Are you a germaphobe? (Tips to help combat the spread of Infectious Diseases)

February 23, 2020

Obviously there is angst and concern about the new coronavirus (COVID-19) spreading across the globe, but realize there are many infectious disease outbreaks that impact us each and every year that don’t get much coverage.

For example, here are some infectious disease numbers…

  • Tuberculosis caused over 500 deaths out of the 9,025 TB cases in the U.S. in 2018 per CDC … and globally there were 1.2 million TB deaths out of the 10 million new cases worldwide in 2018 per WHO.
  • COVID-19 has caused 2,462 deaths globally (vast majority in China) out of almost 79,000 cases per WHO as of 23-Feb-2019. The U.S. is monitoring 34 cases with no deaths so far.
  • Staph caused an estimated 20,000 deaths in the U.S. out of 119,000 cases in 2017 per CDC with less than half the deaths linked to drug-resistant MRSA.
  • Clostridium difficile or C. diff sickens almost half a million Americans a year killing over 29,000 of them within 30 days of diagnosis per InfectionControlToday.com.
  • Seasonal flu killed between 12,000 and 61,000 Americans annually over the past decade according to CDC … and WHO estimates there are between 290,000 to 650,000 flu deaths worldwide annually.

Bottom line, these are just some examples of infectious diseases that can affect people year-round, and other diseases are being introduced (and re-introduced) into countries through air travel, border crossers, contaminated surfaces and more.

How infectious diseases spread…

Most infectious diseases are spread by close person-to-person contact primarily by touching people or things contaminated with bodily fluids (like pee, poop, sweat, droplets from sneezing, etc) — then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Other diseases (like MRSA) can be spread by sharing personal items like towels or razors or by medical staff using contaminated items like stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, clipboards or charts, and pens. Keep in mind some bacteria or viruses can survive on objects for days, weeks or months.

Immunocompromised = germaphobe

Many of you may remember Bill has been battling major health issues for well over a decade (including leukemia, T-cell disease, etc.) and, whenever a family member is immunocompromised, you become a major germaphobe.

Before we list the typical things people can do to reduce infectious diseases, we wanted to mention some things I / we do constantly to keep germs at bay with links to some of our blog posts.

  • Carry disinfecting wipes in your vehicles and backpacks, and put some in a baggie before you go out in public to wipe down surfaces of things you have to touch and/or to wipe your hands. (Keep in mind most wipes use ammonia, but there are some industrial wipes that use bleach instead. But never, ever mix ammonia and bleach!)
  • Wipe down everything that comes into your home with disinfecting wipes (or a rag dipped in water and bleach solution) including groceries or items you bought at the store or something that is delivered to your door via ground or postal service. And if you are concerned about household chemicals, we’ve posted some safety tips and links on making non-toxic cleaners on our blog.
  • Leave your shoes at the door when you get home so you don’t track pollen, pesticides and other crap onto floors and carpets.
leave your shoes at the door
  • Before you set your purse, backpack or briefcase on your kitchen table or countertop …think about all the places you put those things during the day! Either have a special place for these items or be meticulous about wiping them down before putting them on furniture, counters, carpet, etc.
  • Did you know cellphones carry 10 times more bacteria than most toilet seats..?! Think about all the places you use and place your phone every day. Then remember … germs thrive in warm environments and smartphones generate heat — plus your hands, face, mouth and body heat (if you carry your phone in a pocket) all add to the cootie cocktail so learn how to clean your phone.
  • Consider getting a UV disinfectant wand because its light rays kill up to 99.9% of germs and comes in handy for all types of handheld devices, ear buds, keyboards, remotes and many other gadgets and household items where cooties can thrive.
  • Keep a box of cheap plastic disposable gloves in your vehicles so you can put on a pair when pumping gas.
  • Fist bump rather than shaking hands — or just tell people you don’t shake hands. And if you do shake someone’s hand don’t touch your face (esp. eyes or mouth) before you are able to wash your hands.

