H1N1

Health Risks of Anti-Bacterial Soaps

cat at sink

With fears of H1N1 running rampant, it seems like everywhere you turn, there’s antibacterial gel, antibacterial soap and other antibacterial cleansers.  But are these cleansers really necessary, not to mention safe, or do they actually post health risks?  Today’s guest post addresses these questions.

Guest post by Woody McMahon, Sequoia Health and Fitness, Inc.

In an effort to fulfill the age old saying “cleanliness is next to Godliness,” the use of antibacterial soaps is on the rise. The liberal use of soap is a good thing, but antibacterial soaps present several major risks.

As early as 2005, researchers at Virginia Tech found that the active chemical ingredient in antibacterial soaps, triclosan, can cause two major health problems. First, consumers who use the soaps may be exposed to significant quantities of the cancer causing substance chloroform. Also, long term use of these soaps creates an unhealthy balance of antibiotic resistant bacteria on the skin. They found bacteria resistant to some of the more popular antibiotic drugs like chloramphenicol, ampicillin, tetracycline and ciprofloxacin.

Dr. Peter Vikesland, an environmental chemist at Virginia Tech had this to say about antibacterial soaps: “This is the first work that we know of that suggests that consumer products, such as antimicrobial soap, can produce significant quantities of chloroform. There are numerous potential exposure pathways that can be envisioned, such as inhalation and skin exposure, when using antimicrobial soaps to wash dishes or when taking a shower. There is also risk of exposure when using triclosan laden moisturizers as they may also react with chlorine in the water.”

What is Triclosan?

Triclosan is a synthetic antimicrobial agent found in a wide variety of products. Its broad spectrum, bacteria fighting ability has made it popular in an ever increasing number of personal care products, cosmetics, antimicrobial creams, acne treatments, lotions, hand soaps, and dish soaps. Triclosan goes under the trade name Microban®, when used in plastics and clothing and Biofresh® when used in acrylic fibers. Even though Triclosan is effective at killing bacteria, it is registered as a pesticide with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Pesticides are chemicals designed to kill some type of life form. The EPA considers triclosan a high risk for human health and the environment.

What is Chloroform?

When triclosan, the active ingredient in antibacterial soaps, reacts with the chlorine in the tap water, chloroform is created. Chloroform is a central nervous system depressant and cancer causing compound. The U.S. Department of Labor has strict guidelines when it comes to contact with chloroform. Chronic inhalation of chloroform may cause psychiatric and neurological symptoms, including depression, hallucinations and moodiness. In one study, liver enlargement was demonstrated in 17 of 68 workers exposed to chloroform at low levels for 1 to 4 years. Alcoholics are more at risk from chloroform because ethanol increases chloroform’s toxic effects.

Healthy Bacteria

The bacteria on your skin serve as a part of your skin’s natural defense mechanism. Your skin uses healthy bacteria to keep colonies of unhealthy bacteria at bay. Without the healthy bacteria, the unhealthy ones can take over and create infections and other skin problems. Destroy all the healthy bacteria with antibacterial soap and you set yourself up for big problems. The constant use of antibacterial soaps is similar to using antibiotics for every little cold or sneeze. All antibacterial products should be used sparingly so that resistant strains of bacteria do not develop. Using antibiotics only when necessary ensures they will remain effective when the need arises. 

Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria

When bacteria are exposed to long term, low doses of antibiotics, some of them can develop antibiotic resistance. Resistant bacteria must be treated with other, sometimes stronger antibiotics. In rare instances, there is no known medication that will kill the bacteria. It is wiser to use antibiotics sparingly and for shorter duration. The constant use of antimicrobials, as in the antibacterial soaps, creates a real long term health hazard; one that is easily avoidable with regular soap.

Living a healthier lifestyle is easy with one of Sequoia Health and Fitness, Inc.’s Fresh Start programs.  They provide the plan, implementation, motivation and accountability necessary for your success. To see all of their programs, visit  http://www.sequoiahealth.com.  They offer a no-cost consultation.  For more information, please e-mail Woody McMahon at Woody@SequoiaHealth.com

How To Stay Healthy During Flu and Cold Season

sneezing cat

With flu season upon us, we’re all looking for ways to stay healthy.  This year, many of us are particularly worried because of the H1N1 swine flu.  It’s hard to know which information is simply media hype, and which information is based on fact and can be trusted.  I offer the following tips to help you navigate the flu season with your health, and your sanity, intact.

Vaccinate or Not?

