How to Handle Food Poisoning

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Stomach Pains

You’ve experienced it many times before. Perhaps you ate some bad pizza at lunch but you didn’t know it until the intense stomach cramps suddenly hit you. Or maybe later that evening you develop a fever and you start to vomit. These are the all-too-familiar signs of food poisoning.

Knowing the different causes of food poisoning is perhaps the best way you can protect yourself from this debilitating condition. Let’s take a look at how food becomes contaminated as well as what you can do to avoid getting food poisoning.

Causes of Food Poisoning

We all know that eating or drinking foods that are contaminated with germs (i.e. bacteria or viruses) can cause food poisoning. This usually occurs from unsanitary conditions when food is prepared, stored, or handled.

Here are some examples of how food can become contaminated.

  • Cooking with unclean utensils, cutting boards, and other kitchen tools
  • Not properly washing your hands
  • Using water that is polluted with animal or human feces to grow crops
  • Allowing food to come into contact with bacteria and other microorganisms
  • Improper storage (e.g. storing food at the wrong temperature or keeping them stored for too long)

Food allergies can also cause some people to have an abnormal reaction after eating certain foods. These allergies can range from mild to server and may cause severe illness or even death.

Tips to Avoid Food Poisoning

Sometimes you can clearly see or smell food to determine whether it’s safe to eat, but other times it’s not so obvious. Here are some tips that will help you steer clear of food poisoning:

  • Never eat anything with moldMold on Bread
  • Thoroughly cook meats (160˚ F for beef and 165˚F for chicken)
  • Wash vegetables and fruits before eating
  • Throw out food that is past its expiration date
  • Avoid drinking water from streams or untreated wells
  • Wash hands before, during, and after handling food
  • Clean all kitchenware after use including utensils, pots, pans, and dishes
  • Store leftovers in the refrigerator with an air-tight lid
  • Defrost foods in water or the refrigerator—don’t thaw them at room temperature

Of course, there’s no way to know whether you’re eating contaminated food when you go to a restaurant or a friend’s house. However, you can reduce your chances of food poisoning by eating out less and offering to prepare food when you eat at someone else’s home.

When to Seek Medical Attention

While most cases are treated at home with rest and plenty of hydration, food poisoning can be severe enough to require medical attention. Be sure to contact an emergency center if you have the following symptoms:

  • A fever above 101.5˚ F
  • Diarrhea that lasts longer than three days
  • Intense vomiting after eating or drinking
  • Severe abdominal cramping
  • Bloody stool or vomit
  • Double vision
  • Muscle weakness

Some people who get food poisoning become severely dehydrated, in which case you should consult a doctor right away. Symptoms of dehydration include: extreme thirst, dry mouth, dizziness or lightheadedness, inability to urinate (or urine is dark in color), and sunken eyes.

Botulism, an illness caused by consuming bacterium (Clostridium botulinum) in canned meats or other preserved foods, is an extremely dangerous and life-threatening form of food poisoning. This illness causes toxins to attack nerves that control muscle function. If you suspect someone has botulism, drive the person to an emergency center immediately.

Recognizing a Heart Attack

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man having a heart attack chest pains while doing yard work

So you’re working in the yard on a beautiful autumn day when you notice that you can’t seem to catch your breath. Sure, you’ve been slacking a little bit on your cardio, and you’ve been known to eat a few slices of cake after dinner, but you reassure yourself that you’re just feeling a bit out of shape. Besides, you’ve been raking leaves and lifting heavy bags of yard debris all day, so of course you’re just tired from all of your hard work, right? After resting for a few hours, you develop an intense pain in your chest, back, and shoulders that won’t seem to go away no matter how you reposition your body.

The symptoms above are characteristic of a heart attack, and it’s a silent killer that affects about 720,000 Americans every year. With such a significant presence in the U.S., it’s important to understand what happens during a heart attack and how to recognize when it’s happening, so you can be better protect yourself and your loved ones.

What happens during a heart attack?

As defined by Janet M. Pollard (M.P.H) at Texas A&M, “A heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction, occurs when a section of the heart muscle dies or gets damaged because of reduced blood supply.” This can occur from blockage and or spasms in the coronary arteries, but it’s lack of oxygen that actually causes the muscle tissue to die. Here’s how it works.

