Monthly Archives: June, 2010

Out of Africa

No, this is not another blog posting on the hardships of the French and English teams at football’s World Cup. While the teams were slogging it out, another battle was also in progress, albeit involving two men on the tennis court back in Wimbledon, UK.

6'9" John Isner (left) poses with Nicolas Mahut and the Umpire after the longest tennis match in history, which ended 24 June 2010 after 3 days.

After 11 hours and five minutes, 183 games, 980 points, 215 aces and 126 badly bruised tennis balls, John Isner of the US ended the longest, strangest, darnedest tennis match ever played, 6-4, 3-6, 6-7(7), 7-6(3), 70-68 over Nicolas Mahut. The result was achieved on the third day. Even the scoreboard malfunctioned when the score reached 50-50, the programmers probably thinking that no tennis match will ever get this far.

The interesting question here: how many calories did the players use up? Using FitDay’s Activity Calculator, the estimated calories used by John Isner would have been 7,960 calories while Nicolas Mahut burnt 6,250.

Put in another way, Isner used up the equivalent of 15 Big Macs or 20 plates of Oriental chicken-rice (whichever you prefer). That aside, health risks abound. The common ones like dehydration and potassium loss are easily overcome, as one can see by the frequent takes of electrolyte drinks and bananas. Not to mention muscle tears and tendon ruptures which can occur anytime, even among pros. Psychological stress plays a big role, as mind-games predominate; so tennis pros get well-prepared by undergoing emotional conditioning.

Said Isner after the marathon session, he had only 6 hours of sleep in between the days and had “no skin left on my toes”. Indeed, the damage is not over immediately after the game. It may take a week for the body to recover fully depending on the level of players’ peak physical conditioning.

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The Vuvuzela Horn Claims Its First Victim

South African Yvonne Mayer - ruptured her throat by blowing too hard

Apart from the deafening monotonous monotones, its widely expected that the main health hazard at the current World Cup in South Africa would be temporary, or even permanent deafness from the 127-decibel vuvuzela horns (see my previous posting).

So, it was somewhat surprising to find out that a South African insurance saleswoman ripped her throat lining when blowing too hard on the 3-foot horn at, of all places, a street party in Cape Town. 29 year-old Yvonne Mayer could not speak or eat for 2 days after that before shocked doctors diagnosed her as having a ruptured throat lining with accumulation of leaked air in the space behind the throat, a condition doctors call surgical emphysema in the retropharyngeal prevertebral space.

Fortunately, the treatment here was just plain rest and a liquid diet, with no need for surgery. She recovered quite well with no complications like infection.

By the way, if you are at the World Cup, it would make sense to have a pair of ear-plugs. If you are at home and need to filter off the noise, an active noise cancellation device can be downloaded from the internet at 3 Euros which claims to be able to reduce the sounds of the horn (but not the commentary). See here.

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The 2010 World Cup – A Health Hazard for Spectators

Unlike previous years, spectators to the FIFA World Cup in South Africa face some unusual health hazards. I wrote earlier that possibly the biggest one of them all is the fact that one in five South Africans are HIV-positive.( see  ” The 2010 World Cup’s Biggest Threat” ). With half a million visitors, 40,000 call-girls and 42 million condoms donated by the former British government, initiatives to prevent the spread of AIDS seem to be hampered by FIFA’s refusal to have health prevention booths at the various venues.

Intending travellers to South Africa need not worry about malaria and yellow fever as these diseases are virtually unknown, unless you are at the Mozambique border. And heat stroke is not likely to be a major problem as the climate is relatively mild. South Africa is well south of the Equator and has a Mediterranean-type climate – in fact, June/July is in fact winter in the Southern hemisphere. This unfortunately is also the flu season, so its wise to get those shots before going there.

In fact, the infectious diseases to worry about will be food-poisoning, measles and tick-bites as reported by a survey of tourists between 1997 and 2009.

Table Mountain - muggings have been reported at this venue

Infectious diseases aside, a greater health hazard would be crime – its widely reported that South Africa has one of the world’s highest rates of mugging, rape and gang-rape. Machine guns can be bought for USD 100 and executions handled for less than USD1000. Tourists have been known to be mugged in shopping malls and on the slope of Table Mountain. The Australian Government even warns that the South African Police Service does not have “Tourist Police”. Criminals, however, have posed as “Tourist Police” to extort and rob tourists, including by stopping tourists buses to check proof of identity and search luggage.(see here)

The Vuvuzela Horn - louder than a air-horn or a referee's whistle

But perhaps the most annoying health threat will be the ubiquitous Vuvuzela horns, which at  127 decibels is louder than the air-horn (123 decibels) and the referee’s whistle (115 decibels). Prolonged noise at 85 decibels can cause permanent hearing impairment and soccer fans are urged to use ear-plugs and ear-muffs. Is FIFA going to ban these horns? Definitely no, as its part of local culture at football games..

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The Heat Is On..the Other Stroke

For those complaining about the hot weather…spare a thought for those in the Indian subcontinent.

Record temperatures in northern India have claimed hundreds of lives in what is believed to be the hottest summer in the country since records began in the late 1800s.The death toll is expected to rise with experts forecasting temperatures approaching 50C (122F) in coming weeks. More than 100 people are reported to have died in the state of Gujarat where the mercury topped at 48.5C last week.

And what are people dying from? Food poisoning and heat stroke.

Its easy to see why food poisoning is rampant…lack of water, poor sanitation, stagnant streams – these all lead to contamination by bugs of drinking & cooking water.

Heat stroke is a different kettle of fish. It has nothing to do with blocked arteries or bacteria. Also known as advanced hyperthermia, it refers to the condition when the body produces or absorbs more heat than it can dissipate, much like a malfunctioning car radiator. The body temperature then climbs uncontrollaby, especially when dehydrated,  causing convulsions, coma and eventually death. The symptoms can sometimes be similar to a heart attack. For more, click here.

The Human Body is made up of 75% water and dehydration occurs when water intake is less than water loss

To Prevent Dehydration & Heat Stroke, the Most Important Measure is to Drink Water..Lots of It!

For those going to the World Cup in South Africa, it makes sense to arm themselves with lots of bottled water…but not coke,coffee or beer, as these aggravate dehydration!

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