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Your kitchen sponge is filthier than your toilet, study says

Published: Tuesday, August 08, 2017 @ 1:22 AM

Your Kitchen Sponge Is Filthier Than Your Toilet, Study Says

The toilet bowl holds quite a bit of muck, but according to a recent report, there’s another item in your home that’s even filthier: your kitchen sponge.

Researchers in Germany conducted a study to determine the different types of bacteria found on a sponge. To do so, they sequenced the DNA of 28 samples of bacteria collected from 14 sponges. 

 >> Dirtier than the toilet? These 5 items are among the filthiest in your home

They found 118 genera of bacteria. That’s more than what’s found on toilets. 

"Despite common misconception, it was demonstrated that kitchen environments host more microbes than toilets. This was mainly due to the contribution of kitchen sponges, which were proven to represent the biggest reservoirs of active bacteria in the whole house," the study said.

>> On AJC.com: Toothbrushes can be more germ-ridden than a toilet seat

However, the scientists noted that most of the genera of bacteria discovered was not harmful. The pathogens that were found were most concerning, because those can cause infections among humans. 

>> On AJC.com: How well are you cleaning the 10 filthiest places in your kitchen?

"Kitchen sponges are likely to collect, incubate and spread bacteria from and back onto kitchen surfaces, from where they might eventually find their way into the human body," the study said. “Direct contact of a sponge with food and/or the human hands might transfer bacteria in and onto the human body, where they might cause infections, depending on their pathogenic potential.”

Although many boil or microwave sponges to rid of toxins, analysts found that the latter method only kills 60 percent of bacteria. Plus, the bacteria could increase after cleaning, because the microbes re-colonize. 

>> Read more trending news

To minimize the spread of germs, researchers suggests that people replace their sponges at least once a week.

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What is selfitis? 5 things to know about the obsessive selfie disorder 

Published: Thursday, June 21, 2018 @ 10:12 AM

Do you or someone you know suffer from selfitis? Three selfies per day is considered borderline Individuals who suffer from the condition are typically attention seekers Researchers developed 20 statements to analyze individuals who may suffer from selfitis Proper treatments still need to be developed The condition might actually be deadly

This story has been updated.

The term "selfitis" may have started off as a hoax back in 2014, but now psychologists have warned it's a genuine mental health issue.

»RELATED: How your selfie could affect life insurance

Researchers form the Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom and Thiagarajar School of Management in India actually investigated the social media phenomenon, leading them to create a "Selfitis Behavior Scale." Now, individuals who believe they may suffer from the condition can be properly evaluated by psychological professionals.

"A few years ago, stories appeared in the media claiming that the condition of selfitis was to be classed as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association," Dr. Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioral Addiction in Nottingham Trent University's Psychology Department, told The Telegraph.

"Whilst the story was revealed to be a hoax, it didn't mean that the condition of selfitis didn't exist. We have now appeared to confirm its existence and developed the world's first Selfitis Behavior Scale to assess the condition," he explained.

If you're worried that you or someone you know may suffer from selfitis, or just want to know more about this condition, here are five things you should know:

1. Three selfies per day is considered borderline.

How many selfies do you actually take on a daily basis? 

If you take at least three every day, you have borderline traits of selfitis, according to the newly developed scale. The condition becomes more severe when you actually start posting those selfies online for others to see. 

A chronic case would be someone who takes selfies all the time and posts at least six on social media networks daily.

2. Besides taking a lot of selfies, what does selfitis entail?

Individuals who suffer from the condition are typically – and not surprisingly – attention seekers. They also generally lack self-confidence and aim to improve their social standing by posting images of themselves online.

These factors have, however, led some psychiatrists to question the need for coining a new mental condition to diagnose. 

"There is a tendency to try and label a whole range of complicated and complex human behaviors with a single word," Dr. Mark Salter, a spokesman for The Royal College of Psychiatrists said, according to Business Insider.

"But that is dangerous, because it can give something reality where it really has none."

3. How does the scale work?

The team of researchers developed 20 statements used to analyzed individuals who may suffer from selfitis. Individuals are asked to rate how much they agree with a specific sentiment, allowing psychiatrist to determine how severe the condition might be.

Some example statements are: "When I don't take selfies, I feel detached from my peer group" and "I feel more popular when I post my selfies on social media."

