Carol Ann’s Health and Safety Corner
by Carol Ann Rogers
The growing season is just about finished. As we clean up our gardens and assess the good, the bad and the ugly, I thought I would pass along my annual bits and pieces of information that piqued my interest as a gardener and outdoor enthusiast. New discoveries are constantly occurring and many of the issues I’m going to cover here are related to past articles in this series.
A NEW TWIST ON RABIES
I have mentioned rabies several times before, but interestingly enough, this past winter a patient in Maryland died from rabies he contracted from his transplanted kidney and not directly from an animal bite. Of course, this is highly unusual especially since it took a number of months for the virus to manifest itself. The donor died of encephalitis and was tested for many infectious diseases but not rabies. All of the people who received the donor’s organs were alerted and had to take the appropriate precautions to protect themselves against the virus. )ne of the mysteries surrounding this case was why all of the recipients didn’t contract the disease, as was true in a similar 2004 situation. Was it a different strain of rabies? Was the virus just not present in the other transplanted organs, or were these people not susceptible to the disease because of their genetic makeup? As a result of this case, donor programs will now conduct more thorough investigations into the donor’s activities (it was later found that this donor worked very closely with raccoons and was bitten several times without receiving treatment) and discuss testing for other infectious neurological diseases as well as rabies.
TOXOPLAMOSIS AND THE CAT’S MEOW
Again, toxoplasmosis is in the news — especially concerning feral cats. Yearly, in the U.S. alone, domestic and feral cats leave about 1.2 million metric tons (1 metric ton is equal to 2,200 pounds) of feces in the environment. T. gondii oocysts, the cause of the disease that is now infecting healthy individuals, is a long living parasite found in cat feces, which can taint sand boxes where children play and our gardens. It is estimated that backyards and communities where cats frequent may contain 400 oocysts per square foot. Even single oocysts can cause an infection. Be particularly careful to cover sand boxes, wear gloves when gardening and wash hands thoroughly. Feral cats are posing a problem in many communities including our own, and there are ongoing discussions on how to alleviate the situation. In addition, it has been found that 16 percent of people treated for rabies were exposed to the virus through cats.
“CALIFORNIA DREAMIN” – NOT SO MUCH
Continuing on with microorganisms — for those of you who travel out west and spend a lot of time outdoors — Valley Fever, a respiratory disease caused by the spores of the fungus Coccidioides, has become problematic. There has been a dramatic increase of cases throughout California and the Southwest. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to protect yourself from the fungus, which is present in the soil and its spores travel through the air. Especially in immuno-compromised people, flu-like symptoms may occur, and laboratory testing is the only definitive diagnostic tool. The reason for the increase in cases is not perfectly clear, however, population growth and weather change may play a role. In September, a symposium was held in California with federal and local officials and physicians to decide on a plan to combat the disease and to discuss plans about setting up clinical trials.
TICK-TOCK-IT’S TIME TO FIND A SOLUTION
Now for an update on ticks. On the bright side, a science experiment done by some students in a Massachusetts high school found that if blacklegged or deer ticks are exposed to only five minutes in the dryer, they will die. This finding caught the attention of the CDC, which usually recommends one hour in the dryer. There will be additional testing to verify the students’ findings. When you check your pet for ticks, there is a new product called Tick-SR, which is a wipe moistened with a safe solution that will cause the tick to fully detach making removal much safer and easier. The chemical accomplishes this by dissolving the “glue” that attaches the tick and with an astringent to decrease the blood supply to the site. It does not kill the tick, and check with your vet for advice on the product. The best thing that I have heard of concerning ticks, surprisingly enough, is that their saliva is being studied for its anticoagulant properties, which may help with the discovery of new clot preventing medications.
