Saturday, 28 January 2012

On the bus

Up at the front of th 16A two women were having an intense chat about cleaning products. I tuned in and out, only interrupted by the tooth-chattering vibration every time the driver put his foot on the clutch at stops, instead of putting it into neutral.
Power sprays are the best for showers, apparently, but you shouldn't use them on tiles - too harsh.
Tuned in again, and they were talking about the ad in the back of The Irish Times. "That film The Artist. Have you seen it?"
"Saw the ad; I was saying to Ciaran, but he said: 'I don't know; there's no dialogue. An hour and a half without talking?'
"'Well, that's nothing new to me,' I said. He laughed."

Thursday, 26 January 2012

How to make sure your kids won't be nearsighted

OUT you go, dear, into the fresh air. Better still, out to the mountains with you and walk. Breathe! Air like wine! Look! The rolling hills of Ireland! Sorry to sound like a scoutmaster, but shocking research has apparently discovered the reason for a growing proportion of the world’s kids growing up into specky-four-eyes. 
Those types who said kids who stayed indoors with their nose in a book were right. Not about the nose in a book - about being indoors. 
There’s a worldwide epidemic of short-sightedness (or near-sightedness, as the Americans call it). Myopes are everywhere. A study by Susan Vitale of America’s National Eye Institute found that myopia had risen from 25pc of the US population in the early 1970s to 41.6pc in the early 1990s.
By 2020, it’s estimated that 2.2 billion people worldwide will be myopic. It’s in your genes - but not really. Humans are naturally slightly long-sighted - handy for spotting those gazelles on the ancient plains - but lifestyle has crippled our eyesight. 
Kathryn Rose of the University of Sydney made a monster study of 2,300 Australian 12-year-olds, and found the answer: it’s light. If you’re outdoors, your eyes are unlikely to become crippled by short sight.
Her research was backed up by a study of 1,250 Singapore teenagers by Seang-Mei Saw of the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine. 
Dr Rose continued her work with an even larger sample. “In 2005 we concluded a study of 4,000 schoolchildren,” she told me on a dodgy mobile phone line from Australia. We were looking at eye health in Australian children on a population basis sample, but we were also very interested in the development of myopia.
“Myopia had increased very dramatically over a period of decades - especially in East Asian countries - which implied that there were environmental factors.”
The obvious culprit was close work - take your nose out of that computer, you - but studies hadn’t borne out the link. Some scientists were now suggesting that it was the lack of outdoor exercise that caused the eyes to freeze in place, and lose their ability to change focus - the basic problem with myopia. Kathryn wanted to test this theory.
“We did a very complicated study, looking at a range of environmental factors. What we were able to demonstrate was that time spent outside was in fact protective against developing myopia.
“Crucially, because we’d asked our questions in such detail, we were also able to show that it wasn’t related to activity itself.
“It was actually related to the hours spent outside.”
The scientists, fascinated, started doing what scientists do best: hypothesising.
Could it be retinal dopamine, they wondered. It’s been well known for some time that retinal dopamine is an inhibitor of eye growth and is released in response to light. 
“The jury’s still out on whether it’s retinal dopamine, but the jury’s not out on the effect of light,” says Kathryn.
“What I’ve really enjoyed from this is the fact that now parents are telling their children to go outside and play.”

Friday, 20 January 2012

Feelthy feelthy feelthy

  DIRTY hospitals are making patients sick. The superbugs are waiting in badly-cleaned wards and private rooms.
C difficile causes reaming diarrhoea. MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) eats away at open wounds and develops into pus-filled boils. VRA (vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus) bugs don’t just make you sick, they can also pass on their antibiotic-resistant genes to other bacteria.
All these breed on unwashed bedrails, gowns, buttons and machinery in hospitals. 
But Professor of Clinical Medicine in Boston University School of Medicine Philip Carling’s sneaky study of just how clean hospitals were has already started to revolutionise hospital hygiene.
In the 12 hospitals of the Kaiser group in southern California, staff are using his methods and sharing their cleaning results - and have doubled their hygiene standards.
Professor Carling’s study of cleaning in 82 hospitals was demonically simple. He mixed up a fluorescent marker with detergent and a flour-and-water glue. “It makes a solution that’s hard to see after it dries, but it can be picked up with a fluorescent light,” he says.
This solution is easy to wash off - even plain water will wipe it away, never mind detergent or disinfectant.
His team marked the ‘high touch objects’, the 14 things patients and staff touch most. “We let a few patients cycle through the room to be sure the cleaning was adequately evaluated.”
To their shock, they found that a lot of things that should have been cleaned, weren’t, in most hospitals.
About half of what should be scrubbed was actually being cleaned. (What should be cleaned in hospitals: about 14 ‘high-touch’ surfaces, like bedrails, call buttons, tray tables, phones, handles, and also the controls and medical gadgets that nurses handle all the time.)
So they went and talked to the people in the hospitals. “We worked on the problem through education as well as through repeated feedback”. 
The researchers kept testing, using  the invisible marker - and the thoroughness of cleaning improved from 50pc to 80pc, 90pc and even close to 100pc of the touch surfaces. 
Cleaning is vital in hospital, where very sick people can be at risk from deadly superbugs. “For each improvement of 10pc in thoroughness of cleaning, there’s probably going to be a 10pc decrease in acquisition of those pathogens by patients that occupy that room,” says Philip.
But cleaners are often terrified to wash the controls on ventilators, or the touchscreens and keyboards of monitors, for fear of changing a setting and endangering a patient.
“Nurses touch these all the time, then touch the patients,” says Prof Carling. So medical staff need to do some cleaning too, as well as keeping their own hands and clothes spotless.
Kaiser have succeeded because they’re sharing their results and benchmarking - with their names listed on their results. 
Cleaning the right things, and cleaning them well, can save the health service money, as well as saving people’s lives, Prof Carling says. An average C diff infection costs from €5,000 to €7,000 to the health service. Soap and water and dedicated, benchmarked cleaning could save thousands of euros - if the hospitals want to tackle it.