Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pitcher plant doubles as toilet for tree shrews


Jug-shaped plants use the shrew's feces as a much-needed nitrogen source

Image: Tree shrewMountain tree shrews (Tupaia montana), like this one, feed on the nectar coating the undersides of pitcher plant leaves. Conveniently, they can also defecate into the pitcher, leaving nitrogen-rich feces for the plant to consume.

By Jeanna Bryner
updated 11:11 a.m. CT, Tues., June 23, 2009

When you gotta go you gotta go, and for small tropical mammals called tree shrews, a pitcher plant serves as a handy toilet, new video research finds.

The jug-shaped plants make out just fine, too: They use the shrew's feces as a much-needed nitrogen source.

Most pitcher plants are carnivorous, trapping ants and other insects that slip down the sides of the pitcher into a pool of digestive enzymes. The new finding, published online June 10 in the journal Biology Letters, reveals at least one type of pitcher plant "feeds on" the poop from tree shrews in lieu of insects.

"Basically it's a toilet complete with a feeding station," said study team member Jonathan Moran of Royal Roads University in British Columbia.

Team member Ulrike Bauer of the University of Cambridge in England set up video cameras that recorded activities around several Nepenthes lowii pitcher plants in a mountainous cloud forest on the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia.

The researchers focused on the mature N. lowii plants. While the immature plants of this species grow on the ground and trap unsuspecting ants and other insects, the mature plants attach to vines and other vegetation. It's this aerial type the researchers observed was likely devouring feces rather than insects.

Sure enough, video observations showed mountain tree shrews (Tupaia montana) jumping onto the plants, licking nectar from the underside of the leaf that sits atop each plant's opening and defecating into the pot. The video even showed that tree shrews mark the plants with their scent by rubbing their genitals onto the lid before scrambling away. The tree shrews often visit the same "circuit" of pitchers when feeding.

"We've found little to no evidence of invertebrate prey in the aerial pitchers," Moran said, referring to insect prey. "They've effectively lost the capacity to trap animals."

Perfect powder rooms
Closer examination of the plants showed they have adapted to make for perfect powder rooms.

"Lowii has modified their aerial pitcher to be a toilet," Moran said. For instance, the rim of the pitcher is not slippery like it is in the insect-trapping varieties such as the ground-lying, terrestrial N. lowii pitchers. That way, tree shrews stay safe from a spill while eating and pooping.

"It's very tough, there's lots of reinforcement, because [the pitcher is] hanging off the end of a leaf and it has to be able to support a tree shrew," Moran told LiveScience, adding the animals can weigh less than half a pound (150 grams).

N. lowii also produces the largest known quantity of nectar of any Nepenthes species, enough to fill the bellies of hungry tree shrews, Moran explained.

And there's no way for the animals to miss the hole. The shape of the pitcher opening and orientation of the leaf lid that's coated with nectar ensure a tree shrew will position its hindquarters over the orifice while feeding.

"[The tree shrew] licks the lid, and if it needs to take a bathroom break then it's positioned perfectly for that," Moran said. "Plus it's a funnel so the next time it rains the feces will be washed into the pitcher."

The adaptations for feces-feeding make sense in this mountainous environment, where insect prey is scarce, Moran said.

Both the ground and aerial types of this pitcher plant ultimately suck out the nitrogen from their meals, using it to grow. But while the ground plants feed on the crumbs, the aerials feed to their heart's content as tree shrews (and their feces) are plentiful at such high altitudes in Borneo.

In fact, the new research showed the aerial pitchers get between 57 percent and 100 percent of their nitrogen from feces.

This partnership is likely an old one. "The fact that the aerial pitchers are so tailored to the shape and activities of the tree shrew suggests this has been going on for a long time," Moran said.

© 2009 LiveScience.com. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

CNN Heros for 2009: Shin Fujiyama

SOURCE: http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/05/11/cnnheroes.shin.fujiyama/index.html

Fighting poverty one campus at a time

  • Story Highlights
  • Shin Fujiyama's Students Helping Honduras aids children and families in need
  • The campaign has grown to 25 campuses and raised more than $750,000
  • Group members are helping to rebuild a village devastated by a 1998 hurricane
  • Do you know a hero? Nominations are open at CNN.com/Heroes

FREDERICKSBURG, Virginia (CNN) -- Shin Fujiyama's life has been highlighted by second chances.

Shin Fujiyama's organization, Students Helping Honduras, has raised more than $750,000.

Shin Fujiyama's organization, Students Helping Honduras, has raised more than $750,000.

Born in a fishing village in Japan, Fujiyama, 25, recalls a childhood dominated by health concerns. Doctors told his parents that he had a hole in his heart and "they didn't think I had lot longer to live." But during a later visit to the doctor, Fujiyama says, his family learned the hole had closed.

