Flu Prevention and the Gym Member

Health officials’ warning this month of a potentially harsh flu season should be a red flag to avid aerobic-bunnies and gym-jocks alike. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warn that the flu is transmitted when flu virus in the air is inhaled after an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks. Transmission also occurs when a person touches a surface that has flu virus on it and then touches his or her nose or mouth. Those familiar with the typical health club milieu, then, can easily liken a workout in the gym to sitting in a veritable Petry dish…

Heavy-breathing members on closely-placed cardiovascular machines and in crowded group fitness classes, hundreds of kinds of shared equipment from dumbbells and weight plates to public restrooms and the corner water fountain provide countless opportunities for contact with the flu virus. So, short of ditching our fitness goals until mid-Spring, it would do us well to learn more about the flu, it’s prevention, and what we can do about it.

What is the flu?

The flu, or influenza, is a contagious disease caused by the influenza virus. It attacks the respiratory tract in humans (nose, throat, and lungs). The flu is different from a cold; it usually comes on suddenly and may include these symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Tiredness (can be extreme)
  • Dry cough
  • Sore Throat
  • Nasal congestion
  • Body aches

About 10% to 20% of U.S. residents will get the flu each year. Among these persons infected, an average of 36,000 will die, and 114,000 will be hospitalized. Although the CDC claims it is not possible to accurately predict the severity of the flu season, this year’s early incidence of Type A flu strain is historically associated with a more severe flu season, including higher numbers of related hospitalizations and deaths. To make the outlook more grim, an epidemiological assessment by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) already reports “widespread” influenza activity in over 10 U.S. states.

Who is at risk?

Although anyone can get the flu, including individuals who are healthy, there are various groups who are at higher risk for complications. These high risk groups include:

  • persons aged > 50 years;
  • residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities that house persons of any age who have long-term illnesses;
  • adults and children > 6 months of age who have chronic heart or lung conditions, including asthma;
  • adults and children > 6 months of age who need regular medical care or had to be in a hospital because of metabolic diseases (like diabetes), chronic kidney disease, or weakened immune system (including immune system problems caused by medicine or by infection with human immunodeficiency virus [HIV/AIDS]);
  • children and teenagers (aged 6 months to 18 years) who are on long-term aspirin therapy and therefore could develop Reye Syndrome after the flu; and
  • women who will be more than 3 months pregnant during the flu season.

How to Prevent Getting the Flu

Health officials are encouraging people, particularly those in high-risk groups to obtain a flu shot. The CDC states that an annual flu shot is the best way to reduce the chances that you will get the flu.

The best time to get a flu shot is from October through November, although you can still benefit from getting the vaccine after November, even if the flu is present in your community. Be aware that it takes about two weeks after the vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body to provide protection.

Obtaining the vaccine does not guarantee a flu-free season, however. Influenza viruses are constantly changing, and vaccine effectiveness depends on the match between vaccine strains and circulating viruses and the age and health status of the person getting the shot. Although the strain in this year’s flu vaccine is different from the circulating strain, the CDC states that studies indicate that the vaccine should provide some cross-protection against the circulating A strain.

Some people resist getting the flu shot because of the belief that they will get severe side effects, or even the flu itself, from the vaccine. The viruses in the vaccine are inactivated, so you cannot get the flu from a flu shot. Certain side effects are possible, such as soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given, fever (low grade), and aches.

Chances that the shot will cause serious harm, or death, is very small and allergic reactions to the vaccine, though possible, are rare, states the CDC. Most people who get the vaccine have no serious problems with it. However, the following groups should not get a flu shot before talking with their doctor:

  • People with an allergy to hens’ eggs.
  • People who have had a severe reaction to a flu shot in the past.
  • People who have developed Guillian-Barre Syndrome in the 6 weeks following a flu shot.

Since obtaining vaccination doesn’t necessarily guarantee immunity against the flu, it is wise to add common sense to our prevention efforts while we are busy pumping iron at the health club. Old fashioned hand-hygiene can go a long way in helping to prevent flu transmission. Although you don’t want to spend your entire workout running to the restroom to wash your hands after every set, it’s certainly advisable to make sure your hands are clean before and after the workout. Refrain from touching your nose and mouth during the workout to avoid obtaining the virus. Use of hand-antiseptics which include alcohol can also help to prevent transmission of the flu virus.

What to do if you get the flu

So what if you obtain a flu shot, practice stellar hand-hygiene and manage to contract the flu anyway? Since it is impossible to tell if you have the flu based on symptoms alone, visit your doctor. Tests can be performed in the first few days of the illness to determine the diagnosis. Since influenza is caused by a virus, antibiotics won’t work to cure it. You need to rest, drink plenty of fluids, avoid using alcohol and tobacco, and possibly take medication to relieve symptoms.

The CDC warns never to give aspirin to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms, particularly fever, without speaking to your doctor. Doing so can cause a rare but serious illness called Reye syndrome.

By all accounts, we may be in store for a particularly harsh flu season this year. Take precaution to reduce the likelihood of getting the flu, particularly if you are an avid gym-goer. Preventative measures may not only help to avoid the flu, but also interrupting hard earned progress on your fitness goals.