We all know that the sole purpose of the heart is to pump blood and oxygen to other parts of the body. Before a heart attack occurs, there is a buildup of “plaque” (fat or cholesterol) that forms in the coronary arteries, usually from a poor diet or smoking. This deposit can break off and form a clot that obstructs blood flow to the heart. When blood flow is completely restricted, the heart muscle starts to die from lack of oxygen, causing a heart attack.

According to the American Heart Association, a heart attack occurs every 34 seconds in America, and the warning signs are not always obvious.

Symptoms of a Heart Attack

A severe heart attack can occur unexpectedly with little or no symptoms (called a “silent” myocardial infarction), but they can also happen gradually, developing over hours, days, or even weeks. While symptoms may differ for each person, a heart attack may start with the following warning signs:

  • Intense pain, discomfort, or pressure in the chest (called “angina”)
  • Pain in the body (e.g. arms, shoulder, back, neck, stomach, or jaw)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Indigestion
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Cold sweats

Regardless of what attributes to the heart attack, you can increase your chances of survival by getting help immediately after noticing the first symptom.

Minutes Matter—Don’t wait to get help

Every minute of a heart attack causes severe damage that could result in death, so it’s imperative that you receive medical attention immediately after the first symptom. Don’t procrastinate—if you or someone you love is experiencing a heart attack call an emergency center right away. The faster you respond, the more likely treatment can be administered that can reduce heart damage, increase the odds of a quick recovery, and perhaps even save a life.

Diabetes & Hypoglycemia: What’s the difference?

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Measuring Blood Sugar Level

People often confuse diabetes and hypoglycemia, and although these two conditions may seem similar, they’re not the same.

Diabetes is a chronic disease in which a person suffers from high blood glucose (blood sugar), either because the body fails to produce enough insulin (a hormone that controls the body’s glucose level), or it may not produce any insulin, or both. When a person has low blood glucose levels the condition is called hypoglycemia, and many people living with diabetes are at risk of having this medical condition.

In an earlier post we discussed the question, “What is diabetes?” Let’s take a look at hypoglycemia in more detail and discuss what you should do if you find a person in a diabetic or hypoglycemic emergency.

Low Blood Sugar Symptoms

Low blood sugar is defined as a glucose reading below 70 mg/dL, and it can be potentially dangerous below this threshold as your body is unable to carry out its normal function.

If a person’s blood glucose level is too low, the following symptoms may appear:

  • Weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Hunger
  • Feelings of nervousness or anxiousness
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Double or blurry vision
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Fainting
  • Seizures
  • Coma

What causes low blood sugar?

While many different things may cause a person to have low blood sugar, here are some of the most common reasons:

  • Skipping meals
  • Waiting too long in between meals
  • Drinking alcohol in excess
  • Exercising too much
  • Failing to take insulin or diabetes medicine at the appropriate time
  • Taking too much insulin or diabetes medicine
  • Not eating enough

Treating Hypoglycemia

If you suspect that you or someone you know is suffering from low blood sugar, make sure you treat it immediately. Eat something with at least 15 grams of carbohydrates, such as three glucose tablets, four ounces of fruit juice, or a tablespoon of sugar, honey, or syrup. Check your blood sugar after 15 minutes of eating to see if there’s an improvement. You may have to repeat this process once more if your blood glucose is still below 70 mg/dL.

Be sure to contact an emergency center right away if your blood sugar levels don’t improve after eating a snack. Never drive yourself to an emergency room when your blood sugar is low—get a ride or call 911 for an ambulance.

What to Do in a Diabetic/Hypoglycemic Emergency

In a diabetic emergency, move the person into the recovery position (i.e. lay the person on his or her side—make sure the head is tilted back and the knees are bent) and call an emergency center. Do not give the person anything to eat or drink if he or she is unconscious.

If the person is conscious, make sure you give him or her something with sugar, such as a soft drink, glucose candy, or a sandwich, and monitor the person’s condition until help arrives. Remove the food or drink from the person’s mouth if he or she begins choking. Even if symptoms begin to dissipate, the person should still receive medical attention in case a further complication develops.

It’s important to note that it can be dangerous to give someone insulin during a hypoglycemic attack, which can lower blood glucose levels even more. People who have this condition can become unconscious from an insulin reaction, in which case a medical professional will need to administer a glucagon injection to treat the person’s low blood sugar level.

Seizures 101: What You Need to Know

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A Man Has A Seizure

A seizure is not only scary for the person experiencing it, but it’s also terrifying for the people who may be witnessing the epileptic attack. Let’s take a look at what you need to know about this neurological brain disorder.

