Bed Bugs on the Rise

Bed bugs… yuck.. are on the rise in the US. Click here for the list of the top 10 cities for bed bug infestation (not a top 10 list you want to be on)! Bed bugs are parasitic and feed on the blood of humans and animals as they sleep. What to look for, how to get rid of them in your home and if you are exposed consider  a natural approach.

What is Salmonella Poisoning?

Salmonella Infection (Poisoning)

What is it? Salmonella infection (salmonellosis) is a common bacterial disease that affects the intestinal tract. Salmonella bacteria typically live in animal and human intestines and are shed through feces. Humans become infected most frequently through contaminated water or food.

Causes? Most people are infected with salmonella by eating foods that have been contaminated by feces. Many foods become contaminated when prepared by people who don’t wash their hands thoroughly after using the toilet or changing a diaper. Infection also can occur if you touch something that is contaminated, including pets, especially birds and reptiles, and then put your fingers in your mouth.

Commonly infected foods: raw meats and seafood, fresh fruits and veggies, raw eggs and spice.

Symptoms:    Commonly develop within eight to 72 hours after encountering the contaminated element. Most healthy people recover within a few days without specific treatment.  In some cases, the diarrhea associated with salmonella infection can be so dehydrating as to require prompt medical attention. Life-threatening complications also may develop if the infection spreads beyond your intestines.  Common symptoms can include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Blood in the stool

Increases Complications – Your body has many natural defenses against salmonella infection. For example, strong stomach acid can kill many types of salmonella bacteria. But some medical problems or medications can short-circuit these natural defenses. Examples include:

  • Antacids. Lowering your stomach’s acidity allows more salmonella bacteria to survive.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease. This disorder damages the lining of your intestines, which makes it easier for salmonella bacteria to take hold.
  • Recent use of antibiotics. This can reduce the number of “good” bacteria in your intestines, which may impair your ability to fight off a salmonella infection.

Complications:  Salmonella infection usually isn’t life-threatening. However, in certain people — especially infants and young children, older adults, transplant recipients, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems — the development of complications can be dangerous.

Dehydration –  If you can’t drink enough to replace the fluid you’re losing from persistent diarrhea, you may become dehydrated. Warning signs include: Decreased urine output, dry mouth and tongue, sunken eyes, reduced production of tears.

Bacteremia –  If salmonella infection enters your bloodstream (bacteremia), it can infect tissues in your body, including: The tissues surrounding your brain and spinal cord (meningitis), the lining of your heart or valves, (endocarditis), your bones or bone marrow (osteomyelitis), the lining of blood vessels, especially if you’ve had a vascular graft.

 Reactive Arthritis – People who have had salmonella are at higher risk of developing reactive arthritis. Also known as Reiter’s syndrome. Symptoms can include: Eye irritation, painful urination, painful joints.

Prevention:  Preventive methods are especially important when preparing food or providing care for infants, older adults and people with weakened immune systems. Be sure to cook food thoroughly and refrigerate or freeze food promptly.

  • Wash your hands – Washing your hands thoroughly can help prevent the transfer of salmonella bacteria to your mouth or to any food you’re preparing.  It is especially important to wash your hands after you: Use the toilet, change a diaper, handle raw meat or poultry, clean up pet feces, touch reptiles or birds
  • Keep things separate –  Store raw meat, poultry and seafood away from other foods in your refrigerator, have two cutting boards in your kitchen — one for raw meat and the other for fruits and vegetables, never place cooked food on an unwashed plate that previously held raw meat.
  • Avoid eating – Cookie dough, homemade ice cream and eggnog  that contain raw eggs. If you must consume raw eggs, make sure they’ve been pasteurized.

De- Stress With a ‘Good’ Gut

Some days, weeks, months…  are just tougher than others.  Stress is high, anxiety is part in parcel and your stomach is a mess.  

Keeping yourself healthy, rested and focused is often difficult during stressful times.. but soooo important.  Your ability to make sound decisions in the face of hardship depends on your calm focus.  As you do your best to manage the day to day stressors, don’t forget the importance of the gut – brain connection.

Straight from the Harvard Health Publishing – Harvard Medical School:

“The gut-brain connection is no joke; it can link anxiety to stomach problems and vice versa. Have you ever had a “gut-wrenching” experience? Do certain situations make you “feel nauseous”? Have you ever felt “butterflies” in your stomach? We use these expressions for a reason. The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. Anger, anxiety, sadness, elation — all of these feelings (and others) can trigger symptoms in the gut.”