"Somehow I was cured and I became a normal kid," Fujiyama says. "And I had a second chance."

During his sophomore year at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, he volunteered in Honduras with a campus group and was struck by the extreme poverty he saw -- barefoot children collecting cans and sleeping in the streets. Fujiyama says he realized he could help give other children their own second chance.

Today, his organization, Students Helping Honduras, brings education and community projects to children and families in need through student service trips and fundraisers. Do you know someone who should be a CNN Hero? Nominations are open at CNN.com/Heroes

"Seeing the country and being able to make a difference really opened my eyes to a lot of things," he says. "I saw such a great need. I wanted to keep helping."

He started by telling his friends about his experience and collecting spare change at his two campus jobs, but Fujiyama found that organizing other students didn't happen so easily.

"When I had my very first meeting, I got all dressed up. And only two people showed up," he says. "I knew I had to keep fighting."

He enlisted his younger sister, Cosmo, then a student at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, to the cause.

"She's dynamite," he says. "When she talks in front of a crowd, she can move mountains. Knowing that she was behind it, I knew I could do anything."

Since 2006, the siblings' grass-roots campaign to help Honduras has grown to 25 campuses and raised more than $750,000 to fund projects, including the construction of two schools and the establishment of scholarships to help young women attend college.

Fujiyama says students are deeply committed to the organization because they are involved on every level: They raise money and then travel to Honduras to help build houses.

"We make friends with all the kids, all the families -- no matter where we're from. We've had people from all over the world come to Honduras with us. And it's a great network we've made," he says. Video Watch Fujiyama and his group in action »

While Fujiyama spends his summers in Honduras working alongside volunteers, he spends a large portion of the year on the road visiting colleges to organize chapters and raise funds. Cosmo Fujiyama, 23, lives in Honduras full time to coordinate the group's building efforts on the ground.

Students Helping Honduras is working with community members of Siete de Abril to build a new village. Many of the families lost their belongings to Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

"A lot of them are single mothers. They don't own the land. They all live in cardboard houses. They don't have access to clean water [or] health care, and they didn't have a school," Shin Fujiyama says.

Fujiyama's group helped villagers purchase a new plot of land to rebuild. Its members have helped build 44 homes in the village that has been newly named Villa Soleada ("Sunshine Village"). The organization also is raising funds to build a water tower, an eco-friendly sanitation system and a library and to help provide electricity. Video Watch Fujiyama describe how the village came to be »

For Fujiyama, who deferred medical school to dedicate himself to his mission in Honduras, the lifestyle is a far cry from private practice, but he says he loves what he is doing. Video Watch Fujiyama describe how a second chance and a trip to Honduras changed his life »

"I feel like we're making a huge impact. Some people might think that you have to be somebody famous or a millionaire or a doctor to do something," he says. "But we're just everyday students -- people in their 20s. We can do so much. We've got so many things going for us. ... It's just about leveraging what we have. And we have done a great job at that."

Want to get involved? Check out Students Helping Honduras and see how to help.

CNN Heros for 2009: Andrea Ivory

SOURCE: http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/04/23/andrea.ivory/index.html

Army of volunteers saves lives with clipboards, high spirits

  • Story Highlights
  • Breast cancer survivor founds group to educate women about the disease
  • Andrea Ivory, 50, and her volunteers have visited nearly 18,000 homes
  • Since '06, Ivory has helped provide more than 500 mammograms
  • Do you know a hero? Nominations are open at CNN.com/Heroes

WEST PARK, Florida (CNN) -- "We are an army," says Andrea Ivory of the group gathered with her early on a Saturday morning.

Breast cancer survivor Andrea Ivory is on a mission to educate Florida communities about the disease, one door at a time.

Breast cancer survivor Andrea Ivory is on a mission to educate Florida communities about the disease, one door at a time.

Armed with clipboards, leaflets and high spirits, the energetic Ivory leads them into the neighborhood, where they start knocking on doors. The mood is lighthearted, but their mission is serious: to save lives, one house at a time.

They're volunteers from the Florida Breast Health Initiative, or FBHI, and they are waging war against breast cancer. It's an effort started by Ivory, 50, herself a survivor of the disease.

Every weekend in the spring and fall, she and her volunteers -- who include college students, senior citizens and suburban moms, all wearing matching T-shirts -- fan out across low-income communities in southern Florida, educating women about breast health.

They especially seek out uninsured women age 35 and older, who statistics show are twice as likely to be diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer, and thus more likely to die from the disease.

For Ivory, comparing this work to a battle isn't overblown.

"The only thing that we have to fight this disease and lower the mortality rate is early detection," she says. "We are the troops on the front lines."

Since 2006, Ivory has helped provide more than 500 mammograms to eligible women.