For more information about the flu, it’s transmission, prevention and treatment, check out the CDC website at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/diseases/flu/

Genital Herpes Symptoms and Treatment

Genital herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the world today. It is caused by the herpes simplex virus.  This is the family of viruses that causes cold sores, shingles, and chicken pox. 

Genital herpes is caused by infection with the herpes simplex2 virus (HSV2). HSV1 is the virus that causes cold sores on the lips and nose area. The herpes virus, however, is not too particular about the mucous membrane it calls home and will happily live in either the mucous membranes of the mouth and lip area or the reproductive tract.  Because of this, oral genital contact can spread either HSV1, HSV2. Viral transmission can occur from the mouth to the genitals or from the genitals to the mouth. The blister type lesions caused by either virus are virtually identical.

Genital Herpes Symptoms

Sometimes after the initial infection there may be fever and general malaise as could be seen with any acute viral infection but this is not always apparent in all cases.  In fact the symptoms of a genital herpes infection may not be known to you until you see some blisters on or around your genital area. 

This is called an outbreak and is characteristic of the way the herpes virus acts in the body. There will be periods when the virus is dormant and none of the characteristic symptoms of genital herpes are present.  Then there will be these outbreak periods where blisters appear in the genital area and may even extend to the anal area. 

The blisters will act like any normal cold sore on the lips.  They come up with an initial tingling, then grow larger and spread and eventually burst leaving an ulceration that will slowly heal on its own.

In men these blisters occur on or around the penis.  In women the blisters may actually be in the vagina as well as on the surrounding genital area. 

Symptoms of genital herpes will come and go but the virus stays with you forever. The number of outbreaks will gradually become less and less and in some cases, some people do not see outbreaks at all.   

Diagnosis

You may not know you have contracted genital herpes until the first breakout of the blisters. Symptoms of genital herpes are so mild in some people they think they just have a skin irritation.  The best thing to do is to be checked by a doctor so that you can get diagnosed properly. 

Doctors can usually make the diagnosis based on inspection of the genital area as the lesions are quite specific in appearance.  In some instances the doctor may take a swab on the blister fluid to see if it contains the virus.

Genital Herpes Treatment

There is no cure for genital herpes, however, it can be controlled so that you can live a normal sexually active life.  Anti-viral medications are often prescribed at the first outbreak to knock back the infection and may be used for prolonged periods if outbreaks are frequent.

Other treatments for the discomfort of an outbreak are common sense measures such as wearing loose comfortable clothing, using cold compresses or soothing creams and ointments on the blisters.

A strong and healthy immune system is needed to keep the virus suppressed and to reduce the frequency of outbreaks. Health denying habits such as smoking, drug use, or toxic relationships will drain the resources of your immune system so your best method of treatment is to maintain good health.  This would include eating whole nourishing foods, getting plenty of exercise, and managing stress. 

Complications

Generally the herpes simplex virus is not considered a dangerous infection to persons who have a fully functioning immune system. The virus will be suppressed and outbreaks will not be common as long as the immune system is functioning well.

However, if the immune system becomes burdened or compromised in any way then outbreaks will be more likely to occur.  This may happen during times of physical or emotional stress.  If the immune system is comprised by other more serious illnesses such as HIV or cancer then the herpes virus can become more dangerous.

If the virus is directly transmitted to other areas such as the eyes, or the brain, complications can be very serious. This direct transmission can happen in a number of ways but the most common is during the birth process.  The infant can become infected with the virus from contact with the mother’s vagina during birth.

If you suspect you may have contracted a genital herpes infection see your doctor as soon as possible.  Never have sex during an outbreak and never have unprotected sex. This means using a condom  (either male or female type)  during every sexual encounter even during oral sex. 

Additionally you should always inform your partner of your herpes status.  This is always the right thing to do.

Identify Male Yeast Infection Symptoms

If you were under the impression that only women suffer from candida yeast infection then you would be surprised that men may also suffer from this problem. It is important to identify male yeast infection symptoms because sexual intercourse is one of the ways in which this infection gets transmitted.

Candida is normally known to infect the skin, mouth, colon and the genitals. However most often it is either the vagina in the case of women and penile infection in the case of women that causes a lot of discomfort.

Some of the very common male infection symptoms are itching, irritation and mild pain in the penis head. One may also have pain while urinating. The penis may have redness along with some blisters.

It is always better to visit a doctor to get proper diagnosis and testing done to confirm the presence of this infection rather than self diagnosis. This is important because some of the male yeast infection symptoms are very similar to genital herpes and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Once the problem is confirmed then a natural remedy or one of the home remedies can be tried out. Home remedies used for vaginal candida infection work for the penile infection also. Yogurt and garlic can be used externally as well as consumed orally to get relief from this problem.

If is always recommended to stay away from sex if even one of the partners is infected. Alternately one can use a condom for sexual intercourse to prevent the   transmission  of the infection. In fact both partners should get a diagnosis done and take steps to prevent candida infection.

