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

Published: Friday, March 24, 2017 @ 2:14 PM

Water swirls in a flushing toilet.
Christof Koepsel/Getty Images
Water swirls in a flushing toilet.(Christof Koepsel/Getty Images)

If you take your smartphone to the restroom with you, you might want to rethink that habit. 

A 2011 study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found fecal matter on 1 out of every 6 smartphones. University of Arizona microbiologist Charles Gerba went even further with his research, which found that cellphones carry 10 times the bacteria of most toilet seats.

Part of the reason is that toilets get cleaned more frequently, Gerba said. People associate the bathroom with germs. Cellphones are often overlooked.

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Here are five common items that are often left out of the cleaning routine:

A man uses a remote control.(Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)

Electronic devices

Cellphones are not the only electronic devices named as the dirtiest items in the home. Remote controls for televisions, DVD players and streaming devices are also overlooked during most cleanings. 

Tablet devices like the iPad are also culprits, USA Today reported. If multiple people use the devices, it spreads the germs and the subsequent illness. 

To clean: Electronic device surfaces can be wiped clean with disinfectant. 

In this Jan. 31, 2011, photo, Gina Nikichiw-Spell feels cold water flowing out of the kitchen tap at Mayor Wright Housing in Honolulu.(AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

Kitchen sink

A home’s kitchen sink carries more bacteria than both the toilet and the garbage can, Gerba’s research found. 

“There’s more fecal bacteria in a sink than there is in a flushed toilet,” Gerba told “Today.” “That’s why dogs drink out of the toilet. They know better than to drink out of the kitchen sink,” he joked. 

Even worse is a kitchen sponge, which Gerba found carries up to 200,000 times more bacteria than a toilet. 

To clean: Gerba said kitchen sinks should be washed daily with hot, soapy water, particularly after contact with raw meat or poultry. Used sponges should be wet and popped into the microwave for a minute to sanitize them. 

Children's swings are empty at a New Zealand playground.(Michael Bradley/Getty Images)

Playground equipment

Those colorful playground sets that children love so much have proven to be magnets for bacteria. 

“I won’t let my grandchildren go into playgrounds, though some of them do have hand sanitizing stations these days,” Gerba told “Good Housekeeping.” “Playgrounds are essentially public toilets for birds.”

To clean: If you allow your children to play on public playgrounds, bring plenty of hand sanitizer, Gerba said. 

Reusable grocery bags are shown at a Whole Foods Market, which banned the use of disposable plastic grocery bags in its 270 stores in the U.S., Canada and UK in 2008.(David McNew/Getty Images)

Reusable shopping bags

Reusable shopping bags are a great way to help the environment, but they can harbor health threats, including E. coli bacteria, Gerba found. The levels of bacteria found were significant enough to cause serious illness, or even death. 

“Furthermore, consumers are alarmingly unaware of these risks and the critical need to sanitize their bags on a weekly basis,” Gerber said in a 2010 University of Arizona news release

To clean: Thoroughly wash all reusable bags, including with bleach if desired. 

Converse All Stars trainers worn by Keith Moon of The Who are displayed at Christies before auction on April 26, 2007, in London, England.(Stuart Wilson/Getty Images)

Shoes

Gerba found that it takes just two weeks for a brand new pair of shoes to collect as many as 421,000 of bacteria, according to a study of germs collected on footwear.

“The common occurrence (96 percent) of coliform and E. coli bacteria on the outside of the shoes indicates frequent contact with fecal material, which most likely originates from floors in public restrooms or contact with animal fecal matter outdoors,” Gerba said

To clean: Throwing machine washable shoes into the machine with detergent eliminates all fecal bacteria and reduces all bacteria by 90 percent or more, Gerba found.  

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Infertility 'breakthrough': Human eggs fully grown in lab for the first time

Published: Friday, February 09, 2018 @ 6:37 PM

Family Welcomes Quadruplets With No Fertility Treatment

A group of scientists are touting an infertility "breakthrough" after human eggs have been grown in a lab from their earliest stages to the point of potential fertilization for the first time.

»RELATED: New, affordable at-home fertility test gives women better data on eggs, fertility timeline 

Researchers from the United Kingdom and the United States conducted the research, recently publishing their results in the scientific journal Molecular Human Reproduction

Taking ovarian tissue from 10 women in their late 20s and 30s, the scientists activitated the eggs to develop from their earliest stage to maturity, using different cocktails of nutrients. In total, 48 eggs reached the second to the last stage of maturity and nine reached full maturity.