Ivory herself had always been diligent about getting annual mammograms, but when the breast cancer diagnosis came in 2004, she took it in stride.

"I just knew that it was for a higher purpose," she recalls.

Ivory says that purpose became clear during her cancer treatment. Reflecting on how lucky she was to have health insurance and to have gotten annual mammograms, she realized that thousands of women without health care were likely falling through the cracks and putting themselves at risk.

"Those women don't even have a fighting chance," she says. "The mission became reach[ing] those women."

Ivory started FBHI to do just that. Her mantra: "Early detection is the best protection." Do you know someone who should be a CNN Hero? Nominations are open at CNN.com/Heroes

The operation runs like clockwork. The first three Saturdays of each month are devoted to outreach -- distributing educational materials and signing up women for free mammograms. She and her volunteers have visited nearly 18,000 homes.

"I love knocking on doors," Ivory says with a smile. "I like to think of us as little pixies spreading breast cancer awareness."

On the last Saturday of each month, a large mobile mammography van from a partner hospital rolls into the neighborhood, bringing screening technology directly to women who need it.

As they line up around the van, the excitement is palpable. Since many have never had a mammogram, Ivory and her team try to make the experience fun -- providing refreshments, smiles and support.

One mammogram recipient said the "convenience factor" of the free screenings made the offer too easy to refuse.

"Ultimately this is the reason we do the work that we do," says Ivory, "because we want to screen women who would not ordinarily have [the] opportunity." Video Watch Ivory and her army in action »

Telmilda Ariza, 62, always had health insurance, but after losing her job, her annual mammogram became a financial burden. She smiles when recalling the volunteers' first visit to her home.

"They knocked on my door and, wow! It was [a] miracle, coming from the sky," she says. "It's something I really needed."

Ariza was so grateful that she started volunteering and knocking on doors herself. Video Watch Ariza describe how she went from recipient to volunteer »

Charlene Thomas, another of Ivory's regular volunteers, considers herself living proof of the program's impact. Uninsured, she'd paid for her mammogram out of her own pocket, but when she needed a follow-up, she kept putting it off because it was so expensive.

"I had other priorities. It seems stupid now," she admits. "But I didn't think anything was wrong with me."

She finally asked Ivory for help and FBHI paid for the screening. It led Thomas to a cancer diagnosis and ultimately a mastectomy.

"The fact that I was diagnosed and am cancer free -- there's no way I would've done it without the Florida Breast Health Initiative," says Thomas, who was back knocking on doors three weeks after surgery. "Now I feel more of a sense of urgency. I'm knocking on doors trying to find myself."

Stories like this only deepen Ivory's commitment to her cause. For her, every day is a chance to educate women about fighting the disease and Ivory says she's determined to expand her efforts around Florida and far beyond the boundaries of her state. Video Watch Ivory's group bring mobile mammography to the neighborhoods »

"In the future, we want a fleet of mammogram vans. We'd love to do outreaches all over the country," she says. "No woman needs to die from breast cancer. I can't be a doctor, but I know I can save a life. Every time I knock on the door, it's a chance to do that."

Want to get involved? Check out The Florida Breast Health Initiative and see how to help

CNN Heros for 2009: Suezette Steinhard

Mom stands between families and homelessness

  • Story Highlights
  • Suezette Steinhardt saves low-income families from homelessness
  • Her nonprofit, Family PASS, has helped 15 Virginia families
  • The program is based out of her home; her basement is a child care center
  • Do you know a hero? Nominations are open at CNN.com/Heroes

VIENNA, Virginia (CNN) -- Despite working three jobs, Carolina Wines and her husband, George Wines, couldn't afford housing. For six months they had to live out of their van, hanging sheets on the windows for privacy and stopping at gas stations to wash up.

Suezette Steinhardt, right, helped George and Carolina Wines move from their van to an apartment.

Suezette Steinhardt, right, helped George and Carolina Wines move from their van to an apartment.

A medical disability kept George Wines from working, leaving it to his wife to support both of them.

It was a battle, and they were losing.

Obtaining affordable housing "was impossible," she said. The couple spent five years on the public housing wait list.

"When it would be really cold, in the 20s, I'd be up most of the night keeping the van running," said George Wines.

But with help from Suezette Steinhardt, families such as the Wineses are getting back on track and into their own homes. The couple now have an apartment, and Carolina Wines said she is moving forward with her education and her career.

"Without Suezette," said Carolina Wines, "we would probably be dead."

