Top 10 germ traps

Top 10 germ traps.



BACTERIA can be found in places that you have never imagined.

Did you know?

Mobile phones harbour more germs than a toilet seat or the sole of a shoe, say microbiology professors at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Whether it's people coughing on the train, spluttering in the bus queue or sneezing in the office lift, it's easy to see how germs spread. But where are those unlikely haunts harbouring millions of bacteria that can make you sick without you even knowing?

Often it's the places you don't think twice about touching that carry the most germs, and with 884 confirmed cases of influenza in the first six months of this year alone, it has never been more important to know where they are:


1. Warm-air hand dryers

So you're in a public bathroom and have scrubbed your hands clean - now to dry them off and you're set, right? Wrong. A UK study has found that hand dryers cause a 254 per cent increase in a bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus, which can cause food poisoning and other infections.

The new super-fast jet dryers aren't much better, increasing bacteria an average of 42 per cent and spreading germs two metres around the bathroom thanks to their high speeds. So what is the advice? Go back to basics. Paper towels decrease bacteria by about 77 per cent.


2. Shower heads

Who would have thought something you use twice a day to make you clean could actually be showering you with germs? A US study found 30 per cent of tested shower heads harboured high levels of Mycobacterium avium, a bacteria that can cause lung infections when inhaled or swallowed and has been linked to heart disease.

Researchers from the University of Colorado found the levels of the bacteria on shower heads were 100 times higher than those found in typical household water. Although rarely a problem for most healthy people, those with weakened immune systems, such as the elderly, pregnant women or those fighting diseases, can be susceptible. Experts recommend having a metal shower head and running the water for 30 seconds before use.

To clean metal shower heads, remove the shower head and place it in a pot of boiling water for 20 minutes. Run it through fresh water and return. For a stronger clean, soak it overnight in vinegar before running under fresh water. Do this about once a month.


3. Mobile phones

They go from our junk-filled handbags to the sticky kitchen table before being attached to our hands and heads for long periods of time. And sometimes, if we're not quite quick enough, they even end up straight in our curious toddler's mouth. So how clean are our mobile phones? UK experts say mobile phones harbour more germs than a toilet seat or the sole of a shoe that's been running errands all day.

Microbiology professors at Manchester Metropolitan University say a mobile's constant handling, the fact that they're kept in pockets or bags and the heat they generate, make the devices a prime breeding ground for bugs, including Staphylococcus aureus, which can cause pimples and infections.

Their advice? Regularly clean your mobile phone with antibacterial wipes and try to keep it in a cool, dry place.


4. Door handles

We go from one to the next every day and door handles can be just as germ-laden as public toilets. More vigilance is needed to keep ourselves flu-free this winter. Dr Steve Hambleton, Australian Medical Association vice president, says people need to protect themselves against dirty door handles - particularly those on bathroom doors. "Use the little alcohol gels you carry in your purse or in your car," Dr Hambleton says. If your hands are soiled, then use soap and water. "Our immune system is designed to protect us but we can help it a little bit too," he says.


5. Stair railings

You can't help but grab a stair rail when you're juggling an armful of shopping bags and a screaming child, but you can help what bugs you bring home with you on your hands. Dr Jeremy McAnulty, an infectious diseases expert with the New South Wales Department of Health, says germs are everywhere and good hygiene, vaccinations and being conscious of not spreading flu symptoms are all ways to keep the bad bugs at bay. "Germs are naturally occurring on handrails and if someone who is sick touches one, there is a possibility that you can put the germs on your hands and put your hands in your mouth," Dr McAnulty says.


6. Traffic lights

These are touched by a lot of people from all walks of life - including many impatient children - and can transfer germs easily. Dr Timothy Inglis, a public health microbiologist, says people need to be careful in high-traffic areas with surfaces that are touched by lots of people."

It follows logically that the more an individual location is a point of contact for people's hands in cold and flu season, the more it will be a point of germ transmission," he says.So next time you press the button over and over, tapping your feet while you will the lights to change, pull out your hand gel and sanitise while you wait. You might miss the bus, but you're likely to leave the germs behind too.


