Singles Season: STI Free Range

Given that winter is popularly known as “cuffing season,” it makes sense that the free spirit of summer is the polar opposite: singles season. With people meeting, hooking up, making connections, and “Netflix and Chill”-ing, there are particular precautions that need to be taken. Most notably, actions to prevent contraction of Sexually Transmitted Infections (previously known as STDs).

Sexually Transmitted Infections are contagious infections passed between people during sexual contaxt, whether it be vaginal, anal, or oral contact, as well as through exchange of other bodily fluids such as blood. Semen, vaginal fluids, blood, and contact with open sores or mucous membranes (such as part of the eyes, nose, mouth, anus, and vagina) are all involved in the contraction and spread of STIs.

While these infections are often stigmatized, it is important to understand that the incidence of disease is not rare. According to the WHO, “More than 1 million STIs are acquired every day.” This number doesn’t even acount for the number of people living with an incurable condition, such as HIV or AIDS, or individuals who are infected but have not undergone treatment. Additionally, it doesn’t account for those who are unknowingly affected because they are asymptomatic. Let’s discuss some of the most common STIs.

Chlamydia- This bacterial infection can be asymptomatic, so infected individuals may not know they have it. Some symptoms include those common to general illnesses, such as fever and abdominal pain. However, infection in women can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease which is an infection of the repoductive organs that can be serious if not treated early and appropriately.

Gonorrhea- This bacterial STI can also cause PID and be asymptomatic for some people. For others, it can cause discharge and pain with urination.

Herpes- The herpes virus causes blisters and sores is caused by the HSV-1 strain. The HSV-2 strain causes painful, watery blisters. While some people are asymptomatic or experience occasional outbreaks. This condition cannot be cured, but it can be managed with treatment.

HIV/AIDS-HIV is a viral infection that affects the immune system. This virus attacks white blood cells and weakens the efficiency of the immune system. If the condition progresses beyond a particular threshold, the diagnosis of AIDS is given. With early treatment and medical care, the progression of HIV can be slowed or halted to the point that AIDS never develops.

HPV- There are many stains of viruses in the HPV family. The symptoms of these infections vary and in most cases, the infection resolves on its own. However, HPV has been linked to certain forms of cancer affecting the repoductive system in both males and females. There is currently a vaccine available that can prevent the most common strains that are linked to cervical cancer.

Hepatits B-This virus can be spread by more than repoductive fluids. Items of personal hygeine can spread the illness. There are aproximately 257 million people living with Hep B. This infection affects the liver and can cause cirrhosis or even liver cancer. There is a vaccine for this STI available.

Syphilis– This bacterial infection is divided into 3 stages, each with its own distinct set of symptoms. In the primary stage, there are sores around the infections site. In the secondary stage, symptoms spread to include systemic signs. This includes a skin rash, lymph node swelling and fever. In the tertiary phase, the infection has continued to spread to serious stages and can infect the heart, brain and organs. This infection can be effectively treated with early management and prescription antibiotics.

Sexually Transmitted Infections result from sexual contact. They can be prevented, limiting the spread of these infections through safe sex practices and precautions.


Pet Safety

When most people think of pet safety and health, they think of pet food, exercise, and even trips to the vet. However, what are the things families and pet owners should consider so that they can safely coexist with their so-called fur baby?

According to US News, “more than 50,000 children ages 6 and under suffered a dog bite injury in 2014.” Whether is be a bite to the hand, face, or other injury, some attacks by pets can lead to life threatening injuries. Many of these occur when families ignore the golden rule to never leave a child alone with a pet, no matter how much you trust little Fido. On the contrary, dangers can still occur even when children are supervised because many adults and children alike do not know basic pet safety.

It is important to teach pet owners and children how to safely interact with pets. There are some safety tips from North Shore Animal League America that demonstrate some behaviors and manners that should be observed with any mammal pet for both adults and children. Some concepts are intuitive, such as to pet the animal gently and do not pull or tug on their fur or body parts. Other things are good tips for first time pet owners or anyone trying to teach others how to safely interact with animals. For example, you should never approach an animal while it is eating, sleeping, or chewing on a toy. At these times, many animals can become defensive and others are at risk of attack if you scare your pet or if it perceives your actions as a threat. This can also apply to loud noises.

