Blog Archive - July 2008
July 26, 2008
On my walk this morning, I noticed a very professional-looking blue sign on a lightpost near an elementary school. Since it was permanently mounted on the post at eye level for an adult - I assume it was intended for parents. The white lettering read: "Certified Teacher will Tutor your Student - one-on-one - all subjects - Ages 4-13" - and a local phone number was listed. I didn't call the number and inquire as to what "all subjects" included, but I doubt if health, healthy living, prevention of infection or prevention of sexually transmitted infections, or even science, for that matter, would be on the list. It got me thinking. We seem to value the 3R's but not the other knowledge that is essential to creating a happy and fulfilling life. I guess we think this kind of tuitoring isn't necessary because parents know those subjects and can and will convey it to their children. NOT! The parents think their kids learn "that stuff" in school and the schools assume that it was taught in the home. If the concepts are not taught and there is no role modeling of a healthy lifestyle, a gap is created. Recently, I read an interview with a fellow infection preventionist who works for a hospital in Fort Collins, CO. In response to a question: What issues or problems keep you from reducing your hospital's infection rate to the lowest possible level? - he referred to the issue of staff education and compliance with infection prevention techniques like handwashing and said: "A lot of it depends on how people (hospital employees) were raised. I'm still trying to teach people practices that their parents should have taught them." I agree. We must teach our children the basics of infection prevention before we send them to institutions for higher learning and expect them to come out with an good academic education built on a limited foundation of personal health and wellness.
So what topics should be included in this basic wellness education? I think, at a minimum, it should include hand hygiene, personal hygiene, oral hygiene, food safety, housecleaning and sanitation in the home, prevention of sexually transmitted infections, and, what I call, practical microbiology- in other words, the care and maintenance of a healthy body, the home and pets. If we assume responsibility as the primary teachers of these content areas, then the schools become the tutors. (unless you are home schooling and you have total responsibility). Of course, in order to effectively teach this information and the related skills and behaviors- you must know it yourself and continuously role model healthy behaviors. But I see so many women leave a public restroom without washing their hands even mothers who have just changed their baby's diaper. This is why Nanobugs, inc has identified our #1 target audience for infection prevention information as mothers -they are usually the family health advocate, tutor, food preparer and housekeeper. The #2 audience is health professionals because they serve a tutors and and need tools for teaching and #3 audience is children ages 6-14 and their school teachers. Our mission is to entertain and educate people of all ages about practical microbiology for the purpose of infection prevention and maintaining health and wellness. Our cartoon characters - the nanobugs - entertain in order to make the education more appealing and engaging. But it isn't all cute and humorous -we work hard to maintain scientific integrity in our products and information so that people can use it to develop effective infection prevention strategies for themselves and their families. Maybe we should start thinking of the nanobugs as tutors for the subject, infection prevention.
July 23, 2008
I have an electric toothbrush made by Sonicare that serves me well. Supposedly an electric toothbrush is more effective than manual brushing because it can deliver more strokes of the bristles per minute. This mechanical action loosens food particles and Streptococcus mutans bacteria so they don't eat holes in the enamel of your teeth. Today I happened to notice that there was a build-up of yellow 'crud' at the base of the bristles of my toothbrush. Yuck! Now the brush head was still in good shape so I didn't want to toss it out - replacement heads cost about $20, I think. So I keep some of those denture cleaning tablets on hand for this purpose. They are usually used for cleaning artificial teeth but the box says you can use them for cleaning brushes too. I simply turn the head of the electric toothbrush unit upside down in a glass of water, drop in the fizzy tablet and wait 30 minutes. Then I rinse it well and let the brush head dry before reassempling the brush. This works really well. I should advise you to "check the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning and replacement of brushes". But because of the nature of the intended use of the electric toothbrush - most can safely be put in water for cleaning without damage to you or the unit. This method of cleaning can also be used for manual toothbrushes. I think it is Phillips company that sells a UV lighted storage unit for toothbrushes. However, if there is debris on the brush head or trapped in the bristles, disinfection is not accomplished. I have heard of supposed studies that claim that toothbrushes that are left uncovered on the bathroom counter can be contaminated with aerosols of toilet water created when the toilet is flushed with the lid up. I don't really buy this as a risk to my health. If you store your toothbrushes in the medicine cabinet to prevent this - you might be creating a worst situation. Bacteria and fungi like a warm, dark and moist environment in which to grow - that's exactly what you create when you store a used wet toothbrush in the medicine cabinet.
So here's my advice: check your brushes regularly and more often in the summer. If the bristles are worn - or chewed down as toddlers tend to do - toss it and get a new brush. If not, clean the brush head in the manner described above. Store the brushes on the counter in sunlight and allow to dry between uses. If they are put away you will be less likely to remember to use them - out of sight , out of mind. And brushing and flossing are essential in keeping Streptococcus mutans from taking over your mouth - causing you a lot of cavities and dental bills. (I know this is all pretty gross, but somebody has to talk to you about these things and your dentist or hygenist doesn't usually go into this detail) Brush with a good, clean toothbrush, floss daily and SMILE .............