Overview of Epilepsy & Seizures

You probably already know that epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes “unprovoked seizures.” These are sometimes characterized by uncontrollable movements, changes in sensation, or loss of consciousness.

The exact cause of a seizure is not always known (a term called “idiopathic”), but it can be caused by low blood sugar, a chemical imbalance, a stroke, or even drug and alcohol abuse. People can also be born with an epileptic condition that’s passed down from a parent, or they may have seizures due to neurological damage from a brain injury.

Sometimes called “electrical storms in the brain,” seizures can take on many forms, but they all have a beginning, middle, and an end.

Beginning: Aura Phase

Before a seizure occurs, some people experience a change in feelings, thoughts, or behavior. This experience is known as an “aura” and it can be a warning sign of an impending epileptic attack. Some people with epilepsy never experience an aura, in which case a seizure may begin unexpectedly with loss of consciousness or awareness.

Middle: Ictal Phase

The ictal phase, or middle of a seizure, starts after the first seizure symptom (including an aura) and is characterized by both physical as well as emotional changes. Although symptoms may vary, some people experience:

  • Black outs
  • Hearing loss
  • Blurry vision
  • Confusion
  • Numbness or tingling sensations in the body
  • Unusual smells or tastes
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Drooling
  • Rapid eye blinking
  • Violent tremors or twitching
  • Convulsions
  • Sweating
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dilated pupils
  • Heart racing

End: Postictal Phase

As the seizure starts to dissipate, the body enters the “postictal phase,” or the recovery stage. Some people feel normal again immediately after the seizure while others may take several minutes or even hours to fully recover. Common symptoms after a seizure may include:

  • Tiredness
  • Memory loss
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Anxiousness
  • Frustration or embarrassment
  • Soreness
  • Physical injuries from falling (e.g. bruises, cuts, broken bones, etc.)
  • Nausea
  • Thirst
  • Weakness
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control

Common Seizure Triggers

Certain situations can make some people more prone to seizures, while others may have them without a known cause. If recognized early these so-called “seizure triggers” can help epileptics take precautions to limit the chances of having an attack. In general, some of the most common seizure triggers include:

  • Lack of sleepBlue and Red Stage Lights
  • Failing to take epilepsy medication
  • Stress
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Flashing or flickering lights (photosensitive epilepsy)
  • Menstruation (periods)
  • Malnourishment

Treating Epilepsy

In America, it’s estimated that more than 1 out of 100 people (1 percent) have epilepsy. That’s about 2.7 million Americans! While the numbers may seem surprising, epilepsy can be treated with medication (anticonvulsant drugs) and changes in a person’s lifestyle. These treatment methods are effective in reducing the frequency and severity of seizures, but there are still about 30 percent of epileptics who cannot fully control their condition.

Although it’s less common, some people may have surgery for epilepsy if they don’t respond to medication. In most cases, this can reduce or eliminate seizures, but the procedure requires a surgeon to remove parts of the brain. Other treatment options include diet as well as electrical stimulation.

If you or someone you know has epilepsy, you can download free mobile apps to your smartphone to help you manage and track your condition. The Seizure Log by Seizure Tracker, LLC, for example, is a free tool you can use to keep a record of your seizures, and you can even record them with video so you can show your doctor. Epilepsy Tool Kit by MCM Net Limited is another mobile app for people who have epilepsy and it features a medication reminder, seizure diary, as well as other helpful resources.

What to Do When Someone Is Having a Seizure

You should contact an emergency center right away if the seizure lasts more than five minutes, or if a person has a second seizure shortly after the first. Also, if the person cannot be awakened after the seizure, then you should seek medical attention immediately.

In general, it’s best not to restrain a person or put anything in his or her mouth during a seizure. Instead, here are few things you can do:

  • Loosen ties, shirt collars, scarfs, or any other articles of clothing around the person’s neck
  • Remove any items that may cause possible injury, such as glass or sharp objects
  • Move the person away from dangerous areas such as a fire, a balcony, or traffic
  • Calm the person by talking to him or her and encourage bystanders to stay back
  • If the person is on the ground, place a cushion behind his or her head to protect against head trauma
  • After the seizure has ended, turn the person on his or her side to keep an open airway

Sports Injuries: The Dangers of a Concussion

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Concussion Word Cloud

Concussions are becoming an increasing problem in sports today, and the damage from these substantial head injuries can have lasting effects. If you’re a sports fan you’ve probably heard a lot about concussions in the news lately. In fact, the NFL estimates that three out of ten retired football players will face some sort of debilitating brain condition, such as Alzeihmer’s disease, dementia, Loug Gehrig’s disease, or Parkinson’s.