What to do to reduce the spread of infectious diseases…

  • Wash hands often using soap and water or use hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol in it) to reduce the spread of germs. But keep in mind sanitizers don’t work against some bugs so it’s best to wash up. Also people with celiac disease (like Bill) can’t do alcohol sanitizers so find other options like disinfecting wipes or gluten-free sanitizers.
  • The following hand washing chart and tips appeared in a custom book we printed for LaSalle County Emergency Management Agency’s Medical Reserve Corps and, although most of this is common sense, we wanted to share their tips and remind people to hum “Happy Birthday” in your head twice while scrubbing. Another tip when using a public washroom is… use the paper towels you dried your hands with to turn off water and to open the door when leaving.
handwashing tips
  • When should you wash your hands?
    • Before, during, and after preparing food
    • Before eating food
    • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
    • Before and after treating a cut or wound
    • After using the toilet
    • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
    • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
    • After touching an animal or animal waste
    • After handling pet food or pet treats
    • After touching garbage
  • Tell healthcare workers and visitors to wash their hands before they touch you or your stuff — don’t be timid!
  • If you have a fever, stay home! And wait 24 hours after fever breaks before you return to work or school.
  • Use antibiotics only when absolutely necessary. Consider boosting your immune system to help fight infections.
  • Sick people should cover mouth and nose with tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing, wash hands often, and wear a face mask around others (if very ill).
  • Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered until healed.
  • Clean counters, doorknobs, fixtures, phones, remotes, nurse call buttons, linens, phones, etc. often with a bleach solution ~ esp. if in a nursing home or hospital room.
  • Disinfect things many people at work and school use like microwave buttons, spigots on water coolers, keyboards, calculators, phones, pens, staplers, etc. with a UV wand or bleach solution often or at least carry around some disinfecting wipes so you can clean items before use.
  • Don’t share silverware, razors, clothing, towels, or bedding and wash objects with soap and hot water.
  • Follow doctor’s instructions and limit activities outside home until fever and symptoms have gone away.

For more information about infectious diseases, visit…

Center for Disease Control

Flu.gov

National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases

WHO Infectious Diseases


What the U.S. is doing about the new coronavirus and some things YOU can do

February 10, 2020

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can infect birds and mammals, including humans, and is traditionally associated with the common mild cold in people.

Sometimes coronaviruses that infect animals, including camels, bats, cattle, cats and snakes, can evolve and make people sick then become a new human coronavirus.

Some examples of animal coronaviruses that crossed over and spread person-to-person are the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), and now the new 2019-nCoV (a.k.a. COVID-19.)

As of 17-Feb-2020, authorities in China say the death toll from COVID-19 is over 1,700 (well surpassing the deadly 2003 SARS outbreak), with most deaths occurring in the Chinese province of Hubei (esp. Wuhan city) where the coronavirus was first discovered.

Globally there are about 70,000+ confirmed cases of the virus so COVID-19 (formerly 2019-nCoV) has about a 2.4% mortality rate so far, although this outbreak is far from over as millions of Chinese returned to work recently after the extended Lunar New Year break ended. But realize the Spanish flu of 1918, which was the last true global pandemic, had a “case fatality rate” or CFR of 2.5%, and it killed an estimated 50 – 60 million people.

The fatality rates for MERS was about 35% and SARS was around 14-15% which is why those coronaviruses were very concerning, but countries were able to contain things in both cases so thankfully neither became a pandemic.

Interestingly Live Science says one group has escaped with minimal damage so far: children. Other coronaviruses, including SARS and MERS, also showed this pattern. Currently the median age of 2019-nCoV patients is between 49 and 56 years old, according to a recent JAMA article.

Symptoms and Complications

COVID-19 infection can range from mild, with no symptoms or minor symptoms, to severe or even deadly. The symptoms usually start between 2 to 14+ days after you get infected and can include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Shortness of breath or breathing difficulties

It can also cause pneumonia and progress to multiple organ failure or death in some severe cases.

There is a test for 2019-nCoV [COVID-19], but there’s no vaccine or specific treatment yet other than medical care to help relieve symptoms, although Gilead’s experimental drug called remdesivir is being trialed in some cases.

As Dr. Sircus reports, some patients who at first appeared mildly or moderately ill then took a turn for the worse several days or even a week into their illness. The median time from their first symptoms to when they became short of breath was 5 days; to hospitalization, 7 days; and to severe breathing trouble, 8 days. Experts say that pattern means patients must be carefully monitored, and it is not safe to assume that someone who seems to be doing well early on is out of the woods. But, as Dr. Sircus says, “remember at least 95 percent of people survive it! Cancer patients should be so lucky.”

At a time when many are rightly concerned about coronavirus — of which there are just a handful of cases in the U.S. so far — the CDC is also warning Americans not to drop their guard about influenza, which has caused at least 19 million illnesses, 180,000 hospitalizations, and 10,000 deaths so far this season.

What is being done

On Jan. 30, the World Health Organization declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern about the current epidemic of 2019-nCoV in mainland China. The following day, HHS Secretary Alex Azar declared 2019-nCoV a public health emergency domestically and ordered any U.S. citizens returning from China’s Hubei province to be quarantined for up to 2 weeks to provide proper medical care and health screening.