7. Computer keyboards

Have you ever peered into the tiny crevices of your computer keyboard and spotted remnants of last week's Vegemite toast or crumbs from yesterday's sandwich? Or, during a really thorough clean, have you held it upside down and had your desk showered with all sorts of grit and grime you never even knew was there? And have you then eaten another piece of Vegemite toast?

It's not a good idea to eat breakfast or lunch at your desk - especially if you job share - and it's easy to see why. Dr Inglis says respiratory viruses that spread throughout the office during the winter can often be prevented by a combination of good coughing etiquette and careful hand hygiene.

"We infer that a lot of these different locations [where germs are spread] are in the general environment and are things that people have a lot of physical contact with - things like computer keyboards and telephones," Dr Inglis says. He advises using tissues and disposing of them thoughtfully, washing your hands after you've blown your nose and using careful hand hygiene when using computer keyboards.


8. ATM

Bank machines are rarely cleaned and are touched by thousands of people, so the fact that they are a haven for bacteria shouldn't come as a surprise. Dr McAnulty says hard, shiny surfaces such as ATM keypads harbour lots of bacteria, making good hand hygiene particularly important. "If someone has had flu and coughed, getting flu germs on their hands, or had diarrhoea and has not washed their hands and touched the buttons, then you can pass germs on," he says.

"But simple precautions such as washing your hands when you've been out and about and touched things the public have touched is good advice to reduce the risk." So next time you need cash, think about how much you need a cold too - and keep the sanitising alcohol gel handy to kill those germs.


9. Make-up testers

Mascara, anyone? Next time you're at the make-up counter, think before you test - that's the advice from the experts. Dr McAnulty says customers should make sure products are disinfected before use if they will be in contact with bodily fluids or mucous membranes such as the eyes.

"If you were to use a device that has touched someone's mucus, such as in their eye, and the person had a cold, then there is the potential for germs to be spread," he says. "It is a good idea to make sure the products are properly disinfected between individuals using them.

"Stay home if you have the flu so you are not spreading it to other people," says Dr McAnulty. "Or, if it is less serious, like a cold, you have a responsibility to stop spreading it to other people by covering your face and moving away from people when you cough or sneeze and washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and running water."


10. The supermarket trolley

They are grabbed and gripped by thousands of busy shoppers every day, taking sweat and nasty germs along for the ride. And if there is a child sitting in the front, there is also contamination from saliva and fingers, with the sticky bars often serving as a teething tool for toddlers. Dr Steve Hambleton, Australian Medical Association vice president, says trolley handles are germ havens and shoppers should be cautious.

"We have hard surfaces around us everywhere and if they are indoors and they don't dry out, they carry germs for long periods of time," he says. "You have to think whose baby was the last one in the trolley and of course hands go in mouths immediately."Antibacterial wipes or alcohol gels can make sure you only bring home your shopping and nothing else, he says.

Scientists ID New Genetic Connection for Gout


Scientists ID New Genetic Connection for Gout


FRIDAY Dec. 28, 2012 -- To help explain why the debilitating arthritic condition known as gout strikes some people and not others, a new genetic analysis has identified 18 new mutations that appear to boost blood levels of uric acid, the key trigger for a gout attack.

The current effort involved an analysis of data concerning more than 140,000 people, gleaned from 70 independent studies conducted in Europe, the United States, Japan and Australia.

"Abnormal levels of uric acid have been associated with various common diseases and conditions, but causal relationships are not always clear," said study author Dr. Veronique Vitart of the Medical Research Council Human Genetics Unit at the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland, in a school news release. "Gaining insight into the genetic components of uric acid levels offers a very useful tool to tackle these issues and to further our understanding of these conditions."

The study appeared in the Dec. 23 issue of Nature Genetics.

The authors noted that gout has been called the "disease of kings," based on the belief that rich foods (consumed by rich people) are the principle culprit behind the onset of often immobilizing attacks.

Gout affects roughly 2 percent of the population. High levels of uric acid from a wide variety of foods and alcohol accumulate and form into hard crystals, which then lodge themselves into joints and tissues. The result: extreme pain and swelling.

