TIME public health

5 Essential Tricks for Treating a Sunburn

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Remember to constantly moisturize your skin

Of course you understand the importance of sunscreen, but sometimes, no matter how diligent you were with reapplying, you still end up getting too much sun. While the damage of a sunburn can’t be undone (sadly), there are things you can do to speed up the healing process and soothe your red, inflamed skin. We asked Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, about the best way to feel better fast.

Work from the inside out

So you’re on the way home from the beach, and one look in the rearview mirror tells you that you’re in trouble. As soon as you realize your skin is a little too red, take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pill like ibuprofen or aspirin, Dr. Zeichner recommends. This can help stop inflammation and redness from getting any worse and ease pain.

Cool down

Once you get to a shower, rinse off with cool water to soothe skin and remove any chlorine, salt water or sand that may be lingering and causing more irritation. Have a bath? Even better! Add a cup of whole oats to the cool bath water for extra calming power.

Moisturize

The sun zaps moisture from the skin, so be sure to replenish it regularly over the next few days with a rich moisturizer. Zeichner recommends looking for ones that contain aloe, glycerin or hyaluronic acid like Sun Bum Cool Down Aloe Spray ($12, nordstrom.com). If it’s a small area like your nose, neck or ears, try a 1% hydrocortisone ointment like Cortizone 10 Hydrocortisone Anti-Itch Cream Plus 10 Moisturizers ($9, walgreens.com) to reduce inflammation. Hot tip: Keep your moisturizers in the fridge for an extra refreshing treat.

Use a DIY compress

Try using a cool compress soaked in skim milk, egg whites or green tea. The proteins in milk and egg whites coat and calm the burn while green tea reduces inflammation.

Drink up

Not only does the sun take away the moisture from your skin, it also dehydrates the rest of your body as well, which is why you may also feel extra tired after a long day in the sun. Counteract the sun’s damage by drinking lots of water and eating water filled fruit like watermelon, honeydew melon, cantaloupe, or grapes.

This article originally appeared on Health.com

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3 Things You Can Catch from a Pool

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Outbreaks of illnesses from hot tubs and pools have been increasing in recent years

Think a chlorinated pool is a safe, sterile place? Think again. There are a few dangers lurking in a shared pool, whether at a gym, a community center or even a fancy resort. In fact, outbreaks of illnesses from hot tubs and pools have been increasing in recent years, with 90 outbreaks causing 1,788 illnesses and one death between 2011-2012, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Learn what icky things you can pick up, plus how to ward them off.

Diarrhea

One of the top causes of post-swim illness is a parasite called cryptosporidium (crypto for short), which leads to diarrhea, stomach pain and nausea. According to the new CDC report, of the 69 outbreaks associated with treated water, more than half were caused by crypto. Symptoms can last for up to two weeks. The parasite ends up in the water if feces (even trace amounts from someone who didn’t shower first) of an infected person gets in the pool. The bug is resistant to chlorine and survives outside the body for long periods.

Protect yourself: Crypto spreads when you accidentally swallow contaminated pool water or you touch your mouth before washing your hands. Don’t touch your face until you’ve had your post-swim shower, with soap and hot water.

Pinkeye

Burning eyes, excessive tearing and redness can occur because of an allergic reaction to chlorine, or an infection if the pool isn’t chlorinated enough. It can also happen if people aren’t showering before swimming or are (ugh!) peeing in the pool. Urine, as well as cosmetics and other chemicals that can wash off people’s skin, can irritate your eyes.

Protect yourself: You can shield your eyes from all of this by wearing a pair of well-fitting goggles every time you go for a dip.

Hot Tub Rash

This is an itchy skin infection that can lead to a bumpy, red rash, often worse in the areas covered by your bathing suit. Chlorine can easily kill the germ that causes it, but the warm water in a hot tub makes chlorine break down faster, so it’s more likely you’d pick it up there.

Protect Yourself: The risk of hot tub rash goes up the longer the contaminated water touches your skin, which is why it seems to show up in areas your wet bathing suit clings to. Save your dip in the hot tub for the end of your pool day, shower and change shortly after your soak and wash your swimsuit before wearing it again.

Contributed reporting by Amelia Harnish.

This article originally appeared on Health.com

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TIME public health

First Person Dies of Measles in U.S. Since 2003

The death is the first in Washington since 1990

(SEATTLE) — Washington state health officials say measles caused the death of a woman from the northwest part of the state in the spring — the first measles death in the U.S. since 2003 and the first in Washington since 1990.

