food safety:

  • 48 million Americans get sick every year from the food they eat.
  • 128,000 Americans are hospitalized with illnesses that come from contaminated food.
  • Hundreds go blind from contaminants in bootleg alcohol.
  • 3,000 Americans die every year from contaminated foods.

If you have ever gotten sick from the food you have eaten or thought the food in the fridge smelled a bit off or wondered about the freshness or date printed on a food product you were about to consume, help may be on the way.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are using artificial intelligence to develop a wireless sticker system, called RFIQ (Radio Frequency IQ), that can check foods and drinks for a wide variety of illness-producing organisms and other tainted products. It would give consumers direct control over detecting contaminants in their food and drink.

They have developed a special, small, and very precise and accurate sensor that can attach to your smartphone and check for contaminants in food and beverages. The system should be able to:

  • Detect E. coli and other germs in produce and foods
  • Detect lead and mercury in water
  • Detect contaminants in alcohol and milk

MIT scientists are excited that they are developing a system that could revolutionize the field of food safety. Eventually, the device would be the size of a phone charger and plug directly into a smartphone. It would then interact with an app that directs the detection.

This technology has the potential to be a groundbreaking advance. There are thousands of people who have become critically ill from foodborne illness. As a result, many have a terrible relationship with food and live in constant fear, dreading every day doing something as essential to life as eating food.

The new system would enable people to test the food in grocery stores, farmer’s markets, restaurants and at home. For commercial foods and beverages, there could be a standardized, unique identifier code on the label that is scanned. If any contaminants are detected, not only would the device’s owner be alerted, but so would the product manufacturer, and even safety organizations like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), for potential early and widespread warnings.

Ideally, the device will first serve individual consumers. Eventually, the MIT team’s goal is to scale-up the technology for commercial applications and then adopt it nationally, and even globally, so it becomes part of an invisible, seamless, food and beverage production infrastructure. Foods and drinks would then be scanned automatically before they ever hit the shelves or are sold in markets or served in restaurants.

Think about the profound effect this food safety technology can have; we could soon have the ability to check any food or liquid, before we eat it, making sure that they contain no contaminants.

The scientists are also developing additional technologies so the scanner can detect sugar, calories and other components. These additional capabilities would be extremely beneficial for people with diabetes, those watching their weight, or with food allergies.

Researchers say that the devices could be in consumer’s hands in as little as three to five years. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has also expressed an interest in the project.

When it comes to food safety, the future looks bright.

For more information, read MIT’s RFIQ project report at bit.ly/2X2hXAC.

Common medications like ibuprofen can damage your kidneys

Severe damage can require diaslysis or even a transplant

Kidneys are essential, yet they are easy to damage and difficult to replace. Typically, everyone is born with two kidneys. These bean-shaped organs, about the size of a fist, are located on both sides of the spine, just underneath the ribs on your lower back. Your kidneys serve several vital functions. They help get rid of waste products through urination, and they play a significant role in maintaining your blood pressure, help make vitamin D that keeps your bones healthy, make hormones vital in the production of red blood cells, and they maintain a healthy fluid balance in your body. Continue reading Common medications like ibuprofen can damage your kidneys

Malaria: a disease caused by protozoa carried by mosquitos

Dr. Crutchfield, my neighbor recently traveled to Africa and told me he caught malaria when he was there. What is malaria?

Malaria is an infectious disease that is spread by mosquito bites. It is estimated that over 200 million people contract malaria every year around the world, and over 500,000 people die every year from the disease. Most deaths from malaria occur in Africa in children under the age of five.

Continue reading Malaria: a disease caused by protozoa carried by mosquitos

Peyronie’s disease: a common yet obscure disease of men

Peyronie’s disease (pronounced: pay-row-knees) is a disease that affects the male penis. It is considered a connective tissue disorder that affects an estimated 10-12 percent of men. Scar tissue, also known as fibrous plaques, develops along one side of the shaft of the penis. Commonly the penis is bent rather than straight when erect. However, when present, this scar tissue can cause the penis to take on a curved shape. Sometimes the curve is extreme. Continue reading Peyronie’s disease: a common yet obscure disease of men

Pets can be excellent for both your mental and physical health

Pets are good for your health. If you know someone with a pet, especially a dog or a cat, ask them about their pet, and it is bound to make them smile.

In fact, almost one-half of all U.S. households own a dog, and one-third of U.S. households own a cat. Many doctors are beginning to realize that owning a pet is a significant part of a prescription for a happy, healthy life.

Interacting with pets is good for one’s mental and physical health. Playing with pets decreases blood pressure, anxiety, depression, stress, cholesterol, and the risk of a heart attack and stroke. Studies show that pet owners also benefit from an improved immune system. Continue reading Pets can be excellent for both your mental and physical health

For some, video games can become a significant life problem

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced that video game addiction can be recognized as a mental health disorder. The WHO, based in Geneva, announced that it would list “gaming disorder” in the upcoming 11th edition of its highly respected compendium of medical disorders, the International Classification of Diseases. This publication is used by health professionals around the world to diagnose and classify health conditions. Continue reading For some, video games can become a significant life problem