Preventive steps like wearing cotton undergarments, avoiding soaps with chemicals, changing wet clothes quickly, avoiding perfumes and deodorants in the genitals, avoiding sugar, bread, pickles, preserved mushrooms and other items that have yeast in any form should be avoided. This can help in controlling the problem.

If you are using natural treatment for male yeast infection symptoms along with conventional medicines then it is better to discuss this with your doctor. Sometimes natural herbs can interfere with conventional medicines.

One more important step is to not consume antibiotics for correcting this problem. Repeated use of antibiotics is known to aggravate the problem after a brief period of relief. It has been noted that the candida organism develops resistance to antibiotics after some time. Using time tested and proven natural remedies is the best solution for this problem in the long term.

Danger of Blood Borne Pathogens Contaminations!

Blood borne pathogens are microorganisms such as viruses or bacterias that are carried in blood or body fluid and can cause disease in people, including, Hepatitis B (HBV), AIDS and the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Blood borne pathogens can be transmitted through contact with infected human blood and other potentially infectious body fluids.

Occupation Exposure can occur through :

1. Accidental puncture from contaminated needles, broken glass, or other sharps.

2. Contact between broken or damaged skin and infected skin and infected body fluids.

3. Contact between mucous membranes and infected body fluid.

In an emergency situation involving blood or potentially infectious materials, always use Universal Precautions and try to to minimize your exposure by wearing gloves, splash goggles, pocket mouth to mouth resuscitation masks, and other barrier devices.

If you are exposed:

1. Wash the exposed area thoroughly with soap and running water. Use non-abrasive, anti-bacterial soap if possible. If the blood is splashed in the eye or mucous membrane, flush the affected area with running water for at least 15 minutes.

2. Take a blood test and Hepatitis B vaccination.

3. Tell your doctor the source individual. Try to get the individual blood tested as soon as possible for HIV or HBV after consent is obtained.

Anytime there is blood-to-blood contact with infected blood or body fluids, there is slight potential for transmission.

Unbroken skin forms an impervious barrier against blood borne pathogens. However, infected blood can enter your system through:

Open sores, cuts, abrasions, acne, and any sort of damaged skin such as sun burns or blisters, damaged or open wounds.

Always take precaution and treat all human body fluids and items soiled with human body fluids as contaminated. With contaminated, always first thing to do is to disinfect all spills of body fluid and pre-soak all contaminated clothing.

Issues about Scabies Rash

Scabies rash can be identified only if it is accompanied by other symptoms of scabies. If you have a severe, persistent rash that doesn’t seem to ease up it might be caused by infestation with scabies mites. Scabies rash is characterized through itching and soreness and it tends to intensify at night. Scabies rash may also become very irritated after taking a hot shower or bath. If the skin appears to be blistery and scratched and the presence of small burrows is revealed on the surface of the skin, it is a possible sign of scabies rash and appropriate dermatological treatment is required.

An overwhelming number of 300 million people worldwide are diagnosed with scabies each year. Scabies can be very easily acquired by simply touching a contaminated person. Although scabies is very contagious, scabies rash can’t be transmitted from a person to another. Scabies rash usually occurs when the body develops allergic reactions to scabies mites and their feces. The only contagious aspect of scabies involves the mite infestation. If the mites responsible for causing scabies are transmitted to a person, they will quickly infest the skin and the symptoms of scabies will occur within a few days. Scabies mites can be acquired through direct contact with an infested person or by touching or wearing contaminated clothes or personal items. Scabies mites can live without their human hosts for about 3 days and therefore they can easily contaminate bed sheets, clothes, towels, etc.

The main cause of scabies in people is contamination with a particular type of mite, called Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis. This microscopic mite lives only on the bodies of human hosts and an infected person can spread it to hundreds of other persons.

It is important to note that scabies rash, just like other scabies symptoms, doesn’t occur due to improper hygiene. Although in the past, when the true nature of scabies wasn’t completely understood, people considered scabies rash to be the consequence of poor hygiene, today the cause of scabies rash is clear to most people. It is true that scabies occurs mostly to people from the lower classes of society, but this has nothing to do with hygiene. The factors that facilitate the   transmission  of scabies are overcrowding and situations that involve a lot of physical contact (factory workers). Hygiene can neither facilitate the occurrence of scabies, nor prevent it.

The most common symptoms of scabies are inflammation, discomfort, pain, swelling of the skin, pustules, burrows, nodules. However, the most intense of all seems to be the scabies rash. This symptom of scabies occurs as a result of allergic reactions to the mites’ feces, secretions, eggs and larvae.

Scabies rash is among the first symptoms that occur and it is usually the last one to disappear. Even if the condition is appropriately treated with topical medications, scabies rash may persist for another few weeks! This is due to the fact that even after they die, the mites remain under the skin and continue to produce allergies that cause scabies rash. The mites’ secretions contain substances that are toxic to the human body. However, there are ways of easing the itch, soreness and pain characteristic to scabies rash. Dermatologists usually prescribe hydrocortisone and antihistamine along with the treatment for scabies. These topical medications are usually in the form of creams, gels and ointments and they ameliorate scabies rash. However, if the scabies rash persists and even intensifies after a few weeks, it is a sign that the mite infestation hasn’t been eradicated and the treatment needs to be repeated.