Likewise,  research shows that stress can negatively affect the trillions of healthy bacteria in your gut, and sub-par gut health can have a depressing effect on your entire system. Understanding how to support your good gut microbes can help you with healthier and happier days.  Occasional stress is inevitable, but fortunately, we can choose to slow down, stop, and prioritize our health. Getting through tough stressful times is much easier when you are rested, your stomach isn’t tied in knots, and you stay calm. 

Tips to Improve Your Gut Health and Improve Your Stress Response:

  1. Diet – Focus on whole and plant based foods.
  2. Rest – Get your sleep.  Not only will you feel emotionally and physically better, your gut microbes are happier for it.
  3. Move Around – Don’t just sit there… Literally. Studies show more active people have healthier gut flora.
  4. Avoid Antibiotics When Possible – These drugs kill off the good flora along with the bad.  This includes antibiotics in the foods you select and prescriptions from your health care provider (discuss the necessity).
  5. Take aProbiotic or Prebiotic/Probiotic Supplement – This will help replenish the good flora.  Look for one with a variety of strains.
  6. Find ways to make your health a priority –  Ways to slow down, appreciate the moment and de-stress can literally save your life.  Be proactive… waiting for an ‘Ah-Ha’ moment or catastrophic event… maybe waiting too long!

Why Gut Health is Crucial to Overall Health

We’ve come a long way in terms of understanding the importance of our gut (intestinal tract) and its importance to overall health.

Years ago (1980’s) a handful of scientists and doctors were researching the influence of intestinal health and its likely connection to overall health and disease.  The mere mention that the ‘bugs’ in your intestine had an effect on your ability to fight infection and disease was met with harsh criticism from conventional medical researchers and negative attention from the FDA.   Most of these pioneer ‘gut bug’ researchers took their work to countries outside of the US, where they were free to pursue this ‘radical’ idea.

Fast forward (2018) –  my how things have changed.  Research regarding intestinal microbes (‘good’ and ‘bad’ bugs – bacteria-  that  live and flourish in the intestines) is considered one of the most critically important. In general there are billions and between 300-500 different kinds of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bugs that live in the intestines.  The balance between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is now known to be a key factor.

Coming up with perfect intestinal bug combination is a work in progress.  Everyone’s intestinal microbe make up is unique – much like a fingerprint.  We now know that gut microbes are determined partly by the mother’s microbe mix — the environment that a person is exposed to at birth — and partly from diet and lifestyle. Research has also proven that these intestinal microbes affect everything from metabolism, to mood, to the immune system.

Further, research suggests the gut bacteria in healthy people are different from those with certain diseases. It’s thought some types of microbes may protect against illness, while others increase the risk.  Additionally, there are issues that can positively or  negatively influence a person’s intestinal microbe count and mix.

With the established general link between gut microbes and disease, scientists began to focus on specifics.  Continued research has shown a clear connection between certain illnesses and the bacteria in your gut.  These illnesses include: heart disease, type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel diseases (including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), obesity, colon cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, autism, depression and anxiety.

We’ve also learned that eating a diet high in fiber rich foods (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains), regular exercise, and supplementing with probiotics can help encourage a healthy and balanced gut microbe mix.  Likewise, a diet high in fat and sugar and low in fiber can kill certain types of gut bacteria (upsetting the balance). The use of antibiotics, which not only wipes out the intended ‘bad’ illness causing bacteria, also kills ‘good’ protective bacteria. (When antibiotics are needed, a discussion regarding supplementing ‘good’ intestinal flora with a probiotic should be addressed with the health care professional prescribing the antibiotic treatment).

What’s next?  We know that microbes (‘good’ and ‘bad’ bugs) also live on our skin and in our lungs.  These too have a connection to disease or lack thereof.  Experts say that future research needs focus on those areas as well as the intestines in order to pinpoint the exact types of bacteria that lead to certain ailments.  Then, you may be able to just take a probiotic pill and stave off diabetes or treat arthritis… that’s the future.  Considering how far we’ve come in 25 years…  that future may not be too far off.

Kissing Bugs, Parasites and Their Disease

Parasite Spread by Nighttime ‘Kissing Bug’ – Chagas Disease…

Since our FB post and “In the News” post to this site about ‘kissing’ bugs that bite people’s faces in the dark of night as they sleep.. spreading a horrid parasitic disease… the phone, email and FB questions have been going crazy!  One person wrote… “OMG, I saw one of these bugs on my porch and then one in my garage.  Never paid much attention before, but after seeing your post and a picture of this bug… it freaks me out.  I’m not a big pesticide person.. but this bug may be a game changer!”  Another comment: “You’ve got to be kidding.. those bugs are all over the place here!  Now, how am I going to sleep?”