4. Proper treatments still need to be developed.

Dr. Janarthanan Balakrishnan, a researcher from Nottingham Trent's Department of Psychology who was also involved with the study, explained now that a scale has been developed, more research can be done to determine the best treatment.

"Typically, those with the condition suffer from a lack of self-confidence and are seeking to 'fit in' with those around them, and may display symptoms similar to other potentially addictive behaviors," Balakrishnan said.

"Now the existence of the condition appears to have been confirmed, it is hoped that further research will be carried out to understand more about how and why people develop this potentially obsessive behavior, and what can be done to help people who are the most affected."

Of course, one obvious treatment, as The Guardian pointed out, would be to "just put our phones down for a second and experience the real world." The average millennial might respond ‘or not...whatever.’

» RELATED: New app uses selfies to help screen for pancreatic cancer

5. The condition might actually be deadly.

Although a lot of readers may be rolling their eyes at this news, more than 30 people died in 2017 from taking selfies. 

Some would-be selfie takers have been hit by trains. Others have fallen from extreme heights or drowned, trying to get the perfect snap. At least one person was even trampled to death by an elephant. 

None of these individuals were actually diagnosed with the condition before they died. So, it's unclear whether they suffered from "selfitis.” One thing, however, appears certain: excessive selfies can potentially be hazardous to one’s physical and mental health.

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Here’s how to identify (and get rid of) venomous spiders in your home

Published: Wednesday, June 20, 2018 @ 12:38 PM
Updated: Wednesday, June 20, 2018 @ 12:38 PM

Here are some important tips from experts on dealing with venomous spiders and what to do if you think you’ve been bit Most spiders are actually harmless and only a few types have venom strong enough to harm you A black widow can be identified by the red coloration on the underside of its abdomen A brown widow has an orange hourglass shape on its brown body Brown recluses have a dark violin-shaped mark on its head Wear long sleeves and gloves when you're cleaning in the garage, clearing brush or pulling

Most people aren't too happy when they encounter a spider, and that's especially true if the creepy-crawly you come across happens to be venomous.

»RELATED: Brown recluse spiders: 4 things to know as the dangerous pests become more active

Although it's understandable to be anxious about venomous spiders, it’s important to know the difference between a harmless spider and a dangerous one.

Here are some important tips from experts on dealing with venomous spiders and what to do if you think you’ve been bit.

Identify types of venomous spiders 

(PeteMuller/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Even if you think you've been bitten by a spider, most are actually harmless, according to the Mayo Clinic

Only a few types have venom strong enough to harm you and fangs (yikes!) long enough to penetrate your skin.

Venomous spiders found in the Southeast include:

Black widow – identified by the pattern of red coloration on the underside of its abdomen.

Brown widow – identified by an orange hourglass shape on a brown body

Brown recluse – identified by its brown color and dark violin-shaped marking on its head.

(Identifications from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UGA Extension)

Wear gloves when you're working outside or in the garage

If you stick your bare hand into some brush, you may be bitten by a brown or black widow. Although they usually try to avoid people, they don't have a choice if you accidentally wrap your hand around one, according to UGA Extension. Be sure to wear long sleeves and gloves when you're cleaning in the garage, clearing brush or pulling a log off a woodpile.

Look out for your clothes and shoes

Black and brown widows can also hide in clothes and shoes that have been left outside, UGA Extension advised. The best solution is to not leave these items outside (or in your garage) if you can possibly avoid it, and, if not, make sure you shake them out and check them carefully before putting them on.

Use insect repellent

The Mayo Clinic recommends using an insect repellent containing DEET on your clothes and shoes.

The best spider web wound dressings are fresh and clean so their natural healing qualities are in full force. (Handout/TNS)(Tribune News Service)

Don't create a habitat your home

Don't store firewood against your house, since it can serve as a haven for spiders who can then find their way inside. The same is true for piles of rocks or lumber near your home.

Clean up spider webs

If you see a spider web inside your home, vacuum it up, put it in a sealed bag and dispose of it outside.

Make it harder for spiders to get inside your home

Make sure you have screens on your windows and doors that fit tightly. Seal any cracks where spiders could work their way into your home.

