Entries in Germs (19)


Immigrant Children Less Prone to Allergies

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- America's obsession with antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer may not be such a good thing. Research shows that some exposure to germs is actually helpful.

A new study found that children born outside the U.S. develop fewer allergies than American-born children. The reason isn't that they have an inherent resistance to them. It may have to do, instead, with the hygiene hypothesis: Kids who spend some of their earliest years exposed to infections and germs seem to get fewer allergies.

"It would be expected that immigrants to the United States from developing countries, where infectious stimuli are more prevalent, would have a lower risk of allergic disease," noted the researchers.

It might also have to do with what foods those children eat and their lifestyles. Asian children living in Chinatown, for example, have lower rates of asthma than Asians outside of that neighborhood.

While the researchers don't have a definitive answer yet, the numbers are compelling.

More than 10 percent of American kids suffer from asthma, according to the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, and one in five may have atopic dermatitis, a skin disease. Those numbers are high when compared to immigrant kids though. While just one in five foreign-born kids develop allergies, more than one in three U.S.-born children do. The discrepancy when it comes to asthma is even larger.

Mexican Americans born in the U.S. have significantly higher rates of asthma, for instance, than Mexican Americans born in Mexico.

Factors including socioeconomic status and ethnicity can play a role, but the researchers accounted for those factors and a strong correlation between being born outside the U.S. and fewer allergies.

That fact was further bolstered by the study's finding that foreign-born kids who spend just a couple of years in the U.S. are far less likely to develop allergies than foreign-born kids who live in the country for a decade or more.

However, this could also mean that the benefits of being born somewhere else don't necessarily provide a shield after so much time has elapsed.

"The odds of developing allergic disease dramatically increase after living in the United States for longer than 10 years," wrote the researchers. "This suggests that the protective effects of the hygiene hypothesis may not be lifelong and that subsequent exposure to allergens and other environmental factors may trigger atopic disease even later in life."

The idea that those kids might be eating healthier and living lifestyles more in line with their countries of origin gains traction when you consider that foreign-born kids with U.S.-born parents are more likely to get allergies than foreign-born kids whose parents are also born outside the country.

"Some cultures more commonly use spices, such as curcumin, and green tea that have anti-allergy and inflammatory properties," wrote the scientists.

Researchers aren't suggesting altering a child's diet solely based on his or her allergies or to let her aversion to baths flourish, and they're certainly not saying that if your child has allergies that you should've let them roll in grass more as a toddler. But some early exposure to irritants may be a good thing.

In other words, it's ok to put down the Lysol wipes. Exposure to a few germs -- a romp through a muddy field or a splash through a puddle, for example -- may help developing immune systems learn to successfully recognize and respond to germs.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Study Reveals Germiest Spot in Kitchen

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Next time you open the refrigerator to grab a tomato or a head of lettuce, you might want to give them an extra good wash.  A study from the National Sanitation Foundation revealed that your refrigerator’s vegetable drawer might be the worst host of bacteria and germs.

Containing both pre-washed and dirty vegetables, the vegetable drawer is an area of cross-contamination.

Most people “don’t think that vegetables are that much of a problem,” said Lisa Yakas, microbiologist and manager of the Home Products Certification Program for NSF International, a non-profit organization that develops public health standards. To clean up, Yakas suggests washing the bin with warm soapy water and deodorizing with a baking soda mixture if needed.

A 2011 study, in which microbiologists reviewed the results after families swabbed 14 common kitchen items, revealed that the kitchen was the germiest place in the home. Twenty families from southeastern Michigan participated in the study.

Researchers were hoping to discover the effectiveness of cleaning habits in America and find which items could potentially cause a foodborne illness.  They looked for E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria, mold and yeast.

The Center for Disease Control estimates that 48 million people get sick and 3,000 die from foodborne illness each year.  Children, elderly and the immune-compromised are the most at-risk.

“I’m a mom … so this is something that I think about when I’m at home in my kitchen.  You know, how can I protect them?” said Yakas.

