By Mary Jane Dittmar
We are in the middle of the flu season, which health experts have identified as a “bad” season. Some hospital emergency rooms have had to resort to turning flu patients away. They are advising flu patients to call their medical providers instead of going to the emergency room.
• If you have been diagnosed with the flu, stay home and follow your health care provider’s recommendations.
• Talk to your health care provider or pharmacist about over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications to ease flu symptoms. OTC medications may relieve some flu symptoms, but they will not make you less contagious. You can treat flu symptoms with or without medication (see below).
• Your health care provider may prescribe antiviral medications to make your illness milder and prevent serious complications, or you may be prescribed antibiotics if your flu has progressed to a bacterial infection.
Treating without Medication
You are probably already familiar with the recommendations offered for treating flu symptoms without using medications:
- Get plenty of rest.
- Drink clear fluids like water, broth, sports drinks, or electrolyte beverages to prevent dehydration.
- Place a cool, damp washcloth on your forehead, arms, and legs to reduce discomfort associated with a fever.
- Use a humidifier in your room to make breathing easier.
- Gargle salt water (1:1 ratio warm water to salt) to soothe a sore throat.
- Cover up with a warm blanket to calm chills.
Author’s Note: If you have high blood pressure or other medical conditions; if you are taking medications such as blood thinners or medications to control high blood pressure or other medical conditions; or if you must restrict sugar, sodium, or other substances in your diet, check with your medical provider or pharmacist before using OTC products.
Provided you do not have a medical condition that would prohibit you from using these products, OTC pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be taken for fevers and aches. Check with your health provider before using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs if you have kidney or stomach disease or any other chronic condition.
Of course, it is always better to prevent the flu, if possible. Wash your hands often and adequately. Get sufficient rest. Eat a well-balanced diet, and drink sufficient fluids. Avoid directly touching objects that could be catalysts for spreading disease: doorknobs, elevator buttons, store door handles, computer keys, phones—the list is endless. It might be a good idea to keep packets of sanitizing wipes readily available to use as buffers between your hands and these germ-carriers. Use the wipes at home also for doorknobs, light switches, commode handles, faucets, keys, the remote control, and other sources of potential contamination.
FDA PROPOSES NEW FOOD SAFETY STANDARDS
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed two new food safety rules that will help to prevent foodborne illness. The proposed rules implement the landmark FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which “shifts the food safety focus from reactive to preventive,” according to Kathleen Sebelius, Health and Human Services secretary.
According to the FDA, one in six Americans suffers from a foodborne illness every year, and nearly 130,000 of these individuals are hospitalized and 3,000 die.
The first of the proposed rules would require makers of food to be sold in the United States, whether produced at a foreign- or domestic-based facility, to develop a formal plan for preventing their food products from causing foodborne illness and to have a plan in place to correct any problems that may arise. The FDA is proposing that many food manufacturers be in compliance with the new preventive controls rules one year after the final rules are published in the Federal Register. Small and very small businesses would be given additional time.
The second rule proposes enforceable science- and risk-based safety standards for the production and harvesting fruits and vegetables on farms. Larger farms would be in compliance with most of the produce safety requirements 26 months after the final rule is published in the Federal Register. Small and very small farms would have additional time to comply. All farms would have additional time to comply with certain requirements related to water quality.
Before issuing the two rules, the FDA conducted extensive outreach that included five federal public meetings and regional, state, and local meetings in 14 states across the country as well as making hundreds of presentations to ensure that the rules would be flexible enough to cover the diverse industries to be affected. The FDA also visited farms and facilities of varying sizes.
“We know one-size-fits-all rules won’t work,” said Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine. “We’ve worked to develop proposed regulations that can be both effective and practical across today’s diverse food system.”
Additional rules to follow soon will include new responsibilities for importers to verify that food products grown or processed overseas are as safe as domestically produced foods and accreditation standards to strengthen the quality of third-party food safety audits overseas. Approximately 15 percent of the food consumed in the United States is imported; high proportions are in higher-risk categories such as produce. The FDA will also propose a preventive controls rule for animal food facilities similar to those proposed for human food.