Before you freak out, let’s get the facts on this creepy bug!  The University of Wisconsin’s School of Medicine and Public Health website has a great description of the bug: “Kissing bugs are wingless insects that are about 0.75 in. (1.9 cm) long. Kissing bugs are dark brown or black with red or orange spots along the edge of their bodies. They are also called assassin bugs or cone-nosed bugs. Like mosquitoes, kissing bugs feed on blood from animals or people. Kissing bugs have that name because their bites are often found around the mouth. They usually hide during the day and are active at night when they feed. They can go for weeks without feeding.”

That said, there are a couple issues with these nighttime darlings that are problematic: #1 Their bites itch like crazy and can become infected, #2 Some carry a parasite that causes Chagas disease, and #3 They are not that easy to get rid of.

Let’s address each issue:

#1 – When they bite, kissing bugs can cause patches of bites, often around the mouth (hence ‘kissing’ bug). The bites are usually painless, but they may swell and look like hives. Itching from the bites may last a week. It’s important not to scratch the bites, because according to the Mayo Clinic’s Patient Healthcare and Information website: “Scratching or rubbing the bite site helps the parasites enter your body. Once in your body, the parasites multiply and spread.

#2 – The possibility of contracted Chagas disease is probably the most feared aspect of a bite.  First of all, not all kissing bugs carry the parasite that causes this disease.  Chagas (CHAH-gus) disease is an inflammatory, infectious disease caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which is found in the feces of the kissing bug. Infected bugs defecate after feeding, leaving behind T. cruzi parasites on the skin. The parasites can then enter your body through your eyes, mouth, a cut or scratch, or the wound from the bug’s bite. (We know… not pleasant). It is a disease primarily found in South America, Central America and Mexico, the primary home of the kissing bug. Cases of Chagas disease have been diagnosed in the southern United States, as well. It can infect anyone and left untreated, can cause serious heart and digestive problems.

The two phases of Chagas disease are well explained by the Mayo Clinic on their website for Patient Healthcare and Information, where they state, “Chagas disease can cause a sudden, brief illness (acute), or it may be a long-lasting (chronic) condition. Symptoms range from mild to severe, although many people don’t experience symptoms until the chronic stage.”

Acute phase

The acute phase of Chagas disease, which lasts for weeks or months, is often symptom-free. When signs and symptoms do occur, they are usually mild and may include:

  • Swelling at the infection site
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Rash
  • Body aches
  • Eyelid swelling
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea, diarrhea or vomiting
  • Swollen glands
  • Enlargement of your liver or spleen

Signs and symptoms that develop during the acute phase usually go away on their own. If left untreated, the infection persists and, in some cases, advances to the chronic phase.

Chronic phase

Signs and symptoms of the chronic phase of Chagas disease may occur 10 to 20 years after initial infection, or they may never occur. In severe cases, however, Chagas disease signs and symptoms may include:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Sudden cardiac arrest
  • Difficulty swallowing due to enlarged esophagus
  • Abdominal pain or constipation due to enlarged colon

Treatment for Chagas Disease

As stated on the World Health Organization’s website: “Treatment is urgently indicated for anyone during the acute phase and for those in whom the infection has been reactivated (immunosuppression). In these situations, treatment is almost 100% effective, and the disease can be completely cured.”  ‘Treatment’ involves the use of prescription medications.  The longer a person is infected, the less effective ‘treatment’ becomes.  The World Health Organization further states. “Adults, especially those with the indeterminate form of the disease, should be offered treatment, but its potential benefits in preventing or delaying the development of Chagas disease should be weighed against the long duration and frequent adverse events. During the late chronic phase, when cardiac or digestive manifestations may occur, additional lifelong medical treatment and surgery are usually indicated.”

What to do if you feel as though you may have been bitten by one of these darlings:

  • Wash the bites with soap to help decrease the chance of infection.
  • Try calamine lotion or an anti-itch cream to calm the itching. You can also hold an oatmeal pack (wrap 1 cup (0.2 L) of oatmeal in a cotton wash cloth, and boil it for a few minutes until it is soft) – holding on the itchy area for 15 minutes at a time.
  • Intermittent application of ice packs may also relieve any swelling.
  • See a medical professional if you think the bite may be infected. Or as the Mayo Clinic suggests, “See your doctor if you live in or have traveled to an area at risk of Chagas disease and you have signs and symptoms of the condition, such as swelling at the infection site, fever, fatigue, body aches, rash and nausea.”

