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Over-Sanitization and Its Impact on Health & the Environment

When the H1N1 pandemic struck, health authorities encouraged the use of hand sanitizers and disinfectant spray in an attempt to stem the outbreak. But while there is nothing wrong with the use of sanitizing products per se, too many people might have taken the way advice too far.

over-sanitization

Prevalence of Triclosan and Triclocarban in the Environment

Triclosan and triclocarban are two chemicals commonly used in many household cleaning products and in disinfectants – otherwise known as antimicrobials. In sufficient amounts, these two chemicals are known to cause among other things skin irritation, allergy susceptibility, bacterial and endocrine disruption.

These chemicals do not break down easily once it is washed down the drain. Traces of triclosan have been found in many of the waterways in the United States and even downstream from water treatment plants. This resilience to treatment is cause for great concern because once exposed to sunlight and water, triclosan could change into a toxin called dioxin.

High concentrations of dioxin can cause skin lesions and even alter liver functions. Long term effects of dioxin exposure could cause problems with the immune, nervous, endocrine and reproductive systems in the body. It is no accident that the majority of disinfectants have a warning label disclaiming the toxicity not mentioned in the commercials.

Don't Overuse Hand Sterilizers

Hand sanitizers that use an ethanol or alcohol base, are an effective means of reducing bacteria count on hands. However, only those with ethanol or alcohol concentrations of at least 62% are of any significant use. The effectiveness of sanitizers with anything less are comparable to washing with just plain water.

Alcohol and ethanol chemically denature proteins. Denaturing occurs when a protein is subject to outside chemical or temperature stresses. Frying an egg on a pan is an example of heat-based denaturing. Exactly like how lime juice "cooks" a piece of salmon, alcohol and ethanol literally cooks bacteria off by denaturing the protein found in all bacteria.

Great care must be taken when choosing hand sanitizers. While most commercial hand sanitizers incorporate moisturizers, some do not. Originally used by medical personnel to sterilize their hands between patients, hand sanitizers without a moisturizing component can cause excessive dryness and, in extreme cases, dermititis, or commonly known as rashes.

Over-Sanitization on Children

The risk is even greater for young children. According to a guide by the Department of Health and Senior Services in the State of Missouri:
All sanitizers are classified as a pesticide. If the wrong product is used, or is mixed too strong, it could be toxic to children. Young children absorb chemicals into their bodies easier than older children and adults. Because of their small body size, a small amount of any chemical has a much greater affect on them than adults.

Understandably, home makers want to ensure that their households are clean and free from bacteria. But it seems that the cure could be more dangerous than the problem.

Furthermore, in the effort to achieve new heights of clinical sterility, children are developing weaker and weaker immune systems. Because their bodies are not given the chance to come into contact with as many types of bacteria, their immune systems become under-developed and weak. Weak immune systems translate into more illnesses later in life when they leave their sterile environment.

Back to the Basics of Cleanliness

But no one is suggesting a spit and polish approach to house cleaning either. Not that it is inherently bad to use sanitizing products but moderation is key here. Soap and warm water is still an effective means of removing a vast majority of bacteria harmful to health. There is no need to perforate every inch of the house with disinfectant to stay healthy.

And while hand sanitizers are a convenient means of cleaning hands in the absence of soap and water, they are not a substitute. Hand sanitizers were originally intended to eliminate the chance of cross-contamination in hospitals where the patients either have weak or no immune defences. Instead of using obsessively using hand sanitizers, simply practice the recommended steps of safe hygiene like sneezing into elbows (instead of the hand) or staying home when sick.

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Avoiding H1N1 Influenza

H1N1 Influenza
There are many things that can be done to avoid contracting the Swine flu virus. Some of them are common sense and some of them are absurd and bred out of fear. What needs to be remembered is that this is a flu virus much the same as flu viruses that circulate yearly. And much the same, life must continue and people must utilize strategic and thoughtful ways to avoid, combat, and carry on. Listed below are signs and symptoms of normal life amidst a global flu pandemic.

Symptom #1 Rational Thinking and Absence of Panic

Turning off the television is an integral step in escaping the fear propagated by hourly updates of Swine flu statistics and potential lack of vaccinations available. There is simply too much information coming in and it is difficult to filter out what is pertinent and what is being used to increase viewership, and what is just plain sensationalistic. So, if turning off the TV and considering that this is a flu virus like any other without succumbing to a panic attack is a possibility, it is likely that infection of both flu and fear have been avoided.

Symptom #2 Taking Risks in the Face of Fear

It has been said and repeated over and over again. Probably the most common advice given to prevent H1N1 spread or any other infection is to wash hands often. This is not only to combat the flu but it is just good sense. And if this is done, one need not be afraid to go out in public; to grab the door handle; to push the shopping cart; to pay with cash. After all, there are much more valid fears out there which go by undetected and ignored everywhere, everyday.