Now for the bad news. The bacterium called Borrelia miyamotoi, the spirochete similar to the one responsible for Lyme disease, has been known for some time, however, it has been brought to light because of a New Jersey case involving an older woman who was immuno-compromised and developed signs of dementia after becoming infected. It is surmised that the dementia was caused by meningitis, which was cured after a treatment with antibiotics. Dr. Peter Krause of Yale estimates that there may be 4,000 to 5,000 of these cases in the U.S. yearly. This new disease has not yet been named. Its treatment is similar to the one used for Lyme, however, unfortunately, a tick could transmit both pathogens in a single bite. Another problem that has resurfaced is the Powassan virus transmitted by Ixodes cookei, a tick, which prefers small mammals, especially woodchucks. This report particularly caught my eye since we have a mammoth woodchuck that travels through one of our gardens frequently and has a burrow in our yard. The virus spread by these ticks causes severe encephalitis, is transmitted in less than 15 minutes of attachment and is difficult to treat because antibiotics will not work. Finally, it appears that the government may start to take action on the tick invasion. In August, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) put forth a request for aid to control ticks after the virus appeared in his state. There have been some efforts to control the animal populations that ticks feed on, but it is generally felt that it is up to individuals to self-educate to protect themselves and their property from ticks. Another developing problem with the influx of ticks is the greater presence of coyotes resulting in the decline of the red fox population. Fox prey on mice reducing the carriers of ticks; however, coyotes hunt larger animals including the red fox who will not build a den where coyotes are prevalent.
One more annoying pest is making its presence known in about 26 of the eastern states. It is the Asian tiger mosquito named for the black-and-white stripes on its body. This aggressive insect bites all day long attacking people, dogs, cats, birds and other animals. Apparently, once it is on you, it won’t let go and it is capable of transmitting more than 20 diseases. Furthermore, its eggs are tough enough to survive a cold winter. Also, this year, Eastern Equine Encephalitis or Triple E surfaced in human-biting mosquitoes in unusual places like Western Massachusetts . There have been some deaths from the disease, and one campground in Connecticut had to be temporarily closed in August because of the problem. Mosquitoes love to linger in the roses, too, so when in the garden make sure you apply a good repellent.
LET’S KEEP OUR PETS SAFE DURING THE HOLIDAYS
On to more pleasant topics. If you own a pet you are aware that doing so has many health benefits such as weight management from walking and interactive play, to lessening anxiety and heart disease. With the cold weather approaching use common sense when outside with your pet. If you are cold, wet and uncomfortable, so is your four legged friend. Pay attention to holiday decorations. Keep the water in the Christmas tree stand covered since the pine resin is dangerous if ingested by your pet, and keep the tree stable so it can’t be knocked over. Be cautious with shiny ornaments and lights. Plants such as poinsettias are mildly toxic to pets and the milky sap may cause skin irritation, but mistletoe and holly are more dangerous causing severe gastrointestinal upset. Mistletoe, if consumed in large quantities, can be lethal. Lilies commonly found in florist bouquets are highly toxic to cats. True lilies — easter, tiger, Asiatic hybrid and daylilies — if ingested are deadly to cats, attacking the kidneys and pancreas. Calla and peace lilies are not true lilies, so if you’re animal does eat one of these plants make sure you identify the type to the ASPCA poison control center (1-888-426-4435) or your vet. Another hazard for pets is the sweet tasting ethylene glycol. Fortunately, the industry has agreed to add a bittering agent to all antifreeze and engine coolants sold to consumers in the U.S. making the liquids unpalatable.
TO SPRAY OR NOT TO SPRAY – THAT IS THE QUESTION
A few more tidbits for this year’s wrap up include the use of pesticides, especially organophosphates, and their effect on pregnant women. Chlorpyrifos, a common chemical used on many crops may be linked to some changes in a child’s developing brain. The EPA banned its residential use in 2001, but agricultural use is still allowed. The pesticide works by blocking an enzyme in pests and people for proper nerve functioning. The EPA is still reviewing the role of Chlorpyrifos in agriculture, but for the consumer make sure all produce is washed well. Locally, Connecticut conservation agencies are working with the legislature to pass a bill that will ban lawn pesticides in municipal parks and one that will allow town governments to enact more stringent regulations than the state does. Also, the restriction of methoprene and resmethrin in the coastal zone has been proposed.Killing too many flying insects, the only source of food for some specific bird species, would be eliminated. Resmethrin is also highly toxic to honey bees, fresh water and estuarine fish.
