Sunday, October 5, 2008

I'd rather kiss a toilet seat!

I can still remember this line from Home Alone 2.

Kate McCallister: Why don't you just sit up here for a while and think things over. When you're ready to apologize to Buzz and to the rest of the family, you can come down.

Kevin McCallister: I'm not apologizing to Buzz. I'd rather kiss a toilet seat!

I had heard in a radio perhaps 2 years ago that the toilet seat is much cleaner than my desk. I took time to search about this and found one from University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County. Based on the article, according to a 2001 survey by the University of Arizona Microbiologist Dr. Charles Gerba (funded by Clorox), an office desk may contain 400 times more germs than an office toilet seat, the telephone and desktop had the most germs followed by the keyboard and computer mouse. The number of germs per square inch on these office stuffs were:
  • Phone : 25, 127
  • Desktop: 20, 961
  • Computer Keyboard: 3, 295
  • Computer Mouse: 1, 676
  • Toilet Seat: 49
Image source

We all know that maintenance people seldom clean office desktops, phones, et al and that this chore is usually left to us. The crumbs on the desktop may even attract more bacteria. Too bad for me, I'm forced to eat at my desk. Should I rather eat on the toilet seat? Nah. The article says,


If you feel you MUST eat at your desk, clean the surface with a disinfecting wipe. Gerba's study found the number of illness-causing microorganisms could be reduced up to 99.9 percent on office surfaces when they were cleaned daily with a disinfecting wipe. Always read and follow usage directions and precautions on the label of cleaning products before each use.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

What to say to the bereaved

Image source

Or rather what to do to the bereaved..I don't know. I struggle on this. But I would prefer to go to funerals rather than attend graduation ceremonies (I did not attend my MS graduation), wedding ceremonies and birthday parties. I am not melancholy but I learn a lot in funerals and burials. The hardest thing, for me, when I go to one is what to say to the bereaved. Or rather what not to say to the bereaved..Especially if I am close to the person. (Walsh-Burke) enumerated comfort attempts that do more harm than good.

(1) Saying "I know how you feel" or "I understand."
(2) Talking about your own losses (me-too-ism).
(3) Giving unsolicited advice.
(4) Using clich├ęs.
(5) Challenging the other person's perception of their situation or feelings.

I think in situations like this, the element of time has to be respected. Acceptance heals the pain but it takes time. My close friend whose mother died told me that the hardest part is after the burial when everybody else have left. That's when the real grief takes over. It is therefore important to stand by the person until the wounds are healed.

(1) Walsh-Burke, K., 2006, Grief and Loss: Theories and Skills for Helping Professionals, 1st Ed., p. 78, New York: Pearson Education

Some leukemia links

I am not a doctor. So I'll just leave it to the experts to discuss more on this. Here are the links to some reliable sites I visited:

(1) Leukemia-Adult Chronic, American Cancer Society

(2) Leukemia, National Cancer Institute

(3) Leukemia Center, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical school

(4) Health System, University of Virginia

Is it hard to tell if one got leukemia?

I have just one very simple question that I want to know regarding this disease: Are there symptoms so specific to leukemia? I was thinking, had they known, their son might have been with them longer..An article from the American Cancer Society confirmed my guess. None.


At least one-fifth of people with chronic leukemia have no symptoms at the time their cancer is diagnosed. Their cancer is diagnosed by blood tests performed during an evaluation some unrelated health problem or during a routine checkup. Even when symptoms are present, they are often vague and nonspecific. Most symptoms of chronic leukemia, such as weakness, fatigue, reduced exercise tolerance, weight loss, fever, bone pain and pain or a sense of "fullness" in the abdomen (especially after eating a small meal) can also occur with other cancers as well as many noncancerous conditions.

"...occur with...many noncancerous conditions." How true. Too bad. The symptoms are so ordinary one would mistake it for just an ordinary pain. Silent killer. Leukemia deserves that name.

Friday, October 3, 2008

A family friend's son died of leukemia

He was supposed to graduate this school year under the degree of Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering. But he died last month. He just complained of stomachache. The day he was brought to the hospital, the doctor told his parents he has to undergo operation. But when they checked his blood, they found out he has leukemia. When his parents asked for the cancer stage, the doctor replied there is no stage for his case. The cancer cells are spreading four times faster. He died after 9 days which makes it all the more painful to his family. Why so fast? How come they saw no signs when it was spreading in his body so quickly? What kind of cancer is this?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

And we say we can't do it..

I was searching for good music when I stumbled upon this one. I can't help but post this. 

I was reminded of this passage from Genesis 18:14.
"Is anything too hard for the Lord?"

Also, Philippians 4:13
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

Food poisoning caused by egg sandwich

I read a news a week ago about 112 young students in Manila being poisoned because of the egg sandwich. As of this time, most of them were already discharged from the hospital where they were confined. The news report goes


Manila, Philippines - The Health department last Tuesday said that egg sandwich could be the likely cause of the illnesses which downed 112 pupils in Manila's Tondo district last week.

A GMA News report qouted DOH National Epidemiology Center head Erik Tayag as saying that the sandwichs consumed by students from Corazon de Jesus Elementary School could have been contaminated with the Salmonella bacteria usually found in eggs.

Salmonella (Image Source)

 Yep. I remembered reading that salmonella bacteria found in eggs. According to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, University of Arizona


A potential food safety concern with eggs is Salmonella Bacteria. Eggs are perishable and must be handled with care. One can not tell if an egg contains salmonella bacteria just by looking at it because it has been found inside even clean, unbroken eggs. Avoid eating  undercooked eggs or food dishes containing raw eggs and remember thorough cooking kills Salmonella bacteria.