While keeping yourself or your loved ones safe from an attack is often at the top of any pet owner’s priority list, other aspects of pet ownership can also pose risks. The CDC notes the dangers of pet food, which have been linked to Salmonella outbreaks in the past. In fact, there are several edible dog products listed for recall on the FDA’s website due to concern for contamination. As I explained in an earlier article outlining food safety, Salmonella can be dangerous or even life threatening to the young, old, and immune compromised. After feeding your pet, it is important to wash your hands and handle dog food the same as you would handle you own. Store the food out of reach of children, because some young kids may try to eat the food or treats, and be sure to keep dog food out of the kitchen to prevent contamination with your own food products.

Not only is it important to be cautious about what goes in your pet, but it is also important to be careful around what comes out. Animal waste can cause foul odor, mess, and illness. According to the State of Rhode Island Department of Health outdoor pet waste can contaminate water supply. So much so that waste of 100 animals over the course of a weekend can be enough to close a bay of water to swimming and recreational activities due to health risks and contamination. In fact, AAPAW notes that Dog feces is as high as 3rd on the list of contributors to contaminated water. After picking up pet waste, regardless of whether your pet voids him/herself indoors or outdoors, dispose of it in a sealed plastic bag. Do not toss it outside in the open or dispose of it down the toilet. These actions pose risk of spreading infectious diseases.

Owning a pet, large or small, is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. There are considerations to be undertaken in order to ensure that you, your pet, and others around you are safe. However, by following simple guidelines, your risk for illness or injury can be minimized. Having a pet can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Enjoy your pet ins a safe and healthy way!


 Salmon, Sammy, Salmonella

Summer time is a season of picnics, poolside lunches, and grill outs. Get togethers with friends and family are often centered around food and outdoor activities. Unfortunately, warm weather is also accompanied by a spike in foodborne illness. During summer months, there are often multiple reports of food recalls due to contamination or reported illnesses due to eating unsafe foods. A simple search through recent news almost always reveals cases or recent articles about these sicknesses. Starting in May, there were reports of tuna contaminated with hepatitis A in Hawaii. Additional fish that had been shipped to the mainland also tested positive for hepatitis A, leading to a recall of the contaminated fish to prevent the use of the contaminated fish. Earlier this month, there was a salmonella outbreak linked to a restaurant in Michigan with associated cases in Ohio and Illinois. As such, food safety is not an issue that should be ignored. Below I have outlined the basics of food safety and explained what exactly causes food poisoning.

According to the CDC, “1 in 6 Americans gets sick by consuming contaminated foods or beverages,” leading to approximately 48 million cases of food poisoning every year. That is a lot of preventable sickness affecting our friends, family, and community. These illnesses can be caused by any number of bacteria, parasites, or viruses in our food due to contamination, cross contamination, or improper handling. Symptoms of foodborne illness usually brings to mind vomiting and diarrhea, but they can be as varied as blurred vision, weakness, fever, or even bleeding within the skin. Of course, if the symptoms are not managed appropriately or if the disease is contracted by someone with a compromised immune system, there is a higher risk of hospitalization or even death. The FDA website has a handy table of common pathogens and their disease symptoms, as seen here.

It is also important to note that some people are more susceptible to food poisoning than others. At risk groups of people include the elderly and children because their immune systems are not as effective as the general population, pregnant women, and immunocompromised individuals. Pregnant women are at risk because their immune systems change when they are pregnant. Both the mother and the unborn baby (who does not have a developed immune system) are at risk. Immunocompromised individuals have a weak immune system or are taking medications to prevent immune function as part of another disease treatment plan.

Some foods are also at a higher risk of carrying disease carrying pathogens than others. For example, uncooked or improperly cooked meat, fish, shellfish, eggs, and poultry can be dangerous if consumed. Unpasteurized milk, juice, diary products, and cheeses. Unwashed produce and raw sprouts can also carry risk. Proper food safety and preparation can help reduce the risk of eating contaminated food or spreading germs from person to person.

So, what can you do to reduce your likelihood of contracting a foodborne illness? There are 5 easy to follow tips for safer foods outlined by the WHO. The first is to keep yourself and your kitchen clean by washing your hands and all surfaces that food comes into contact with. This can help reduce contamination by common germs. The second is to keep raw foods separate from cooked food, including using separate utensils, cutting boards, and containers. Raw food, especially meat, fish, and poultry, contain microscopic organisms that can make you sick and can contaminate your cooked foods or raw produce. This leads to ther third tip. Properly cooked and prepared foods significantly reduce your risk of food poisoning because it kills harmful bacteria. Furthermore, store foods promptly after eating, and keep the foods that are being served at an appropriate temperature. When food becomes room temperature, this is the perfect environment for microorganisms to grow and multiply, increasing your chances of getting sick. This is why food at picnics and parties pose such a risk. Additionally, be sure that all the food you are eating is fresh, properly prepared, and cleaned with clean, safe water.