#3 Kissing bugs can be hard to get rid of. These bugs can hide in cracks and crevices in your mattress, bed frame, and box spring. They can also spread into cracks and crevices in rooms, where they lay their eggs. Even if you’re not a big fan of pesticides, considering the alternative consequences, it is best to call a professional insect control company for treatment choices.

Prevention is almost always the first course of action.  Taking these steps would best to prevent these bugs from getting into your house:

  • Seal gaps around windows and doors. Fill in any holes or cracks in walls or screens that could let kissing bugs into your house.
  • Let your pets sleep inside, especially at night. Keep pets from sleeping in a bedroom. Keep clean areas where your pet sleeps.
  • Clean up any piles of wood or rocks that are up against your house.

It’s important to note these bugs are broadening their territories  (spreading) across the US and estimates of human cases of Chagas disease in the US range from 300,000 to over 1 million, with particular concern for those living in the US/Mexico border regions. In addition to documented cases in immigrants who were infected in central and South America, there are increasing reports of human cases of Chagas disease acquired in the United States.

Cyclospora – Common Microscopic Parasite

Cyclospora cayetanensis is a microscopic (cannot see it without a microscope) parasite, that when ingested causes an intestinal illness – aptly named – Cyclosporiasis.  People can develop this illness by consuming food or water that is contaminated with the parasite.  It is most common in tropical and subtropical regions.

In the US this parasite is spread primarily through foodborne outbreaks linked to various imported fresh produce, such as lettuce, basil, raspberries and cilantro. Infection also occurs when those from the US travel to Cyclospora-endemic areas.  Beware… the treatment of water or food by routine chemical disinfection or sanitizing methods is unlikely to kill this nasty bug!

Cyclospora is a particularly tricky parasite.  It produces some common intestinal parasitic symptoms that include: diarrhea and explosive bowel movements, stomach cramps or pain, gas, nausea and fatigue.  Vomiting, headache, fever and body aches (flu-like symptoms) can also occur.  The not so common symptom is that the ‘illness’ phase may last a few days to a few months… then the person may start to feel much better, only to have their symptoms return!  To further complicate this bugger – It’s incubation period can be anywhere from 2 to 14 days!  Add to this, that diagnosis (done by examining stool samples) can be difficult at best.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that even patients with severe symptoms might not shed enough ‘evidence’ in their stool to detect this parasite.  Therefore, it often requires several stool specimens collected on different days.  Let’s make this even tougher…. Identification of this particular parasite requires special lab tests that are not routinely done when stool is tested for parasites.  Healthcare professionals must specifically request testing for Cyclospora!

If a diagnosis is made, antibiotics usually do the trick… but the ones that work are sulfa based. For those who have a sulfa allergy or who do not respond to this antibiotic treatment, there is no known alternative antibiotic treatment that works. Many seek alternative over-the-counter remedies.

Your best prevention is to follow safe fruit and vegetable handling recommendations and pay attention to all food recalls.  The following are prevention tips recommended by the CDC.

Wash: Wash hands with soap and warm water before and after handling or preparing fruits and vegetables. Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with soap and hot water between the preparation of raw meat, poultry, and seafood products and the preparation of fruits and vegetables that will not be cooked.

Prepare: Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water before eating, cutting, or cooking. Fruits and vegetables that are labeled “prewashed” do not need to be washed again at home. Scrub firm fruits and vegetables, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush. Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fruits and vegetables before preparing and eating.

Store: Refrigerate cut, peeled, or cooked fruits and vegetables as soon as possible, or within 2 hours. Store fruits and vegetables away from raw meat, poultry, and seafood.


Hookworms – The what, how and more.

Hookworms are a ‘bad’ bug… parasitic worm that infects humans and animals.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC ) website says that these nasty’s affect 500+ to 700+ million people worldwide.  If not treated promptly, serious complications can develop.

Hookworms are typically transmitted through infected soil. The soil gets infected from a person’s feces (that has hookworm) with hookworm eggs.  This happens when an infected person defecates outdoors.  The eggs then hatch and develop into a larval stage that can penetrate the skin of humans.  Walking barefoot or having your skin come into contact with soil containing this larval stage of hookworm, transmits the hookworm.  Warm humid climates – especially where sanitation and hygiene are not the best are most at risk for hookworm infestation.