Sounds pretty scary, huh? Let’s take a moment to review the dangers of a concussion and how you can treat a head injury safely.

Traumatic Brain Injury: Overview, Symptoms, & Treatment

What exactly is a concussion?

A concussion is an injury that results when a person receives trauma to the head. When a person sustains a “concussion,” it simply means the nerve endings of the brain have become damaged from forceful impact. This results when the brain collides with the skull or, in more powerful collisions, the back of the head.

Symptoms

While not all symptoms may be present, a concussion can occur from even minor trauma to the head. These symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Temporary loss of consciousness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Memory loss
  • Ringing in ears
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Fatigue
  • Impaired judgment
  • Lack of balance and coordination

Treatment

Aside from adequate rest, the best way to treat a concussion is to avoid physical or mentally strenuous activities. It’s also important to note that a person shouldn’t sleep immediately after sustaining a concussion, as this can put a person at risk of a potentially life-threatening condition called, “subdural hematoma” (a deposit of blood that increases pressure to the brain, causing unconsciousness or death).

If you or your athlete experience loss of consciousness, vomiting, or seizures days after sustaining a concussion, consult your doctor or healthcare provider immediately.

Sideline Concussion Evaluation

When an athlete sustains a blow to the head, it’s best to take the player to an emergency room for immediate medical attention. If your team has an athletic trainer or a team physician, you can complete a basic “sideline” concussion test before going to the emergency room to determine your player’s condition. This test should include the following:

  • A physical examination of the player for concussion symptoms
  • A short-term memory test (e.g. recalling the injury, play, score, etc.)
  • A long-term memory test (e.g. recalling name, address, date of birth, etc.)
  • A test of the player’s ability to stay alert during a complex task (e.g. reciting the ABCs backwards)

When is it safe to return to play?

Regardless of the severity, all athletes who sustain a concussion should consult with a healthcare professional before returning to the field. Why? Because if a player receives another head injury while still healing from a prior concussion, then a potentially fatal injury called “second impact syndrome” could develop.

To be cleared for play, a medical evaluation will need to be conducted to determine whether concussion symptoms still persist. At most emergency centers, a doctor will clear a player for play after a simple physical examination—i.e. a series of tests that look for signs of a concussion. However, this method is not entirely accurate and there is still a chance that the brain may not be completely healed even after symptoms have dissipated.

Because of this, it’s best to have a neurocognitive evaluation before suiting up for a game. Known as the ImPACT Test, this evaluation is a computerized test that can determine whether brain function, a symptom that cannot be identified in a physical evaluation, has returned to normal after a concussion.

At Elite Care, we offer comprehensive neurocognitive testing to ensure that it’s safe to resume practice and games after a concussion. If you or your little athlete sustain a head injury—even minor trauma—be sure to contact us today.

Treating Snakebites in Texas

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As the population continues to grow throughout the Texas triangle and communities begin to stretch out into untouched areas, encounters with venomous snakes inevitably occur. The CDC estimates that 7,000–8,000 people per year receive venomous bites in the United States—of those only about five people die from the snakebite each year. The number of deaths would be significantly higher if medical care was not sought immediately following a bite. It is important to educate yourself, your children, and your colleagues about their risk of exposure to venomous snakes and how they can prevent and protect themselves from snakebites—as well as what they should do if they are bitten.

Prevention at home

Snakes are drawn to homes, in general, for the specific purpose of seeking food and/or shelter. Here are some tips to avoid encounters with snakes around your home:

  • Keep your yard (and any barns, storage areas, and livestock sheds) as uncluttered as possible by clearing away undergrowth, toys, and tools that make great hiding places for snakes.
  • Keep trash dumps, livestock pens, woodpiles, and brush piles as far as possible from the residence. Be extremely cautious when working in these areas.
  • Quickly clean up any spilled food, fruit or birdseed, which can attract rats and mice—and therefore snakes—to your yard.
  • Never put an arm or leg into an area if you cannot see the bottom.
  • Overturned boats, tarps, or any debris that harbors a secluded space all provide excellent shelter and protection for transient snakes
  •  Keep walkways clear of brush, flowers and shrubs.