"It's very exciting to obtain proof of principle that it's possible to reach this stage in human tissue," Dr. Evelyn Telfer, one of the researchers, told the BBC, discussing the results.

However, Telfer cautioned that much more research needs to be conducted before the technique could be used by fertilization clinics. Widespread implementation of the procedure could still be years away.

"But that has to be tempered by the whole lot of work needed to improve the culture conditions and test the quality of the oocytes [eggs]," she said.

"Apart from any clinical applications, this is a big breakthrough in improving understanding of human egg development."

The process would make it much easier for women to undergo in vitro fertilization (IVF), if developed fully, The Telegraph reported. They would simply have a small tissue biopsy, instead of distressing rounds of hormone-triggered ovulation.

Experts also suggest the breakthrough could lead to new approaches to fertility preservation for women at risk of premature fertility loss, such as those undergoing radiotherapy or chemotherapy. Young girls who have not yet gone through puberty could even preserve and freeze their ovarian tissue for future implantation.

At the same time, some scientists caution that the approach could have drawbacks for those with cancer.

"The big worry, and the big risk, is can you put cancer cells back," Dr. Stuart Lavery, a consultant gynecologist at Hammersmith Hospital, who was not involved with the study, told The Guardian.

At the same time, Telfer pointed out that it could be the only option for young girls who hope to get pregnant later in life after beating cancer.

"[For young girls] that is the only option they have to preserve their fertility." she said.

This new method could also dramatically increase the viable number of eggs that could be harvested from an individual woman about to undergo chemo.

With current techniques, patients must "go through the quick cycle of IVF before their chemo, so it can sometimes delay things, and also you may only get 15 eggs or so; because IVF is so inefficient, only having 10 or 15 eggs is not going to guarantee them a baby," Lavery explained.

"With this [new] procedure, you could potentially get thousands or hundreds of eggs," he said.

In the past, scientists have only managed to achieve partial growth of the human egg cells in a lab. The new study is groundbreaking in that the same human eggs were brought from their very earliest stages of development to the point when they would be released from the ovaries, ready for fertilization.

However, even as scientists are hailing the breakthrough, they also recognize potential problems and drawbacks. 

The lab grown eggs reached maturity in just 22 days, while the process takes five months in the body. This makes it unclear whether they can readily combine with sperm to make a healthy embryo. Telfer thinks the quicker growth may simply be due to many inhibitory signals from the body being absent, but more research is needed to determine exactly.

"Significant further research is now needed to confirm that these eggs are healthy and functioning as they should do," Dr. Helen Picton, an expert in reproduction and early development from the University of Leeds, said.

Despite the remaining questions and need for further study, experts are hailing the results as "extraordinarily important."

"It has real potential for application," Kyle Orwig, a stem cell biologist at the Magee-Womens Research Institute at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, who was not involved with the study, told Science Magazine.

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Teacher contracts both flu strains, now on life support

Published: Saturday, February 10, 2018 @ 3:41 PM

The Reason the Flu Shot Didn’t Work Half the Time During Last Year’s Flu Season

A special education teacher in Texas is fighting for her life after contracting both flu strains.

Crystal Whitley, 35, was physically active and had no underlying physical conditions, friends told WFAA, when she contracted both strains of influenza two weeks ago. She then developed pneumonia in both lungs and a MRSA infection.

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While she is showing some signs of improvement, Whitley remains on life support at Baylor Scott & White, WFAA reported.

Whitley received a flu shot after giving birth in October, friends told WFAA.

Doctors are cautiously optimistic about Whitley's chances for recovery, but told family that she could remain in the hospital for months, WFAA reported.

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Obesity surgery safer than traditional treatments, study suggests

Published: Monday, January 22, 2018 @ 1:05 PM

Anti-Obesity Drug May Allow You To Lose Weight Without Changing Food Intake

Having surgery to treat obesity may seem like a drastic option, but a new study suggests it may actually be a safer route than more traditional options.

Researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and the Clalit Research Institute in Israel, recently published their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

»RELATED: New anti-obesity drug could help you get rid of fat without dieting

The analyzed data, which traced patients history for 10 years, revealed that middle-aged men and women who had bariatric surgery have a death rate 50 percent lower than those who had traditional obesity treatments (such as dietary changes, behavioral adjustments and exercise).

"We showed that a long-term effect of bariatric surgery is a longer life for obese patients," study co-author Dr. Philip Greenland, professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University said in a news release. "They had half the death rate, which is significant."

