Studies from the gross side of life - East Valley Tribune: Health

Studies from the gross side of life

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Posted: Wednesday, May 11, 2011 2:18 pm

There are medical and scientific studies aplenty that point the way to new cures and better practices. And then there are those that make us cringe and think, "eww, gross."

Several recent studies described here fall in the latter category.

Killer bedbugs?

Researchers at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia, rounded up bedbugs from three infested patients. They found that the nasty little critters were carrying at least two types of highly drug-resistant bacteria strains -- one a type of enterococcus that was resistant to vancomycin and several other antibiotics; another a staphylococcus strain resistant to methicillin and some other antibiotics.

The scientists, who report their findings in the June issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, note that there's no evidence that bedbugs are actually spreading the infections. But because bedbugs do bite and suck blood from their victims, it's still important to know many carry dangerous germs.

Armadillos with attitude

Scientists studying leprosy have known for 40 years that armadillos, those odd chain-mail mammals that range over much of the South, are the only animals besides humans known to carry the bacteria that cause the disease. Apparently, it's because of a low body temperature.

But a new study done by researchers in Switzerland and Louisiana State University found that armadillos of the American South carry a unique strain of leprosy bacteria. They found it in both the animals and 22 humans who had contracted leprosy without traveling outside the U.S. -- the usual form of transmission.

The researcher suggested that people avoid handling armadillos -- or eating them.

Fashionable lice, or natty nits

Modern humans started wearing clothes about 170,000 years ago, scientists at the University of Florida reported earlier this year. They know this because humans almost immediately became infested with body lice, which only evolved when our ancestors -- mostly hairless for 800,000 years -- started giving them more places to hide.

Mammal specialist David Reed plotted the timing of the cover-up by using genetic sequencing to show when body/clothing lice diverged from human head lice into a separate species.

Lice and other parasite studies are all the rage lately. Another report took the lineage of strains that infest birds all the way back to the era of dinosaurs.

Closing in on dental-office germs

Going to the dentist, you may notice how fresh and sterile everything is in and around the chair -- sealed packs of instruments, new disposable bibs and gowns and masks -- except, perhaps, for the metal or plastic clamps and chains that attach the bib around your neck.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina's dental school reported last year that they collected 50 clips from various offices and clinics. Of these, 14 carried significant contamination from bacterial strains normally found only inside the mouth -- including some nasty strains of staph and E. coli.

The good news is that after several other researchers confirmed this problem, dental journals -- and equipment suppliers -- have rapidly begun changing practices in most offices to either sterilize bib clamps or with disposables.

Why our skin is green

The tiny flakes of skin we constantly shed aid in a chemical process that reduces irritating ozone levels in indoor air, concludes a new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

We humans slough our entire outer layer of skin every two to four weeks, about 500 million cells every day. Although flaked skin can be unsightly and contributes heavily to household dust, it also contains squalene. The naturally occurring fatty substance -- found in plants, animals and humans -- interacts with ozone and neutralizes it.

The study, which collected samples from children's bedrooms and daycare centers in Denmark, found that the skin element in most dust samples was responsible for reducing ozone levels by 2 to 15 percent.

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