Alcohol Education

A multi-billion industry across the world, the sale and marketing of alcohol is a very lucrative one and when enjoyed in moderation and in the right setting, it can be a very enjoyable lubricant to social interaction. However, like anything else in life it is the excess usage and consumption of alcohol that causes the problems of which their severity is only matched by their number.

Part of the problem with trying to raise education and public awareness about the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption is that we live in a very alcohol dominated society and so trying to get people to give up is no easy task. This is oftentimes a direct consequence of an anxiety about being alienated from their peer group.

However, the sheer volume of evidence that is available which clearly demonstrates the very dangerous nature of alcohol is too high and too extensive to casually sweep aside.

Alcohol has a significantly detrimental impact on our overall sexual health and wellbeing on a variety of different levels. First, it reduces our fertility which makes it all the more difficult to conceive a child. In addition, alcohol can also impair a man’s ability to obtain an erection and this impotence can be long term.

The fact that alcohol impairs our judgment and reduces the inhibitions we have is also of grave concern and this is because people will be more likely to find themselves in a situation of sleeping with a person that they may not have otherwise done. Furthermore, there is also the risk that they people who are under the influence of alcohol will not be as cautious as they should be when it comes to ensuring that they have some degree of protection when it comes to sexual intercourse.

This raises the risks of the person acquiring sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as HIV, syphilis, chlamydia and genital warts to name but a few. It is important to note that the potential possibility of an unwanted pregnancy, along with all the heartache and emotional disturbance that will undoubtedly bring, must also be weighed in the equation.

Studies have proven that people who habitually consume higher than the recommended safe limits of alcohol will place themselves at a greater degree of risk for the contraction of a stroke. A stroke is the process whereby a clot in the bloodstream takes place in the “pipes” of the body, the arteries. It can also arise where a blood vessel ruptures in the brain.

The reason that alcohol makes this grim reality even more so is due to the fact that it increases the dehydration of the body which in turn, renders the blood flowing around the body, much more viscous and thick. Because the blood is thicker in its nature, this means that is also more sticky which makes it more likely that a clot will form.

By virtue of the fact that alcohol will raise the blood pressure of the body, this also serves to increase the risk of a stroke.

Investing 101: Before You Start Investing Money

Doesn’t it make sense to learn to invest (some basics) before you start investing money for real? Maybe a course called investing 101 or personal investing would be helpful. Here this retired financial planner relates a story, and then points the new investor in the right direction so he or she does not start investing uninformed.

In the dean’s office of one of the largest universities in America, I recently asked if they offered investing 101, personal investing, or any finance course where the student could learn to invest. “After all, we all need to start investing money someday, and it is much to one’s advantage to be informed vs. uninformed, isn’t it?” That was my response when told, “no, or at least I can’t find one” by the dean. I was informed that they had well over 50,000 current students enrolled and offered THOUSANDS of courses in the various colleges throughout the university. But he could find no course under the heading of personal investing or investing 101, and he was in charge of the curriculum.

We spent about an hour together searching and were both laughing out loud at what WAS offered. How about a course in “the art of falling down”? It’s offered. Investing 101? Which college in the university would offer such a course? “The athletic department is real big here; maybe they could help”, I suggested. After all, professional football players make big money. They need to learn to invest money (in case their career is short) and should start investing early. I knew a few players when I was a financial planner, but like most folks they tend to procrastinate when the money is flowing in. They’re too busy earning it, and don’t have the time to learn to invest.

The truth of the matter is that I don’t find it funny that it’s difficult to find a down-to earth practical course that most people could truly benefit from, because as a new investor you need to learn to invest money before you start investing for retirement or any other financial goal. As a new investor you may not be able to find a financial planner you can work with or afford. Even if you found one, do you really want to start investing money with him or her without first getting your feet wet in the basics of personal investing? Let’s start at the beginning.

Before you get into financial concepts like asset allocation and strategy, you should first learn the very basics: investment characteristics. How can you compare various alternatives to determine which best suit your needs, financial goals and comfort level? In other words, you need to decide what you are really looking for. And you need a list of factors to consider before you start investing money. For example, do you have a long term goal like retirement, and are you willing to accept a moderate level of risk? If so, there are numerous investment alternatives to consider, and you can also get tax breaks.

On the other hand, if you have a shorter term financial goal and might need access to your money at a moment’s notice, that’s a totally different picture. You need to match your financial wants and needs to the various alternatives that have characteristics best suited to your personal investing goals. There is no single best choice for every financial goal. It’s a matter of give and take. I have a list of 5 factors you must consider and a few other things you should consider before making a decision. This is basic investing 101. Whether you are a new investor or you’ve been at it for a while and have never really taken the time to learn to invest – you should learn the basics.

This is the first in a series of investing 101 articles I plan to write. In my next article I plan to put my list of characteristics you need to consider before you start investing money in black and white. Don’t feel bad if you are an uniformed new investor (or a want to-be). Do something and learn to invest starting with the basics.

