Tag Archives: University of Arizona

The 7 Germiest Public Places

It is possible for a person to touch about 30 things in one minute from daily and normal activities.

This heightens the chance of contracting and spreading germs to and from all these objects if in a public setting. But there are ways to avoid being infected by knowing the more obscure places germs hide other than door knobs, light switches, and bathroom surfaces. Here are 3 out of 7 listed by ABC News:

Restaurant menus…..
Studies from the Journal of Medical Virology reports germs like the cold and flu viruses can survive for up to 18 hours on a hard surface. When dining in a public place, be conscious to not let the menu touch your flatware and wash your hands after you return it.

Lemon wedges
The Journal of Environmental Health discovered 70 percent of restaurants had contaminated bar fruit with microorganisms like E. coli, fecal bacteria, and other disease causing microbes. By opting out of the garnish for your beverage is a good way to prevent ingestion.

Condiment dispenser
Many people do not wash their hands before eating and they can spread their germs to bottles at the condiment stand. When grabbing for the ketchup, a paper napkin is not sufficient due to the abilities for microorganisms being able to pass through.

Restroom door handles
Don’t think you can escape the restroom without touching the door handle? Palm a spare paper towel after you wash up and use it to grasp the handle. Yes, other patrons may think you’re a germ-phobe–but you’ll never see them again, and you’re the one who won’t get sick.

Soap dispensers
About 25% of public restroom dispensers are contaminated with fecal bacteria. Soap that harbors bacteria may seem ironic, but that’s exactly what a recent study found. “Most of these containers are never cleaned, so bacteria grow as the soap scum builds up,” says Charles Gerba, PhD. “And the bottoms are touched by dirty hands, so there’s a continuous culture feeding millions of bacteria.” Be sure to scrub hands thoroughly with plenty of hot water for 15 to 20 seconds–and if you happen to have an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, use that, too.

Grocery carts
The handles of almost two-thirds of the shopping carts tested in a 2007 study at the University of Arizona were contaminated with fecal bacteria. In fact, the bacterial counts of the carts exceeded those of the average public restroom. Swab the handle with a disinfectant wipe before grabbing hold (stores are starting to provide them, so look around for a dispenser). And while you’re wheeling around the supermarket, skip the free food samples, which are nothing more than communal hand-to-germ-to-mouth zones.

Airplane bathrooms
When Gerba tested for microbes in the bathrooms of commercial jets, he found surfaces from faucets to doorknobs to be contaminated with E. coli. It’s not surprising, then, that you’re 100 times more likely to catch a cold when you’re airborne, according to a recent study in the Journal of Environmental Health Research. To protect yourself, try taking green tea supplements. In a 2007 study from the University of Florida, people who took a 450-milligram green tea supplement twice a day for 3 months had one-third fewer days of cold symptoms. The supplement brand used in the study was Immune Guard ($30 for 60 pills; immune-guard.us).

Doctor’s office
A doctor’s office is not the place to be if you’re trying to avoid germs. These tips can help limit your exposure.
1. Take your own books and magazines (and kid’s toys, if you have your children or grandchildren with you).

2. Also pack your own tissues and hand sanitizers, which should be at least 60% alcohol content.

3. In the waiting room, leave at least two chairs between you and the other patients to reduce your chances of picking up their bugs. Germ droplets from coughing and sneezing can travel about 3 feet before falling to the floor.

Source: ABCNews February 20, 2011

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Talk Deeply & Be Happy

Would you be happier if you spent more time discussing the state of the world and the meaning of life — and less time talking about the weather?

...CLICK & SEE

Deep conversations made people happier than small talk, one study found.
It may sound counterintuitive, but people who spend more of their day having deep discussions and less time engaging in small talk seem to be happier, said Matthias Mehl, a psychologist at the University of Arizona who published a study on the subject.

“We found this so interesting, because it could have gone the other way — it could have been, ‘Don’t worry, be happy’ — as long as you surf on the shallow level of life you’re happy, and if you go into the existential depths you’ll be unhappy,” Dr. Mehl said.

But, he proposed, substantive conversation seemed to hold the key to happiness for two main reasons: both because human beings are driven to find and create meaning in their lives, and because we are social animals who want and need to connect with other people.

“By engaging in meaningful conversations, we manage to impose meaning on an otherwise pretty chaotic world,” Dr. Mehl said. “And interpersonally, as you find this meaning, you bond with your interactive partner, and we know that interpersonal connection and integration is a core fundamental foundation of happiness.”

Dr. Mehl’s study was small and doesn’t prove a cause-and-effect relationship between the kind of conversations one has and one’s happiness. But that’s the planned next step, when he will ask people to increase the number of substantive conversations they have each day and cut back on small talk, and vice versa.