"Peace begins with a smile" - Mother Teresa
July 22, 2008
According to the CDC, their accumulated investigations point to Jalepeno peppers as the most likely cause of the outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul. The outbreak began in April and now a total of 1251 cases have been reported in 43 US states,the District of Columbia and Canada with the same "genetic fingerprint". Initially, tomatoes were implicated but now the finger is pointed at Jalapeno peppers. It seems that the common denominator for food source was fresh salsa which includes both of these veggies and onions and cilantra. Now, here's how these investigations progress (we call this epidemiology - the study of epidemics of disease): doctors and emergency room personnel report clusters of symptomatic patients to the state and local health departments and follow-up is done to determine which nanobug is causing the infection. Interviews are conducted with the sick patients and their families to determine if the illnesses are foodborne and potentially related in some way. A food history is taken to find out what foods were eaten and where they were prepared (home, potluck supper, or restaurant). Sometimes it is very difficult to conduct these interviews because people are sick and/or they can't remember what they ate beyond their last meal. I remember reading a study done done years ago by a local health department related to the accuracy of food histories and to find ways to improve the process. They set up video cameras over the serving table during a luncheon potluck in the office. No one was the wiser - as this potluck was organized around someone's retirement or other celebration event. Then 48 hours later, they did food histories on the attendees and included the potluck meal. It was obvious that even smart people could not remember what they had eaten from their overloaded plates and/or what was in some of the dishes they had comsumed. But the camera "remembered". I recall that the accuracy was much worse for men than women but not great for them either. I guess the reason I am relating this story is in defense of the public health officials that have to sort out these outbreaks and provide us with information in order to avoid implicated foods. It is a bonanza when they can find left-over food in a fridge that can be tested for the nanobug and corrolate it with the nanobugs isolated from infected people's diarrhea stools - now, that is not an easy process either! So please hold your cruel comments about the confusion with this Salmonella outbreak. I know that farmers and restaurants are often hurt financially by early reports of possible causative foods but that is a consequence of the process. Notice how careful CDC is with their verbage: "preliminary investigations indicate that ____ may be the cause of the illness"? They are trying to take action while they wait for laboratory tests to come back. Generally, a stool culture can take up to 48 hours to show the nasty nanobug amidst all the usual nanobugs present in human feces.
So.....what does this news today about Jalepeno peppers mean to you? The FDA is trying to shut off the distribution of any of the implicated produce and keep it from getting to our grocery stores. Your job is to take actions that protect you in case there are some peppers still out there and not yet consumed OR some thing else brewing in these hot summer months. #1- report any fever and diarrhea in yourself or clusters of individuals that might be related to common source foods. #2 - follow good general food safety practices and the "advice to consumers" from the CDC which can be found on their website: www.cdc.gov. I have listed the main points here for your quick review:
The contaminated peppers may still be in grocery stores, homes, and restaurants. Until more is known about the likely location of contamination, FDA is advising all persons to avoid consuming raw jalapeño peppers and dishes containing those raw peppers. Consumers should be aware that raw jalapeño peppers are often used in the preparation of fresh salsa, pico de gallo, guacamole, and other dishes. Cooked or pickled peppers from jars and cans are not part of this warning. Persons with increased risk of severe infection, including infants, elderly persons, and those with impaired immune systems, should also not consume raw serrano peppers. Other persons who want to reduce their risk of Salmonella infection can take similar precautions.
Consumers are reminded that vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet and that cooking vegetables kills bacteria, including Salmonella.
July 18, 2008
Well, the summer has heated up and the humidity is making these Nebraska days feel like “a day at the spa” –specifically in the sauna. All this sweating increases the potential for bad body odor. Sweat itself is basically odorless – certainly not offensive (unless you have been eating foods with strong odors – like garlic and onions). However, unpleasant or offensive odors develop when bacteria on the skin are allowed to multiply and break down the sweat into odor-causing by-products. Bacteria grow best in a warm, dark, moist environment and so hot sweaty skin enhances their multiplication and will eventually produce a strong odor. Several of the nanobugs are to blame for this socially-isolating situation. The main contributor is Corynebacterium acnes – one of the Diphtheroids but Staph aureus and Staph epiidemitis can make a stinky contribution, too . These nanobugs “hang out” in the hair follicles and the creases in your skin (especially the underarms and groin where it is warm dark and moist). What’s the solution? Your response is probably: anti-perspirants!! Many choose this strategy – to stop the sweat (in their armpits) – thus eliminating the culture media that sweat provides. Most anti-perspirants contain aluminum chloride and work by plugging the sweat glands and limiting production of the sweat. Deodorants work to slow the multiplication of bacteria and the production of those stinky by-products. Ingredients like tea tree oil, lemongrass and oriental cypress are natural ingredients that help to control odors. But the most common strategy is the use of a combination of deodorant and anti-perspirant. Because it is not practical or wise to apply those chemicals to our entire skin surface , a good bath of shower once a day (or twice daily in this hot weather) will eliminate a lot of the nanobugs and slow down the multiplication of those that are still there after bathing. Remember – usually you don’t have to kill bacteria, just wash them off of your skin and out of your clothes and send them down the drain. Antibacterial soaps are not really necessary and the chemicals used in these formulations can be irritating to the skin. Good mechanical cleansing with soap (to decrease surface tension and help release the bacteria) and thorough rinsing is an effective and economical strategy.