The measles infection was discovered during an autopsy.

Washington State Department of Health spokesman Donn Moyer says the woman was hospitalized in Clallam County for several health conditions before being moved to the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, where she died. He says officials are withholding her age to protect her identity, but she wasn’t elderly.

Officials didn’t say whether the woman was vaccinated, but they did note she had a compromised immune system.

Moyer says the woman likely was exposed to measles at the Clallam County medical facility. Clallam County had an outbreak of five cases this year.

TIME public health

Dermatologists Warn About the Dangers of Sunburn Art

Artistic sunburns are spreading through social media—and raise risk for melanoma, doctors say

Searching for a creative outlet? Some people are turning to sunburn art, the hottest bad idea for your health.

A few photos—but perhaps not enough to qualify as a trend—tagged #sunburnart have popped up on social media, showing people intricately burned by the sun with the help of a strategically placed pattern.

That awful sunburn actually turned out to be pretty badass but still hurts like a MF #sunburn #ouch #sunburnart

A photo posted by Brenden Eleen (@bbear430) on

Popularity of the practice is suspect, but it’s warranted enough media attention that Deborah S. Sarnoff, MD, the Skin Cancer Foundation’s senior vice president, released the organization’s official position on sunburn art today:

The Skin Cancer Foundation strongly advises the public to avoid sunburns at all costs. A sunburn is not only painful – it’s dangerous, and comes with consequences. Sunburns cause DNA damage to the skin, accelerate skin aging, and increase your lifetime skin cancer risk. In fact, sustaining five or more sunburns in youth increases lifetime melanoma risk by 80 percent. On average, a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns.

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends adopting a complete sun protection regimen that includes seeking shade, covering up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV blocking sunglasses, in addition to daily sunscreen use.

Neither dermatologist we talked to had seen sunburn art in the flesh—although people who intentionally burn themselves are probably not the most likely to book skincare appointments.

“I’ve definitely seen it advertised online, where they have little tracings and they just mark it out, the part that’s covered,” says Dr. Aurora Badia, a dermatologist at Florida Skin Center, who first learned about sunburn art years ago. “It definitely is not a good idea. Any time you get a sunburn, you’re at more risk for melanoma, but there’s no inherent difference between sunburn art and regular sunburn.”

MORE: This Is The Only Sunscreen Article You Need To Read

Dr. Melissa Piliang, a dermatologist at Cleveland Clinic, says she, too, has yet to see a patient with intentional sunburn art—but art, of course, is open for interpretation. “Certainly we see people who have what’s loosely termed a ‘farmer’s tan’, or when people apply their sunscreen and miss a spot,” she says. Other accidental sunburn artists include children who’ve forgotten to remove a sticker, a watch or a bracelet while playing in the sun, she says.

Sunburn art is treated the same way a normal sunburn is, both doctors agree, and it’s every bit as dangerous; sunburns, artistic or not, raise your risk for skin cancer.

“I’d encourage people to wear their sunscreen,” says Dr. Piliang. “Cover up, seek the shade, and really be safe in the sun over the Fourth of July weekend.”

TIME medicine

Study Suggests Clue to Strange Link Between Swine Flu Vaccine and Narcolepsy

The immune system may have misidentified a protein in the vaccine

(WASHINGTON) — One vaccine used in Europe during the 2009 swine flu pandemic was linked to rare cases of a baffling side effect — the sleep disorder narcolepsy. Now new research offers a clue to what happened.

The vaccine Pandemrix never was used in the United States, and was pulled off the market abroad, but reports of narcolepsy in Finland and several other countries sparked questions globally about flu shot safety.

On Wednesday, an international team of researchers reported the problem may have been a case of mistaken identity by the immune system.

Narcolepsy is an incurable disorder that interferes with normal sleep cycles, leaving people chronically sleepy during the daytime and apt to abruptly fall asleep. No one knows what causes it, although patients have very low levels of a brain chemical named hypocretin that’s important for wakefulness. One theory is that a particular gene variant makes people susceptible, and that some environmental trigger, maybe an infection, pushes them over the edge.

About a year after mass vaccinations began against a new strain of H1N1 flu, called swine flu at the time, some European countries reported rare cases of narcolepsy in recipients of GlaxoSmithKline’s Pandemrix but not in people given other flu vaccines. Research found narcolepsy patients had that genetic predisposition, but no other explanation.