Using her Virginia home as headquarters, Steinhardt, a suburban mom, created Family Preservation and Strengthening Services, or Family PASS, to help provide affordable housing and support services to low-income families. She aims to keep families in her community out of shelters and on a path to self-sufficiency. Do you know someone who should be a CNN Hero? Nominations are open at CNN.com/Heroes

"When we have an economy like this, the people at the very bottom are really going to be hit," said Steinhardt. "As a mother, as a neighbor to these families, I have to be a part of the solution of what's going on in our community." Video Watch the Wineses describe life in their van before meeting Steinhardt »

For Steinhardt, 52, the key is bridging the gap between the time families exit transitional housing programs and they obtain affordable, permanent housing.

Most of the clients in Steinhardt's program are single mothers struggling to make ends meet.

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"My mom was a single mom. She had four children. She started at minimum wage," she said. "I understand how hard it is for someone to raise a family in those circumstances."

Steinhardt's mission began in 2004 after witnessing a single mother go through an ordeal trying to make it on her own.

The woman, who had a full-time job, stable child care and transportation, had been living in the transitional housing facility where Steinhardt worked. But when the woman's time at the shelter was up, Steinhardt says her salary did not qualify her to rent an apartment.

"I kept thinking, 'Why? She has a good job. The rent's not that high. What's going on?' Steinhardt recalled. "I did her budget [and] realized that at a low rent, working full time ... if she just paid her bills, not buying food, not buying clothing, she was already [in] a $300 to $400 deficit each month."

Steinhardt and her husband decided to step in and use their own money to help the woman and her family.

"We worked with the landlord, got the lease, and then we subsidized the rest," she said. "And that's how we got started."

The approach worked so well that Steinhardt sent an e-mail to a few dozen friends: "If you think this is a good thing, forward it to a few people," it said.

The response stunned her. Donations poured in from people she didn't even know, she said, including a check for $7,000.

That motivated Steinhardt to work harder, and Family PASS took off. Clients are referred by local churches, social service agencies or the Department of Family Services.

In addition to placing families in housing and subsidizing rents, the program provides education and employment opportunities.

Steinhardt also turned the basement of her home into a child care center, allowing parents in her program to go back to school at night.

"We just put the support under them so they can realize what they can do," she said. "Whatever they need to move forward, we're going to find some way to do it." Video Watch Steinhardt describe how she's helping families out of homelessness »

Family PASS has helped 15 families out of homelessness and continues to provide them with support. For Steinhardt, the days may be long, but seeing families begin to flourish makes it all worth it.

"I've had one mom ... [who is] dead tired, picking her kids up at 10:30 at night. And they're all asleep and she'll start telling me something about a program that she loves. I know she needs to go to bed. I know I need to go to bed. But I love it. I love that excitement."

CNN Heros for 2009: Efren Peñaflorida

SOURCE: http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cnn.heroes/archive09/efran.penaflorida.html

Pushcart classes help break gang chain

  • Story Highlights
  • Efren Peñaflorida was bullied by gangs in high school in the Philippines
  • Now his Dynamic Teen Company offers an alternative to gangs through education
  • Since 1997, some 10,000 members have taught more than 1,500 children in slums
  • Do you know a hero? Nominations are open at CNN.com/Heroes

CAVITE CITY, Philippines (CNN) -- At 16, Rhandolf Fajardo reflects on his former life as a gang member.

Efren Peñaflorida's Dynamic Teen Company offers Filipino youth an alternative to gangs through education.

Efren Peñaflorida's Dynamic Teen Company offers Filipino youth an alternative to gangs through education.

"My gang mates were the most influential thing in my life," says Fajardo, who joined a gang when he was in sixth grade. "We were pressured to join."

He's not alone. In the Philippines, teenage membership in urban gangs has surged to an estimated 130,000 in the past 10 years, according to the Preda Foundation, a local human rights charity.

"I thought I'd get stuck in that situation and that my life would never improve," recalls Fajardo. "I would probably be in jail right now, most likely a drug addict -- if I hadn't met Efren."

Efren Peñaflorida, 28, also was bullied by gangs in high school. Today, he offers Filipino youth an alternative to gang membership through education.

"Gang members are groomed in the slums as early as 9 years old," says Peñaflorida. "They are all victims of poverty."

For the past 12 years, Peñaflorida and his team of teen volunteers have taught basic reading and writing to children living on the streets. Their main tool: A pushcart classroom. Do you know someone who should be a CNN Hero? Nominations are open at CNN.com/Heroes

Stocked with books, pens, tables and chairs, his Dynamic Teen Company recreates a school setting in unconventional locations such as the cemetery and municipal trash dump.

Peñaflorida knows firsthand the adversity faced by these children. Born into a poor family, he lived in a shanty near the city dump site. But he says he refused to allow his circumstances to define his future.

"Instead of being discouraged, I promised myself that I would pursue education," he recalls. "I will strive hard; I will do my best."

In high school, Peñaflorida faced a new set of challenges. Gang activity was rampant; they terrorized the student body, vandalized the school and inducted members by forcing them to rape young girls, he says.

