Thursday, 21 June 2012

YOUR HEALTH Dr James Le Fanu: 22 June

Threats to human health from pets, runner’s trots, self-help for asthma, and flu jabs in pregnancy

Written by Dr James Le Fanu
Humans in general are not susceptible to catching infections from animals, which is undoubtedly a good thing – otherwise the range of such illnesses to which we are prone would be vastly greater than it already is. There are, of course, exceptions, including the lung disease psittacosis, contracted by the distinguished former Fleet Street editor Sir Peregrine Worsthorne after being pecked by a parrot – at a party given by his wife, Lucy, to launch a book on pets.

The symptoms in the bird may be scarcely detectable: it may seem a bit off-colour with a croaky voice and mild diarrhoea, but in humans, the infected dust from the litter when inhaled can cause an illness similar to a very bad dose of flu. This can lead to high temperature, restlessness, insomnia and, sometimes, even delirium. Thankfully, it responds promptly to treatment with the antibiotic tetracycline.

Two further threats to human health from pets are toxoplasmosis from cats and toxocariasis from dogs. Toxoplasmosis is commoner, with 8,000 cases over a 10-year period in England and Wales. In adults it usually results in a trivial illness, but in pregnant women it can cross the placenta to cause terrible damage to the brain of the baby growing in the womb. There are, by contrast, only 10 cases of toxocariasis a year – usually acquired by swallowing soil contaminated with the organism, which migrates to the eye to damage the retina. Both 'toxos' are preventable by elementary hygiene precautions. Pregnant women should not empty cat-litter trays, and dogs should be excluded from children's play areas.

This week's medical problem comes courtesy of a lady from Bristol who has been troubled for several years by bouts of diarrhoea whenever she goes for a walk: 'Often within a mile or two of setting out,' she writes. She enjoys outdoor activities with family and friends, so this ailment is very inconvenient.

This phenomenon of exerciseinduced diarrhoea is known as 'runner's trots', which usually affects long-distance runners but is also reported during vigorous walking. The cause may be jostling of the bowel or a feature of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. A dose of the antidiarrhoeal agent Imodium before setting out apparently works in 70 per cent of cases. Alternatively, the drug cholestyramine, taken as two sachets a day, can be highly effective in controlling the symptoms of the diarrhoea-predominant form of IBS.

The persistent night-time cough associated with mild asthma usually responds to appropriate treatment, but it is also exacerbated by cold or dry air – hence the following slightly eccentric remedy as described by a lady from York: 'For two winters I coughed only at night, which made me think if I could breathe warm air it might help. I put my head under the bedclothes and the coughing stopped, but began again as I came up for air. The next night I put a large, thin handkerchief over my face and breathed in and out deeply through my mouth. This seemed to do the trick because, I think, the warm air breathed out must have slightly warmed the cold air going in.' 

Flu jabs in pregnancy

The fevers, headaches, muscular aches and pains, and other miserable symptoms of flu, tend to be particularly severe in pregnancy but many women, not surprisingly, are apprehensive that the flu jab might adversely affect their baby's development. But Professor Marian Knight of Oxford University, writing recently in the British Medical Journal, insists 'the benefits outweigh the risk', as suggested by a study of 54,000 pregnant women in Denmark. This found there were no adverse outcomes in those women who were vaccinated compared with those who were not. 'It is the duty of all those who care for pregnant women to be aware of these findings,' she writes

HOME REMEDY: elder flowers

JamesLeFanu-Jun22-02-176Mid-June seems rather late to be recommending making a cordial from elder flowers, but the cold weather we've been having on Exmoor means the flowers are still in their prime.

The large, flat, saucer-shaped white flowers of the elder are best picked when open but not starting to go over. The scent is wonderful at this time, so try to capture this by making the syrup straight after picking.

Combine the flowers with sugar, boiling water, lemon and citric acid. The lemon and citric acid act as preservatives, so the more you add, the longer the cordial will last – although it will have a tarter taste. The trick is to get a balance of sugar and citric acid without destroying the taste of the flowers.

Depending on the amount of sugar and citric acid used, the cordial can last until the elderberries appear – and then you can make elderberry tonic.

The flowers, like the berries, are antiviral, so they are good for summer coughs and colds. They're also a decongestant, loosening catarrh, and can soothe irritated throats.

And if you don't want to make a cordial, just pour boiling water over the flowers for a tea.

Sof McVeigh:

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