In a report that shocks only scientists, (we all knew these things were probably spraying fecal matter everywhere, right?) a study published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology found that hot hair hand dryers actively spread bacteria all over your hands. The study also showed that “spores could be dispersed throughout buildings.”
The Washington Post notes that the authors of the study, “who found that the nozzle of the dryers had minimal bacterial levels, said that more evidence was needed to determine if the dryers were bacteria harbors themselves or just blew large amounts of contaminated air.”
The study recommends using HEPA filter dryers instead, which can reduce bacteria exposure by four times, which I guess is better than nothing. It’s worth noting that many people don’t properly wash their hands, and some people even seem to think rinsing them with water does something besides get them wet. Imagine all that leftover bacteria blowing in the hot wind of the hair dryer. Cool, right?
The flu this year is so bad the CDC is postponing their much anticipated How to Prepare for Nuclear War training. I suppose it’s comforting the CDC considers the flu a more pressing threat than the potential for nuclear war. On the other hand, the NY Times reports that “Even in the absence of a pandemic, a severe flu year kills nearly 650,000 people worldwide, while a mild one kills just under 300,000…In recent years, the C.D.C. estimates, flu has killed about 12,000 Americans in mild years and 56,000 in moderately severe ones.” Sure, those numbers don’t compare to those predicted to be killed in a nuclear attack, but that’s a different article.
Emergency rooms all over the country have struggled to keep up with incoming patients, some of them even having to turn patients away. Though the flu shot this year is estimated to be about 30% effective, it’s still very much worth getting:
It’s not too late to get a flu vaccine, the CDC said, and there should still be plenty of vaccine supply. Sometimes there are second and even third waves of flu, so a state that’s been hit hard by H3N2 might see a fresh wave of H1N1 flu later and then influenza B may pass through even later.
In addition to the flu shot and perhaps somewhat compulsive hand-washing, I’d like to offer my other personal recommendations of more citrus, and more fresh air.
There were signs this year was going to be a worse than normal flu season based on the severity of the flu in Australia. Generally, the Northern Hemisphere gets a similar flu season to the Southern Hemisphere. So far, the flu is widespread in 46 U.S. states. The flu vaccine each year is basically just a “best guess” concoction at what the most prevalent strain will be. Sometimes, like this year, it’s not a great match. Anyway, you should still get a flu shot.
You still have time!
In California, “so many people have fallen sick with influenza…that pharmacies have run out of flu medicines, emergency rooms are packed, and the death toll is rising higher than in previous years.” The predominant influenza strain this year is H3N2, which is both particularly virulent and which the vaccine does not work well against:
National health officials say the vaccine might only be about 32% effective this year, which could be contributing to the high number of people falling ill.
“It tends to cause more deaths and more hospitalizations than the other strains,” said Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, L.A. County’s interim health officer.
Of extra concern this year are large numbers of older patients who are showing up at hospitals with the flu and pneumonia, a potentially fatal combination.
Additionally, “27 people younger than 65 have died of the flu in California since October, compared with three at the same time last year,” adding evidence that this flu season is unusually dangerous. All I, and the CDC, can really recommend is that you obsessively wash your hands and get a flu shot. Eat oranges. Get some fresh air. Those last two are my personal recommendations.