Prevention in the field

Venomous snakes are more common in rural areas of Texas—and a bite can potentially be much more dangerous the father from town you are. It is important for hunters, ranchers, hikers, rural residents, and others who frequent these areas to exercise caution:

  • When walking your pet, keep him on a leash.
  • Be very aware of where you’re putting your hands and feet. Take your time and don’t reach or step until you see the bottom.
  • Animal burrows are a snake’s favorite hiding place. Never reach your hand it without checking first.
  • Wear protective clothing, preferable heavy footwear and snake-proof pants, when working for long periods of time in rural areas.
  • If you know a snake is nearby but can’t see it yet, FREEZE and allow the snake to retreat. If you spot the snake, slowing back away the same way you came.

Treatment

Oh no, a snake has bitten you! If there is any suspicion the snake is venomous: Call 911 or get to an Emergency Center immediately—then:

  • Move the victim beyond striking distance of the snake.
  • Note the snake’s appearance since you’ll asked to describe the snake to emergency personnel. If you can’t identify the snake—don’t pursue it.
  • Remove constricting clothing or jewelry surrounding the bite area and prevent movement, if possible.
  • Keep the victim as still (and calm) as possible to prevent the venom from spreading.
  • Have the victim lie down, with the wound above the heart.

DO NOT:

  • Wait for symptoms to appear if bitten—seek immediate medical attention
  • Cut the wound
  • Attempt to suck out the venom
  • Give the victim caffeine or alcohol
  • Apply a tourniquet, water, or ice

Is This Snake Venomous?

How well can you identify the venomous snakes in Texas?

Elite Care 24 Hour Emergency Room AWARDED ACCREDITATION FROM THE JOINT COMMISSION

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Elite Care 24 Hour Emergency Room has earned The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval® for accreditation by demonstrating GoldSeal_4color Joint Commissioncompliance with The Joint Commission’s national standards for health care quality and safety in ambulatory care facilities. The accreditation award recognizes Elite Care 24 Hour Emergency Room’s dedication to continuous compliance with The Joint Commission’s state-of-the-art standards.

“With Joint Commission accreditation, we are making a significant investment in quality on a day-to-day basis from the top down. Joint Commission accreditation provides us a framework to take our organization to the next level and helps reinforce a culture of excellence,” says Maureen Fuhrmann, CEO.  “Achieving Joint Commission accreditation, for our organization, is a major step toward maintaining excellence and continually improving the care we provide.”

Elite Care 24 Hour Emergency Room underwent rigorous on-site surveys in July, 2014.  A team of Joint Commission expert surveyors evaluated Elite Care 24 Hour Emergency Rooms for compliance with standards of care specific to the needs of patients, including infection prevention and control, leadership and medication management.

“Elite Care employees were successful in preparations for the survey and in developing improvements to meet the Commission’s state-of-the-art standards on a continuous basis,” said Elite Care 24 Hour Emergency Room’s Associate VP of Operations, Tracey Garman, who serves as the Elite Care’s accreditation liaison.

“In achieving Joint Commission accreditation, Elite Care 24 Hour Emergency Room has demonstrated its commitment to the highest level of care for its patients,” says Mark G. Pelletier, R.N., M.S., chief operating officer, Division of Accreditation and Certification Operations, The Joint Commission. “Accreditation is a voluntary process and I commend Elite Care 24 Hour Emergency Room for successfully undertaking this challenge to elevate its standard of care and instill confidence in the communities it serves.”

Founded in 1951, The Joint Commission seeks to continuously improve health care for the public, in collaboration with other stakeholders, by evaluating health care organizations and inspiring them to excel in providing safe and effective care of the highest quality and value. The Joint Commission evaluates and accredits more than 20,000 health care organizations and programs in the United States, including more than 10,600 hospitals and home care organizations, and more than 6,600 other health care organizations that provide long term care, behavioral health care, laboratory and ambulatory care services. The Joint Commission also certifies more than 2,400 disease-specific care programs such as stroke, heart failure, joint replacement and stroke rehabilitation, and 400 health care staffing services. An independent, not-for-profit organization, The Joint Commission is the nation’s oldest and largest standards-setting and accrediting body in health care. Learn more about The Joint Commission at www.jointcommission.org.

Will a glass of wine a day keep the doctor away?