"I felt the social discrimination. I was afraid to walk down the street."

Peñaflorida remembers standing up to a gang leader, refusing to join his gang. That confrontation proved fateful. At 16, he and his friends "got the idea to divert teenagers like us to be productive," he says.

He created the Dynamic Teen Company to offer his classmates an outlet to lift up themselves and their community. For Peñaflorida, that meant returning to the slums of his childhood to give kids the education he felt they deserved.

"They need education to be successful in life. It's just giving them what others gave to me," he says.

Today, children ranging from ages 2 to 14 flock to the pushcart every Saturday to learn reading, writing, arithmetic and English from Peñaflorida and his trained teen volunteers. Video Watch Peñaflorida and his group in action with their push cart classroom »

"Our volunteers serve as an inspiration to other children," he says.

The group also runs a hygiene clinic, where children can get a bath and learn how to brush their teeth.

Since 1997, an estimated 10,000 members have helped teach more than 1,500 children living in the slums. The organization supports its efforts by making and selling crafts and collecting items to recycle. Video Take a look at the slums where Peñaflorida and his group spend their Saturdays »

Through his group, Peñaflorida has successfully mentored former gang members, addicts and dropouts, seeing potential where others see problems.

"Before, I really didn't care for my life," says Michael Advincula, who started doing drugs when he was 7. "But then Efren patiently dug me from where I was buried. It was Efren who pushed me to get my life together." Video Watch Advincula describe how he met Peñaflorida in the slums »

Today, Advincula is a senior in high school and one of the group's volunteers.

Peñaflorida hopes to expand the pushcart to other areas, giving more children the chance to learn and stay out of gangs.


"I always tell my volunteers that you are the change that you dream and I am the change that I dream. And collectively we are the change that this world needs to be."

Want to get involved? Check out the Dynamic Teen Company and see how to help.

First 'anti-stab' knife to go on sale in Britain

June 15, 2009
Round-nosed knives designed by John Cornock


The knives are expected to sell for £40-50

The first “anti-stab” knife is to go on sale in Britain, designed to work as normal in the kitchen but to be ineffective as a weapon.

The knife has a rounded edge instead of a point and will snag on clothing and skin to make it more difficult to stab someone.

It was invented by industrial designer John Cornock, who was inspired by a documentary in which doctors advocated banning traditional knives.

Mr Cornock, 42, from Swindon, said that the knife will cut vegetables, but will make it almost impossible to stab someone to death and will reduce the risk of accidental injuries.

He said: “It can never be a totally safe knife, but the idea is you can’t inflict a fatal wound. Nobody could just grab one out of the kitchen drawer and kill someone.”

The knife is expected to sell for around £40-50 and has been tested with “very favourable” results by the Home Office’s Design and Technology Alliance - set up to research products that can deter crime.

Microbe Wakes Up After 120,000 Years in Ice (EXCERPT)

SOURCE: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,526460,00.html
By Jeanna Bryner

After more than 120,000 years trapped beneath a block of ice in Greenland, a tiny microbe has awoken. The long-lasting bacteria may hold clues to what life forms might exist on other planets.

The new bacteria species was found nearly 2 miles (3 km) beneath a Greenland glacier, where temperatures can dip well below freezing, pressure soars, and food and oxygen are scarce.

To coax it back to life, Brenchley, Jennifer Loveland-Curtze and their Penn State colleagues incubated the samples at 36 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) for seven months, followed by more than four months at 41 degrees F (5 degrees C).

The resulting colonies of the originally purple-brown bacteria, now named Herminiimonas glaciei, are alive and well. It is 10 to 50 times smaller than Escherichia coli, the new bacteria likely could more efficiently absorb nutrients due to a larger surface-to-volume ratio. The new bacterium is described in the current issue of the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.

Another hardy bacterium in the same area that had survived for about 120,000 years as well. Chryseobacterium greenlandensis had tiny bud-like structures on its surface that may have played a role in the organism's survival.

Secret allergy triggers

Secret allergy triggers

  • Story Highlights
  • What kinds of wall paints trigger itchy eyes and headaches?
  • How can you avoid soaps that make your skin itch?
  • Candles, perfume, lemons and limes can all trigger allergy like symptoms
  • Experts offer advice on how to fight back against secret allergy triggers
By Arianne Cohen
-- You could blame weeds, trees, and grasses if you start itching, sneezing, coughing, and wheezing this fall. But the usual suspects aren't the only triggers.
Limonene, found in limes, gives many people watery eyes and a burning sensation in the nose, say doctors.

Limonene, found in limes, gives many people watery eyes and a burning sensation in the nose, say doctors.

A host of household items candles, chemicals, stuffed animals, and spices may be the real culprits.