Some further discussion of summer stink: My grandchildren were semi-willingly helping to clean up their yard on Tuesday afternoon. It was hot and humid but we decided to work together to quickly complete the project – which involved picking up litter, cutting up tree branches and sticks and pulling weeds in the rock beds. As the foreman of this less- than- ambitious work crew, I had assigned Shelby (age 11) to collect litter in a cardboard box and take it to the trash dumpster near the alley. She was refusing this seemingly easy task and finally admitted that she couldn’t stand the smell of the inside of the trash dumpster that escapes when you lift the lid. I explained that the nanobugs had been “partying” in there with the rotting garbage and created the usual but powerful stink of a trash container on a hot summer day. Shelby was mumbling about the need for an effective solution to this stinky garbage situation –as though I should resolve this microbiological challenge and eliminate her exposure. I had no ideas for preventing or curing that particular stink – I guess we all just accept it.
July 16, 2008
I have recently conducted a study of the cost of shipping and handling nanobugs products sold in the online store for the first half of this year and the amount we charged our customers. This action was stimulated by the increase in postage levied by the US Postmaster in May and our desire to be fair and profitable in our business. The outcome of the study was that our shipping & handling costs are generally appropriate and will only need adjustment on 2 of the 5 categories PayPal allows for shipping costs. Quite frankly, I don’t know how companies can offer “free shipping” and still come out ahead. They must be utilizing a different business plan, and using shipping losses as marketing costs. Or…. They are increasing their price of the item Or….if they are paying huge amounts to store their inventory and so they take a loss on shipping to offset the higher cost of warehousing. After determining the appropriate shipping costs for the second half of this year, I set out to look for ways to save money and materials to ship more efficiently. The “handling” part of the “shipping and handling” includes the expenses of preparing an item for safe delivery to the customer. Transporting orders to Mail Plus for shipping is becoming more expensive as the cost of gasoline rises. But I live close to the shipper, I drive a VW Beetle and can coordinate drop-offs with other business activities in order to conserve gas. Shipping boxes and return address labels are essential for effective shipping plus they contribute to branding and image-building. However, there is still room for experimentation with materials. Sometimes we use a US Priority Mail “flat rate” box if the items in the order are heavy and will fit in the flat rate box. Those boxes are free – incorporated into the flat rate. If it is profitable, we use flat rate boxes. We generally ship via US. Priority Mails because their prices are competitive and they claim 2-3 day delivery. Packing materials can be reusable items and we attempt to reuse whenever possible. I have several firm rules, however. The materials must be clean, look clean and smell clean – preferably used only for shipping clean items like medications. I do a bit of temporary work at the Peoples Health Center here in Lincoln - facilitating their medication assistance programs. They receive insulin vials in styrofoam coolers with gel paks to maintain appropriate temps and prevent degradation of the insulin. Problem is – the clinic receives 5-8 of these coolers each week and they are just discarded after this one-time use. (and that is just one clinic – just think of the hundreds that are shipped every day across the country!!) I think every employee at the clinic has taken one or more of these coolers home to reuse for fishing worms, little league snacks, transporting groceries for the store on these hot days, etc. (don’t worry – not all of the uses for the same cooler!) In an attempt to keep these items out of the landfill – or at least postpone their destiny, I have considered shipping nanobugs card collections in them – hoping that receiving customers will reuse them too. If you have ordered recently from us, you probably received your items (especially the card collections and/or playing cards in a box with a plastic air bubble and or a piece of white foam. These materials are reused from pharmaceutical shipments, too. I am writing this blog today, I guess, because I am a little embarrassed to be utilizing styrofoam and other plastics for shipping materials since I have always claimed to “live green” and ambitiously recycle whenever possible. I want nanobugs customers to know that generally we are reusing packing materials for shipping and carefully evaluate the previous use to maintain cleanliness and contain costs. “Doing the right thing” is often a complicated process, don’t you think? (Please comment)