Most parents expected the microwave to be the worst offender.  “A lot of people said the keypad on the microwave,” she said.

But since it’s a smooth surface, bacteria is less likely to grow.

“Everybody’s touching it all of the time, but they probably clean it more often,” she said.

The study showed that the blender gasket was another unclean place.  Most people don’t take the time to separate and individually wash the blender pieces, so they make good hiding places for germs.

Think the can opener doesn’t need to be cleaned? Think again.

“This is another area that people just aren’t thinking about it.  People just toss it back into the drawer.  Food particles can build up and get dried.  After using it, clean it off, use a sponge or cloth,” said Yakas.

Rubber spatulas were another culprit for germs.  Researchers found that many people were not separating the spatula to clean between uses.

If your kitchen isn’t spotless, don’t panic.

“We’re not trying to scare people,” said Yakas.  She recommends that people get on a regular cleaning routine once they’ve washed the worst areas.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


The 10 Germiest Places in a Restaurant

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- While you're feasting, where are the germs festering?

To get the dirt on dining out, ABC News Consumer Correspondent Elisabeth Leamy went undercover at 10 restaurants in three states.  She took swab samples from 10 surfaces you typically come in contact with at a restaurant.  Then, Dr. Philip Tierno and his team at the New York University Microbiology Department lab tested the samples.

So what's the dirtiest?  Here are the top 10 germiest places in a restaurant, in descending order:

10. Salad bar tongs
9. Ketchup bottles
8. Bathroom faucets
7. Bathroom door knobs
6. Rims of glasses
5. Tables
4. Salt and pepper shakers
3. Lemon wedges
2. Menus
1. Seats

Watch the full story on 20/20: The Real Dish Friday at 10 p.m. ET

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


10 Airports Most Likely to Spread Disease

Education Images/UIG via Getty Images(BOSTON) -- A new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering focuses on the influence of airports in the spread of pandemics.

Many health-conscious travelers take the time to wash their hands frequently and wipe down their tray table in-flight. But did you realize your health can be affected simply by the airports you frequent, especially if those airports are in New York, Los Angeles or Honolulu?

With SARS and H1N1 a not-so-distant memory, a new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering focuses on the influence of airports in the spread of pandemics.

The study differs from previous ones on the topic because it focuses on the first 15 days of a pandemic, rather than the locations that ultimately develop the highest rate of infection. This study seeks to determine how likely the 40 largest U.S. airports are to influence the spread of a contagious disease originating in their home cities.

“Our work is the first to look at the spatial spreading of contagion processes at early times, and to propose a predictor for which ‘nodes’ — in this case, airports — will lead to more aggressive spatial spreading,” says Ruben Juanes, the ARCO Associate Professor in Energy Studies in CEE. “The findings could form the basis for an initial evaluation of vaccine allocation strategies in the event of an outbreak, and could inform national security agencies of the most vulnerable pathways for biological attacks in a densely connected world.”

While the two airports that ranked highest on the list  — New York’s John F. Kennedy and Los Angeles International – may come as no surprise because of their size and the volume of people passing through every day, the airport that ranks third is a bit more interesting. Though Honolulu airport carries only 30 percent as much air traffic as JKF, according to the study, it’s  ”nearly as influential in terms of contagion,” due to its location. The study said its location in the Pacific Ocean and its many connections to distant, large and well-connected hubs earns it the number-three ranking.

  1. John F. Kennedy  (New York City)
  2. Los Angeles International
  3. Honolulu  International Airport
  4. San Francisco International Airport
  5. Newark Liberty International Airport
  6. O’Hare International Airport (Chicago)
  7. Dulles International Airport (Washington, D.C)
  8. Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (Atlanta)
  9. Miami International Airport
  10. Dallas-Fort Worth Airport

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Cat Litter Box Germ Linked to Suicide Risk

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A common parasite that can lurk in the cat litter box may cause undetected brain changes in women that make them more prone to suicide, according to an international study.

