Your Health Checkup: Blood Pressure, Kitchen Germs, and Antibiotic Resistance

“Your Health Checkup” is our online column by Dr. Douglas Zipes, an internationally acclaimed cardiologist, professor, author, inventor, and authority on pacing and electrophysiology. Dr. Zipes is also a contributor to The Saturday Evening Post print magazine. Subscribe to receive thoughtful articles, new fiction, health and wellness advice, and gems from our archive. 

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I check my blood pressure regularly because I know that keeping it under control reduces my risk for developing cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and heart failure, as well as strokes. In my last column, I pointed out that taking blood pressure medication in the evening rather than the morning enhanced its effectiveness.

Whether blood pressure control prevents dementia as well has been more debatable. However, a recent publication combined data from six studies totaling 31,090 dementia-free adults older than 55 years and found that those individuals receiving blood pressure medications had a 12 percent lower risk of developing dementia and a 16 percent reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease compared with those not using blood pressure medications to treat elevated blood pressure. No particular drug class was more effective than another in reducing risk.

This is one more reason — and a good one — for taking control of your own health and making certain your blood pressure remains under control.

Bugs and Stuff

We live in a world surrounded by a sea of germs. Fortunately, our body has defense mechanisms such as our immune system that most times protects us from getting infected. However, some people are more vulnerable to infection than others, such as children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.

One of the most contaminated places in the home is not the bathroom but the kitchen! For example, the kitchen sponge can be loaded with bacteria from cleaning up raw meat and wiping germ-laden exteriors or other soiled sources. Surfaces contaminated with E. coli, salmonella, yeast, and molds include various refrigerator compartments and refrigerator handles, food storage containers, can openers, spatulas, and cutting boards. The kitchen sink can be loaded with bacteria after cleaning vegetables, rinsing raw chicken, or defrosting meat.

What should you do? Keep clean by performing simple tasks such as changing sponges and towels often and scrubbing cutting boards, the sink, strainers, and drains with bleach. Flush the toilet with the lid closed and keep the toothbrush holder clean. Wash the pet bowl, coffee reservoir, all knobs, handles, and countertops regularly.

Antibiotic Resistance

Most of us deal with such exposures every day without problems. On occasion we do get sick and need antibiotics to combat the infection. But that raises another contemporary problem: antibiotic resistant organisms.

A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report noted that, while antibiotic-resistance threats in the U.S. are decreasing, nevertheless antibiotic-resistant bacteria and fungi cause more than 2.8 million infections and 35,000 deaths in the United States each year.

It stated that some miracle drugs are no longer performing miracles because of antibiotic resistance, now found in every U.S. state and every country in the world. Antibiotic-resistant germs can share their resistance genes with other germs and can make them hard or impossible to kill.

Preventing infections is something we can all help accomplish, from frequent handwashing to everyday cleaning, to using antibiotics wisely and selectively, rather than for every cold and sore throat. Vaccination should be used to prevent infection wherever possible. Antibiotics are critical medicines for treating humans, animals, and crops, but should be used judiciously to fully protect people from antibiotic resistance threats.

Featured image: Shutterstock

MRSA Update

What’s the latest news about MRSA bacteria? A family member has this dangerous infection.

Beth J.
North Carolina

MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphlococcus aureus) is an ordinary germ that became dangerous when it was no longer vulnerable to penicillin and the other “-cillin” antibiotics. MRSA infections have been occurring in hospitals for years, but a new type responsible for serious skin and lung infections is now sweeping through U.S. communities, according to Dr. Robert Daum, principal investigator of the MRSA Research Center and Professor of Pediatrics, Microbiology, and Molecular Medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center, who explains:

“Scientists have found ways to reduce the number of MRSA infections associated with health care. But new MRSA strains are now affecting children (especially those in day-care centers), military men and women, athletes, Pacific Islanders, and other individuals who have had little or no contact with the health care system. And the high rate of recurrence and spread among household members is of particular concern. As MRSA disease becomes more widespread, new therapies are sorely needed.”

Not all skin sores are caused by MRSA, but those that turn red, warm, or form pus should be tested before starting an antibiotic. MRSA infections start as small red pimples or boils that soon develop into deep sores and may infect the bones, heart, or lungs.

To defend against MRSA infections:

• Scrub hands for at least 15 seconds. Or use hand sanitizer containing 60-plus percent alcohol.

• Don’t share linens, razors, or clothing, and use a barrier 
between skin and shared athletic equipment.

• Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered.

• Shower after athletic activities and don’t participate 
if you may have an infected sore.

• Take antibiotics exactly as prescribed, for the full course of the medicine. Inappropriate use may prompt bacteria to become drug-resistant.

For now, Dr. Daum says drug therapies for MRSA 
include clindamycin, trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole, 
and vancomycin. Newer (but not necessarily better) therapies include daptomycin, linezolid, tigecycline, and the newly licensed telavancin.