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, involved 79 college students — 32 men and 47 women — who agreed to wear an electronically activated recorder with a microphone on their lapel that recorded 30-second snippets of conversation every 12.5 minutes for four days, creating what Dr. Mehl called “an acoustic diary of their day.”

Researchers then went through the tapes and classified the conversation snippets as either small talk about the weather or having watched a TV show, and more substantive talk about current affairs, philosophy, the difference between Baptists and Catholics or the role of education. A conversation about a TV show wasn’t always considered small talk; it could be categorized as substantive if the speakers analyzed the characters and their motivations, for example.

Many conversations were more practical and did not fit in either category, including questions about homework or who was taking out the trash, for example, Dr. Mehl said. Over all, about a third of all conversation was ranked as substantive, and about a fifth consisted of small talk.

But the happiest person in the study, based on self-reports about satisfaction with life and other happiness measures as well as reports from people who knew the subject, had twice as many substantive conversations, and only one-third of the amount of small talk as the unhappiest, Dr. Mehl said. Almost every other conversation the happiest person had — 45.9 percent of the day’s conversations — were substantive, while only 21.8 percent of the unhappiest person’s conversations were substantive.

Small talk made up only 10 percent of the happiest person’s conversations, while it made up almost three times as much –- or 28.3 percent –- of the unhappiest person’s conversations.

Next, Dr. Mehl wants to see if people can actually make themselves happier by having more substantive conversations.

“It’s not that easy, like taking a pill once a day,” Dr. Mehl said. “But this has always intrigued me. Can we make people happier, by asking them, for the next five days, to have one extra substantive conversation every day?”

Source: The New York Times. (Health, March 17,2010)

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Nod Off to Take Off

Your brain will function better after a good siesta, say researchers.

If you are a teacher and catch students napping in your class, fret not. The youngsters may not learn what you teach, but will certainly grasp the next lecture very well. This was the conclusion of some sleep researchers, unveiled at a recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Diego. Napping during the day not only consolidates memory but also improves the brain. The activity is necessary not just for babies; it’s important for adults and old people too, say researchers.

Matthew Walker of the University of California in Berkeley investigated the effect of long afternoon naps on students’ learning ability. His team found that the more you remain awake during the day, the more the brain loses its ability to learn.

At the University of Arizona, professor of psychology Lynn Nadel and his team investigated the effect of napping on babies, and came to the same conclusion — babies learn to abstract better when they nap.

At the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Marcos Frank found something more fundamental — the brain reorganises itself during sleep, and this reorganisation is essential to learning.

Together, neuroscientists are learning new facets of this seemingly passive activity. The brain does not switch off during sleep. In fact, it remains active, in a different way from when you are awake.

“Sleep is a far more complex activity than we thought,” says Walker. What his research shows now is that the brain has a limited short-term memory capacity, and it needs sleep to free up this space frequently by sending some facts to long-term memory. And it can perform this activity only during sleep. This much is now clear, but things get a bit murky after that.

Walker experimented with 40 volunteers, half of whom took a 90-minute nap in the afternoon. When the two teams learned things at noon and at 6pm, the team that did not nap performed much worse the second time.

“We chose a 90-minute nap to provide for a full sleep cycle,” says Walker. This cycle includes stages of rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep. REM is a dream state of sleep, and was long thought to be the most important phase of sleep. Non-REM sleep is in three stages — 1, 2 and deep sleep. Memory consolidation occurs during stage 2 non-REM sleep, which during the night constitutes 50 per cent of our sleep cycle.

You enter stage 2 non-REM sleep within 15 minutes of falling asleep, and the brain remains in this state for another 40-50 minutes. So for a nap to really enhance learning, it needs to last an hour.

“We do not know yet whether shorter naps are enough,” says Walker. The scientist also hints at another fascinating aspect of sleep — many older people are known to sleep less, and this could be one reason why they have poorer memories. We would know this in the future, when scientists investigate the mechanisms behind sleep and learning.

At the University of Arizona, Nadel and his team tried to investigate the effect of naps on 15-month-old babies. They created an artificial language, with nonsense sounds but having a close relationship structurally — like subject-verb agreement — with English. Like in the Berkeley experiment, babies in this exercise learned before and after naps. Those who napped were able to translate their previous learning to understand what they learned after the naps. In other words, they were able to generalise their knowledge of sentence structure to understand new phrases better.

What they found was slightly different from the Berkeley team’s finding but was equally important. If babies nap within a specific period after learning a new task, they learned to abstract better.