Researchers hope that any fresh insight into the role of genetics in gout incidence might pave the way for better treatment and prevention.

"Existing therapies to avoid attacks of gout sometimes cause side effects," study co-author Mark Caulfield, at the William Harvey Research Institute at Queen Mary University of London, said in the news release. "[So] our findings identify new potential mechanisms for gout and offer opportunities for new therapies which may improve prevention of this debilitating condition in the future."

More information

For more on gout, visit the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Posted: December 2012


DNA May Explain Why Women Have More Rheumatoid Arthritis


DNA May Explain Why Women Have More Rheumatoid Arthritis.



MONDAY Nov. 26, 2012 -- Genes specific to the X chromosome are among newly identified genes linked to rheumatoid arthritis and could help explain why women are more likely than men to develop the disease, researchers say.

Women have two X chromosomes while men have an X and a Y chromosome.

The X-chromosome-specific genes were among 14 newly identified genes in both women and men that can lead to rheumatoid arthritis, adding to the 32 genes previously pinpointed by the researchers at the Arthritis Research U.K. Epidemiology Unit at the University of Manchester and their colleagues.

It is believed that these 46 genes account for the vast majority of genes associated with rheumatoid arthritis. The research could lead to new treatments for the disease, according to the study published online recently in the journal Nature Genetics.

"This groundbreaking study brought together scientists from around the world and involved the use of DNA samples from more than 27,000 patients with rheumatoid arthritis and healthy controls," study lead author Jane Worthington, professor of chronic disease genetics at the University of Manchester, said in a university news release. "As a result of our findings, we now know that genetic variations at over 45 regions of the genome determine susceptibility to this form of arthritis."

Rheumatoid arthritis is different from osteoarthritis, the arthritis associated with aging and wear and tear. It frequently starts between the ages of 25 and 55, and causes inflammation in the joints, resulting in swelling, stiffness, pain and reduced joint function.

Lifestyle and environmental factors such as smoking, diet, pregnancy and infection are believed to play a role in rheumatoid arthritis, but a person's genes also influence their risk for the disease. The condition affects about 1 percent of the world's population.

"This work will have a great impact on the clinical treatment of arthritis; we have already found three genes that are targets for drugs, leaving a further 43 genes with the potential for drug development, helping the one-third of patients who fail to respond well to current medications," study first author Dr. Stephen Eyre said in the news release.

"This is the first time that a genetic association has been established between rheumatoid arthritis and the X chromosome," Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research U.K., said in the release. "This could provide a useful clue in helping us to understand why rheumatoid arthritis is three times more likely to occur in women."



Scientists Shed Light on Fungus Behind Deadly Pneumonia Strain


Scientists Shed Light on Fungus Behind Deadly Pneumonia Strain


FRIDAY Dec. 28, 2012 -- Researchers report that they've sequenced the genome of a fungus called Pneumocystis jirovecii, potentially laying the groundwork for new ways to treat a strain of pneumonia that can kill people with weakened immune systems.

The strain is known as Pneumocystis pneumonia. First noticed among malnourished babies, it gained attention during the AIDS epidemic because it struck HIV-infected patients. It also strikes other patients whose immune systems don't work properly, such as those who receive organ transplants, are undergoing treatment for blood cancer or have autoimmune disorders.

The sequencing of the genome revealed that the fungus is a parasite that must live within the human body to survive. "This has been quite an important finding which implied that human beings represent the reservoir of this pathogen," study co-author Philippe Hauser of the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois and University of Lausanne in Switzerland, said in a news release from the American Society for Microbiology.

The study appears in the Dec. 26 issue of the online journal mBio.

More information

For more about pneumonia, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Posted: December 2012



Treating burns and scalds


Treating burns and scalds 

From NHS UK website 


Appropriate first aid must be used to treat any burns or scalds as soon as possible. This will limit the amount of damage to your skin.

You may need to apply the following first aid techniques to yourself or to another person who has been burnt.