The immediate risk to the U.S. is currently low, and a presidential proclamation in place suspends entry of foreign nationals who have visited China within the past 14 days into America. The CDC has also put into place measures to detect this virus among those who are allowed entry into the U.S. who are entering the country within 14 days of having been in Hubei province or mainland China. 

All of these passengers are being directed to 1 of 11 U.S. airports where American citizens and exempted persons who have been in Hubei province will have an additional health assessment. They will be screened for fever, cough, difficulty breathing. 

  • If symptomatic, American citizens and those who are exempt will be transferred for further medical evaluation. They will not be able to complete their itinerary and will be isolated for 14 days. 
  • If asymptomatic, American citizens and those who are exempt will be subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine at or near that location. 

The list of 11 airports are…

  • San Francisco International Airport, California;
  • Los Angeles International Airport, California; 
  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Georgia;
  • Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, Hawaii;
  • O’Hare airport, Illinois;
  • Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Michigan;
  • Newark Liberty International Airport, New Jersey;
  • JFK, New York;
  • Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Texas;
  • Washington Dulles International Airport, Virginia;
  • and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Washington.

The Department of Defense has identified housing support at 4 bases for up to 1,000 people who may need to be quarantined upon arrival from overseas travel. Currently DOD is housing 198 people at March Air Reserve Base, California, but DOD is not involved with treatment or observation of those at the facility; Health and Human Services is doing that.

The 4 bases are…

  • Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California;
  • Travis Air Force Base, California;
  • 168th Regiment, Regional Training Institute in Fort Carson, Colorado;
  • and Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

So what can people do?

First – don’t panic since Americans are still currently low risk and the focus right now is on travelers returning from places where this disease rate is growing.

And as mentioned above, it is still active flu season here in the U.S. which has sickened millions and killed 10,000 people so far. Use the below common sense tips from both CDC and our preparedness and first aid manual to help reduce the spread of germs and infectious diseases.  

CDC guidance

  • If you haven’t already, consider getting a flu shot and take flu antivirals if prescribed.
  • CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear facemask to protect themselves from respiratory viruses, including COVID-19.
  • Facemask should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19, in order to protect others from the risk of getting infected. The use of facemasks (and eye protection!) is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings at home or in a health care facility.
  • Take everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs.
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds – especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. An easy way to mark the time is to hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice while scrubbing.
    • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
    • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
    • Stay home when you are sick or becoming sick.
    • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue (not your hands) and throw the tissue in the trash.
    • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Practical precautions

  • Do not travel while sick.
  • Seek medical care right away if you have both symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath and have either recently returned from China or have direct exposure to others diagnosed with a coronavirus.
  • Before going to a doctor’s office or emergency room, call ahead and tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms.
  • Cover mouth and nose with tissue or sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered until healed.
  • Boost your immune system.
  • Clean counters, doorknobs, fixtures, phones, remotes, nurse call buttons, linens, etc. often with a bleach solution.
  • Don’t share silverware, razors, clothing, towels, or bedding and wash objects with soap and hot water.

Doing your part

Additional Resources:

CDC: Coronavirus site

CDC: FAQs about 2019-nCoV/COVID-19

World Health Organization: Coronavirus site

Dr Sircus: Treatments for Viral Infection

The Survival Mom: The truth about disinfectants: Q&A with an expert

Sources:

CDC.gov

VA.gov

Defense.gov

AAFP.org

LiveScience.com

Medscape.com

MedlinePlus.gov

HomelandPrepNews.com


Cell phones and the ick factor (cootie facts + cleaning tips)

April 1, 2013

We read an article last week about a thief in Uganda who contracted the deadly Ebola virus from a cell phone. It turns out he stole several phones from patients at a hospital and one belonged to a man with hemorrhagic fever (which recently killed 16 people in the African nation). The thief was caught when he returned to the hospital for treatment.

Photo: NIAID (MRSA)The story was a good reminder about how nasty cell phones are.

Think about all the places you use and place your phone every day.

Then remember … germs thrive in warm environments and smartphones generate heat .. plus your hands, face, mouth and body heat (if you carry your phone in a pocket) all add to the cootie cocktail.

Did you know… cellphones carry 10 times more bacteria than most toilet seats..?!

Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, explains while toilets tend to get cleaned frequently, because people associate the bathroom with germs, cellphones are often left out of the cleaning routine.

Tests of eight random mobile phones from a Chicago office found “abnormally high numbers of coliforms, a bacteria indicating fecal contamination,” reports the Journal, with about 2,700 to 4,200 units of the bacteria on each phone. (Drinking water is supposed to have less than one unit of the bacteria per half-cup.)

Scientists say the sort of bacteria found in the study can result in flu, pinkeye or diarrhea. “People are just as likely to get sick from their phones as from handles of the bathroom,” Jeffrey Cain, the president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, told the Journal.

