Weekly health rail, with items on hand-washing, avoiding election-season stress, and more.

Despite the threat of getting sick during cold and flu season, fewer Americans say they are regularly washing their hands.

According to a study of more than 900 people by the Soap and Detergent Association, only 85 percent said they always wash their hands after going to the bathroom, down from 92 percent in 2006.

This warranted a C-minus grade on the SDA’s Clean Hands Report Card.

Other findings: 46 percent wash their hands 15 seconds or less despite health agencies recommending washing with soap at least 15-20 seconds; 39 percent surveyed seldom or never wash their hands after coughing or sneezing; and 35 percent don’t always wash before eating lunch.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasizes that hand-washing is the single most important action in preventing illness and the spread of illness to others.

Does loneliness literally feel cold?

A recent study suggests there is a psychological basis for linking cold with feelings of social isolation.

After asking one group of volunteers to recall a personal experience in which they had been socially excluded, and another group to recall an experience in which they had been accepted, the researchers had the volunteers estimate the temperature in the room.

Those who were told to think about a socially isolating experience gave lower estimates of the temperature. The recalled memories of being ostracized actually made people experience the ambient temperature as colder.

These results open up new opportunities in exploring the interaction between environment and psychology, such as the study of mood disorders. The study indicates that cold temperatures may also contribute to feelings of sadness and isolation felt during the winter months.

-- University of Toronto

Health Tip

This presidential election seems like it has lasted an eternity, and to many, it is a critical one. And while interest and participation are at an all-time high, many people are finding this election cycle very stressful as their emotions rise and fall.

Dr. Patrice Alvarado, associate professor in clinical psychology at Argosy University, Washington, D.C. campus, offers a few tips:

- Get active: Stop worrying about how things are going, and get active on behalf of your party or candidate. This will help combat helplessness and promote a feeling of empowerment.

- Get perspective: Do not let political preferences act as a wedge between loved ones, co-workers, life-long friends, church members and neighbors.

- Don't talk politics at work: Since politics, like religion, is often very tied with our emotions, it is best to avoid stress-inducing political arguments with co-workers.

- Be compassionate to yourself: Turn off the television before the point of election campaign overload.

-- ARA content

Number to Know: 5

The Federal Trade Commission has charged five companies with making false and misleading claims for cancer cures.

The products the companies marketed include essiac teas and other herbal mixtures, laetrile, black salve — a corrosive ointment — and mushroom extracts.

Children’s Health

Newborns can be protected from seasonal flu when their mothers are vaccinated during pregnancy, according to a study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The researchers observed a 63 percent reduction in proven influenza illness among infants born to vaccinated mothers while the number of serious respiratory illnesses to both mothers and infants dropped by 36 percent.

The study is the first to demonstrate that the inactivated influenza vaccine provides protection to both mother and newborn. The flu shot has been recommended for pregnant women in the U.S. since 1997, although approximately 15 percent of pregnant women are vaccinated each year.

Senior Health

A simple blood test to detect whether a person might develop Alzheimer’s disease is within sight, according to researchers at Columbia University Medical Center.

Results of the researchers’ long-term study suggest that individuals with elevated levels of a certain peptide in the blood plasma, Amyloid Beta 42, are at increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

While the cognitive impairments of Alzheimer’s can be monitored throughout the disease, clinicians have had no reliable way to monitor the pathologic progression of the disease. Being able to reliably measure Amyloid Beta levels in the blood could provide clinicians with a tool that forecasts the onset of Alzheimer’s much earlier.

Fall Safety

As the leaves turn different colors and the weather becomes cooler, many Americans begin to engage in outdoor cleanup. Over the next few weeks, we’ll offer some tips on how to stay injury-free this fall.

It will soon be time to store the mower until spring, but chances are you will mow the grass a few more times before the snow falls. To avoid lawnmower-related injuries be sure to:

- Make sure the engine is off and cool before you begin any maintenance work or refuel your lawnmower.

- Never use your hands or feet to clear debris from under a lawnmower. Use a stick or broom handle instead. Likewise, never touch the blades with your hands or feet, even if the engine is off. The blade can still move and cause serious injury.

- Never remove safety devices, shields or guards on switches.

- Do not leave a lawnmower running unattended.

- Wear protective gear like goggles and gloves, boots and long pants when mowing. Never mow barefoot or in sandals.

- Do not consume alcoholic beverages and mow.

ARA Content

GateHouse News Service