Recognize the signs of a bite

Many spider bites go unnoticed or cause only an itchy bump. However, if you have any of the following symptoms, you may have been bitten by a venomous spider and should seek medical attention, according to the Mayo Clinic:
  • Pain – starting around the bite mark and possibly spreading to the abdomen, back or chest
  • Abdominal cramping – can be severe
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Body aches
  • Skin that becomes dark blue or purple and develops into a deep open sore

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Not a hoax: There is a tick that causes red meat allergies 

Published: Thursday, June 14, 2018 @ 4:28 PM

What You Need to Know: Ticks

Burger lovers, rib grillers, Taco Tuesday fans−listen up. The Center for Disease Control's May 2018 report that diseases transmitted by fleas, mosquitoes and ticks have tripled in recent years was bad enough, but this is even worse. One type of tick bite causes an allergy to red meat.

»RELATED: 'Tick explosion' coming this summer, expert warns

The actual ailment is galactose-alpha, or alpha-gal. It's transmitted by the Lone Star Tick, or amblyomma americanum, which the CDC says is widely distributed in the Southeastern and Eastern United States.

The news gets worse. The CDC calls the Lone Star "a very aggressive tick that bites humans." The adult female has a white dot or "lone star" on her back, and she and the nymph stage of the tick are the ones that most frequently chomp on humans and transmit disease. 

And while Lone Star ticks have been cleared from any association with Lyme disease, according to an article published in the Journal of Medical Entomology earlier this year, the Lone Star tick has its own brand of destruction. It carries a sugar called alpha-gal that humans don't have. The same sugar is found in red meat, like beef, pork, venison, rabbit and some dairy products.

A bite from the tick can trigger a person's immune system to create antibodies to the sugar that, in turn, will make their body reject red meat, setting off a serious allergic reaction.

Besides being an allergy to mammalian meat like beef, pork and lamb, which is a heart-breaker for carnivore foodies, alpha-gal can trigger dangerous anaphylactic reactions.

According to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the allergy can cause hives and swelling, as well as broader symptoms of anaphylaxis, including vomiting, diarrhea, trouble breathing and a drop in blood pressure. 

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," Ronald Saff, an assistant clinical professor at Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider. In 2017, Saff said he was already seeing a couple of patients per week who had developed alpha-gal from Lone Star ticks.

Diagnosis is made more difficult because unlike, say, most seafood allergies, these red meat allergies and anaphylactic reactions caused by the Lone Star tick often seem to appear out of the blue, even occurring in the night many hours after the victim eats a burger or steak.

"They're sleeping, and they have no idea what they could be allergic to because the symptoms occurred so many hours after going to bed," Saff said.

The only simple aspect of identifying and avoiding the Lone Star tick is that the tactics are about the same as those for avoiding ticks in general. 

Here are six ways to avoid ticks, according to the CDC and outdoors experts:

  • Use an EPA-registered insect repellent that contains DEET, picaridin, IR3535, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone on exposed skin, always making sure to follow the manufacturer's directions. (And do not use insect repellent on babies who aren't 2 months old yet.)
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, avoid brushy areas and walk in the center of trails when you're out in the woods.
  • Treat outdoor gear, such as boots, pants, socks, and tents, with products that contain .5 percent permethrin or use permethrin-treated clothing and gear. The protection should last through at least a couple of washings.
  • When you come back indoors, conduct a full-body tick check using a handheld or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon return from tick-infested areas. Parents should check their children for ticks.
  • Use products that will control ticks and fleas on your pets, making sure you never apply topical dog flea medicine like Frontline to cats.
  • Take steps to control mosquitoes, ticks and fleas inside and outside your home, using screens on windows, for example, and turning on the air conditioning instead of opening windows when you can.
Just spraying closed shoes with permethrin can be effective, Dorothy Leland, director of communications for Lymedisease.orgtold the New York Times. "There are studies that show that just protecting your feet can do an amazing job against ticks because they tend to be low to the ground, so their entry point is that they often climb up on your shoes and keep going and get to your skin," she said.

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7 things to know about the human plague, symptoms and how to protect yourself

Published: Tuesday, June 27, 2017 @ 3:39 PM

What You Need To Know: The Plague

Two new cases of the human plague have been confirmed in New Mexico Tuesday, according to health officials.

» RELATED: Possible plague case in Georgia 

This year, New Mexico has seen three cases of the plague, the first of which was reported in early June.

>> Read more trending news 

All three cases required hospitalization, according to the New Mexico Department of Health.

Here are seven things to know about the plague:

What is it?