Although foodborne illnesses seem daunting, simple rules and food handling procedures can help keep you and your family safe this summer. Don’t cancel your summer beach bash simply because you fear eating warm potato salad. Instead, prepare ahead and have a little responsibility during your party to ensure that all your guests are safe. After all, taking a minute to put uneaten food in the fridge or wipe down counter tops is a small sacrifice to make when the alternative is hearing about how ill your friends feel the next day! Have a safe and fun summer in the sun!


“She’s Your Lobster”

Unlike Ross and Rachel from Friends, being a lobster isn’t always a good thing. A day in the sun can leave you red, burned, and in serious pain. Sun safety is a serious matter, and in the sunny state of Texas, it has been a little slow to take hold.(For those of you who are wondering, the episode of Friends is “The One With The Prom Video,” Season 2 Episode 14).

Although tanning beds have been slowly disappearing from our area, laying out and deliberately avoiding sunscreen in order to get some stellar tan lines is still popular. Most all of us can recall returning to school in the fall touting to one another something along the lines of “OMG! You are so tan!” or “Wow, look at your tan lines! You are so dark!” Why we thought white bands of skin along with brown, burned skin was the epitome of cool, I will never know, but alas, it was the end goal of almost every kid’s summer vacation during my childhood.

The CDC states that skin damage can occur in as little at 15 minutes in the sun, due to ultravoilet (UV) rays. These are the same rays that your sunscreen protects you against, and it’s with good reason. UV rays are what cause skin cancer. Luckily, there are some easy things you can do to protect yourself and reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. The UV index scale used by the EPA helps set guidelines for your level of precaution and level of potential damage due to UV light on any given day. You can easily check your area’s UV level by inputting your zip code into the UV Index mobile app.

The American Cancer Society makes a few recommendations regarding sun safety that are clear and easy to follow. If you are going to be spending time outdoors, try to position yourself in the shade, whether you are under a tree or an umbrella, this will help reduce the amount of direct radiation reaching you. The Shadow Rule can help tell you when it is time to seek some shade or go inside for a bit. However, even if you are sitting in the shade, it doesn’t mean you should skip the sunscreen, hat or cover-up. These items offer additional protection from the sun and indirect rays that are reflected off of the ground and nearby objects. Also, if you choose to wear additional clothing (which you should!), note that dry clothes offer more protection than wet clothes, and dark clothing offers more protection than lighter pieces. The boys in my house are particularly prone to sunburns, so over the years, we have become huge fans of clothing that has built in, tested UV protection, such as the shirts carried by Under Armour.

As far as sunscreen goes, as I’ve gotten older, I have learned about how much misinformation I had been told about sunscreen usage and how much I straight up didn’t know. Hopefully we can shed some light on the situation and get things straightened out today. While I have come across conflicting information regarding some sunscreen information, such as that the CDC recommends at least SPF 15 but the American Academy of Dermatology recommends at least SPF 30, the information is clear and consistent on everything else. When it comes down to it, apply broad spectrum sunscreen every time you are in the sun, and always reapply every 2 hours. The AAP recommends using 1 ounce of sunscreen to cover your body. That is approximately enough to fill a shot glass. Also, did you know that sunscreen isn’t waterproof? It’s actually only water resistant and it has to be reapplied every 40-80 minutes after sweating, swimming, or even toweling off. However, sunscreen is the best protection we have from the sun to date, so it’s important not to skip over the important stuff. Also, don’t forget to cover your lips with a lip balm containing sunscreen, too!

The best information I found about eye protection from the sun actually came from the FDA’s website. Did you know that pricier sunglasses don’t ensure greater UV protection, and darker lenses are not necessarily better protection for UV light? Be sure to buy sunglasses labelled as having UV-A and UV-B protection to ensure that you are protecting your eyes from damage, and pair your sunglasses with a wide brimmed hat.

Think you know everything there is to know about sun protection? Try testing yourself. The American Cancer Society offers a nifty quiz that you can take to check your sun safety knowledge.


Famous Names

Rita Colwell

Welcome to the first edition of “Famous Names in Public Health!” In this segment, I will do my best to give credit and recognition to the scientists, activists, philanthropists, epidemiologists, and advocates who have made significant contributions to the field of public health. These individuals have changed the course of human health and have helped construct the world we live in and know of today.