First of all, don’t panic, no matter what the media tells you.  Humanity has dealt with the flu for thousands of years.  Flu viruses change from season to season, and while a flu vaccine may be necessary and even effective for some people, keep in mind that this season’s flu vaccine is based on last year’s virus and may not offer complete protection.  Additionally, the new H1N1 vaccine was brought to market much faster than vaccines of the past, and there is, as of yet, no information on potential long term side effects.  The decision on whether to get vaccinated should be an individual decision and take your health history as well as your risk of exposure into consideration.  While your physician should always be your ultimate source for health information, keep in mind that not all physicians take a holistic view when it comes to preventive health care.  Do your homework, and get educated.

Common Sense

Common sense precautions against the flu have not changed over the years. Frequent hand washing is still the best precautionary measure against the flu as well as colds.  But don’t waste your money on antimicrobial and antibacterial soaps – they don’t work against viruses and provide no added value over soap and water.  In fact, they may contribute to the spread of resistant bacteria.  Don’t touch your face unless you’ve just washed your hands – that’s a direct route for viruses to get into your respiratory tract.  So far, the common wisdom is that the H1N1 virus is airborne, so listen to what you mother taught you:  cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing, and throw the used tissues away – don’t leave them for someone else to deal with.

Boost your Immune System

  • Take a good multi-vitamin.  Do your research and make sure the brand you take has good bio-availability.  Most grocery store brands do not meet this requirement.
  • Take extra vitamin C.  I regularly take 1000mg a day, and I double or triple this when I’ve been exposed to someone who is sick.
  • Sip warm fluids.  Sipping hot tea can make your mouth unfriendly to microbes and reduces your risk of getting sick even after you’ve been exposed.  Gargling with warm salt water can have the same effect.
    Use a Neti Pot (nasal saline rinse) regularly to flush your sinuses before microbes have a chance to get a hold in your system.
  • Avoid inflammation promoters such as sugar, alcohol and tobacco.
  • Optimize your vitamin D levels.  Generally, the more optimal your vitamin D levels, the less your chances of getting the flu or a cold.  Ideally, you should have your vitamin D levels tested, but if you live in the Northern hemisphere and don’t want to pursue testing, experts feel that it’s safe to take at least 1000-2000 IU’s of vitamin D during the winter months.
  • Support your intestinal flora with probiotics.  It may seem odd that your intestinal tract’s health has anything to do with flu and cold prevention, but most inflammation begins in the gut, which in turn, affects your immune system.
  • Get enough sleep.  This is one of the best ways to keep your immune system rested and healthy.
  • Exercise regularly.  Better yet, exercise outside.  
  • Listen to your body.  We all get early warning signs when we’re about to catch a cold or come down with the flu.  For some, it may be a tickle in the throat, for others, a mild stomach ache, nausea, or simple that “just ain’t right” feeling.  Gargle with warm salt water, use your Neti pot, increase your vitamin C and D supplementation, and get some rest.  Sometimes something as simple as slowing down can boost our immune system enough to ward off a cold or the flu in the early stages.
  • Maintain a positive attitude.  If you constantly worry about getting sick, chances are, you will get sick.  Picture yourself healthy with a strong immune system, and don’t stay glued to the news reports of flu outbreaks and pandemics.

H1N1 and Your Pets

Most pet owners are worried about whether their pets can contract the H1N1 swine flu.  Since this is an evolving story, it’s not possible at this stage to have a yes or no answer to this question.  So far, there have been reports of ferrets and birds as well as several cats who contracted the virus.  It’s important to know that in all the cases of the cats, the virus was transmitted from humans in the households who were sick with the virus to the cats, and not the other way around.  There has been one report of a dog being infected with H1N1 in China.  It appears as though in this case, too, the virus was passed from human to dog and not the other way around. 

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) maintains an information page on their website with the most recent information on H1N1 and how it affects pets.

Until we know more about how H1N1 affects pet, take the same common sense precautions you would with a human family member if you do get sick:  follow proper hygiene and sanitation measures to prevent the spread of the disease.  Try to isolate the sick family member from others as much as possible, wash your hands frequently and wipe down common surfaces with a good cleaner or sanitizer.

I hope these common sense precautions put your mind at ease and help protect you and your family members, both human and furry, from flu and cold viruses.

H1N1 Confirmed in Cat in Iowa

swineflu

The news about a confirmed case of H1N1 in a 13-year-old cat in Iowa broke yesterday, and is causing concern among pet owners and veterinarians.  Previously, the H1N1 strain was thought to affect only humans, birds and pigs.