First aid for burns

Follow the first aid advice below to treat burns and scalds:

  • Stop the burning process as soon as possible. This may mean removing the person from the area, dousing flames with water or smothering flames with a blanket. Do not put yourself at risk of getting burnt as well.
  • Remove any clothing or jewellery near the burnt area of skin. However, don't try to remove anything that is stuck to the burnt skin because this could cause more damage.
  • Cool the burn with cool or lukewarm water for 10–30 minutes, ideally within 20 minutes of the injury occurring. Never use ice, iced water or any creams or greasy substances, such as butter.
  • Keep yourself or the person warm. Use a blanket or layers of clothing, but avoid putting them on the injured area. Keeping warm will prevent hypothermia, when a person’s body temperature drops below 35C (95F). This is a risk if you are cooling a large burnt area, particularly in young children and elderly people.
  • Cover the burn with cling film. Put the cling film in a layer over the burn, rather than wrapping it around a limb. A clean, clear plastic bag can be used for burns on your hand.
  • Treat the pain from a burn with paracetamol oribuprofen. Always check the manufacturer’s instructions when using over-the-counter (OTC) medication. Children under 16 years of age should not be given aspirin.

When to go to hospital

Once you have taken these steps, you will need to decide whether further medical treatment is necessary. Go to a hospital accident and emergency (A&E) department for:

  • all chemical and electrical burns (see below)
  • large or deep burns – any burn bigger than the affected person’s hand
  • full thickness burns of all sizes – these burns cause white or charred skin
  • partial thickness burns on the face, hands, arms, feet, legs or genitals – these are burns that causeblisters

Also get medical help straight away if the person with the burn:

  • has other injuries that need treating or is going into shock (signs include cold, clammy skin, sweating, rapid, shallow breathing and weakness or dizziness)
  • is pregnant
  • is over 60 years of age
  • is under five years of age
  • has a medical condition such as heart, lung or liver disease, or diabetes (a long-term condition caused by too much glucose in the blood)
  • has a weakened immune system (the body’s defence system), for example because of HIV or AIDS or because they're having chemotherapy for cancer

If someone has breathed in smoke or fumes, they should also seek medical attention. Some symptoms may be delayed and can include coughing, a sore throat, difficulty breathing, singed nasal hair or facial burns.

Read more about recovering from burns and scalds for information on how serious burns are treated.

Electrical burns

Electrical burns may not look serious, but they can be very damaging. Someone who has an electrical burn should seek immediate medical attention at an A&E department.

If the person has been injured by a low-voltage source (up to 220–240 volts) such as a domestic electricity supply, safely switch off the power supply or remove the person from the electrical source using a non-conductive material. This is a material that does not conduct electricity, such as a wooden stick or a wooden chair.

Do not approach a person who is connected to a high-voltage source (1,000 volts or more).

Chemical burns

Chemical burns can be very damaging and require immediate medical attention at an A&E department.

If possible, find out what chemical caused the burn and tell the healthcare professionals at A&E.

If you are helping someone else, wear appropriate protective clothing, then:

  • remove any clothing that has the chemical on it from the person who has been burnt
  • if the chemical is dry, brush it off their skin
  • use running water to remove any traces of the chemical from the burnt area


In cases of sunburn, follow the advice below:

  • If you notice any signs of sunburn, such as hot, red and painful skin, move into the shade or preferably inside.
  • Take a cool bath or shower to cool down the burnt area of skin.
  • Apply after-sun lotion to the affected area to moisturise, cool and soothe it. Do not use greasy or oily products.
  • If you have any pain, paracetamol or ibuprofen should help relieve it. Always read the manufacturer’s instructions and do not give aspirin to children under 16 years of age.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
  • Watch out for signs of heat exhaustion or heatstroke, when the temperature inside your body rises to 37–40°C (98.6–104°F) or above. Symptoms include dizziness, a rapid pulse or vomiting.

If a person with heat exhaustion is taken quickly to a cool place, given water to drink and has their clothing loosened, they should start to feel better within half an hour. If they don’t, they could develop heatstroke. This is a medical emergency and you’ll need to call 999 for an ambulance.

Read more about what to do if someone has heat exhaustion or heatstroke.

Read more information about the complications of burns and scalds.

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