Once you have a handle on a few basic financial concepts you can start investing with confidence. Once you learn to invest you can reach your financial goals. If you think I’m trying to build your confidence, you are right. Stay tuned to investing 101 as we get back to basics. No offense to anyone at one of THE largest universities in the country, but there’s a void out there and I plan to fill it.

Staying Healthy: HIPAA Training

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 is fondly known as HIPAA. It is a law that was enacted to provide protection and safeguard against the issuance of confidential medical information of individual patients. HIPAA specifies that those who work in the medical industry receive training in the laws and procedures of patient information security. Hospitals, physicians, nurses, researchers, and insurance companies are required to understand and be certified in HIPAA rules and regulations. There are those who work as medical staff, clerks and records clerks who must also be trained. HIPAA training teaches policies, organization, and protections as well as the procedures involved in maintaining patient security and privacy rights.

HIPAA Training

If an organization is deemed a covered entity by the medical community that organization is required to provide HIPAA training to all employees, agents, volunteers, trainees and contractors. As a definition, a covered entity handles, stores, and uses private medical information.

HIPAA training can be obtained in several different ways. Generally HIPAA training is completed at the time of first employment with training sessions conducted throughout the employee’s career. Training can be conducted between the execution of agreements, though educational conferences, classes and seminars, on the job training, in newsletter updates, online or several other methods. Whatever way you choose to administer HIPAA training, you will be required to provide employees with certification and keep copies of these certificates on file.

It is possible to incorporate HIPAA training using an agreement entitled a privacy, confidentiality and information security document. This instrument is used at the time employment begins and throughout the employee’s career. Policies of the HIPAA laws and of the clinic will be included and the employee will be tested on HIPAA privacy issues. There should also be signatures from both the employee and the employer stating that training has been offered and the employee is certified. If there is a problem with HIPAA policies or a breach of confidentially and security these documents are the proof that the employee and the employer were trained and signed off on the HIPAA laws.

HIPAA educational courses are dependent on how the employer will handle protected health information and how the employees will use this information. The classes discuss procedures and policies for handling information to be in compliance with HIPAA laws. Written procedures are required to be available in the office, and these written documents describe how patient data is handled, what the policies are in case of a breach, and how a security breach will be documented.

Transmitting Patient Information via Computers

A covered entity stores and exchanges protected medical records through its computer system. HIPAA designates procedures that must be followed. For example computers must be password protected, provide limited access, and have additional back up security procedures. Training regarding the usage of electronic   transmission  of patient data includes computerized exercises developed to create potential HIPAA violations. The tools are given to the employee to resolve the breach. Exercises are documented and graded. This type of training can be very effective when certifying employees in HIPAA security methods.

Some Interesting Common Cold Statistics For The New Season

Common cold statistics provided by government agencies indicate that on the average children have six to ten colds per year, but some children have as many as twelve. Seeking treatment for a common cold is one of the leading causes of doctor visits, though doctors can do little to treat the illness. Antibiotics are ineffective and should not be taken for common cold prevention or treatment. Over use of antibiotics is believed to be the cause of an increase in more resistant strains of bacteria.

What to take for a common cold is a matter of some debate. Practically everyone has there own home remedy and researchers have studied many of these for effectiveness and safety. Over the counter drugs such as antihistamines have been evaluated for their effectiveness in treating common cold symptoms and while research indicates that these products are safe when used as directed, many of them may be ineffective. One study showed that the most effective of these over the counter drugs is one called guaifenesin, an expectorant.

Common cold statistics relating to lost days of school indicate that 22 million school days are lost each year on account of the illness. However, many products should not be taken by children. The directions for a common cold remedy will typically say “not for children under 12” and may advise doctor consultation. Additionally, parents should not give child aspirin or products that contain aspirin because of the established link between aspirin use, viral infections and Reye’s syndrome, a rare, but sometimes life threatening disease than can follow viral infections in children. A number of infant and toddler deaths have been associated with overdoses of over the counter cold remedies. When treating your children, read directions carefully, age and weight are factors. Those products that are designed for “children” are usually not safe for infants. Always check with your doctor before given any over the counter medication to a child.

Adult common cold statistics vary greatly. On the average, most adults have two or three colds per year, but some people have none and some have more than three. Those who care for school age children probably have more than the average. People who have asthma are more susceptible to colds. Scientists studying asthma patients found that they produce less than average anti-viral proteins. Anti-viral proteins, produced by specialized blood cells, can prevent a virus from being able to reproduce and can destroy viruses by attaching to them and causing holes in their cellular walls. Products that stimulate immune system function are sometimes recommended for a common cold, for this and other reasons.

Most immune system stimulants contain vitamin C. During an infection, vitamin C levels in the bloodstream decrease dramatically. Vitamins A, E and the mineral zinc are also necessary for proper immune system function. Other nutrients, such as calcium and magnesium are needed so that the cells of the body can easily absorb vitamin C. In other words, a good daily multi-vitamin, in addition to a well balanced diet, rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can be good for a common cold and for overall good health.