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Man Drinking Red Wine

You may have heard that drinking alcohol is unhealthy, but some researchers believe that red wine is actually beneficial to your health. Of course, these scientists are not recommending that you start drinking in excess, but they say a moderate amount (such as a glass of wine at dinner) may be optimal, especially for your heart.

Not all scientists, however, are convinced that red wine is beneficial to your health. In fact, some believe it’s a myth. So before you take a toast to your good health, let’s review what researchers believe to be true so far.

The Health Benefits of Red Wine

Red wine contains antioxidants called “resveratrol” that may prevent heart disease by increasing levels of “good” cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein) and decreasing levels of “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein). This ingredient is also believed to protect against blood clots and damage to the blood vessels, providing improved cardiovascular health. But the antioxidant effect of red wine may have other benefits aside from the heart and blood vessels.

Researchers at the University of California say that the phytochemicals found in red wine may protect against diabetes, cancer, as well as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Some researchers even speculate that red wine may also improve memory, lower cholesterol, and, in addition to exercise, may increase your life.

While these health benefits are great for oenophiles (i.e. wine connoisseurs), there’s a limit to how much you should be drinking. In general, you should probably limit your alcohol consumption if you find yourself finishing a whole bottle of wine in a single sitting.

How much alcohol should I drink?

Excessive drinking can be especially harmful to the body, particularly to the liver and the heart, but moderate drinking (e.g. four ounces of wine) may be the most beneficial to your health. In fact, researchers at Harvard University found that the “regularity of consumption” had more of a health effect than the amount of alcohol consumed, suggesting that moderate drinking is key.

“Having seven drinks on a Saturday night and then not drinking the rest of the week isn’t at all the equivalent of having one drink a day,” warns researchers at the university.

Type of Wine Matters

For health-conscious wine drinkers, researchers at the University of California recommend drinking Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Syrah, and Pinot Noir. These wines have the highest concentrations of flavonoids, an ingredient that gives wine its antioxidant qualities. Sweeter white wines such as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc have fewer flavonoids and thus less health benefits.

Are the benefits of red wine being exaggerated?

Some studies suggest that drinking red wine for a boost of resveratrol may actually have little to no effect on your health. In an article published by JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers found no correlation between death and resveratrol—nor did they find a link between resveratrol and inflammation, heart disease, and cancer.

“The story of resveratrol turns out to be another case where you get a lot of hype about health benefits that doesn’t stand the test of time,” says Richard D. Semba of John Hopkins University School of Medicine. “The thinking was that certain foods are good for you because they contain resveratrol. We didn’t find that at all.”

While this is bad news for wine drinkers, more research will need to be conducted to fully understand if the health benefits of red wine and resveratrol are being exaggerated.

A Guide to Proper Hand Washing

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Washing Hands. Cleaning Hands. Hygiene

Regular hand washing is the best way to prevent the spread of germs to yourself and other people around you. While it’s impossible to keep your hands completely germ-free, you may infect others with germs that can cause an infectious disease—such as the cold or influenza—when you don’t wash your hands. Even if they look clean, your hands may contain micro germs, so it’s a good idea to keep your hands away from your eyes, mouth, and nose to limit exposure to bacteria.

With summer winding down and fall approaching, flu season is just around the corner—and proper hand washing is a great way to protect against the spread of diseases.

Do you wash your hands effectively?

Although it may seem like common sense, many people don’t wash their hands effectively (or worst not at all). In a hand washing study conducted by Michigan State University, roughly 10 percent of the 3,749 participants didn’t wash their hands after using the bathroom, and about a third washed their hands without using soap. Most of these people washed their hands for an average of six seconds, much shorter than the recommended 20 seconds advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While these numbers may be surprising, the best way to combat this problem is to know when and how to wash your hands.

When should you wash your hands?

It’s best to wash your hands anytime you come in contact with something that is touched by many people. This includes: escalator rails, door handles, faucets, computer keyboards, money, and gasoline pumps. If possible, use a paper towel when touching these and or disinfect your hands immediately after use.

According to the CDC, here are the best times to wash your hands:

  • After using the restroom
  • After coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose
  • After petting an animal or cleaning up animal droppings
  • After changing a child’s diaper
  • After taking out the garbage
  • Before and after handling or eating food (especially raw meat and fish)
  • Before and after assisting someone who is sick
  • Before and after cleaning a cut or wound

5 Steps to Washing Your Hands

Washing with clean water and soap is the most effective way to clean your hands, but there are alternatives if this is not an option. Hand sanitizing liquid or sanitizing wipes work well to kill germs on your hands, and you can buy them in compact travel sizes for your car, purse, or backpack. But when there’s water and soap available, it’s usually best to wash at the sink.