Scientists have long known that pregnant women infected with the toxoplasma gondii parasite -- spread through cat feces, undercooked meat or unwashed vegetables -- could risk still birth or brain damage if transmitted to an unborn infant.

But a new study of more than 45,000 women in Denmark shows changes in their own brains after being infected by the common parasite.

The study, authored by University of Maryland School of Medicine psychiatrist and suicide neuroimmunology expert Dr. Teodor T. Postolache, was published online today in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

The study found that women infected with T. gondii were one and a half times more likely to attempt suicide than those who were not infected. As the level of antibodies in the blood rose, so did the suicide risk. The relative risk was even higher for violent suicide attempts.

"We can't say with certainty that T. gondii caused the women to try to kill themselves, but we did find a predictive association between the infection and suicide attempts later in life that warrants additional studies," said Postolache, who is director of the university's Mood and Anxiety Program and is a senior consultant on suicide prevention.

"There is still a lot we don't know," he told ABC News. "We need a larger cohort and need a better understanding of the vulnerabilities that certain people have to the parasite."

Suicide is a global public health problem. An estimated 10 million attempt suicide and 1 million are successful, according to Postlache's work.

More than 60 million men, women, and children in the United States carry the toxoplasma parasite, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but very few have symptoms.

Toxoplasmosis is considered one of the "neglected parasitic infections," a group of five parasitic diseases that have been targeted by CDC for public health action.

About one-third of the world is exposed to T. gondii, and most never experience symptoms and therefore don't know they have been infected. When humans ingest the parasite, the organism spreads from the intestine to the muscles and the brain.

Previous research on rodents shows that the parasite can reside in multiple brain structures, including the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex, which are responsible for emotional and behavioral regulation.

Postolache collaborated with Danish, German and Swedish researchers, using the Danish Cause of Death Register, which logs the causes of all deaths, including suicide. The Danish National Hospital Register was also a source of medical histories on those subjects.

They analyzed data from women who gave birth between 1992 and 1995 and whose babies were screened for T. gondii antibodies. It takes three months for antibodies to develop in babies, so when they were present, it meant their mothers had been infected.

Scientists then cross-checked death registries to determine whether the women later killed themselves. They used psychiatric records to rule out women with histories of mental illness.

Postolache said there were limitations to the study and further research is needed, particularly with a larger subject group.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Men’s Offices Germier Than Women’s, Says Study

Ciaran Griffin/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Men’s offices harbor significantly more bacteria than women’s, according to a new study published in the online journal PLoS ONE.

The types of bacteria are the same, and come mostly from the skin, nose, mouth and digestive tract.  Several types are also commonly found in feces.

Researchers from the San Diego State University and the University of Arizona took 450 samples from different office surfaces in New York City, San Francisco and Tucson, Ariz.

Chairs and phones had the highest amount of bacteria, while desktops, keyboards and computer mice had fewer bacteria.

One of the main reasons the researchers did the study was to learn more about what microorganisms inhabit workplaces.

“Westerners spend about 90 percent of time indoors in artificial environments that we build, and workplaces are where we spend a lot of our time,” said co-author Scott Kelley, a professor of biology at San Diego State.

Kelly said he believes men’s work spaces have more bacteria simply because men are generally bigger than women, though there could also be other reasons.

For example, he said, “Skin is a major source of the bacteria, and if men’s hands are physically bigger, there’s more surface area to colonize bacteria.  Men’s mouths are also bigger.”

Philip Tierno, a clinical professor microbiology and pathology at NYU Langone Medical Center, said another reason is that men just aren’t as clean as women.

“Men tend to be less tidy.  They wash their hands less than women and tend to be a little more cavalier about eating from the floor or from other surfaces,” he said.  Tierno was not involved in the study.  “Also, numerous people touch chairs and phones, but not as many people touch keyboards.”

Previous research found that the opposite is true -- women’s offices are more contaminated than men’s, perhaps in part because women use cosmetics and are more likely to store food in their desks.

