Rx for Readers: Living in an unsterile world

Rx for Readers Living i

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November 19, 2009 15:10
3 minute read.
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I read on the Internet, in fact from - of all places, Dubai - that the handles of supermarket carts have more dangerous viruses and bacteria than computer keyboards, stair railings and even toilet seats, as they are almost never cleaned. Is this a cause of worry? Should one disinfect these with alcohol gel before use in stores to avoid the flu and other infections? - A.L., Rehovot Dr. Paul Slater, the Health Ministry's chief epidemiologist, replies: This is a typical alarmist presentation showing that microorganisms can be found on all sorts of surfaces in our unsterile world. I have seen similar "studies" concerning the nondisposable part of doctors' otoscopes (optical devices to examine the middle and inner ear), stethoscopes and neckties and even operating room furniture and fixtures. It all means very little unless it can be shown that exposure to the non-sterile surfaces or objects actually causes disease. This would require serious research, with informed consent, study and control groups and follow-up of exposed and unexposed people for the appearance of defined illnesses within a set period of time. Naturally, I favor washing your hands with soap and warm water from time to time, as I recommend that doctors and nurses wash or disinfect their hands between patients. And certainly, public toilets should be kept as clean as possible. But mostly for aesthetic reasons. "Disinfect" a shopping cart handle? Not I. I have two healthy toddlers aged 13 months and three years. At our well-baby (Tipat Halav) clinic, I was told that if we leave a cold-mist vaporizer on at home many hours of the day during the winter, it would prevent them from getting colds or respiratory infections. Is this true? I wonder whether so much humidity in the air would cause black fungus on walls that could be dangerous. Is humidifying the home in winter recommended? If so, should a window be open to prevent fungus? Would a wet towel on a hot-water radiator be better? - I.M., Petah Tikva Prof. David Branski, chief of pediatrics at both Hadassah University Medical Centers, and Dr. Orna Blondheim, a veteran pediatrician who is director-general of Emek Medical Center in Afula, commented similarly to this query: Leaving a cold-mist (or hot-mist) vaporizer on at home many hours of the day during the winter will not prevent them from getting colds or respiratory infections. Undoubtedly, the habit will raise your electricity bill, and too much humidity in the house could produce black mold on the walls, which if not quickly removed and inhaled can be dangerous, especially to children. Using a vaporizer in a child's room when he or she already suffers from a stuffy nose would help. In any case, opening a window to fresh air daily even without a vaporizer is important during the winter as it dilutes the concentration of pathogens in the air at home and at work and reduces the risk that occupants will get viral infections. I am a 56-year-old man who has been suffering from tinnitus - chronic ringing of the ears - for about a decade. My ear-nose-and-throat (ENT) specialist thinks it was probably caused by my playing with a loud jazz band during my youth. In any case, I always search the Web for possible treatments or cures, and I found that Thomas Jefferson Hospital in the US was permitted by the US Food and Drug Administration to offer something called "Neuromonics Tinnitus Treatment." It is claimed to interact with, interrupt and desensitize tinnitus by delivering a neural stimulus customized for each patient and embedded in "clinically modified" music. Has this really been shown effective in eliminating tinnitus or at least making it possible to live with it? And if so, is the "treatment" available in Israel? - F.T., Tel Aviv Dr. Ronen Peretz, a senior ENT specialist at Jerusalem's Shaare Zedek Medical Center, and Haya Levi, director of the audiology center at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem's Ein Kerem, comment: The device may be sold in Israel. But unfortunately there is still no breakthrough treatment for tinnitus; there are some ways that may attenuate the ringing for some patients. Regarding claims of "new treatments," experts have to be very careful and need more results from research before recommending them. There have been claims that electrical stimulation of the ear provided very good improvement, but it benefited only a few patients. Rx for Readers welcomes queries from readers about medical problems. Experts will answer those we find most interesting. Write Rx for Readers, The Jerusalem Post, POB 81, Jerusalem 91000, fax your question to Judy Siegel-Itzkovich at (02) 538-9527, or e-mail it to jsiegel@jpost.com, giving your initials, age and residence.

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