Additional information is at: FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)
ENERGY DRINKS, SLEEP, AND CAFFEINE INTAKE
Energy drinks have become popular among consumers, especially teenagers and young adults. The drinks gained the attention of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in recent years after reported illnesses and deaths related to the intake of energy drinks. The FDA revealed that adverse-event reports (AERs) filed by patients, families, or doctors. In November, it posted the following AERs for two or more brands of energy drinks: 40 illnesses and five deaths allegedly attributed to one brand and 13 illnesses and two lasting disabilities to another brand.
The AERs do not prove that the product caused harm; they caution that the products may have caused harm. The FDA can remove a product from the market only when an investigation—which includes identifying any underlying medical conditions that may have caused the product-related illnesses--has shown that the product caused harm when it was used according to the product label.
Amid these discussions and evaluations, the article “Too buzzed to sleep?” by Patricia Kime appeared in Marine Corps Times (Nov. 26, 2012). It relates that a study conducted by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research among 988 Army and Marine combat platoon members indicated that 44.9 percent of the survey respondents said they drank at least one energy drink a day and that 13.9 percent of the participants said they drank three or more energy drinks per day. The Institute researchers noted that the study results suggest that consuming high levels of energy drinks might indirectly impair performance in a military setting. They compared the results with those “found in a civilian study that found caffeine use caused an increase in nocturnal worry and sleepiness.”
It is difficult to ascertain how much caffeine is being consumed in these beverages; not all companies list the caffeine content on the product label because the law does not require it. Some drinks have been estimated to contain from 80 mg up to 242 mg of caffeine. Caffeine intoxication is known to cause anxiety, restlessness, and unstable heart rhythm. To put the caffeine content in perspective, eight ounces of Starbucks coffee has 165 milligrams of caffeine, according to Consumer Reports, which notes that safe limits of caffeine range from 400 mg per day for healthy adults, 200 mg a day for pregnant women, and up to 45 or 85 mg per day for children, depending on the individual’s health status.
The military researchers say that more research is needed before a connection between sleep issues and energy drinks can be established. They did recommend, however, that troops be warned about the negative impact drinking too much caffeine can have on their health.
In a related matter, February 13, 2013, the National Consumers League (NCL), on February 13, applauded the Federal Trade Commission for issuing a modified order against Phusion Projects, LLC. The company was cited for making false claims regarding the alcohol content of its Four Loko beverage. According to the NCL, the company’s claim that “a 23.5-ounce can of Four Loko contains the alcohol equivalent of one or two regular 12-ounce beers” was ruled false. The modified order requires that the company to apply to the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) for approval to include an alcohol facts panel on the product. This label would include information about alcohol content, serving size, and servings per container. The company must also redesign its cans so that they are resealable so that the consumer can drink the product in multiple sittings.
Sally Greenberg, NCL’s executive director, notes in a press release: “It is important that consumers are fully aware of how much alcohol they are consuming when they choose a beverage.”
According to the FTC’s modified Order, Phusion Projects, LLC has 90 days to include the required label on its products. “We urge TTB to approve an alcohol facts panel label for Four Loko and to move forward on stalled rulemaking to implement such labels on all alcoholic products,” said Greenberg. “The decision by FTC represents another victory in the fight to ensure consumers are given robust and honest information with which they can make informed consumption decisions.”
Public attention was first focused on Four Loko several years ago when concerns were raised over its combination of alcohol and caffeine. The beverage was popular with college students, some of whom were hospitalized after consuming the beverage. Four Loko was reformulated to remove the caffeine.
• WebMD Health News, Feb. 13, 2013; http://www.webmd.com/diet/news/2012116/more-deaths-illness-energy-drinks?print=true.
• “Too buzzed to sleep? Patricia Kime, Marine Corps Times, Nov. 26, 2012. Thanks to Garry Briese, Briese & Associates, LLC, Castle, Rock, CO, for providing this resource.
Photos courtesy of http://photos8.com.
MARY JANE DITTMAR is senior associate editor of Fire Engineering and conference manager of FDIC. Before joining the magazine in January 1991, she served as editor of a trade magazine in the health/nutrition market and held various positions in the educational and medical advertising fields. She has a bachelor’s degree in English/journalism and a master’s degree in communication arts.