The latest common cold statistics from Reuters Health Information concerns a study performed at the University of Virginia, in which researchers enlisted 15 people who were infected with the rhinovirus (the virus that causes the majority of common colds) to stay in a hotel room overnight alone. The objects in the room that the participants reported touching were swabbed and tested for active rhinovirus on the next day. The researches concluded that the virus remained active and capable of infected others for a day or longer. Previous information for a common cold causing rhinovirus indicated that the virus could remain active on surfaces for as long as three hours. What this new study means is that the virus remains active longer and is more easily transmitted than previously thought, making good health habits to prevent   transmission  even more important. To learn more about the common cold and natural products that may help reduce the number you get every year, please visit the Immune System Booster Guide.

In With the Nu

AS YOU sit in one of the small and scruffy departure lounges at Kunming Airport, waiting for the connecting flight to Xishuangbanna in the southwest, you turn your attention to two large billboards situated prominently near the windows facing the cluttered airstrip. The posters, with glossy defiance, celebrate the ongoing construction of two large hydropower stations on the Jinsha River, the western branch of the Yangtze. The plants, built also to reduce the siltation pressures on the Three Gorges Dam further downstream, are airbrushed in clean and shiny whites and greys, and the water around them remains a perfect and implausible blue.

They are among many such construction projects currently being considered in Yunnan, where economic development has been given the priority above almost everything else, and where power corporations from the east have been rushing to take advantage. A project that will eventually submerge the celebrated Tiger Leaping Gorge – on the section of the Jinsha north of Dali – is also underway, arousing significant international opposition. The International Rivers Network says that the damage caused by the flooding of the valley to the local ‘cultural heritage sites’ will be ‘irreplaceable’. They are also concerned by the irreversible changes to a unique ecosystem.

Meanwhile, the provincial capital of Kunming continues to grow. The train station, renowned as the most unbearable in the whole of China, is still surrounded by rubble and temporary wooden partitions marking some new road or building. The entire city, cowed by roadblocks and scaffolds, picked at by cranes, seems – like many others in China – to be on the verge of an explosion. As the government slogan announces, peremptory and beyond refute, ‘Development is inevitable’.

In the far west of Yunnan, the untouched Nu River seemed to have been given something of a reprieve a few months ago. China’s single remaining virgin waterway, which winds north through some of the province’s most beautiful landscape, was about to be given a big seeing-to by the nation’s energy-mad authorities. Earlier this year, Premier Wen Jiabao was said to have intervened personally, asking developers to reconsider their plans. Still, one imagines that the ‘rape’ of the Nu is just a question of time.

The philosopher, Martin Heidegger, chose to illustrate the two different approaches to nature by comparing the construction of a bridge with the construction of a hydroelectric dam. Modern technology, he wrote, was ‘a manner of unprotecting’ nature. A bridge, connecting up the two banks, shows ‘respect’ for the river, but a hydropower station actually turns nature into part of its own ‘inventory’. The power plant is not built into the river, but the river is built into the power plant.

To illustrate the difference in perspectives, Heidegger compared the Rhine as part of the inventory of modern technology with the Rhine described in a poem by Holderlin. After it has been devastated by technology, the river remains as ‘a provided object of inspection by a party of tourists sent there by a vacation industry’. Such a description seems appropriate in modern Yunnan. While the power companies work their way through the region’s rivers, foreign and domestic tourists have transformed old cities such as Dali and Lijiang, and plans to improve the transportation infrastructure to the west and to the south will see the character of prefectures such as Xishuangbanna and the Nu River changed beyond recognition.

There are a number of small bridges connecting the banks of the Nu, but the favoured means of crossing by the local farmers seems even purer than that. Hooking themselves into a harness consisting of a rope and a piece of flat canvas, they sweep back and forth at massive speeds on a cable attached to a couple of trees, and carry bags of cement, grain and sometimes even livestock between their knees as they do so. One farmer agreed to carry me. Slung across the grey autumn waters and into a patch of worn grass on the Nu River’s left bank, the bowel-shaking fear quickly gave way to a sense of exhilaration.

I was taking a long ride from Dali with an incompetent local tour guide to the town of Liuku in western Yunnan, right on the bank of the Nu River. The area is a picture of health, ruddy and rugged and robustly green. Farmers spin past on motorbikes, trading chunks of meat with local guest houses and restaurants. At one stop along the way, situated on a bend on a country road, a three-legged horse skipped past – cheerfully enough, considering the circumstances. The half-whistle, half-bleat of the local birds could be heard everywhere. Tiny communities lived in wooden shacks on the hills, emerging on Tuesdays to trade at the local markets.

It was tempting to call the place quaint, and worthy of any preservation order that might be made to stick. It was, however, dirt-poor, and though much better and much more lively than a decade or so ago (according to our guide), most of the people living here would love to replace their stilted huts, their latrines, their drafty outhouses, with new buildings and indoor plumbing.

Usually, it is only outsiders who get sentimental. We, after all, can go home somewhere else. One isn’t entirely sure that the life of the poor throughout China would be improved by any degree were their barns, their slums, their shanty towns to become ‘heritage sites’. On the other hand, it is clear that the mass destruction caused by economic growth is not of much benefit to the communities affected. It is also clear that the ecology of Yunnan – one of the most varied and vibrant in China – is being put under threat.