"Many homes are filled with irritants, and if there's a high enough count of an irritant, you'll react," says Christopher Randolph, MD, an allergy expert at Yale University. Here, a rundown of 11 sneaky suspects and how to stop them from bothering you.

Lemons and limes

Limonene, a zesty compound in lime and other citrus fruits, gives many people watery eyes and a burning sensation in the nose, according to James Wedner, MD, chief of allergy and immunology at the Washington University School of Medicine. It might even irritate your skin, whether you touch, eat, or drink products containing limonene.

What to do: If you get a rash, treat it with topical hydrocortisone creams used for bug bites and poison ivy. And natch, skip the lemon or lime wedge with your drink or salad, and look out for lime in salad dressings, desserts, and marinades (it's used in numerous dishes).

Stuffed anything (even Teddy)

Dust mites living in mattresses, plush toys, and pillows are a huge allergy trigger. Roughly 15 percent of the population is allergic to these microscopic bugs. Encasing mattresses and pillows with impen­etrable covers and cases is a useful step but it's not enough. The mites also love kids' favorite furry toys.

What to do: Wash, dry, then repeat and use very hot water. "Toys should be washed at 140 degrees, which will ensure that the mites are killed," Dr. Randolph says. After they're clean, store them on a shelf, not on the bed. What to do with the nonwashable toys? Every two to three weeks, put them in a plastic bag in the freezer for a couple of hours, which will also kill the mites.


You can't be allergic to essential oils which make candles smell like autumn leaves or dune grass but their odors can inflame your nasal cavities, says Dr. Wedner. "People with nasal allergies have a natural increased sensitivity, so they're likely to get a runny nose or watery eyes around candles," he says. "To the person with the sensitive nose, it's no different than cigarette smoke."

What to do: If you're very sensitive, avoid candles altogether. But if you love the smell and want to use them at home, buy candles that have few ingredients and feature just one scent, like pumpkin. By a process of elimination, you may be able to pinpoint which scent or ingredient bothers you. If you have a bad reaction to a scented candle, getting some fresh air should make you feel better.Health.com: Non-smoker with emphysema talks about his rare disorder


Fragrances can contain hundreds of chemicals that are mostly untested on humans, Dr. Wedner says. When those chemicals bond with the essential oils in perfumes and are then sprayed into the air, sensitive people may take offense. Sneezing, congestion, and headaches can be the result.

What to do: Kindly ask your colleagues to go easy on their favorite fragrances, and bring a portable fan to keep your area as scent-free as possible. Stick with body creams and moisturizers that have light scents. These are less likely to irritate you.

Soaps and detergents

You think it's the chemicals in cleaning products that make you itch? Surprise: "The majority of skin sensitivities are caused not by the cleaning agent but by a perfume additive," Dr. Wedner says. "And nearly every soap now has some sort of plant in it to make it fancy roses, elderberries, etc. The skin can respond with irritation, and give you a rash."

What to do: Buy organic or specially marked soaps; look for "no additives," "nonscented," or "phthalate-free" on the label. Phthalates are chemicals that help improve texture, but they've been linked to allergic reactions; products that contain them may have "diethyl phthalate" or something similar on the label. Dove, Tide, and Ivory all offer low-irritant products, as do many organic brands.Health.com: What's that rash? A visual guide to itch and redness relief


You may love the feel of carpeting under your feet, but mites find it just as attractive. "Even if you vacuum constantly, you've still got mites," Dr. Wedner warns.

What to do: Remove wall-to-wall carpeting who doesn't like a beautiful wood floor? and use small rugs that can be washed in hot water monthly. "And keep the humidity below 50 percent" with your central air system or a dehumidifier, Dr. Randolph says. "Dust mites thrive in humidity."


They add nuance and zing to a variety of dishes, but there's no getting around spices' origin: pungent plants. For some people, eating the spices made from these plants leads to a just little sniffling. For others, it may cause itching, swelling, and even burning of the lips.

What to do: Avoid the spices more likely to cause trouble: coriander, poppy seeds, pepper, dill, paprika, cumin, and saffron -- which, in broad strokes, means Indian and Middle Eastern food. If you're not sure which spices bother you, record what you've been exposed to each time you have symptoms and look for the common denominator.

Wall paint

The solvents and synthetic resins used in paint often lead to itchy eyes and headaches. Oil-based paints are a particular problem because they can continue releasing chemicals even after they dry.

What to do: Keep windows open as often as possible and allow fresh air to circulate for four weeks after painting, no matter what kind of paint you use. If possible, use latex paint, which emits less gas than oil-based kinds due to its water base. What about paint with low levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds)? They spew fewer chemicals into the air and are less smelly than regular paints. But that doesn't mean they won't bother you. To find these paints, look for the "Green Seal" certification mark on the label.