One reason for the discrepancy between the studies, Tierno said, is the method used to identify the bacteria.  Kelley’s study uses molecular methods, which are more sensitive and specific than the culture-based identification used in other research.

In addition to differences between men and women, Kelley said the study also found that there was no significant difference between the types of bacteria found in offices in San Francisco and New York. In Tucson, though, there were different types of bacteria associated with drier, desert-like climates.

Though there may be a lot of bacteria in office spaces, Kelley said, most of it doesn’t do much harm.

“Most of what’s brought in is harmless, but it’s very easy to spread.  If someone gets sick, they should stay home because they are bringing bacteria in with them and making others sick.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Bacteria Helps Beef Up Immunity, Study Says

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- When it comes to bacteria, many people have a pretty simple view: Germs are bad, and our lives should be as free of them as possible.

But an alternate idea suggests just the opposite: Germs are a necessary part of a healthy immune system, helping our body's defenses beef up and fight future illnesses.  When a person's exposure to germs is decreased, problems may arise.

The idea is called the hygiene hypothesis.  For years, scientists have suspected that it played a role in how diseases affect people in the modern hand-sanitized world, but they never had any specific evidence.

But a new study from researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston has changed that.

Researchers studied two kinds of mice: One group had been exposed to a normal bacteria environment, and another group that was germ-free.  When scientists compared the immune systems of the two groups of mice, they found what they cited as evidence to support the hygiene hypothesis -- the mice that had been exposed to microbes had stronger immune systems than the germ-free mice.

Additionally, the germ-free mice had exaggerated inflammation in their lungs and colon, similar to what is seen in humans who have asthma and ulcerative colitis.  The researchers found that a particular kind of immune cell, called an invariant natural killer T cell, was particularly hyperactive in these mice.

But all was not lost for the germ-free mice.  When the researchers introduced them to microbes in the first few weeks of their lives, their fragile immune systems beefed up to a normal level.  But older germ-free mice didn't get this beneficial effect.

The results were published Friday in the journal Science.

The researchers only investigated mice, not people, but experts said the biologic mechanism they studied was similar in both rodents and humans.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Holiday Travel Tips: Get Your Flu Shot

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Millions of people will hit the roads, rail and sky over the remainder of the holiday season, and tagging along with them will be hordes of germs ready to spread to the traveling masses.

Despite being surrounded by bacteria and viruses in stores, airports and other public places, there are a few simple ways to minimize the risk of catching a disease, such as the cold and the flu, which could zap the happy out of the holidays.

"You don't want to be a hermit, and you want to enjoy the holidays, but try to use some common sense principles to avoid getting sick," said Dr. Lisa Bernstein, associate professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine.

"Even though it's December, it's not too late to get a flu shot. Flu season goes through early spring," said Bernstein.

"This is the prime time for influenza," said Dr. Laurence Gardner, professor of medicine and executive dean for clinical affairs at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "When people are in enclosed spaces in cold environments, the passage of viruses -- especially the flu virus -- is much greater than in wide open spaces in the summer."

Dr. Michael Perskin, assistant professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center, suggests getting vaccinated against other disease, such as whooping cough, or pertussis.

Although it may seem inconvenient to worry about flu shots on top of everything else, the alternative could be a lot worse.

"It would be an enormous waste of time if, because of not getting vaccinated, someone spent five days in bed with a fever and just felt crummy," Gardner said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Holiday Travel Tip: Wash Your Hands

Medioimages/Photodisc(NEW YORK) –- It's the No. 1 rule that experts repeat over and over again: Wash hands.

"You're constantly touching surfaces that people have sneezed and coughed on, and then because you're in a crowded airport or on a plane you may get hot or sweaty, you wipe your eyes, nose or mouth and can spread germs," said Dr. Michael Perskin, assistant professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center.

Soap and water aren't always available, so alcohol-based hand sanitizers are essential travel items.