According to Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, plague is a disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis that affects humans and other mammals.

» RELATED: Stray cat's plague death prompts 'fever watch' 

What is the history of plague?

Historians and scientists have recorded three major plague pandemics, according to the CDC.

The first, called the Justinian Plague (after 6th century Byzantine emperor Justinian I), began in A.D. 541 in central Africa and spread to Egypt and the Mediterranean.

The “Great Plague” or “Black Death” originated in China in 1334 and eventually spread to Europe, where approximately 60 percent of the population died of the disease.

» RELATED: The 'Black Death': Are gerbils, not rats, to blame for plague? 

Lastly, the 1860s “Modern Plague,” which also began in China, spread to port cities around the world by rats on steamships, according to the CDC.

In 1894, French bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin discovered the causative bacterium, Yersinia pestis.

Ten million deaths resulted from the last pandemic, which eventually affected mammals in the Americas, Africa and Asia.

It was during this last pandemic that scientists identified infectious flea bites as the culprit in the spread of the disease.

More about the history of plague.

Where in the U.S. is human plague most common?

Human plague usually occurs after an outbreak in which several susceptible rodents die, infected fleas leave the dead rodents and seek blood from other hosts.

These outbreaks usually occur in southwestern states, particularly in Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico, according to the CDC.

» RELATED: Lyme disease risks could increase after mouse plague, experts warn 

According to the World Health Organization, an average of five to 15 cases occur annually in the U.S.

Since 1900, more than 80 percent of those cases have been in the bubonic form.

Worldwide, there are approximately 1,000-3,000 cases of naturally occurring plague reported every year.

More about plague in the U.S.

How do humans and other animals get plague?

Usually, humans get plague after a bite from a rodent flea carrying the bacterium.

Humans can also get plague after handling (touching or skinning) an animal (like squirrels, prairie dogs, rats or rabbits) infected with plague.

According to the CDC, inhaling droplets from the cough of an infected human or mammal (sick cats, in particular) can also lead to plague.

» RELATED: Rare tick-borne illness worries some medical professionals 

What are the types of plague and their symptoms?

Bubonic plague (most common)

  • Tender, warm and swollen nymph nodes in the groin, armpit or neck usually develop within a week after an infected flea bite.
  • Signs and symptoms include sudden fever and chills, headache, fatigue, muscle aches.
  • If bubonic plague is not treated, it can spread to other areas of body and lead to septicemic or pneumonic plague.

Septicemic plague

  • Occurs when bacteria multiply in the bloodstream.
  • Signs and symptoms include fever and chills; abdominal pain; diarrhea; vomiting; extreme fatigue and light-headedness; bleeding from mouth, nose, rectum, under skin; shock; gangrene (blackening, tissue death) in fingers, toes and nose.
  • Septicemic plague can quickly lead to organ failure.

Pneumonic plague (least common)

  • Pneumonic plague, which affects the lungs, is the most dangerous plague and is easily spread person-to-person through cough droplets.
  • Signs and symptoms (within a few hours after infection) include bloody cough, difficulty breathing, high fever, nausea, vomiting, headache, weakness.
  • If it is not treated quickly, pneumonic plague is almost always fatal.

» RELATED: What is Lyme disease and how to avoid it 

How is plague treated?

Immediately see a doctor if you develop symptoms of plague and have been in an area where the disease is known to occur.
Your doctor will likely give you strong antibiotics (streptomycin, gentamicin or others) to combat the disease.

If there are serious complications like organ failure or bleeding abnormalities, doctors will administer intravenous fluids, respiratory support and give patients oxygen.

How to protect yourself, your family and your pets against plague

You and your family

The CDC warns against picking up or touching dead animals and letting pets sleep in the bed with you.

Experts also recommend eliminating any nesting places for rodents such as sheds, garages or rock piles, brush, trash and excess firewood.

Other ways to protect yourself and your family include wearing gloves if handling dead or sick animals, using an insect repellent with DEET to prevent flea bites and reporting sick or dead animals to your local health department or to law enforcement officials.

» RELATED: Ticks the season: How to prevent, find and get rid of ticks this summer 

Pets

Flea medicine should be administered regular for both dogs and cats.

Keep your pet’s food in rodent-proof containers and don’t let them hunt or roam in rodent habitats.

If your pet becomes ill, see a veterinarian as soon as possible.

More about plague at CDC.gov.

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