In the case of the Iowa cat, the cat’s owner had been experiencing fly like symptoms, and it’s believed that the cat contracted the virus from the humans.  The cat’s symptoms included lethargy, difficulty breathing, and loss of appetite.  The cat has fully recovered, as have the humans in the household.

The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) issued a public statement on its website yesterday:

A cat in Iowa has tested positive for the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus, state officials confirmed this morning, marking the first time a cat has been diagnosed with this strain of influenza.

The cat, which has recovered, is believed to have caught the virus from someone in the household who was sick with H1N1. There are no indications that the cat passed the virus on to any other animals or people.

Prior to this diagnosis, the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus had been found in humans, pigs, birds and ferrets.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) are reminding pet owners that some viruses can pass between people and animals, so this was not an altogether unexpected event. Pet owners should monitor their pets’ health very closely, no matter what type of animal, and visit a veterinarian if there are any signs of illness.

The AVMA is actively tracking all instances of H1N1 in animals and posting updates on our Web site at http://www.avma.org/public_health/influenza/new_virus.

This is a developing story, and there is much about this virus that is not known at this point.  That being said, it’s important to not overreact until we have more information.  Keep the following things in mind:

  • Stay calm.  The good news is that both the cat and the human family members all fully recovered from their bout with H1N1.
  • In this instance, the virus passed from human to cat, not from cat to human.  There is, as yet, no evidence that the virus can pass from cats to humans.
  • This doesn’t change the basic good advice about how to protect yourself from getting sick that has been circulating for quite some time:  wash your hands frequently, keep your immune system healthy and strong.
  • If you do get sick with H1N1, the AVMA recommends that you avoid close contact with your cat.  If your cat shows respiratory symptoms, seek immediate veterinary care.

With a developing story like this one, it will probably be a challenge to separate the facts from the inevitable panic this kind of news can cause.  Know your sources when it come to health information, and don’t overreact to every snippet of news you see come across the internet or your tv screen.

Afraid of the swine flu? Don’t be.

You can’t turn on the computer, look at a newspaper, let alone watch television without being bombarded with news about the swine flu.  Words like epidemic and pandemic are becoming part of everyone’s vocabulary.  It’s hard not to be afraid in the face of this barrage of fear-inducing rhetoric.

This is a good time to use your head, and to harness the power of your thoughts.  To begin with, don’t let yourself get caught up in irrational fears.  Think this through.   Statistically, more people die in car accidents than in an epidemic, and yet, we all get into our cars each and every day without giving it much thought.  Today, we have the best medical care, the best public health system, and the best world-wide communication methods in the history of the planet.  This is not 1918.  This is the flu – not the black plague.

Make smart decisions that support your well-being.   Make small choices each day that add up to make a difference in how you feel.  Eat healthier, get more exercise, cut back on sugar.  All of these choices contribute to boosting your immune system.  Find things that bring you relaxation – get a Reiki treatment or a massage, take a hot bath scented with relaxing aromatherapy oils, read a good book, watch a funny movie.  And of course, spend time with your pets!  That’s the best way to relax that I know of. 

And above all else, stop worrying.  Worry creates stress, and stress weakens your immune system.  One of the Reiki precepts is “Just for today, I will not worry”.  If that’s too tall an order, try it for an hour.  Another way to get a handle on worry is to allocate a specific time each day for worrying – during that time, let yourself go nuts.  Worry all you want.   Take it to the ultimate worst case scenario.  You’ll quickly realize how crazy most of your worries actually are.  In fact, take a clue from your pets – they never worry.  They live in the moment.  When you live in the moment, there’s no place for worry.

And those of you who’ve followed me for a while already know what I’m going to say next:  don’t watch the news!  Don’t fill your energy with all that negativity.  You have the power to choose where you direct your attention and what you let into your energy field.  You don’t have to stick your head in the sand, but make the choice to not let what’s going on in the world affect your mental and physical health.

Can my cat or dog get the swine flu?

There is plenty of information in the media about how to protect yourself and your family against the swine flu, but very little has been said about whether it can affect our pets.  While there is no absolute answer, I found this article by Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM helpful and wanted to pass it on.

On a slightly different note but on the same topic – I highly suggest that you turn off the news.   The media has a never ending propensity to report bad news and to try and put its audience into a fearful state of mind about the swine flu, or anything else for that matter.  Fear and bad news sell advertising – it’s as simple as that.    Worry is a waste of energy and a sure fire way to attract what you don’t want into your life.    For more on why not watching the news is good for you, refer to “Go on a news diet“, posted in March.