Although the risk of getting sick from salmonella is relatively small, the infection can be very dangerous, especially for the very young, the lederly and those weakened by illness. Do not leave eggs and foods that contain eggs at room temperature for more than two hours, because rapid bacterial growth can occur.

Here's that report. It's not only in this article that I read about storing raw eggs in the door of the refrigerator as being a bad idea. Eggs must be stored in the carton in the section of the refrigerator where the temperature is coolest to prevent bacterial growth.

Could it be that cyanuric acid was added to milk?

I also looked 'melamine' up in Wikipedia and went to its Toxicity section.


Melamine by itself is non-toxic in low doses, but when combined with cyanuric acid it can cause fatal kidney stones due to the formation of an insoluble melamine cyanurate.

I think I had come across that 'cyanuric' thing earlier. I went back to the articles I had read. Ah, yes. It's in the report from the University of Maine Food Science and Human Nutrition Department


He (Brian Perkin) noted that the toxicity may be related to the addition of cyanuric acid or by the addition of a melamine cyanuric acid complex, such as fire retardant.

According to (A.A. Babayan, A.V.Aleksandryan, "Toxicological characteristics of melamine cyanurate, melamine and cyanuric acid", Zhurnal Eksperimental'noi i Klinicheskoi Meditsiny, Vol.25, 345-9 (1985). Original article in Russian.), melamine cyanurate is considered to be more toxic than either melamine or cyanuric acid alone.

Could it be that melamine is wrongfully accused?

I did a further reading to do justice to this case in my mind. I also read a United Nations Environment Programme report that shows the low toxicity nature of melamine in foods. I am not a chemist and I will not pretend and interpret the data there. However, the Conclusions and Recommendations says


The toxicity of the chemical to aquatic organisms is low. PEC/PNEC ratios are below 1 when based on realistic worst case conditions and on monitored concentrations. Therefore, melamine is currently considered of low potential risk and low priority for further work.

The toxicity of melamine is low. Repeated exposure resulted in urinary bladder stones and other lesions of the urinary tract. Bladder tumours occured only in male rats after prolonged irritation of the epithelium by the bladder stones. Melamine is not genotoxic. The exposure of workers and consumers is low. Therefore, melamine is currently considered of low potential risk and low priority for further work.

I went to section 4.2.2 of that report that dealt with repeated dose toxicity and it goes,


Six studies with rats, oral administration of melamine with the feed and dosing periods of 14 days to 3 months are available. Additional studies with mice and also rather old studies with intraperitoneal administration, and rabbits and dogs were also reported. Summarised findings of the different studies are: Depression of body weight gain and elevated water intake were observed at higher doses of   ca. 500 The target organ system is the urinary tract. Melamine has a diuretic effect, it produces urinary bladder stones (urolithiasis), hyperplastic epithelial changes of the urinary bladder and calcerous deposits in the proximal kidney tubules. In mice ulceration as well as hyperplasias of the bladder occurred. Changes in the urinary bladder were noted in the studies depending on the dose and the species used. A GLP 28 days study in rats ( 19 ) to evaluate urolithiasis indicated a dose dependent incidence of urinary bladder calculi and hyperplasia.The rat and especially the male rat is more susceptible than the mouse.

If this is the case, does it mean that the guilty companies could have added such a large amount of melamine in our milk that it has become toxic?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Why put melamine in milk

How did melamine find its way in infants' milk? This story of sick Chinese infants isn't the first fatal health issue in China. If you can remember about a year ago, United States had a pet food scare when it was found out that dogs and cats' food contained melamine. It was told that this chemical is to be blamed for the death of some and sickness of thousands of pets. The FDA has identified some of the ingredients were made in China (Source).

According to New York Times Beijing, melamine was added to foods to make them appear higher in protein and have more nutritional value. 


Producers trying to cut costs often dilute milk with water, which lowers the nutrition level. But the addition of melamine, which is high in nitrogen, helps the milk appear to meet nutrition standards by artificially raising its protein count.


“In the late 1970's, Italian researches completed a study that showed that 70 percent of fish and meat meal contained melamine,” Perkins explained. “By 1988 these researchers showed the number of melamine-positive fish and meat meals was reduced to about 5 percent. This indicates that melamine may have been in our animal feeds for some time, but hopefully not in food for human consumption.”

I am quite confused. If melamine in food is nothing new, then, relatively, it might not be toxic or else, these fatalities could have occured during the last three decades that the tainting is being done. There are a lot of newspapers that identified (directly or indirectly) melamine to be the culprit in these deaths and illness but I have never read any report that actually identified the actual concentration of melamine in any these food products. 

Image from University of Guelph
The electron microscope image above shows crystals of the type found in the urinary tracts of cats affected by pet food contaminants. The report I read in an article from Cornell University, there was no direct link between melamine and what happened to the pets.


Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine Dean Donald Smith joined a panel of experts at a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) March 30 press conference in Washington, D.C., to announce that both Cornell and the FDA had independently identified a contaminant called melamine in samples of recalled pet food and in suspect wheat gluten used in its manufacture. Melamine is a chemical used in plastics.

During the press conference, which was shown on CNN, Smith displayed photographs of the urinary tract crystals from affected animals that have been seen by clinicians and pathologists in many parts of the country, and he also showed a microscopic image of an affected kidney. However, Smith emphasized, Cornell researchers have not been able to match the known toxic effects of melamine with all of the clinical and pathologic signs observed in affected cats and dogs. He specifically referred to signs of acute damage to the tubules and the characteristic pattern of cellular inflammation that have been seen in affected kidneys.