Still, crossing the upper reaches of the Mekong, watching the silt-filled, chocolate-coloured waves and negotiating the old van past the piles of rocks cast down during a recent landslide, one cannot fail to be impressed somehow. I have been bruised, stupefied and generally thrown about by hundreds of poor-quality roads throughout China. Here, the biggest challenge was the occasional ford cutting across a narrow but mostly impeccable mountain pass. In harsh conditions, the road builders had performed well.

Roads are the big thing in Yunnan. Plans are underway to complete a regional high-speed road network that will connect Kunming with Singapore. Coming back from the wild elephant park in Xishuangbanna, we were halted by a fleet of trucks and steamrollers inching along to assist a team of miscellaneously-dressed labourers spreading grit across the tracks. Above us was the skeleton of an overpass, its bare stanchions planted in the fields nearby. The old road will eventually become superfluous for the majority of freight traffic surging through the region and into southeast Asia. Things will change, we thought, and Jinghong, the region’s major city but run at a painfully slow pace, will no doubt be brought up to speed by an opportunistic migrant population from Sichuan or the northeast.

LIUKU is a small urban centre and trading spot for the hundreds of small counties and villages scattered throughout the area, several hundred kilometres west of Dali. Whatever purists might think, the locals would love it if streams of tourists were suddenly to pour in from the more fashionable areas further east, but apart from the way it nestles comfortably – if a little chaotically – in the mountains running along the banks of the Nu, there is little to distinguish the place. Its greatest advantage is its location, and visitors note the great potential of the riverfront, where a couple of cafes now provide much of the town’s nightlife.

As one enters the town, an old Ming Dynasty temple lies on the mountain above the intersection of the Yagoujia River and the Nu River itself. As is customary, the temple appears as if it was built out of papier mache and painted yesterday morning by industrious local schoolkids. A huge laughing Buddha decked out in gold paint seems to dominate the gaff from his little stage. Dogs patrol the high steps, and spiders, each two inches long, nest in the frames of doors and in the overhead lights.

Across on the other side of the river, the effects of the previous night’s rain storm were clear to see, with policemen knee-deep in mud and the road – the only route north – blocked by piles of displaced rock.

The foreigners, so prevalent in Dali, and less so in Jinghong further south, were nowhere to be seen. Hardcore travellers head north to see the enclaves of Tibetans, or the old ethnic ways of the Lisu, the Nu and the Drang nationalities. Some come to see the immense volume of indigenous butterflies, with a couple of Japanese collectors even managing to steal a few rare specimens under the noses of the local authorities a few years ago. There were also stories of a pair of American travellers crossbowed in the back by Lisu hunters after trying to abscond with some significant local religious icon – the man with the story wasn’t quite sure what the object was. The rest of the local legends about foreigners involve them being attacked by Tibetan dogs and carried out of the forests, bleeding. Still, foreigners here are once again the objects of fascination, rather than the sort of seen-it-all-before scorn one gets in Shanghai, or the dollar-sign gazes in Dali and Lijiang.

Guidebooks such as Lonely Planet abhor the current pace of Chinese development, of course, and as the years pass and the new editions enter print, the laments about the high-rises and highways seem to get longer and longer. China is losing its character.

We can understand this. And yet, after a week on the road along the Nu River, speaking no English and staying in the dingiest of guest houses, we still longed for the pizzas, banana pancakes and foreign influences in Dali. Many agreed, and many long-hatched tour plans are thwarted by the magnetism of the town’s bars and cafes. Some foreigners on year-long tours find themselves stuck, unable to leave, trapped in a perpetual marijuana haze and remaining lucid enough just to teach a few classes in the main city and pay for their lodgings.

Travelling further north from Liuku on the way to Fugong the following day, rain clouds lingered like smoke on the mountains, and dozens of blue, three-wheel buggies chugged down the slope on the only road out. We drove through building sites, where workers squatted on dunes of mud, and through villages in which cattle and old nags wandered wearily past, and where tiny, friendly little dogs lounged on almost every stoop. Streams of water, bloated by a heavy rain storm the previous evening, cascaded into the rough Nu waters.

We stopped off in a small market village called Gudeng, close to the Binuo Snow Mountain, and watched the local farmers manhandling a couple of disobedient black pigs. Another offered us a glass of warm corn liquor he had just produced at a makeshift stove attached to a dirty plastic pipe. The dominant presence in the town was the family planning centre, where government slogans about improving the quality of the population were pumped out from a pair of loud speakers, drowning out the Chinese disco beats emerging from the market itself. Apart from the family planning centres, there are other things that seem ubiquitous throughout China, from Xinjiang to Shanghai and from Guangdong to Yunnan. One of them is the pool table. Another is the bill poster advertising cures for sexually-transmitted diseases.