In the new study, Dr. Lawrence Steinman of Stanford University and colleagues found that the H1N1 virus contains a protein that is structurally similar to part of a brain cell receptor for that wakefulness chemical. They wondered if the flu-fighting antibodies generated by the Pandemrix vaccine might also latch onto those narcolepsy-linked receptors, leading to damage.

Colleagues in Finland sent blood samples that had been stored from 20 people diagnosed with vaccine-associated narcolepsy. Sure enough, 17 harbored antibodies capable of reacting both to flu and to those narcolepsy-linked receptors, Steinman’s team reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine. Recipients of another European vaccine, Novartis’ Focetria, didn’t harbor those cross-reactive antibodies.

Pandemrix contained much higher levels of the flu protein than Focetria, possibly because the two flu shots were made from different H1N1 subtypes, the researchers found.

The study doesn’t prove the link, Steinman stressed, calling for more research. It’s not clear how the antibodies could have gotten into the brain.

Moreover, some unvaccinated people who caught the flu harbor the antibodies, too, he said, and a study from China found H1N1 infection itself may increase narcolepsy risk.

It’s a plausible theory, said Dr. William Schaffner, a flu vaccine expert at Vanderbilt University who wasn’t involved in the new research.

Importantly, “this would also appear to be a solvable problem,” with manufacturing techniques to ensure that future vaccines don’t contain too much cross-reactive protein, he said.

However the narcolepsy puzzle turns out, the flu kills tens of thousands of people every year. “It’s really important to get vaccinated against flu,” Steinman said.

 

TIME public health

Now Blood Donors Can Get a Text When They Save Lives

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What we can learn from a revolutionary way Sweden is getting people to blood banks

The usual visit to a blood donation center goes something like this: you enter a sterile room, ease into a seat or lie down and have your blood drawn. Besides a handful of free cookies, you leave with nothing more than the noble sense of being a good citizen, and your part of the transaction is complete.

In Sweden, however, a simple text message is moving blood donation from an activity of the generous to a social media worthy event. Launched three years ago to combat paltry donation rates, the hospital using the pioneering text campaign, Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden, sends a text to a donor acknowledging their contribution. When the blood has been dispensed to someone in need, the clinic sends a follow-up text.

The system has seen a resurgence in attention thanks to a viral tweet from Swedish designer Robert Lenne:

The text program also includes a “nag me until I become a blood donor” option, reports Ragan’s Health Care Communication News. Choose it, and you’ll receive texts like “We won’t give up until you bleed” to (not so subtly) encourage you to donate.

It’s an attempt by Swedish blood banks—which are struggling with low blood donations—to connect with younger blood donors, reports The Independent.

In a post on behavioral economist Richard Thaler’s just-launched blog “Misbehaving,” Allison Daminger and Jamie Kimmel note the role of “nudges” in getting people to do otherwise mundane or uncomfortable tasks, like giving blood. The idea is simple, they write: offer potential donors proof that their contribution is going to a good use. The problem with blood donation, along with other acts of charity, is that if a donor doesn’t know the recipient of a gift, it’s harder to convince them that donating is beneficial, they write.

It’s not yet clear whether or not the campaign boosts donation rates, say Daminger and Kimmel. “There simply haven’t been many evaluations of similar programs,” they write.

What it does do well, however, is to tap into the ultimate millennial form of flattery, they say—personal connection with a social media twist.

The U.S., too, offers some options to track blood donations. In 2014, they launched a Blood Donor App was to track the journey of the donation, according to Kara Lusk Dudley, public affairs manager in biomedical communications at the American Red Cross. The organization also emails donors when their donation is shipped.

But a text with a witty vampiric nudge? Not quite yet.

TIME public health

You Asked: Is My Air Conditioner Killing Me?

You Asked Air Conditioner Killing Me
Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

It can be unhealthy for you—and it’s certainly bad for the planet. It could also save your life.

In the summer, many of us can’t bear to live without it, but even so, cool air is a modern luxury that sometimes seems to freak people out.

“We had forms of heating for a very long time before we ever had air conditioning,” says Dr. Stan Cox, senior scientist at The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, and author of Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World. Cox points out that as recently as the 1960s, only 12 percent of Americans had some kind of AC in their homes. While heat was an absolute necessity for people to live in cold climates, Cox says, air conditioning is more of a newcomer on the climate-controlled front.