How to know if you’ve been infected with hookworm?  In the early stages of infection, a localized rash can form.. and it typically itches.  Sometimes the shape of a worm can be seen on the surface of the skin.  If not treated, the larvae can travel to other internal organs (commonly the lungs).  Then when the infected person coughs up the worms and swallows – the parasite can enter the small intestine.  There they can cause gastrointestinal issues, ranging from mild (abdominal pain, diarrhea, loss of appetite) to serious (ascites- serious loss of protein with fluid build up in the abdomen).

How to get rid of them?  There are a couple of drugs that are commonly used to treat hookworm infestation.  They generally do the job. However, as noted in a recent story, written by Lindsey Bever for the Washington Post, about a boy who was infected from sand on a Florida beach…

Dumas said the doctor gave Michael an antibiotic and an anti-parasitic, but the medication “wasn’t working fast enough,” so she made an emergency appointment with a dermatologist earlier this month.

Dumas said the dermatologist used cryotherapy, a treatment in which liquid nitrogen is commonly used to “freeze” lesions off the skin. But during treatment, the teen’s mother said that her son urged the doctor to stop, saying he felt as though he could “feel it running from the liquid nitrogen.”

“It’s disgusting,” she said. “It’s beyond disgusting.”

There are herbal ingredients that have been used for centuries to combat a variety of ‘bad’ bugs.  The three most common are: cloves, wormwood and black walnut.  Whether or not that would do the trick on Michael’s severe case, is up for discussion.  Naturopathic doctors (N.D.’s)  often suggest hitting a bad case from all sides..  conventional meds to botanicals.  Seeking advice from health care professionals is always recommended.

Note: Conventional antibiotic treatment will also kill the ‘good’ bugs in your gut.  Supplementing with a  probiotic (dietary supplement of ‘good’ bacteria) is usually recommended… talk to your health care provider.  Probiotic formulas are available over-the-counter and from vitamin companies online.  Go for a Non-GMO formula.

Tapeworms – Yikes!!!

Having a parasite grow inside of you is an unpleasant enough thought… the only thing that ups that, is if it’s a tapeworm. 

Scary: Tapeworms get the award for the freakiest… hence the recent media flurry over NHL prospect Carson Meyer. For months, the 21-year-old was losing weight and feeling exhausted. Even after many blood tests, doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him. Eventually, a tapeworm (in excess of 2 feet long) came out of his body. “I was freaking out. Absolutely freaking out,” he said. Doctors said the tapeworm had probably been inside of him for over a year. Luckily, he’s now better– But how did that worm get inside of him to begin with?

The basics: Tapeworms are flatworm parasite that resides in the intestines of people and animals. There’s more than one kind (different species), but according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common in the United States is Taenia solium, or commonly called the pork tapeworm. This type is most often picked up by eating undercooked meat. The type of tapeworm Meyer had (Diphyllobothrium latum) comes from eating undercooked fish.

The details: Once granted access to its host, the “head” of the worm attaches to the wall of the host’s intestine. Here it begins to feed (absorbing nutrients).  With plenty of food, it grows lots of little segments, which contain its eggs (are often passed out in the host’s stool). Some tapeworm eggs can survive for days or months in feces from infected hosts (animals included).  When cows or pigs eat infected excrement (it gets into their feed), the eggs hatch and the larvae form into cysts that get into the animals’ muscles.  That’s how the tapeworm cysts end up in the meat aisle in the grocery store. When the meat is cooked properly, the larvae die, and the meat is safe to eat. But if the meat is raw or undercooked,  the live larva can enter your GI tract, where it grows into an adult (and we are talking – depending on the species – up to 82 feet long!!! – Yes, the super freaky part!)

Even worse:  A couple of years ago,  Luis Ortiz, a 26-year-old man in California, had a “still wiggling” tapeworm pulled from his brain! He needed emergency brain surgery, and he ended up spending almost three months in the hospital. How did the tapeworm get from his intestines to his brain???  When someone ingests tapeworm eggs, the larvae can invade the intestinal wall and travel to their organs; surviving in their brain, liver, and lung tissue. If they reach the brain,  they can cause seizures and other neurological problems and develop into a potentially fatal condition called neurocysticercosis. Usually pork tapeworm eggs are ingested directly from infected fecal matter.  It’s also  possible to auto-infect yourself:  Best-ever reason to wash your hands after you use the bathroom!

Scarier: The perhaps even scarier (yes, it can get scarier) thought is that if you by chance chow down on a rare piece of meat or raw seafood and don’t get food poisoning symptoms within a day or so, chances are you’re think everything is A.OK.  By the time tapeworm symptoms develop – you’ll have long forgotten about the undercooked or raw treat you had!