Symptom #3 Showing off Fall Fashions

The wind is cooler, the leaves are changing, the nose is running during a brisk walk in the woods and the back of a wool mitten is the only substitute for Kleenex around. Fall is a time of cozy earth toned fashion as much as it marks the beginning of cold and flu season. Except there is one thing often ignored: All of the woodland creatures chattering and foraging and crackling in the crisp foliage are not suffering from H1N1. Getting out of the house, breathing fresh air, expelling a little energy with a mild aerobic workout in a naturally beautiful setting is one of the best, most invigorating and life sustaining things a person can do at any time. Has there ever been such thing as a depressed squirrel in the wild? Put on that new matching wool sweater and scarf and show them off, even if it’s just for a few docile deer.

Symptom #4 Accepting an Invitation to a Public Gathering

Deactivate Facebook, sign out of MSN, Tweet “brb” or even better “gtg.” Go to the staff party, meet someone new, shake their hand, and have a conversation face to face. This is not just to combat H1N1 fears but is generally a good idea. People are still people and human contact is necessary for sound mental health. The winter months are coming and the chances to participate are diminishing. After shaking someone’s hand it is not appropriate or necessary to immediately retrieve the little bottle of hand sanitizer. All signs indicate a healthy immune system.

Symptom #5 Travel and Tourism

The island paradise is still there and the tickets are non-refundable. If anything, the heat and sun and seclusion will alleviate all imagined flu symptoms picked up in the airport. Of course none of these symptoms are valid, just as they aren’t in ninety-nine percent of the other travellers in Pearson or JFK or Heathrow airports. The hotel sheets and remote control are no more suspect than ever before. Consider that the neighbour just backpacked for 3 months across Europe and he is alive and well. Showing off a deep golden tan next to a mountainous fridgid snowbank upon return is the ultimate victory.

So if any of these symptoms are present and active, then it is likely that so far, H1N1 influenza type A, also known as Swine flu, has been thus far avoided.

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Swine Flu Vaccine

swine flu
The swine flu vaccine is being ushered out five months after H1N1 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. Health care workers and emergency responders will be among the first to receive the vaccine. The government is expected to give out 25 million doses by the end of 2009.

Swine Flu Vaccine Safety

Since the swine flu vaccine was rushed out in record time, people have concerns over the safety of the product. Health officials have stated, though, that testing was thorough and corners were not cut to get the vaccine out in time.

Concerns over rare side effects, such as Guillian-Barre syndrome, that occurred from the 1976 swine flu vaccine, are legitimate because it is impossible to know in advance what rare side effects may occur from a vaccine. However, officials have stressed that the 1976 vaccine was a less purified version and Guillian-Barre paralysis affected 2 out of every 100,000 people.

The swine flu vaccine will be monitored closely for side effects. The military, who are required to take the vaccine, will be closely watched for any side effects. In addition, electronic medical records of hospitals and health insurance companies are being monitored in “real time” for any evidence of side effects.

Swine Flu Vaccine and Pregnancy

Government health officials are strongly advising all pregnant women to get the swine flu vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 100 pregnant women have been hospitalized and 28 have died from the end of April to the end of August. The rate of hospitalization and death for pregnant women is six times that of the general population.

A pregnant woman’s immune system undergoes changes when she is pregnant causing her to be more susceptible to viruses. Health officials have seen no indication of side effects from the H1N1 vaccine in pregnant women and their unborn babies.

Swine Flu Vaccine and Children

Health officials are recommending that children and young adults up to 24 years old be among the first to get vaccinated, especially if they have underlying health problems such as asthma. Several states, including Arkansas and Pennsylvania, have ear-marked their first shipment of swine flu vaccines for in-school vaccinations.

Children under age 10 will require two doses of vaccine, three weeks apart. Swine flu has affected mostly younger children, perhaps because their immune systems have not been exposed to as many viruses as adults.

Swine Flu Vaccine and Seniors

Unlike the regular flu vaccine, seniors are not recommended to get the initial dose of swine flu vaccine. The swine flu has rarely affected those age 65 or older. The Centers for Disease Control urges seniors to get the seasonal flu vaccine first and see a health professional if they come down with flu-like symptoms.

Nasal Spray Vaccine is the First Dose of Swine Flu Vaccine

FluMist, the nasal spray vaccine, is being offered initially because it was made available sooner than shots. Because the FluMist is made of live but weakened flu virus, it should only be used for healthy people aged 2 to 40. People with egg allergies should also use the FluMist. Pregnant women and people with underlying health conditions should not use the FluMist.

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