Among individuals who did not have surgery, the rate of death was 2.3 percent as opposed to 1.3 percent in those who had surgery. Researchers analyzed the medical data of 8,385 people who had the surgery (65 percent women and 35 percent men), compared to 25,155 who chose non-invasive treatments.

After the data was adjusted to take into account factors such as sex, age and related diseases, the researchers noted that individuals who did not have a bariatric procedure were twice as likely to be dead within the ten year period of the study.

» RELATED: Obesity linked to 11 types of cancer as overweight population grows, study says 

Additionally, bariatric surgery patients showed a greater reduction in body mass index (BMI), improved blood pressure and lower rates of new diabetes diagnosis. A higher percentage of those who had diabetes, and chose surgery, went into remission as well.

"Surgery sounds like a radical approach to managing obesity, and a lot of people reject it because it seems like a risky thing to do, but it's actually less risky to have the surgery," Greenland told The Guardian.

At the same time, the studies authors have cautioned that surgery may not be right for everyone. The new study also has limitations, as it was an analysis of patient data and not randomized. It's possible that those who chose to forego surgery were already sicker than their counterparts.

The risks of obesity surgery and its potential complications have long been highlighted by physicians as well.

Ray Shidrawi, a leading doctor in the United Kingdom, warned against the procedure in an interview with The Independent in 2015. Citing serious complications, Shidrawi said the surgery can "ruin people's quality of life and can affect you for the rest of your life – or at least for months and years afterwards."

"I've got patients who've not eaten solid food for four years. They have to live on soup. They can't go to a restaurant in case they vomit up their food because it gets stuck in their throat," he explained.

But another smaller recently published study also appears to corroborate the potentially greater health benefits of bariatric surgery.

Looking at 113 patients, who had been treated for obesity through traditional methods and/or surgery, the research showed those who underwent a bariatric procedure lost more weight after one year. A higher percentage of those who underwent surgery had also achieved their goals for cholesterol, systolic blood pressure and a benchmark for glucose.

"Bariatric surgery is an increasingly frequent treatment for severe obesity," Dr. Laura Rasmussen-Torvik, an assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern, who was a co-author of the first-mentioned study, said, according to Jerusalem Post.

"It's highly effective in promoting weight loss but is also invasive and can lead to short and long-term complications. For patients and doctors to make the best-informed decisions about what weight-loss strategies to pursue, they need to understand the true costs and benefits of the procedures."

Although Greenland believes bariatric surgery may be a lifesaver for many, he also cautions of taking the new studies findings as the all-encompassing answer on obesity.

"We don't think this [new study] alone is sufficient to conclude that obese patients should push for bariatric surgery, but this additional information certainly seems to provide additional support," he said.

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Want to get rid of mosquitoes? Just swat them, study says 

Published: Saturday, January 27, 2018 @ 3:29 PM
Updated: Saturday, January 27, 2018 @ 3:18 PM

7 Facts You Didn't Know About Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes can be really irritating, but there is one simple thing you can do to get rid of them. Just swat, a new report says. 

Researchers from the University of Washington recently conducted an experiment, published in Current Biology, to further explore what attracts the bugs to certain host species.

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To do so, they examined mosquitoes and their patterns. They found that the bugs can quickly learn and remember the smells of hosts as they store that information to develop preferences for particular agents.

However, they also pick up on movement, such as swatting. In fact, they can learn to associate an odor with an unpleasant gesture, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. 

They tested their theory by training the mosquitoes to pair a scent from a person or animal with a “mechanical shock,” which simulated swatting. The insects soon noticed the link between the two senses and flew in a different direction away from the hosts. 

» RELATED: Rain increases need to protect against mosquitoes that may carry Zika 

“Once mosquitoes learned odors in an aversive manner, those odors caused aversive responses on the same order as responses to DEET, which is one of the most effective mosquito repellents,” senior author Jeff Riffel said in a statement

The scientists also discovered that dopamine is essential to mosquito learning, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. During the second part of the study, they monitored the neurons in their brains. They found that without dopamine, “those neurons were less likely to fire,” leaving the mosquitoes with less ability to retain information. 

“By understanding how mosquitoes are making decisions on whom to bite, and how learning influences those behaviors, we can better understand the genes and neuronal bases of the behaviors,” said Riffell. “This could lead to more effective tools for mosquito control.” 

Researchers now want to further their investigations to determine how mosquitoes learn and remember sensations connected to their favored hosts. 

» RELATED: Google launches 10,000-person study to predict how and when people get sick 

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