Your Pet Cat May Be a Bit More Dangerous Than You Think

2 minute read
Originally posted here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know-general-science/your-pet-cat-may-be-bit-more-dangerous-you-think

Cat scratch disease (CSD) is an infection resulting from a scratch or bite of a cat (or, in rarer cases, dogs or other animals). It is not the same thing as Cat Scratch Fever, an album by Ted Nugent, although CSD can cause a fever, as well as swollen lymph nodes, lethargy, neuroretinitis and headaches.

CSD is the result of an infection by Bartonella henselae, a bacterium commonly transmitted to cats via the cat flea (yes, cats and dogs usually have different fleas). Rarely, ticks and spiders can also carry the bacterium, and transmit it directly to humans.

Kittens are more likely to carry Bartonella henselae than adult cats due to their underdeveloped immune systems, and are much more likely to bite or scratch their owners while learning how to play gently. But anyone who is exposed to cats of any age should take care to clean any wounds well to avoid risk. Bartonella henselae can also be transmitted to humans via cats’ saliva, so as sweet as it may seem that Fluffy is licking your wounds for you, probably best to wash it and wear a Band-Aid.

For veterinarians, CSD is actually considered an occupational hazard. Vets are frequently in close proximity to many cats, oftentimes cats that are acting aggressively and are more likely to bite or scratch. One study found Bartonella DNA in 32 of the 114 veterinarian patients they tested.

CSD is diagnosed via blood test, or simply by considering the symptoms of the patient, the most obvious of which is a swollen blister or sore and red area surrounding the infected bite or cut. Those who are immunocompromised (such as patients with HIV), very young or very old are more likely to be infected, and rates of infection generally increase during spring in North America, likely due to the birth of many new kittens.

So while they may be as cute as anything, cats do still pose a risk to their owners, and not only because they may destroy your favourite furniture.

The kitty in the picture is named Jean-Charles and he is available for adoption from the Réseau Secours Animal in Monteal now!

Killer Tampons from Outer Space or Why We Don’t Hear About Toxic Shock Syndrome Anymore

5 minute read
Originally published here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/health-history/killer-tampons-outer-space-or-why-we-dont-hear-about-toxic-shock-syndrome-anymore

In the early 1980’s and 90’s toxic shock syndrome was on everybody’s mind. Its prevalence dominated headlines, inspiring fear in every tampon-using woman across North America. Young adults going through puberty were taught to watch out for toxic shock syndrome like it was hiding beneath every tampon wrapper.

My mom, going through puberty in the mid 80’s, was inundated with warnings to not leave tampons in too long and to always pay attention to new or unexplained rashes. But by the time I hit puberty in the early 2010’s the flood of warnings had slowed to a trickle. I was made aware that toxic shock syndrome was a risk, but also that it was rare, unlikely and treatable. Almost a decade later I don’t think I’ve heard the words toxic shock syndrome in years.

So what happened? How did people stop dying of toxic shock syndrome, or if they didn’t, why did we stop hearing about it?

What is toxic shock syndrome?

Toxic shock syndrome or TSS is an infection caused by Staphylococcus aureus, the same bacterium responsible for “staph infections” on the skin.S. aureusis normally present in human’s respiratory tracts and on their skin, but it’s what’s called an opportunistic pathogen. Given an opening (a compromised immune system or an injury on the skin),S. aureuswill infect its host, causing all sorts of nasty effects from pimples to pneumonia.

TSS is a condition resulting from an S. aureus infectionIt can occur because S. aureus contain what are called superantigensAntigens are substances that T-cells (a type of white blood cell and main player in our immune systems) bind to. Normally, some T-cells bind to antigens and then display them on their surface, to show other T-cells that the infection is being dealt with. Superantigens, however, skip this displaying step, causing more T-cells than usual (or necessary) to be activated.

These activated T-cells then go on to release cytokines, little proteins that cause inflammation. Normally, inflammation is actually a good sign. It’s the result of the body increasing blood flow to an injured area in order to heal it. But too many T-cells release too many cytokines which cause too much inflammation in a process called a cytokine storm. As the name suggests, it’s not good. Cytokine storms are associated with fevers, fatigue, nausea, rashes, diarrhea and dizziness, which are also the symptoms of TSS.

TSS is a tampon disease, right?

In 1983 over 2,200 cases of TSS were examined, and it was determined that 90% of the patients were menstruating when they fell ill. Of these menstruating patients, 99% of them were using tampons.

But TSS is not exclusive to tampons. It was first identified in five non-menstruating boys and girls in 1978. From 2001 to 2011 there were 11 cases of TSS associated with bandages used to treat burns in children, and in 2003, a man died as a result of TSS after having tattoo work done.

It’s estimated that 25-35% of TSS cases are unrelated to menstruation. These cases of nonmenstrual TSS can be caused by S. aureus or by Streptococcus pyogenes, and have a mortality rate 6 to 12 times higher than menstrual TSS. While the incidence of menstrual TSS has fallen sharply since its heyday in the 80s, the incidence of nonmenstrual TSS has remained essentially constant.

If nonmenstrual TSS is more prevalent and more dangerous, why do we only associate TSS with tampons?

Well for one, because the nonmenstrual TSS is still fairly rare. With an incidence rate of 2-4 cases per 100,000 people, nonmenstrual TSS is less common than dysentery (5.39 cases per 100,000) or Lyme disease (8.3 cases per 100,000).

Mostly, though, we don’t hear about nonmenstrual TSS because of the epidemic of menstrual TSS that took place in the early 80s.

Modern tampons were first patented in 1931, but not produced until Gertrude Tendrich bought the patent in 1933. They didn’t rise to mainstream popularity until WWII when women entering the workforce began to use them en masse.