"Liberal and frequent use of alcohol hand rubs is very important," said Dr. Laurence Gardner, professor of medicine and executive dean for clinical affairs at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "If I were really concerned about acquiring a cold or a respiratory infection, I would apply that to my hands every 30 minutes or when I used the bathroom or touched any other surface."

"Wash kids' hands often as well, and encourage them to use a tissue and sneeze or cough into their elbow," said Dr. Lisa Bernstein, associate professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine.

Of course handwashing doesn't only apply to sitting on airplanes. With a much greater volume of people and germs in stores and other places, disinfecting hands, shopping carts, seats is extremely important.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Protect Yourself from the Germiest Spots at Malls

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- While the health hazards of increasingly competitive holiday shopping now include stampedes and pepper-spraying, bargain hunters can help assure that all they bring home from the mall are good deals, not other people's cold and flu viruses.

Shopping centers that teem with people also teem with their germs.  But alcohol-based hand sanitizers and good old-fashioned hand-washing can defeat most common microbes.

Before hitting the mall, it pays to plan how you'll deal with germy hot spots:

The Air

Hand sanitizers and hand-washing cannot protect you from what's floating in the air, said Dr. William Schaffner, the chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. "The great hazard is being that close to so many people and being in everyone's breathing space," he said.

"We live in a world that's not sterile, but what we'd like to do is be hygienic, so let's try to avoid the obvious coughers and sneezers in the crowd.  Go to another counter until they've passed," Schaffner advised. "If you are coughing and sneezing, put off your shopping a bit, which would be the kindest thing from a public health point of view."

Public Restrooms

Public restrooms can be a germ-laden nightmare, but they're also where you can wash away unwelcome microbes.  Although soap dispensers and faucet handles "can be a little nasty," after being touched by people who have just done their business in the stalls, you can wash your hands thoroughly, then grab a paper towel and quickly turn off the faucet with the towel, Schaffner said.

Food Court Tables

Think about how many people have touched the tables, napkin dispensers and chair backs at a mall food court or restaurant, and you have another reason to wash your own hands or use a hand sanitizer.  Just as kitchen sponges offer a warm, moist environment that lets food bacteria to multiply, the rags used to wipe down dirty tabletops are "a decent medium for bacteria to dwell in," said Dr. Jeffrey Boscamp, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.

Escalator Handrails

Most people grip the handrails when riding escalators inside malls and stores, leaving behind normal skin bacteria plus other germs picked up from rubbing their noses or mouths.  Schaffner said he's not too worried about this particular hazard.

"If you use your hand sanitizer periodically during your afternoon safari at the mall, I think you'll be pretty well-protected," he said

Toy Stores

All those sniffling tots inside toy stores, along with the healthy ones who just like to put everything in their mouths, can leave invisible coatings of germs behind -- not to mention what they spew into the air when they sneeze or cough.

"The number of hygienic children in the United States I can count on the fingers of my hands," Schaffner said.  "I have to admit, children are the great disseminators of respiratory viruses.  They do so because, first of all, when a virus infects a child, the child actually breathes out a lot of virus, more so than adults.  They do so for a longer period of time."

Electronics Stores

The slick surfaces of smart phones and tablet computers can harbor a variety of germs, including staph, capable of living several hours.  However, just because environmental hygienists can swab such surfaces and find a variety of bacteria doesn't mean they necessarily will make you sick, said Schaffner.

"Try out your candidate iPhone, look at it, play with it, and then do you hand sanitizer thing," he said.

Some Surfaces Not to Worry About

Although women frequently hear they should avoid shared testers at makeup counters, "infections associated with shared makeup are virtually nonexistent," Schaffner said.  "They are not a recognized public health problem."

Worries about picking up germs from ATMs at the mall might be exaggerated, too, even if you've never see a bank employee wiping down ATM keys.

"If for some reason, you're a little queasy [about uncleaned keys], go the ATM, get your cash and use your hand sanitizer," Schaffner said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio