The Jaws of Life!

national dog dayIn case you missed it, Monday was National Dog Day – also known as: International Dog Day & National Dog Appreciation Day.

National Dog Day serves to help galvanize the public to recognize the number of dogs that need to be rescued each year, and acknowledges family dogs and dogs that work selflessly each day to save lives, keep us safe and bring comfort. Dogs put their lives on the line every day – for their law enforcement partner, for their blind companion, for a child who is disabled, for our freedom and safety by detecting bombs and drugs and pulling victims of tragedy from wreckage.
Founded in 2004 by pet lifestyle expert and author Colleen Paige, National Dog Day was created to honor dogs more than we currently do, to give them “a day”, to show deep appreciation for our long connection to each other – for their endearing patience, unquestioning loyalty, for their work, their capacity for love and their ability to impact our lives in the most miraculous ways.

National Dog Day wishes to encourage dog ownership of all breeds, mixed and pure – and embraces the opportunity for all dogs to live a happy, safe and ”abuse-free life”.

As our regular readers know, we’re big dog lovers here at SRxA’s Word on Health, so it seemed fitting to bring you a happy and healthy tale (or perhaps that should be waggy tail) for the weekend.

dogs and house firesEach year, in the U.S., thousands of people lose their lives to fire.  Unfortunately, we have become accustomed to hearing about these tragedies, but there is another tragedy that occurs in which we rarely hear about – the hundreds of thousands of cherished family pets who suffer injury or death due to smoke and flames.

Government statistics estimate that there are around 400,000 home fires are reported annually. And 62% of these homes will own at least one pet -meaning some 300,000 animals are at risk of smoke inhalation.

Although firefighters and their heroic efforts attempt to save a pet’s life during a burning building, the damage a pet sustains from inhalation of smoke or carbon monoxide overwhelms many of the animals that often die en route to a veterinarian.   But if fire and rescue crews are able to provide life-saving oxygen for animals, as they do for humans, more animals would be saved.

Of the 30,000 or so fire departments in the US, only 1,700 have some type of pet oxygen delivery device.  In Word on Health’s home state of Virginia, there are 24 fire departments with such equipment, including Fairfax, Arlington, Sterling, Chesterfield, Spotsylvania, and Stafford.

Previously, in Prince William County, Lake Jackson Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department was the sole company, within the fire and rescue system, that provided this device.  But now, thanks to a generous donation provided by Prince William SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), firefighters have an opportunity to assist pets who are experiencing respiratory distress or failure due to a fire and potentially save more lives.

WAGN_FirstResponder_Banner_v2PWSPCA purchased 42 of the WAG’N 02 FUR LIFE delivery system/devices –each worth approximately $3,000 and has provided 2 kits to each of the 21 fire and rescue stations in the county.

I was honored and privileged to be asked to coordinate the introduction of the pet oxygen kits at Nokesville Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department and to ensure that all fire and EMS personnel are trained in the use and maintenance of the devices – a process we fittingly began on National Dog Day and hope to have fully operational by the Labor Day holiday weekend.

Dog-with-Oxygen-MaskThe pet oxygen delivery devices work similar to equipment manufactured for humans suffering from smoke inhalation except this device is used solely for four-legged animals.  The device has a cone shaped design with a rubber seal that creates a snug fit over the animal’s nose and mouth making the oxygen delivery more effective than oxygen masks designed for humans.

And while we hope that we never have to use them, we are confident  that by carrying the pet O2 kits on our fire trucks and ambulances that we can minimize the number of animal fatalities that occur due to fire.

What better way to mark dog appreciation day?

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Protecting Kids with temporary tattoos

food allergiesParents of the three million or so kids in the US who have been diagnosed with food allergies whose kids have severe food allergies know they can’t be too careful. One bite of the food they are allergic to could be deadly. Indeed, according to the CDS, more than 200 people with food allergies die every year as a result of anaphylaxis.

Now, Michele Walsh, a mother of three from Baltimore, has created SafetyTat  to help remind teachers, classmates and babysitters to be extra careful.

temp tattooThe safety tats are brightly colored temporary tattoos or long-lasting write-on stickers that can be placed prominently on a child’s arm, with information such as “ALERT: NUT ALLERGY” or other critical information.

When you leave a child in someone else’s care at school or camp, “no matter how many times you fill out the forms, you’re still taking a leap of faith,” Walsh says. “This is like my voice with my son when I’m not there. It’s almost like teaching them ‘stop, drop and roll…’ They know exactly what to do.”

Another company –  Allermates offers allergy education tools, stickers, alert bracelets and other products for kids. Allermates was created by Iris Shamus, inspired by her son’s multiple allergies and an incident at school. “When you have a child with a food allergy, you’re always worried. It’s just part of your life,” she says. “I wanted to have something a little more personalized for him to remind teachers and babysitters.”

allermatesIt began with a fun necklace, then a wristband and a large selection of products accompanied by cartoon characters such as Nutso, a charming peanut, to help her son understand, remember and confidently discuss his allergies.

It makes me feel so much more secure,” she says. “I know you can’t be there all the time when you’re a mom, and this gives you peace of mind.”

Anything that can help educate the patient about their problem and continue to make them aware about it is helpful whether it’s a temporary tattoo or a warning bracelet,” says Stan Fineman MD, immediate past president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.  “The important thing is for people to accurately find out what they’re allergic to and then make sure to take the appropriate precautions,” Fineman says. He says parents of kids with severe allergies should keep EpiPens on hand, check school policies, talk to school officials and bring in treats their kids can eat for special events.

allermates 2Betsy Shea of Chicago says both of her boys, 4-year-old Colin and 2-year-old Emmet, have nut allergies, and Colin wears Allermates’ green snap-on wristband featuring Nutso. She’s thinking about trying temporary tattoos for Emmet.

Having allergies herself, she remembers having to wear the traditional metal medical alert band, which made her feel different and self-conscious. But Colin “loves that band. He wears it with pride and thinks it’s just so cool. We couldn’t get him to take it off for a while,” she says.

We thinks it’s pretty cool too!

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Immune to Stress?

mouse-frazzled-bit-stressedFollowing on from last Friday’s post on the beneficial effects of stress hormones, we bring you news of study that helps us to better understand the stress process at a cellular level and how stress can lead to mood disorders.

The new research from Ohio State University, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, shows that certain cells from the immune system are recruited to the brain during stress, causing symptoms of anxiety.

Researchers discovered the dynamic mind-body interaction – a two-way communication from the central nervous system to the rest of the body – and back to the central nervous system that ultimately influences behavior during prolonged stress.

Under prolonged stress, the brain sends signals out to the bone marrow, calling up monocytes. The cells travel to specific regions of the brain and generate inflammation that causes anxiety-like behavior.

In experiments conducted in mice, researchers showed that repeated stress exposure caused the highest concentration of monocytes migrating to the brain. The cells surrounded blood vessels and penetrated brain tissue in several areas linked to fear and anxiety, including the prefrontal cortex, amygdala and hippocampus, and their presence led to anxiety-like behavior in the mice.

“In the absence of tissue damage, we have cells migrating to the brain in response to the region of the brain that is activated by the stressor,” said John Sheridan, senior author of the study. “In this case, the cells are recruited to the brain by signals generated by the animal’s interpretation of social defeat as stressful.

mouse-in-fearThe mice in this study were subjected to stress that might resemble a person’s response to persistent life stressors. In this model male mice were given time to establish a hierarchy, and then an aggressive male was added to the group for two hours. This elicits a “fight or flight” response in the resident mice as they are repeatedly defeated. The experience of social defeat leads to submissive behaviors and the development of anxiety-like behavior.

MONOCYTEMice subjected to zero, one, three or six cycles of this social defeat were then tested for anxiety symptoms. The more cycles of social defeat, the higher the anxiety symptoms. For example, the mice took longer to enter an open space and opted for darkness rather than light when given the choice. Anxiety symptoms corresponded to higher levels of monocytes that had traveled to the animals’ brains from the blood. Additional experiments showed that these cells did not originate in the brain, but traveled there from the bone marrow.

Exactly what happens at this point in the brain remains unknown, but the research offers clues. The monocytes that travel to the brain don’t respond to natural anti-inflammatory steroids in the body and have characteristics signifying they are in a more inflammatory state.

These results indicate that inflammatory gene expression occurs in the brain in response to the stressor.

These findings do not apply to all forms of anxiety, the scientists noted, but they are a game-changer in research on stress-related mood disorders.

Our data alter the idea of the neurobiology of mood disorders,” said Eric Wohleb, a pre-doctoral fellow in Ohio State’s Neuroscience Graduate Studies Program. “We’re saying something outside the central nervous system – something from the immune system – is having a profound effect on behavior.”

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Adrenaline Junkie

punch1Although we repeatedly hear about the negative health effects of stress, today we’re here to tell you that stress isn’t necessarily all bad. Like food, sex, and shoes, it’s quality, not quantity, that determines whether stress helps or hurts!

Beneficial stress comes in the form of an acute, stimulating surge, like when your raft starts to overturn in some seriously churning rapids. The resulting single adrenaline (epinephrine) burst that comes and goes very quickly is a good thing because it gives you energy and gets you ready to mobilize for immediate action.

Physiologically, the adrenaline created by an abrupt blast of stress sends a flood of oxygen-rich red blood cells through your body, boosts your immune system, and signals your brain to start releasing painkilling endorphins.

stressed-womanBad stress, on the other hand, is intense and drags on and on. This constant grind causes your adrenal glands to leak a slow, steady stream of another stress hormone: cortisol. And unlike adrenaline, which tends to hit your system in a flash and then dissipate, cortisol often wears out its welcome by hanging around in your bloodstream, driving up blood pressure, suppressing your immune system, and making you more susceptible to a slew of stress-related ailments, including colds, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, and even heart disease and stroke.

So how do good stressors battle the bad ones? It all comes back to the positive power of adrenaline. In addition to all of its performance-enhancing effects, it triggers the release of dopamine and endorphins, two neurotransmitters that make you feel good – really, really good.

It also makes me feel good – really, really good, given the activities I have planned this weekend. But more of that later…

skydivingFor now, let’s return to our favorite stress hormone – epinephrine. If you’ve ever tried skydiving, bungee jumping or heli-skiing, you’ll probably remember literally flipping out during your first attempt. But once you landed safely you probably experienced a euphoric, fist-pumping high thanks to dopamine flooding your brain’s pleasure center, giving you. During the next jump, you may still have felt all the same physiological stress responses such as a pounding heart and sweaty palms but instead of being terrifying, it’s exhilarating, because your mind’s already anticipating the thrill of that dopamine reward.

And the more times you do it, the less anxiety you’re likely to feel and the more fun you’ll have. That’s because your brain’s tagging the experience as a positive one.

And the benefits persist.  Before long, your body can start to develop an almost Pavlovian response to stressful situations. If your nerves are tingling, your stomach is clenching, and you can barely breathe, then it’s tricked into thinking something really awesome is about to happen!

white-water-canoeing-18990699That’s what researchers at Texas A&M University found when they put a small sample of men and women through a series of purposely stressful outdoor adventure tasks. Some subjects – the fittest ones who were already comfortable with physical challenges fared better than others. The researchers discovered that those participants had a reduced stress response (including lower blood levels of cortisol) when facing demanding activities like whitewater canoeing or rock climbing. Essentially, they were more confident and less stressed out, even though the tasks were potentially hazardous. This may be because their past experience blazing through strenuous situations made them less likely to perceive new challenges as stressful or difficult. And according to the researchers, it’s possible to transfer that oh-so-cool-and-collected response to life’s other nerve-racking events.

Better still, you don’t have to scuba dive with great whites or BASE jump off the Empire State Building to reap the stress-busting perks of adrenaline. Whether you hit the bunny slope or the double-black-diamond mogul fields, as long as you’re taking a giant step outside your comfort zone, you’ll give your body that adrenaline kick and when you do it regularly and keep testing your edge, you’ll change your relationship with stress for the better.

So next time that little voice inside your head starts clamoring, no freaking way, just go for it and be prepared to reap the rewards.

dropcoaster

bull runWhich brings me back to my weekend. Keen to test the above theory for myself and readers of SRxA’s Word on Health, I will be spending tomorrow riding some of the longest, highest, fastest most insane rollercoasters in the country…and the following day I will be running with the bulls. If being pursued by twenty-four 1,000-pound bulls doesn’t set my adrenaline firing on all cylinders, then I guess nothing will.

I”ll let you know (hopefully) on Monday!

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Not so Chilling News for Runners

ice bath 2As a former marathon runner, I vividly remember having to endure ice-cold baths after heavy training sessions and competitive events in an attempt to reduce inflammation and speed up my recovery.  i also recall that this process was not only time consuming but also bone-chillingly painful.  While I enjoyed race running and even embraced the hours of pavement pounding leading up to competition, I loathed this recovery.  Each time as I sat shivering, I’d miserably moan to anybody who would listen that I’d be better off with a glass of wine, a nap in the sun, a hot bath and an early night!

So it was with mixed emotions I read about a new study that found ice baths aren’t all that effective.  And while I’m glad for the next generation of athletes, I can’t help but wish this has been published 20 years earlier.

The study, published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, showed no mitigation of post-exercise strength loss or decreased soreness in subjects who engaged in post-exercise cryotheraphy, or ice baths, compared to a control group.

It doesn’t help you feel better and it doesn’t help you perform better,” says lead researcher Naomi Crystal. “Ice baths are very popular as a treatment, but the research is really mixed as to whether they’re beneficial. They’re miserable. If it doesn’t work, you don’t want to waste your time.”

The researchers had 20 active college-age men run downhill at a grade of 10% for 40 minutes. Half the subjects then submitted to a 20-minute ice bath, standing in a tall recycling bin filled with thigh-high ice water cooled to a chilly five degrees Celsius (40 degrees F).

cryotherapy researchThey then measured the ice bath’s effect on soreness, strength, swelling and inflammation by conducting three post-exercise measures taken at intervals from one hour to three days:

  • the subjects’ perceived soreness while walking down stairs
  • quadriceps strength on a resistance machine
  • thigh circumference
  • concentration of plasma chemokine ligand 2 (CCL2), a marker for inflammation

The results showed no difference in strength or perceived soreness between the subjects who took ice baths and the control group. Thigh circumference did not change significantly for any of the subjects after the run.

Difference between the two groups’ CCL2 concentrations, while not statistically significant, showed a trend toward lower concentrations in the cryotherapy subjects, although this measure varied greatly between the subjects.

icebathThe lack of difference between the control and the cryotherapy group surprised the researchers. “I expected to see an improvement in soreness, an improvement in strength with the ice bath,” says Crystal.

Although the researchers conclude that their study does not support the use of cryotherapy for recovery from exercise, Crystal’s personal view is more moderate. “I’m not convinced that it doesn’t help at all,” she says. “Use them sparingly. Use them in tournament situations, use them with an athlete who has done something extraordinary. But for day-to-day athletes, I wouldn’t recommend them. They’re painful, and they’re time consuming.”

Amen Sister, amen!

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Potty Mouth?

potty-mouth-734In need of an extra incentive to brush your teeth this Monday morning?  Well, they don’t come much better than this. According to a new study published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe a common type of mouth bacteria may contribute to colorectal cancer.

Colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in both men and women in the US. The American Cancer Society estimates that almost 143,000 people will be diagnosed in 2013 and that more than 50,000 will die of the disease.

fusobacterium_ll_111017_wgThe bacteria  at issue –  Fusobacterium nucleatum is a key component of periodontal plaque and plays a role in periodontal disease.  But, according to the researchers from Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine, it can also attach to colon cells and trigger a sequence of changes that lead to colon cancer.  Although they noted that levels of F. nucleatum are much higher in people with gum disease, than in those without, it was not possible to prove a cause and effect relationship.

Nevertheless, the findings emphasize the importance of good oral hygiene.

colon-cancer-600The research team also found a way to prevent the bacteria from attaching to colon cells. “This discovery creates the potential for new diagnostic tools and therapies to treat and prevent colon cancer,” says lead investigator Yiping Han.

Until such time, SRxA’s Word on Health will be focused on flossing.

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The Sobering Buzz on School Buses

School_BusAs the summer draws to a close and the new school years approaches, now’s the time for parents to sit down with their kids and have “the talk”.

No, not that one!  We’re talking about school bus safety.  According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, an average of 19 kids die each year as a result of school bus related accidents.

To help reduce this terrible statistic, Susan Laurence, injury prevention coordinator, at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital believes such a talk will help ensure a safe, enjoyable start to the school year for everyone. According to Laurence, many injuries happen when children are boarding or exiting the bus. “A blind spot extends about ten feet in front of the bus, obstructing the driver’s view. Often times, children are not aware of this blind spot and might mistakenly believe that if they can see the bus, the bus driver can see them.”

Laurence offers the following suggestions to parents on how they can ensure their child is safe before, during and after their school bus ride.

school bus safetyWhile Waiting for the Bus 

  • arrive at the bus stop at least five minutes before the bus arrives
  • avoid horseplay while waiting for the bus
  • do not go into the street while waiting for the bus

During the Bus Ride

  • remove loose drawstrings or ties from the child’s jacket and sweatshirt because they can snag on bus handrails
  • when boarding or leaving the bus, children should always walk in a single file line and use the handrail to avoid falls.
  • while on the bus, the child needs to remain seated, forward facing at all times and keep the aisle clear of his feet and his backpack
  • do not shout while on the bus or distract the driver unnecessarily
  • keep head and arms inside the bus at all times

School Bus AccidentAfter the Bus Ride

  • wait for a signal from the bus driver before crossing the street
  • look left, right, left before stepping into the street to make sure there are no cars passing the bus
  • cross the street at least 10 feet (or 5 giant steps) in front of the bus
  • wait until the bus comes to a complete stop before exiting
  • exit from the front of the bus
  • ask the bus driver for help if anything is dropped while entering or exiting the bus
  • do not talk to strangers when walking to and from bus stop

Simple, sensible advice for all parents. Let’s make sure we keep the wheels on the bus this school year and prevent children from ending up under them.

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COPD & asthma linked to poor anaphylaxis outcomes

patient with maskResearchers have found that patients with chronic lung diseases, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), are significantly more likely to have poor outcomes when hospitalized for anaphylaxis and other allergic conditions compared with other patients.

Zuber Mulla, MSPH, PhD, Associate Professor and Director of Epidemiologic Research at the University of Texas School of Public Health and Estelle Simons, MD, FRCP from the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada identified 30,390 patients who were hospitalized in Texas for allergic conditions between 2004 and 2007. Of these, 2,410 had a primary or secondary diagnosis of anaphylaxis at discharge.

The 2,772 (9.1%) patients in the overall cohort who had asthma were 67% more likely to receive mechanical ventilation than patients without asthma, while the 1,818 (6.0%) patients with COPD were 35% more likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU), 41% more likely to experience a prolonged stay in hospital (over 3 days), and 98% more likely to receive mechanical ventilation than those without the condition.