And research suggests that a little freaking out is warranted. “If you have a badly maintained or badly designed AC system, whether it’s in your home or office or vehicle, it can become contaminated and potentially harmful,” says Dr. Mark Mendell, an epidemiologist with the California Department of Public Health.

Mendell studied the health effects of air conditioning systems while with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He says worsening asthma problems and allergies are two health issues that can stem from contaminated AC units. He also mentions an ominous-sounding phenomenon: sick building syndrome.

“We started seeing it in the 70s and 80s,” Mendell says. “People in office buildings started saying the building was making them sick.”

He says sick building syndrome was associated with a range of seemingly unrelated symptoms: nasal congestion, breathing problems, headaches, fatigue and irritated skin. His own research has linked AC systems in office buildings to many of those same symptoms.

“The most likely explanation is that there may be some microorganisms growing in the system that may have some subtle effect on certain people,” Mendell says. “But it’s not clear how many people are sensitive to this or how big of a problem it is.”

Unlike heating systems, the process of cooling hot air creates a lot of moisture and condensation, which must be channeled away, Mendell explains. If your AC system does a bad job of this, whether due to poor maintenance, damage or shoddy design, it can become a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi. To protect yourself, he says, your best defense is a well-maintained and routinely serviced AC unit. (HVAC repairmen, you owe this guy!)

But Mendell is also quick to point out that AC has been firmly linked to many health benefits. “Outdoor air pollution is common in urban environments, and especially in heavy traffic,” he says as just one example. “AC filters out the particles in outdoor pollutants.”

Exposure to airborne pollution particles can raise your risk for hospital admissions and premature death due to cardiovascular issues, says Dr. Michelle Bell, a professor of environmental health at Yale University. Bell’s research found the use of well-maintained AC use lowered a person’s risk for these health complications. “Use of central air conditioning causes less outdoor air pollution to penetrate indoors compared to open windows,” she says.

Both Bell and Mendell also say that during intense heat waves, AC saves lives.

If this seesawing between AC’s benefits and risks feels disorienting, you’re not alone. “Anyone who does research on these systems will admit there’s still a lot of things we don’t know,” Mendell says.

What isn’t in doubt, though, is air conditioning’s very real and harmful impact on the planet.

“The headline issue is its contribution to greenhouse warming,” says Cox, the Land Institute environmental researcher. Indoor heating has long been a bigger contributor than AC to the accumulation of harmful greenhouse gasses, Cox says. But the U.S. population’s southward shift has allowed AC to catch up—and maybe draw even.

Despite his concern for the planet, Cox says that AC can be life saving and beneficial. But he takes issue with what he calls our “lavish” use of any climate control conveniences. Setting our thermostats a bit higher in summer and a little lower in winter would benefit the environment without affecting anyone’s health, he says.

In fact, a little thermal discomfort could be good for you. People tend to eat more and gain more weight when the temperature is perfectly cozy, Cox says. “When we’re a little cold or a little warm, our metabolism runs faster,” he says. Research backs him up: One recent study found exposure to cold temps—enough to make you shiver—may increase your body’s stores of healthy, energy-burning brown fat.

Cox adds that your body can adapt to a range of temperatures. (This is why you break out the shorts and T-shirts on that first 65-degree spring day, but the same thermostat reading in autumn sends you hunting for jeans and sweaters.) So if you can cut out the heat or cold for a week or two, your body will often acclimate to temperatures you found unpleasant at first—and easing up a bit on the AC will make the planet thank you, too.

TIME public health

1 in 3 People Worldwide Don’t Have Proper Toilets, Report Says

A clean-up volunteer scoops plastic waste at an open sewer in Manila on May 4, 2015. Non-governmental environmental groups are calling for national legislation to prevent plastic waste that clog waterways.
Jay Directo—AFP/Getty Images A cleanup volunteer scoops plastic waste at an open sewer in Manila on May 4, 2015. Nongovernmental environmental groups are calling for national legislation to prevent plastic waste that clog waterways

Lack of proper sanitation facilities increases risk of waterborne diseases

About 2.4 billion people — or roughly one-third of the world’s population — still lack access to proper toilets, according to a report published Tuesday by the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

The study warns that progress on sanitation is falling short of the targets outlined in the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals, even though significant improvements have been made in related areas including access to safe drinking water. Today, only 68% of the world’s population has access to proper sanitation facilities, a handful of percentage points short of the goal of 77%. Many of those who lack proper toilets and defecate in the open live in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, according to the report.