While the above test sample is small, a 2011 study in Britain showed one in six mobile phones were contaminated with fecal matter … and a 2009 study involving the phones of 200 hospital staff members found that 94.5 percent of the phones were contaminated with some kind of bacteria, many of which were resistant to multiple antibiotics.

So how do you clean a phone?

Phone companies caution against using most household cleaners since they are too harsh and may damage the coating on touchscreens. Apple’s manual specifically says “Don’t use window cleaners, household cleaners, compressed air, aerosol sprays, solvents, alcohol, ammonia, or abrasives to clean iPhone.” BlackBerry’s manual states: “Do not use liquid, aerosol cleaners, or solvents on or near your BlackBerry device.” It’s best to use a very soft, nonabrasive cloth that is slightly damp or a cleaner specifically designed for touchscreens, like Monster’s iClean.

Another great product called GermBloc offers a Smartphone Cleaning Kit that works on smartphones, tablets and devices. (And check out their full line of alcohol free sanitizers, travel kits and more at www.germbloc.com).

TLC’s How Stuff Works explains the most important tip for cleaning your cell phone is to be gentle. Swabs and cloths should be soft and lint-free. Cleansers should be pure and mild. And unless it’s absolutely necessary, don’t open up the case. Not only will you void your warranty on some models, but you’re likely to cause more problems than you solve.

As far as the touchscreen, TLC has a list of “don’ts”…

  • Don’t use Windex or any other glass cleaner with ammonia. The harsh chemicals will damage an LCD display over time.
  • Don’t use a paper towel – not even a wet one — because the rough fibers can scratch the display surface. Use a microfiber cloth like the one that came with your glasses.
  • Don’t spray anything directly on your device. Water and electronics don’t mix. Lightly moisten a cloth and wipe it down

TLC explains there are plenty of disposable wipes on the market designed to both clean and disinfect cell phone surfaces. But if you want to save money, simply moisten a cloth with a prepared mix of 60 percent water and 40 percent isopropyl alcohol, available at any drug store. Isopropyl alcohol evaporates quickly as it disinfects, ensuring that no moisture seeps into your phone’s circuitry.

cyberclean goo helps clean smartphone keypadsTo clean out crumbs or debris in crevices, a moistened microfiber cloth or Q-tip might do the trick, but again, check your phone manual first so you don’t void your warranty.

Another cool product to clean and disinfect your phone (and other items) is Cyber Clean® – a gloopy substance that is safe to use on many electronic devices. Cyber Clean Home & Office is a natural, biodegradable cleaning compound that is proven to eliminate more than 99 percent of germs commonly found on different surfaces.  Thanks to its unique membrane system, dirt and bacteria are locked inside the compound. It’s easy to use and leaves no residues, which makes it perfect for cleaning electronics such as phones and intercoms, stereo equipment, computers and keyboards, as well as gaming equipment and controls.

And one of the safest and coolest tools is a UV disinfectant wand because its light rays kill germs without touching the phone. The UV-C light wand says it kills up to 99.9% of germs and comes in handy for all types of handheld devices, ear buds, keyboards, remotes and many other gadgets and household items where germs can thrive.

uv wand sanitizes cell phones and other devices

UV wands can range in price from $30 – $100 or more and come in all shapes and sizes – even travel size (although we’re not sure what TSA would think about it..?!)

Bottom line … there are many different ways to clean the cooties off your handheld devices and please feel free to share your tips or tricks in the comments.

p.s. If you are an frequent user of Apple store devices, just think about how many nasty things are thriving on their touchscreens. Ick.

Stay safe and have a great week! j & B


Eww … think about where that thing has been!

February 25, 2013

Here’s a Monday morning musing…

Before you set your purse, backpack or briefcase on your kitchen table or countertop … think about all the places you put it during the day!!!

According to an ABC News article… Microbiologist Chuck Gerba researches where organisms that make us sick lurk and lately he says he has found that germs gather on the outside of a woman’s purse, especially on the bottom.

“We found fecal bacteria you normally find on the floor of restroom,” he said. “We found bacteria that can cause skin infections on the bottom of purses. What’s more amazing is the large numbers we find on the bottom of purses, which indicates that they can be picking up a lot of other germs like cold viruses or viruses that cause diarrhea.”

portable hook to keep purse off the floorConsider getting a portable purse hook to keep it off the floor of restaurants, public restrooms, etc.

And put several sturdy hooks near your door at home for everyone’s handbags and backpacks to keep those cooties off your tables, counters and other places around your home.

Also check out a video by Dr. Oz with some findings and tips about germs and handbags.

Have a great week! 🙂 j & B


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