Patient on ventilatorIn the sub-cohort of patients with anaphylaxis, patients with asthma (n=334; 13.9%) did not have an increased risk for mortality compared with other patients, but they were over two-times more likely to be mechanically ventilated than patients without asthma).

Meanwhile, COPD patients with anaphylaxis (n=149; 6.2%) were 86% more likely to experience a prolonged hospital stay and 61% more likely to receive mechanical ventilation than patients without COPD.

Other lung conditions associated with poor outcomes included pulmonary eosinophilia, which increased the odds for ICU admission in patients with allergic conditions, while chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and interstitial lung diseases were linked to an increased risk for hospital mortality.

In particular, in the sub-cohort of patients with anaphylaxis, interstitial lung disease was linked to an 8.71-fold increased odds for mortality and a 5.16-fold increased odds for mechanical ventilation.

Writing in BMJ Open, Mulla and Simons say that their “unique exploratory analysis of a large database offers new insight into the effects of chronic pulmonary disease on anaphylaxis, an area for which there has previously been a dearth of information.”

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Top Travel Tips To Ensure You Don’t Come Back With More Than You Left With

passport and airticketsPassport. Check.

Tickets. Check.

Health. Huh?

That’s Right! For those of you planning to get away this summer, SRxA’s Word on Health reminds you get your health planning in before leaving for the airport.  While an overseas trip may appear to be “just what the doctor ordered” , it can also pose various health hazards, depending on the type of travel, length of stay and destination.

Significant changes in altitude, humidity and temperature can lead to illness, and in many parts of the world – especially developing countries and tropical locations – the risk of infectious disease is high.

travel-vaccinations-600x400Not all countries are high-risk for travelers,” said Christopher Ohl MD, an infectious disease specialist at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C. “Europe is generally safe, and so are Canada, Japan, Australia. But anybody planning to go to Mexico or Central America, the Caribbean, South America, Africa, most anywhere in Asia, or the Pacific islands should definitely look into what health risks they’ll encounter and what they’ll need to do to minimize their chances of getting ill.”

So where should you look for this information?  The Internet, of course, has a multitude of resources, some better than others, but you still need to be aware that even reputable sites such as those of the U.S. State Department, federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization offer only general information about the world’s countries and often do not include specifics about particular locations or activities within those countries.

For someone going to South Africa, there’s a big difference between staying in a modern hotel in Cape Town for a week and going on a two-week budget trip to Kruger National Park!

travel healthBecause the details of an individual’s health, destination, activities, accommodations and mode of travel are important elements in determining health risk, a travel medicine specialist is probably the best person to consult

Travel clinics also stock the sort of vaccines and anti-malarial medications you’ll need and can advise on up-to-the-minute requirements.

In addition to administering shots and writing prescriptions, travel clinics also provide information on how to avoid insect-borne diseases, how to self-treat diarrhea and other common ailments, what to eat and drink and what to avoid eating and drinking and so on, all based on the person’s health status, where they’re going, what they’re going to be doing and how long they’re going to be there.

And because accidents, not diseases, are the most common cause of injury and death among travelers the clinic can also provide safety tips based on information from the State Department and authoritative foreign sources, such as whether there may be civil disturbances in a particular location, whether it’s advisable to travel at night or even “if it’s safe to rent a scooter.”

Travel-Vaccinations1But don’t leave it until the last minute. Travelers, regardless of their age or the type of trip they’re planning should visit a travel clinic at least four to six weeks before departure, to allow sufficient time to get prescriptions filled and for vaccines to take effect. Even if the destination doesn’t call for any special shots, he said, a trip abroad presents a good opportunity to see that “routine” vaccinations such as measles-mumps-rubella, diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus, chickenpox and flu, are up to date.

And in the unfortunate event that you return home with something other than a suntan and souvenirs, travel clinics can also provide post-travel medical care. A number of diseases common overseas don’t present symptoms right away, some can even take months to develop, and they might not be recognized by a general practitioner.

Stay safe this summer!SRxA-logo for web