To wash your hands properly, the CDC recommends following these steps:

  1. Place your hands under warm running water. Wet the top and bottom of your hands as well as between your fingers.
  2. Apply anti-bacterial hand soap by rubbing your hands together for roughly twenty seconds.
  3. Clean all surfaces of your hands, between your fingers, and under your fingernails.
  4. Completely rinse your hands under warm, clean water.
  5. Thoroughly dry hands with a towel or air-dry them.

For dry hands, you can add a sixth step for moisturizing with lotion to protect your skin from cracking and bleeding.

Teaching Kids to Wash Their Hands

Children wasching hands in the bathroomChildren may not fully understand why it’s important to wash their hands, and many times this a learned behavior passed down from observation. Remember the saying, “Monkey see, monkey do?” If a child sees an older sibling or a parent not washing their hands, then most kids will follow suit.

Because of this, it’s important to talk to your children about the importance of hand washing. You can say things like, “Germs are harmful, and washing your hands will kill the germs that can make you sick.” To make hand-washing fun, you can sing a hand washing song or the “Happy Birthday” song twice through.

What do you know about: Secondhand Smoke

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It’s 2014. By now, it’s become very clear to Americans that smoking is utterly horrendous for your health. The smoking rate among adults and teens in the United States has been steadily declining since the 1950’s, when 44 percent of Americans smoked—now the rates are steadily declining from 18 percent, dropping nearly one percent each year. The rates have been falling for teens as well. In fact, just fourteen years ago 23 percent of teens were smoking, while currently only 9 percent of teenagers in America smokes. That’s an incredible decline, due in part to TheTruth.com—an anti-tobacco campaign that has recently rebranded to make the final push towards a completely tobacco-free generation.
While tobacco popularity is declining thanks to regulations against smoking, anti-smoking advertising campaigns, and increased knowledge of the dangers—we’re not out of the woods yet, especially when it comes to secondhand smoke. Smokers make a choice to smoke. However, if you’re living with, or working close to, a smoker—you don’t always have a choice and you should be aware of the dangers surrounding simply inhaling someone’s else’s secondhand smoke.

What is secondhand smoke?

Secondhand smoke (SHS) is the mixture of gasses and fine particles that includes the smoke from the burning tobacco product (sidestream smoke), as well as the smoke that has been exhaled by the individual smoking (mainstream smoke). Believe it or not, when you’re inhaling SHS you’re breathing in nearly the same amount of chemicals as the smoker—4,000 different chemical compounds, more than 250 of which are toxic, with about 50 included that are known to cause cancer.

Who is it most harmful for?

While anyone that spends time around a smoker has an increased chance of developing an illness related to smoking, certain segments or our population are particularly susceptible.

Kids

Young children often don’t have the choice to leave a smoky room, leaving them especially vulnerable to the health risks of SHS. Kids who are routinely exposed to SHS have an increased chance of:

  • AsthmaS
  • SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)
  • Slow or incomplete lung development
  • Frequent colds and respiratory infections
  • Chronic coughing
  • Cataracts
  • Poor dental health
  • High blood pressure

Pregnant Women

Both the expectant mother and the unborn baby are harmed by SHS. It decreases the amount of oxygen available to mother and baby, increases the baby’s heart rate, and increases the likelihood that the baby will be born prematurely and/or underweight. Exposure to smoke during pregnancy significantly increases the risk of:

  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirth
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Placenta previa (low lying placenta)
  • Placenta abruption

What can be done?

Obviously if you’re a smoker, quit. While in the process of quitting, make sure you:

  • Never smoke in your home—even in a separate bedroom or bathroom. Smoking anywhere in a home or apartment pollutes all the air in the building. Even if you can’t smell it, cigarette smoke can still harm, so don’t think you’re being clever with fans and air purifiers. Lastly, even when nobody else is home—don’t smoke inside. Smoke from a single cigarette can stay in a room for hours.
  • Never smoke in your car, even with the window down.
  • Keep your kids away from smoke. Ask caregivers not to smoke around your children and ensure their daycare or childcare is smoke-free.