Beer and alcohol

An actual allergy to alcohol is quite rare, but being allergic to the grains and additives used in liquor is not: Wheat or the preservative sulfur dioxide could cause a rash or a stuffy nose. New York City allergist Wellington Tichenor, MD, founder of the information site Sinuses.com, also blames grains like corn, bar­ley, and rye, as well as fruit flavorings. Wine and beer may create problems too.

What to do: Stick with grain-free liquors like potato vodka, rum (made from sugar), and tequila (the agave plant). Skip all flavored liquers. And if sulfite preservatives in wine bother you, red wine tends to have fewer preservatives than white. Also, look for wine labeled "sulfite-free" (it won't stay fresh for long). Remember that anything with carbonation (like a wine cooler) increases the likelihood of an allergic reaction, Dr. Tichenor adds.Health.com: How to beat allergies and more on your next run

Christmas trees

A word to the wise before the holidays: Mold grows fast on Christmas trees. "When you put that tree in a bucket of water, invisible mold grows almost immediately," Dr. Wedner says. "Most people are allergic to or irritated by mold spores." Health.com: 8 possible causes of for your cough

What to do: Try a fake tree. Can't live without a real one? Ask when it was cut down before you buy it; trees that were cut weeks in advance are already ripe with mold. Then, starve it of water and keep it for as short a period as possible. Mold grows on houseplants, too, so keep them on the dry side.

SOURCE: http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/06/15/allergy.triggers/index.html

Friday, June 12, 2009

Teen diagnoses her own disease in science class

Teen diagnoses her own disease in science class

  • Story Highlights
  • For eight years, doctors were unable to pinpoint what was wrong with girl
  • The teen suffered from stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting and fever
  • Examining her own pathology slides in science class, she discovered cause
  • Teen's diagnosis was confirmed by a pathologist

By Elizabeth Cohen
CNN Senior Medical Correspondent
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For eight years, Jessica Terry suffered from stomach pain so horrible, it brought her to her knees. The pain, along with diarrhea, vomiting and fever, made her so sick, she lost weight and often had to miss school.

During a science class, Jessica Terry, 18, discovered a tell-tale granuloma in her own pathology slide.

During a science class, Jessica Terry, 18, discovered a tell-tale granuloma in her own pathology slide.

Her doctors, no matter how hard they tried, couldn't figure out the cause of Jessica's abdominal distress.

Then one day in January, Terry, 18, figured it out on her own.

In her Advanced Placement high school science class, she was looking under the microscope at slides of her own intestinal tissue -- slides her pathologist had said were completely normal -- and spotted an area of inflamed tissue called a granuloma, a clear indication that she had Crohn's disease.

"It's weird I had to solve my own medical problem," Terry told CNN affiliate KOMO in Seattle, Washington. "There were just no answers anywhere. ... I was always sick."

Terry, who graduated from Eastside Catholic School in Sammamish, Washington, this month, is now being treated for Crohn's, says her science teacher, MaryMargaret Welch.

"She was pretty excited about finding the granuloma," Welch said. "She said, 'Ms. Welch! Ms. Welch! Come over here. I think I've got something!' "

Welch, who has taught the Biomedical Problems class at Eastside for 17 years, immediately went on the Internet to see whether Terry had indeed spotted a granuloma.

"I said, 'Jeez, it certainly looks like one to me,' " Welch remembered. "I snapped a picture of it on the microscope and e-mailed it to the pathologist. Within 24 hours, he sent back an e-mail saying yes, this is a granuloma." Video Watch Terry describe her experience »

Although Terry was relieved to finally get a diagnosis, it was also tough for her to hear that she has such a serious disease.

There are treatments, but there is no cure for Crohn's, a condition in which the digestive tract becomes inflamed. It can lead to ulcers, malnutrition and other health problems.

"As I get older, the disease can get worse," Terry told KOMO.

Crohn's disease is often misdiagnosed or diagnosed very late, says Dr. Corey Siegel, director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire.

"Granulomas are oftentimes very hard to find and not always even present at all," Siegel said. "I commend Jessica for her meticulous work."

Pathologists also sometimes miss important findings for other diseases, says Dr. Mark Graber, chief of the medical service at the Northport VA Medical Center in New York.

"This story carries a valuable lesson about how errors are found. It's very often by 'fresh eyes,' just like in Jessica's case," he said. "Some specialty centers, recognizing the reality of perceptual error and the power of a second independent reading, are now requiring second reviews on certain types of smears and pathology specimens."

Welch credits Terry's "fresh eyes" but also local pathologists who volunteered to train her and her classmates on how to view specimens under the microscope.