“Until everyone has access to adequate sanitation facilities, the quality of water supplies will be undermined and too many people will continue to die from waterborne and water-related diseases,” said WHO public-health director Dr. Maria Neira in a statement.

The U.N. is expected to outline new Sustainable Development Goals in September, with a goal of expanding sanitation facilities and eliminating open defecation by 2030.

TIME Research

Your Diet May Be Causing Your Urinary Tract Infections

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A new study reveals that factors related to diet might play a part in urinary tract infections

Tough-to-treat urinary tract infections (UTI) that are resistant to antibiotics are on the rise. Now, in a new study looking at human urine published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, researchers say they’ve discovered why some people are more prone than others to the infections. Intriguingly, diet may have something to do with it.

Early on in an infection, cells produce a protein called siderocalin that blocks bacterial growth, including the growth of E. coli that often causes UTIs, says Jeffrey P. Henderson, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and senior author of the study. (It does this by keeping iron away from the bacteria, which need it to thrive.) The researchers wanted to see how the protein worked differently in various samples of urine at restricting the growth of E. coli, so they analyzed the urine from about 50 men and women.

“We found, kind of to our surprise, that there was a really wide range between individuals and how well this protein worked, just depending on that individual’s urinary composition,” says Henderson.

Two common factors emerged in urine that had a better ability to resist bacterial growth: it had a high pH—one that’s more alkaline, in other words—and higher levels of certain metabolites formed by gut microbes. That metabolite isn’t made from human cells, Henderson says; rather, they come from the diet or are metabolized by bacterial cells from dietary sources. “It looks like this protein that’s part of your immune system is able to use metabolites in the diet as grips to hold onto iron and keep it away from pathogenic bacteria,” Henderson says. In some people, that system is set up really well, he says, but in those who get recurrent UTIs, it doesn’t seem to work as well.

Both urine pH and metabolite production may be able to be changed through diet, and doing so could potentially offer a treatment strategy in the future, he says. “It may be that we have to adjust multiple things at the same time to get the system to work well, but the appealing part is this is not an antibiotic strategy,” he says. It may allow you to keep your normal flora while keeping bacteria out of the urinary tract.”

Physicians already know how to raise urinary pH with things like calcium supplements, and alkalizing agents are already used in the U.K. as over-the-counter UTI treatments, Henderson says. Knowing how to encourage the metabolites is trickier. The molecules come from phenolic, or aromatic, compounds, Henderson says, and robust food sources include those that we more often hear are rich in antioxidants: coffee, tea, colorful berries, red wine and dark chocolate.

And yes: cranberries, too, are known to make urinary aromatics, which may be why cranberry products are so often used as UTI remedies, Henderson says. “One thing this suggests is that maybe the reason it’s not more effective is that people need both cranberries and a higher urine pH, or they need cranberries and appropriate inhabitants of their intestine, or the right microbiome composition in their gut, for the cranberry part to work properly.”

A treatment without antibiotics would be a boon, but it’s likely a several-pronged approach and for now, more research is needed. “We still have a few more details to iron out before we know exactly how to do that.”

TIME public health

California Governor Jerry Brown Signs Mandatory Vaccine Law

Law abolishes exemptions for personal beliefs

California Governor Jerry Brown signed a mandatory school vaccination bill into law Tuesday, abolishing the “personal belief” exemption that many parents use as a loophole to avoid vaccinating their children.

Now, under California law, which is among the strictest in the country, children would not be able to enroll in public school unless they have been vaccinated against diseases like measles and whooping cough. The law includes an exemption for children who have a medical reason to remain unvaccinated (like an immune system disorder) and can prove it with a doctor’s note. Parents who decline to vaccinate their children for personal or religious reasons will have to home-school them or send them to a public independent study program off school grounds.

Students who are unvaccinated because of “personal belief” who are already in public elementary school can stay until they’re in 7th grade, and then the parents will either have to vaccinate them or home-school them. Daycare students can stay until kindergarten, when they have to be either vaccinated or home-schooled. In the fall of 2014, almost 3% of California kindergartners were unvaccinated because of personal belief. Preschools in the most affluent areas are also the least likely to vaccinate, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The bill was proposed after a measles outbreak at Disneyland infected more 150 people, and many needed to be hospitalized. Supporters of the law argue that it is based on medical consensus that vaccinations improve public health. Opponents—who have been picketing outside the California legislature—argue that it’s an attack on personal freedom.

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