To kick off our exploriation of the most influential contributors to the field, we are starting with Rita Colwell!


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Rita Colwell holds a doctorate degree in oceanography from University of Washington as well as 55 honorary degrees and numerous other awards due to her research of infectious diseases from water sources and their impacts on global health. Dr.Colwell has been contributing to the field of microbiology and aquatic diseases for more than 40 years. She has contributed to more than 750 scientific papers and 17 books during her career, and she produced the film “Invisible Seas” (source). She has acted as the director of the National Science Foundation, president of CosmosID, Inc., held many advisory positions in the U.S. government, and has acted as an advisor, chairman or contributing member to many other organizations over the years.

Her research has been instrumental in predicting outbreaks and disease patterns by using the environment. This is particularly true of cholera, a disease that she centered her research efforts on for many years. Dr.Colwell has been instrumental in connecting temperature changes in water to outbreaks of cholera and her subsequent research has led to cost effective ways to filter water in order to reduce the spread of the disease. In fact, she determined that using sari and nylon filtration methods in areas of the world where people cannot reliably boil their water before drinking can reduce the incidence of the disease by approximately 39 percent!

Although she has already established herself as a groundbreaking professional in the field of environmental health and has led to monumental advancements in our understanding of water borne diseases and cholera, Dr.Colwell continues to add to the scientific community. One of her more recent endeavors is acting as the founding of GeoHealth, a scientific journal created by the American Geophysical Union . This journal will focus on research, reviews, and commentaries on the growing field of environmental sciences and its relation to human and environmental health. This venture continues to promote the growth and advancement of enviromental sciences and gives other scientists the opportunity to contribute to the foundation that Dr.Colwell’s earlier works laid for this community.


Water, Water Everywhere!

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Summer in the Texas heat can be unbearable. As a result, most of us spend our weekends (and evenings!) in the water to cool down. While a dip in the pool, a trip to the lake, or even a drive to the beach are all great ways to beat the heat, it is important to be educated about water safety so that a relaxing afternoon poolside doesn’t turn into a nightmare at the emergency room. The CDC says “Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States.” Therefore, water safety is not a matter to be taken lightly. Here are some tips on how to stay safe this summer for you and your family.

Little kids need the most supervision around water, since they are small and often not strong swimmers. A child should never be left alone near water. Anyone under the age of 5 or without good swimming skills should be accompanied by an adult at all times. It is interesting to note at the American Academy of Pediatrics is wary of children’s floaties because they give a false sense of security to parents and children. Floaties and pool noodles can never replace the security of a life jacket, and they should never be used in place of close supervision. It is also important to note that, while swimming lessons may help make your child more confident in/around water and improve their swimming skills, even the best swimmers can drown. Most of us can recall the story of Tate Ramsden, the college swimmer who drowned in 2015.

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When going swimming with a group of people, an adult should be clearly assigned to the role of supervising water activities. Whether the members of your group rotate responsibility during the trip or you work out some other system amongst yourselves, the designated “watcher” should be sober and actively observing the members of your party in the water. He or she should not be playing cards or using their phone, even if there is a lifeguard present. Cook Children’s Medical Center recommends taking 15 minute shifts of responsibility so that everyone stays actively involved in their role.

Additionally, it is always a good idea to become CPR certified. I know when I was a nanny for the summer, becoming CPR certified was on the top of my list. Not only could is save a life in an emergency until professional help arrives, it also teaches you how to handle emergency situations appropriately. The American Red Cross teaches CPR and basic first aid as well as basic water safety, and many local fire stations also teach classes for a small fee.

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Among teens and young adults, it is important to educate them on the risk alcohol and drug ingestion pose to water safety. Not only is someone under the influence of drugs or alcohol unable to be a designated “watcher” or make good decisions in an emergency, but he or she also poses a risk to themselves. The CDC says “alcohol use is involved in up to 70% of deaths associated with water recreation.” Alcohol impairs your judgement of risk and your own ability levels, which leads to risky behaviors. Additionally, an intoxicated person has reduced coordination and slower reaction times because brain processing is reduced. Most importantly, did you know that alcohol consumption reduces the effectiveness of CPR on an intoxicated person and number of physical changes (outlined on the Royal Life Saving website).

While swimming and water activities can be a fun way to have fun and stay cool this summer, it is important to follow the necessary precautions and know what to do in an emergency. By taking a little bit of time and responsibility, your fun and relaxing afternoon poolside can become a safer place for you and your crew.