WE CAME to understand that in the pretty little town of Fugong, where we spent Mid-Autumn festival, the local residents – mainly of Lisu minority – would also have longed for the sort of opportunities afforded to Dali. Cafes, restaurants, and a place on the tourist trail would revitalize the place, and would ultimately be of far more value than a hydropower station. Can the two be disconnected? Some of the villages along the banks of the Nu River didn’t even have a watt of electricity until the last decade. It is a fact of life that further development – including the tourist industry – requires more power.

Purists are unlikely to consider the contradiction, and may indeed prefer to slum it – for a week in any case – in tents or in the dingy, second-rate guest houses available en route. Still, the woman at the reception of the guest house in Gongshan seemed apologetic. ‘Are you sure you want to stay here?’ she said.

Heading across the river, we came across a large wooden public house built on an old water mill. Wheels driven by the Nu River itself churned away beneath a section of rooms lined with soggy woven carpets and old Lisu paraphernalia – the traditional costumes and weaponry of the bulk of the local people. A dozen girls from a local hair salon were dancing in the middle of one of the stages on the upper tier of the building, moving two steps forward and two steps back, hand in hand. They greeted us favourably, encouraging us to join in their drinking games. We had a ‘one-heart drink’ (tongxinjiu) – where two people drink from the same glass, their cheeks and mouths touching – with every one of them, the sweet local liquor dripping onto our clothes.

Hours later, after crossing the bridge again and singing Lisu songs as we parted company with our new friends, we managed to stumble through a tunnel and into the grounds of the local Public Security Bureau, where the Fugong police were also celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival with a form of dance which, by the time we started to participate, seemed to involve running at top speed while kicking our legs as high as possible in the air. Local police chiefs, conforming to the stereotypes of drunkenness that seem more or less international, told us that national boundaries didn’t matter, and that friendship transcended all countries. We agreed.

The next morning, driving out of the town and past a long row of old wooden buildings with red sliding doors and a range of shoddy garages that serve as shops and diners, we headed for Gongshan along a spectacular stretch of scenery, part of a 300-km gorge lined with waterfalls, brooks and white cloud pierced by the mountains on both banks. Houses seemed to balance precariously on the plateau, only a storm away from complete collapse. Women carried large squares of corrugated iron along the slopes, their children following.

The whole Gongshan region, an old man in the guest house told me, has now been renamed the ‘Three Rivers Gongshan Region’. ‘They are creating a trademark,’ the man said, shrugging his thin shoulders. The Mekong, the Nu, and the Jinsha all pass through before reaching their source, and the local government are trying to draw in the trade.

The town itself, another sleepy cluster of apartments, restaurants and trading posts all piled up in layers along the slopes leading from the river to the mountain, was actually far from untouched. As was the case in Liuku, the missionaries had already been and gone, leaving a curious legacy of Roman Catholicism among the local minority communities. Mothers sat weaving on the steps of a church – a square, squat one-storey affair with a bright red cross built on the mountain – waiting for evening prayer. Prayer notices on the wrought-iron door of the church were transcribed in a romanized version of the local Lisu language. Some hours later, an implausible disco beat pounded out from a wooden house further up the hill, and the church was empty.

A Tibetan girl, working in a curious entertainment complex close to another Catholic church further down in the valley, asked us if we were fellow believers. She answered to her Catholic name of Mary, and was from Dimaluo, an ethnic mishmash of Tibetans, Lisu, Drong, and others some way further north along the river. There was a sadness to her as she told us her life story, about her stalled education, about the death of her father after a sudden and inexplicable ‘infection’, and about her preference for the countryside from which she hailed.

In the stores nearby, posters of Zhou Enlai, Sun Yatsen and the Panchen Lama swayed slightly in the wind, and beneath them lay the usual clutter of mooncakes, cigarettes and cheap, defective batteries.

What worried us about ‘untouched’ places like Fugong or Gongshan was not so much the prospect of development, and the ‘exploitation’ or ‘despoliation’ or ‘swamping’ of the local culture and character, but the thousands of local residents, educated to a degree, certainly aspirational, but cut off even from the possibility of ambition, marooned in a remote town that is linked to the nearest city only through a single mountain pass that requires two days to traverse. As we did at the Three Gorges, we started to wonder whether the sacrifice of the local scenery could somehow be made worthwhile, if it could allow these people a way out. After all, it might be more appropriate to judge the vitality of a culture by its porousness, and more pertinently, by the opportunities it gives its members to escape and try something new.

Heidegger hated the way the Rhine had become an object of the tourism industry as well as the hydropower industry, but on the Nu River, we had to allow for the fact that the proposed construction of an airport in remote Gongshan, the construction of highways, and the development of local industry might actually be good for the area, in the absence of any other options. Heidegger hated TV and spent most of his final, disgraced decades in a wooden shack in the Black Forest, but he had choice. The local residents in Fugong and Gongshan have TV, and they see the glitter of wealth and opportunity. But they have no wealth. And no opportunity.

And yet, the ‘current mode of development’ is all about exploitation, and the further enrichment of China’s east coast at the expense of the west. The scenery is ruined, the ecology is damaged, and old farming communities are moved to nearby urban slums, where they have little prospect of work or prosperity. Here, as in the Three Gorges and other regions, one imagines that the local people will reap little of the rewards of ‘opening up’.