A WALK IN THE GARDEN
As a gardener, not only do you burn calories, reduce your BMI, work your muscles and keep your bones strong, but by planting colorful vegetables such as tomatoes, broccoli, beans and carrots you will automatically improve your diet! Also, 30 minutes of gardening reduces stress because of the physical activity, and a study has identified a link between a common soil bacterium (M. vaccae) and increased serotonin levels. This harmless bacteria may be inhaled while digging in the soil and the result may be less anxiety and better concentration. Another study revealed the practice of “earthing” (direct body contact with the ground) may decrease pain and improve heart health. According to Stephen Sinatra, MD, the earth’s negatively charged electrons which act like antioxidants are absorbed, balancing out positive free radicals that contribute to inflammation. Twenty to 40 minutes without shoes in the garden or in beach sand can be very beneficial according to Dr. Sinatra’s research. My note on this practice is to make sure you have no open wounds and wash well when you finish your “earthing” routine! Gardening inside is good, too. Flowers and greenery also reduce stress; they reduce airborne dust and add moisture to dry air along with filtering out pollutants.
OH, MY ACHING MUSCLES
Did you experience some muscle cramps while working in the garden this past year? The remedy is to eat some potassium rich foods such as bananas, dried fruits and melon, which help to break down carbohydrates and build muscle. Also, drink a good amount of water to flush out cramp-causing waste products from your muscles, and stay away from caffeine because it decreases circulation. Just a reminder about lifting a heavy object like a large flower pot that has to be stored for the winter. Bend your knees and keep it as close to your body as possible to avoid back muscle strain.
ODDS AND ENDS
Here are a few more notes of interest. Do you like your coffee? Bees do, too, and are apparently not worried about poor circulation. In laboratory studies, honeybees were three times more likely to remember a floral scent a day later if the nectar was laced with a miniscule amount of caffeine and twice as likely to remember the scent three days later than if there was no interaction with the stimulant. If you happen to run into some bees, however, stay still. If you get stung, scrape away the stinger quickly with a credit card, ice the area for 20 minutes and be alert for any acute reaction that requires medical attention or use of an Epi-pen.
I also found these little factoids interesting. Your dog’s nose is unique. Its print, just like our fingerprints, is unique to it alone and can be used for identification. On the subject of noses, a whiff of coconut could speed the body’s recovery from stress, and a spritz of an essential oil mixture such as lavender (five drops of oil to 2-ounces of water) can refresh and calm you and your environment especially in the evening.
Last year, I mentioned thunderstorms in relation to asthma attacks. Now it is suspected that migraine headaches can be triggered by the storms. According to USA Weekend, researchers have found that people were 30 percent more likely to experience a headache if lightning struck within 25 miles of their home. It is suspected that electromagnetic waves or an increase in ozone levels caused by the lightening could be the culprit.
Finally, during these long winter nights, before going to bed, stay away from blue light emanating from computers, televisions or other electronic devices. Blue light, in particular, can interfere with the production of melatonin and shift our individual circadian rhythms. To support the case for beneficial sleep, results from a recent animal study revealed that when sleeping, the animal’s brain cells contracted leaving more space for cerebral spinal fluid to more efficiently “wash” away waste material in the brain. On that note, get a good rest during the upcoming winter so you will be ready to start the new season, and as always, be safe.
Carol Ann Rogers (turtle-3[at]snet[dot]net), ‘Carol Ann’s Health and Safety Corner: A walk in the garden,’ November 2013. Connecticut Rose, Dave Long (longcottage[at]comcast[dot]net), ed. Connecticut Rose Society.
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