"We've been lucky to have that partnership. It allowed Jessica to think of herself as a scientist," she said. "The class empowered Jessica to think of herself as being a partner in her own health care."

As for Terry's future, she'll start nursing school in the fall. She's written a book for children about Crohn's disease, which she hopes to have published. In the meantime, she's grateful for her science class and for the pathologist for giving her her slides.

"This has been the highlight of my high school career, for sure," Terry told the Sammamish Reporter newspaper. "It's been amazing."

SOURCE: http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/06/11/teen.self.diagnosis/index.html

Manicurist sells house, car to build school

  • Story Highlights
  • D.C. manicurist raised more than $250,000 to build school in native Ethiopia
  • Inspiration came after seeing children walk three hours to classes held under tree
  • Girl killed by hyena while walking home motivated Lidia Schaefer to fulfill promise
  • Do you know a hero? Nominations are open at CNN.com/Heroes

WASHINGTON, D.C. (CNN) -- When Washington manicurist Lidia Schaefer returned to her native village in Ethiopia, she was troubled by what she saw: children walking three hours each way to attend classes held not in a school, but under a tree.

Lidia Schaefer sold her house and car and set aside tips and part of her salary to raise money for the school.

Lidia Schaefer sold her house and car and set aside tips and part of her salary to raise money for the school.

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When she learned in 1998 that one of the girls she'd met -- Medhine -- had been attacked and killed by a hyena after falling behind other children during the long trek home from school, Schaefer knew she had to act.

She began setting aside a third of her salary and all of her tips, and later sold her house and car, to raise enough money to build a school for the village.

"She's definitely not your average manicurist," says Denise Abrahams, a longtime client.

"This is the kind of thing that you hear about Oprah Winfrey doing." Do you know a hero? Nominations are open at CNN.com/Heroes

For Schaefer, it was simply a matter of doing what felt right. "I don't work with my head," she says. "I really work with my heart." Video Watch Schaefer's clients and colleagues discuss her efforts »

Born in Feres Mai, a large village in northern Ethiopia, Schaefer moved to the United States in the mid-1970s when civil war broke out at home.

During her troubling visit back home in the '90s, she recalls, "I promised the children I was going to open a school for them."

But she had no idea how to tackle such a big project, especially while raising her own two children and working 12-hour days, six days a week.

The motivation to fulfill her promise came with the news of Medhine's death. "That really pushed me to do it," she says, "to build a school so that wouldn't happen again."

Schaefer lobbied the Ethiopian government to donate land in a central location so the school could serve children from several nearby villages. The decision was made to build a secondary school, since the nearest one was more than 18 miles away.

Back in Washington, Schaefer began setting aside money for construction of the school.

"I was working two days for the school, four days for me," she recalls. Her clients and co-workers rallied to help, holding raffles and making contributions. Several clients bought individual doors or windows for the school. Video Watch Schaefer talk about the school »

But Schaefer realized it wouldn't be enough. To finish the school, she needed to do something drastic. In 2002, she gave up her symbols of the American dream, selling her home and car. It's a sacrifice that still stuns her colleagues and friends.

"I couldn't believe it," remembers salon manager Patty Gonzalez. But Schaefer saw nothing remarkable about her decision. "I don't feel like I [gave] up a lot," she says. "I want [the children] to learn, to get something out of their life."

Schaefer ultimately raised more than $250,000 for the school, which was completed in 2006. When she went back for the dedication, Schaefer was honored with an elaborate procession through the village. For her, it was gratifying to see what she'd accomplished.

"I was so happy, I can't even describe it," she recalls.

Today, nearly 1,500 students are educated in the school, which boasts an eight-building campus with 16 classrooms, a science lab and library.

"It's simple, but it's nice," Schaefer says. Though she'd hoped to name the school in memory of Medhine, the government -- which runs the school -- instead named it the Lidia Secondary School, telling Schaefer, "We want it to be your name so that more people [will] be like you."

Schaefer has indeed inspired many others to follow her example. When Ethiopian communities around the United States heard about what she'd been able to achieve, they launched an effort to build more schools in her region of northern Ethiopia. So far, they've raised enough money to build 12 schools, due to be completed by July 2009.

Schaefer still sets aside her tips and wages to support her school and has kept up her fundraising efforts to buy supplies. A colleague at the salon designed T-shirts to raise money for desks for the students. Schaefer's next goal is to equip the school with computers.

"They need computers so they can talk to the whole world," she says.

Her colleagues and clients say Schaefer serves as an important reminder that people don't need money or power to make a difference.

"She's very inspiring to me," says Gonzalez. "I've learned from Lidia that even if the project is big, if your heart is in it, you can do it."

Want to get involved? Check out Lidia Schaefer's Web site and see how to help.

SOURCE: http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/06/11/cnnheroes.lidia.schaefer/index.html