Those tampons, marketed largely by the same brands as today (Tampax and o.b.), were made of cotton and rayon and were fairly similar to the tampons of today. One brand, however, decided to explore other materials to make their tampons more absorbent.

Rely tampons utilized compressed polyester beads and carboxymethylcellulose instead of cotton. These tampons were super-absorbent, holding nearly 20 times their own weight in blood, and opened inside the vagina to form a sort of cup to help prevent leakage. While these sound like fantastic features for a tampon, they turned out to also be fantastic features for a bacterial infection. 

Menstrual blood is not as acidic as the vagina normally, so during menstruation the pH of the vagina is raised, which can hinder its ability to kill bacteria. But that shouldn’t matter, so long as there are no cuts inside the vagina for bacteria to enter, right?

Well, the super-absorbent nature of Rely tampons meant that the vagina was left much dryer than usual. This caused tiny ulcerations to form when tampons were inserted or removed, giving bacteria the opening they needed. Couple this with the fact that people could leave Rely tampons in for longer (thereby maximizing the bacteria’s time to grow and infect) and you have the epidemic of TSS that occurred in 1980.

Rely tampons were recalled on September 22nd 1980, but cases of TSS kept occurring. It wasn’t until 1984 that researchers realized that TSS was associated with the use of any high absorbency tampon, cotton or polyester.

I don’t want TSS! What should I do?

First, don’t panic. TSS is really rare. While several high profile cases of TSS have occurred recently, the rates of TSS are lower than ever.

Tampon companies and government agencies have worked together to identify a strategy of use that minimizes your risk. Their recommendations are as follows:

  1. Use the lowest absorbency tampon that you can.
  2. Change your tampon every 4-8 hours.
  3. Wash your hands before inserting a tampon.
  4. Do not use tampons when you’re not on your period.

Can’t I just use a menstrual cup to avoid any risk of TSS?

Menstrual cups lessen the risk of TSS, but they don’t eliminate it. While it’s true they don’t absorb any blood, and therefore don’t cause vaginal dryness leading to ulcerations, they can be really difficult to put it, especially for new users, leading to scratches or cuts on the vaginal wall.

Case in point, a 37-year-old woman was diagnosed with TSS in 2015 after using a menstrual cup for the first time.

If you’re not going to change your tampon every 8 hours, you should consider a menstrual cup. They are approved by Health Canada to stay in the vagina for up to 12 hours at a time, making them great options for those who work 8-hour days or are just forgetful.

But do still remember to wash your hands before inserting the cup, and make sure to sanitize it between cycles.

If you’d like to learn more about TSS, click here for a short but very informative video.

Did you know that some bacteria can eat cleaning products?

Originally posted here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know-technology/did-you-know-some-bacteria-can-eat-cleaning-products

Have you ever noticed the message on the front of a Lysol bottle: “Kills 99.9% of viruses and bacteria”?

Well, that 0.1% is causing NASA some real issues. In order to prevent our organic matter from infiltrating other planets, and vice versa, NASA aims to provide what they call “planetary protection.” If a bacterium from Earth made it to Mars it may severely hinder any chance we have of finding native Martian life, so NASA takes every precaution to prevent cross-planetary contamination.

Hence the need for cleanrooms, inside which visitors must wear a face mask, hood, booties and coveralls, and still can’t come closer than several feet away from the probes and rovers contained within.

But despite everyone’s best efforts, some bacteria will always be present. Specifically, the bacteria that are the most hardy, having survived many rounds of chemical and UV cleansings.

In an environment that clean, however, these bacteria can’t dine on their usual fare of decaying plant and animal matter. So, in order to survive, they’ve actually developed the ability to eat the cleaning materials!

One study showed that Acinetobacter bacteria, a particularly persistent and troublesome bacterium for hospitals, is able to survive on only ethanol and can degrade cleaning products. These troublesome microbes are resistant to radiation, hydrogen peroxide, high pressures and high temperatures.

In 2014 Koichi Wakata, a Japanese astronaut, proved that microbes are making it to space. He swabbed fifteen surfaces around the International Space Station and brought them back to Earth. From these swabs more than 12 000 microbes were identified!

It is important to remember though that the vast majority of these, just like the majority of microbes on your skin, phone and counter, are totally harmless. If even NASA’s cleanrooms can’t be microbe free, your home will never be either, and that’s ok.

You can catch salmonella from your pet lizards, frogs, turtles and hedgehogs

Originally published here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know-health/you-can-catch-salmonella-your-pet-lizards-frogs-turtles-and-hedgehogs

Eleven people across eight states were infected with the bacteria Salmonella typhimurium. The cause? Their pet hedgehogs.

An infection with salmonella is called salmonellosis and causes fevers, diarrhea, cramps and vomiting. Most humans are exposed when they eat contaminated food, but exposure to infected animal droppings can also cause infection.

A disease that can be transferred from animals to humans, such as salmonellosis, is called zoonotic. Most animals, if infected with salmonella will display symptoms of their own, similar to the human symptoms. Luckily, this disease is rare in cats and dogs due to their strong immune systems. Unluckily, many animals can carry salmonella without displaying any symptoms, putting their owners at risk of contracting it.

Reptiles and amphibians commonly carry salmonella while remaining completely healthy, so extreme care must be taken to washing hands after handling these pets. Since Salmonella can also infect surfaces it comes into contact with, care needs to be given to keeping these pets away from eating areas and thoroughly washing their enclosures with antibacterial cleaners.

Hedgehogs can also remain perfectly healthy while carrying Salmonella, so CDC officials are recommending they not be brought close to owner’s faces, nor allowed to roam in eating areas. While it’s not known how these hedgehogs became infected with salmonella, their droppings also contain the bacteria, so care needs to be given to their method of disposal if further outbreaks are to be avoided.