From the sniffles to a high fever, how concerned should you be about your symptoms? The Doctors tells you when to worry.
Are We at Risk for a Pandemic?
Modern medicine has disarmed mega viruses like small pox and polio, but new viruses may be emerging. Are we at risk for a dangerous pandemic? The Doctors separate fact from fiction.
“This is a scary phenomenon, and it’s even scarier because there is some truth to it,” E.R. physician Dr. Travis Stork says. “During the initial infective stage, you may just have a cough and not feel so good, but you can still be going around infecting other people.”
Several years ago, the world was on high alert with the emergence of the bird flu. Recently, the United Nations announced that a mutant strain of the virus was detected in China and Vietnam. Infectious disease specialist Dr. Brad Spellberg breaks down the actual dangers of this new outbreak.
“The bird flu is typically not transmissible from person to person,” Dr. Spellberg says. "The concern is it could recombine with another virus that can infect people."
The bird flu is spread by wild birds, and while it’s been found in Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, there is no evidence that people in the United States are currently at risk for contracting the bird flu.
“If you’ve traveled overseas and you get any sort of illness, be sure to tell your doctor about it,” pediatrician Dr. Jim Sears says.
Toxic Shock Syndrome
Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) made headlines in 1980 when 38 women died as a result of using tampons. TSS is a condition in which bacteria enters the blood stream and causes organs to shut down. Tampons can become a breeding ground for bacteria if worn for too long, especially those made with synthetic materials. Tampon manufacturers removed three synthetic materials from the product that were believed to harbor the deadly toxins. However, TSS continues to occur through the use of tampons, and its flu-like symptoms make it difficult to pinpoint.
Lisa, whose daughter Amy died last year at the age of 20 from TSS, says Amy exhibited fever, vomiting and diarrhea, leading her to believe it was the flu.
“It was just flu symptoms. It just seemed normal,” Lisa says. “When she started getting dehydrated, we went to the hospital.”
Last year, 17-year-old Brittany nearly died from TSS, and says she also assumed her symptoms signaled the common, seasonal virus.
“I just thought I had the flu, fever, throwing up,” she says. Then, her symptoms worsened rapidly. “I went blind at one point and couldn’t feel my hands and feet.”
While in the hospital, doctors were forced to cut circulation to Brittany's extremities, to increase blood flow to her vital organs. As a result, Brittany contracted gangrene and had to have the tips of her toes amputated.
“So many women wonder about TSS and tampons,” OB/GYN Dr. Lisa Masterson says. “Anytime you have a retained object in your body, it can get into your blood and cause a syndrome. Your body essentially goes into shock.”
Director of clinical microbiology and immunology Dr. Philip Tierno, Jr. has spent the last 31 years researching TSS, and explains why women are still affected by it.
“Both [Amy and Brittany] used conventional tampons made with viscose rayon,” Dr. Tierno says. “This material provides the perfect environment for the production of toxins.”
Dr. Tierno says that, while contents in tampons have changed since the 80s, most tampons are still made with a rayon-cotton blend. According to his research, 100-percent cotton tampons have not caused TSS and can be found at health food stores.
Dr. Lisa says that although TSS is a serious condition, it is still extremely rare. As long as they are used correctly and changed every four to eight hours, depending on absorbency, the majority of tampons are safe.
Bobbi says that for the last two years, she’s experienced several Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections and is constantly worrying when the next infection will present itself. Will she ever be staph free?
MRSA, is a staph infection that affects people of all ages. The two known types of MRSA are healthcare-associated (HA-MRSA) and community-associated (CA-MRSA). HA-MRSA is found in healthcare facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes, while CA-MRSA is found in public areas such as locker rooms and gyms, homes and schools. People who have contracted MRSA typically complain of what looks like a spider bite but is actually a pus-filled boil.
“Twenty to 30 percent of us could be carrying around MRSA on our skin right now, but some of us don’t get infections from it," Dr. Travis says.
Typically, staph starts as a skin infection, either as a pimple, a boil or an abscess, and in most cases, it's not life-threatening.
“When you do get infected with staph,” Dr. Spellberg says, “you typically get infected with the staph you’re carrying on your own body.”
“MRSA tends to recur.” Dr. Spellberg adds. “We don’t understand why some people recur and some others don’t. The good news is it ultimately tends to burn itself out.”
Tips for eradicating a staph infection:
• Bleach bath: Dr. Spellburg advises mixing a quarter cup of bleach in a bathtub, soak in it and rinse off thoroughly afterwards. Do this several times per week.
• Chlorhexidine is an over-the-counter cleanser that you can bathe with to reduce staph on your skin.
Kids: When to Worry
Flu season is just around the corner, and The Doctors take questions about the unpredictable, ever-mutating illness.
Dr. Travis reports that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has discovered two new strains of the flu, and says the best way to safeguard is to get the flu shot as soon as it’s available to you.
The Doctors take flu questions from the Web center:
Lucas writes: Why do they ask me how I’m feeling right before I get the flu shot? Should I not get it if I’m feeling under the weather?
“If you’re not feeling well, postpone getting the shot. Side effects include flu-like symptoms and you could feel worse and not know whether it’s the shot or an actual illness,” Dr. Lisa says.
Elli J. reaches out on Facebook: I got the vaccine, but still got the flu. What’s up with that?
“The yearly flu vaccine is based on the CDC's prediction of which strains will be more prevalent that year,” Dr. Travis says. “You may get the vaccine but you may be exposed to another strain not covered by that shot.”
@Mizmolly86 tweets: If you get the vaccine too early, will it wear off?
Vaccine effectiveness depends on age of the patient and how well it's matched to the virus. Dr. Travis recommends getting it as soon as possible before December, as your body needs at least two weeks to build up the antibodies before exposure.
Dr. Lisa adds that it’s very important for pregnant women to get the flu vaccine.
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Facial Recognition Software
Can facial recognition software reveal private, personal information about you? Privacy expert Alessandro Acquisti, associate professor of information technology at Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon, tested off-the-shelf facial recognition software and was able to piece together people's social security numbers just by identifying their faces. According to Alessandro, he was able to discover much more personal information from facial recognition software as compared to publicly shared photos and data from social networking sites.