This kind of learning, the ability to detect patterns in a piece of information, is vital to learning many things in later life. Napping is effective only if it happens within four hours of learning. Babies thus need to nap to understand what they learn during the day.

While these are significant findings, Marcos Frank found something fundamental — the young brain grows more connections during sleep. Frank’s earlier research had indicated that the brain was fundamentally different during sleep from during wakefulness.

This difference is in aspects: electrochemical activity, proteins synthesised and biochemical activity. In early development, during the first five years of one’s life, this reorganisation during sleep becomes critical to its capabilities in later life. “We have some evidence that what happens during early years cannot be acquired in later life,” says Frank.

What this means is clear enough. Babies who are deprived of sleep can develop brains that are deficient. While this may not happen for healthy babies, many who suffer from sleep apnea — a disease where you wake up periodically — can have poorly-developed brains by adulthood.

However, while the research shows how important sleep is for our brains, we still do not know everything about this vital daily exercise. It still remains a puzzle, and hopefully the next few years will throw more light on it.

Source: The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)

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The Origins of Swine Flu Revealed

 A new research has revealed the origins of swine flu after scientists discovered that the transmission of the H1N1 influenza A virus to humans occurred several months before recognition of the existing outbreak.

India has confirmed a total of 23 cases of swine flu in the country, with the World Health Organisation declaring the outbreak as a pandemic.

In the new research, an international team, led by Oxford University, used evolutionary analysis to estimate the timescale of the origins as well as the early development
of the swine flu pandemic.

According to the scientists, the virus was actually derived from several viruses circulating in swine, and that the initial transmission to humans occurred several months before recognition of the outbreak.

Lead scientist Dr Oliver Pybus said, “Using computational methods, developed over the last ten years at Oxford, we were able to reconstruct the origins and timescale of this new pandemic.”

“Our results show this strain has been circulating among pigs, possibly among multiple continents, for many years prior to its transmission to humans.”

The research highlights the need for systematic surveillance of influenza in swine, and provides evidence that new genetic elements in swine can result in the emergence of viruses with pandemic potential in humans.

The scientists concluded that “despite widespread influenza surveillance in humans, the lack of systematic swine surveillance allowed for undetected persistence and evolution of this potentially pandemic strain for many years.”

The team included scientists from Oxford University, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Hong Kong and the University of Arizona. Their findings are published in the latest edition of the ‘Nature’ journal.

Source: The Times Of India

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Cold Virus Decoded, Cure Now Possible

Curing the common cold, one of medicine’s most elusive goals, may now be in the realm of the possible. Researchers said on Thursday that they had decoded the genomes of the 99 strains of common cold virus and developed a catalog of its vulnerabilities
“We are now quite certain that we see the Achilles’ heel, and that a very effective treatment for the common cold is at hand,” said Stephen Liggett, an asthma expert at the University of Maryland and co-author of the finding.
Besides alleviating the achy, sniffly misery familiar to everyone, a true cold-fighting drug could be a godsend for the 20 million people who suffer from asthma and the millions of others with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The common cold virus, a rhinovirus, is thought to set off half of all asthma attacks.

Even so, it might be difficult to kindle the interest of pharmaceutical companies. While the new findings are “an interesting piece of science”, said Glenn Tillotson, an expert on antiviral drugs at Viropharma in Exton, Pennsylvania, he noted that the typical cost of developing a new drug was now $700 million, “with interminable fights with financiers and regulators”. Because colds are mostly a minor nuisance, drug developers say, people would not be likely to pay for expensive drugs. And it would be hard to get the Food and Drug Administration to approve a drug with any serious downside for so mild a disease.
Perhaps the biggest reason the common cold has long defied treatment is that the rhinovirus has so many strains and presents a moving target for any drug or vaccine. This scientific link in this chain of problems may now have been broken by a research team headed by Liggett and Ann Palmenberg, a cold virologist at the University of Wisconsin.

Fernando Martinez, an asthma expert at the University of Arizona, said the new rhinovirus family tree should make it possible for the first time to identify which particular branch of the tree held the viruses most provocative to asthma patients. The rhinovirus has a genome of about 7,000 chemical units, which encode the information to make the 10 proteins that do everything the virus needs to infect cells and make more viruses. By comparing the 99 genomes with one another, the researchers were able to arrange them in a family tree based on similarities in their genomes.

That family tree shows that some regions of the rhinovirus genome are changing all the time but that others never change. The fact that the unchanging regions are so conserved over the course of evolutionary time means that they perform vital roles and that the virus cannot let them change without perishing. They are therefore ideal targets for drugs because, in principle, any of the 99 strains would succumb to the same drug.

Sources: The Times Of India

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