Category Archives: travel

If You Must Mask, Mask Correctly

Face-masks come in many shapes and sizes. One normally associates  them with surgical masks, which is meant to prevent germs from the wearer contaminating the environment. However, the haze which is affecting Southeast Asia is another story..


Facemasks come in different shapes and sizes..see if you can spot the two wearing the N95.

The Southeast Asian haze event is caused by continued uncontrolled burning from “slash and burn” cultivation in Indonesia, and affects several countries in the Southeast Asian region because the prevailing southwesterly winds carry the pollutants across the water – see below.

haze map

What are haze particles composed of? Haze particles are predominantly made up of fine particles that are 2.5 micrometers or smaller. This means using an ordinary facemask, whether single-ply, 2 ply or 3 ply, hardly protects the wearer effectively from the haze particles Its designed to keep the germs in and should be worn by those having viral illnesses like flu. Nevertheless, ordinary surgical masks will reduce the inhalation of haze particles but NOT eliminate them completely.


A properly fitting N95 mask/respirator is effective in keeping out haze particles

To eliminate haze particles completely, one needs to wear a N95 mask (so-called because these masks eliminate 95% of particles as small as 0.1 micrometers (or microns). It must be tight-fitting and is rather uncomfortable to wear over long periods as extra effort is sometimes needed to inhale.

For this reason, the N95 mask is a must for those with lung problems, those with reduced immunity and those who have to be in the open for prolonged periods (like traffic cops).

For those who are otherwise healthy and stay indoors most of the time, ordinary surgical masks may be adequate. In all cases, adequate hydration is important mainly to facilitate the removal of the haze particles which have lodged in the lungs.


The Commonest Cause of Child Deaths in the US


Infections? Prematurity? Domestic Violence? No, ladies and gentlemen, motor vehicle accidents remain the number one killer of children in the US, and probably the rest of the developed world too. To a significant extent, proper child safety seats can prevent severe injury. Here are some tips:



Travelling? Keep the Germs at Bay.

holiday traveller

Its the holiday season again, and many will be embarking to distant lands.. and with it comes the risk of exposure to new bugs (currently, the Norovirus virus outbreak is the vogue. Read more here.) Seasoned business travelers know that to reduce their chances of getting sick, its best to maximize the use of soap, water and hand sanitizer and minimize the number of times they touch their face.

Abdominal pain,nausea,vomiting and diarrhoea -symptoms of Norovirus infection

Abdominal pain,nausea,vomiting and diarrhoea -symptoms of Norovirus infection

Apart from that, what about other risks? Dehydration poses a greater risk, drying out the body’s natural defenses against germs. Avoid coffee and alcohol  (no, its not a devious plan by airlines to reduce their beverage costs), which act as diuretics, and try to drink a cup of water an hour. Saline solutions can keep your nose and eyes moist, providing a barrier against germs. Dehydration makes the body’s defence mechanisms perform less efficiently and thus make the entry of germs easier.

While going around, preventing dehydration remains important, particularly in hot arid climates, where body water loss is not too obvious due to the absence of sweating.To avoid drinking contaminated water, watch out for recycled tap-water impersonating as bottled mineral water (look for a sealed cap). For that matter, possibly contaminated water could also be present in ice, uncooked salads and fruits that are eaten without peeling. These methods of reducing the odds of getting sick are important, as contaminated foods (due to agents causing infectious diseases) remain the number one killer of humans on earth.It is said that 80% of all infectious diseases are transmitted by direct or indirect human contact

Many air travellers claim they caught an infection from other passengers but, with the efficient air filtering systems of modern aircraft, where air is circulated 15-20 times per hour through efficient biofilters, chances of this happening is low unless the offending party is coughing and sneezing repeatedly within two rows of oneself.

At the hotel, I do recommend laying the bedspread aside, because it is washed rarely, and making sure the sheets are crisp and clean; if they are not, request another room. Check the mattress for bed bugs. Wipe down the telephone, night stand, remote control and bathroom with disinfectant. Disinfect the handle on the minibar fridge, and relax.

The Silky Dreamsack..a bed bug barrier

The Silky Dreamsack..a bed bug barrier

Indeed, various gadgets are available to make travelling safe – personal hand-sanitizers, personal air purifiers, UV scanners that destroy contaminants and  the Silky Dreamsack, which “puts a layer between you and suspect bedding.”

All very exotic, but I would really recommend that the only cost-effective device that you will ever need is a bottle of hand-sanitiser..and refraining from touching your eyes,face or mouth. Not forgetting the ubiquitous mineral water bottle!

Have a great 2013!2013

Flying On The Wings of Stress

As the Olympic athletes fly home by the tens of thousands, I could’nt help wondering what kind of stress they were subjected to.. Anyway, the official seven leading causes of stress, according to a University of Washington study are finances, work, family, personal concerns, personal health & safety, relationships and death. I’m going to take it they left out flying.. because they forgot to ask anyone who’s taken a trip by air. Many will agree that taking a flight is one of the major causes of stress in modern everyday living.

The amount of stress involved in flying starts way before the actual flight, right on the ground itself. First and foremost, the long trip to the airport itself is fraught with stresses, from lack of timely taxis to traffic jams to  making sure the kids are ready on time. Even if you decide to take to take to the road yourself, there’s the outrageous airport parking charges and the distance they are located from the terminal..

Having reached the terminal, there’s the queues, the far-from-easy electronic check-in terminals and the extra charges, ranging from that for overweight baggage to really unexpected surprises – Ryan Air insists you print your own boarding cards and if you misplace yours, they’ll print it for you..for a fee, 40 British pounds to be precise.

Then there’s the security screening..more stresses if you have shoes with bootlaces or laptops. By the way, the liquids ban mean you need clear plastic bags which are now sold at 1 pound each at some UK airports. Departure delays..these are a way of life nowadays with airlines cutting back on flights due to bad times.

Flight stress

Despite Attempts to Improve Economy Class, some Stressors Cannot be Eliminated

Once in the air, your problems are about to begin. If you turn left on entering the aircraft, well and good; but if you turn right, be prepared for cramped seating conditions (noticed the shrinking leg-room, especially on low-cost carriers?). If you can stomach the low-quality food, this may not stay down too long if the plane hits into turbulence – this has been cited as the top cause of stress while flying.

Once settled down, your mind may be jarred by a seemingly endless stream of in-flight announcements, in multiple languages, informing that you are 35,000 ft in flight stress2the air (who really cares?). Add to this, the snoring passengers and crying babies and the soon-to-be-allowed mobile phone-calls and one can see why there’s so much stress.

Don’t forget polluted cabin air..a recent report in the London Telegraph confirms that the smell of jet-fuel in some cabins is far from imaginary.


TCP,from jet-fuel present in cabin air, causes drowsiness,nausea and headaches


33 million pieces of luggage were misplaced in 2008

Once landed at your destination and after surviving the long queues at Immigration, you might have to face the heart-sinking sensation of lost luggage (God forbid!) and the monumental paperwork that comes with it. And you thought London Oxford Airport would be at least near London.. be prepared for a 60-mile journey to the city!

And..long after reaching your final destination, there’s still the perennial fight with jet-lag! Numerous antidotes have been promulgated – but that’s another story..

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The Bird Flu Flies In Again

Fears of a fresh outbreak of bird flu this year have been raised by the United Nations, after an increase in the number of deaths and, crucially, the emergence of a new, mutated strain of the disease.

The Avian Flu affects birds mainly but can affect humans occasionally

There has been 8 deaths this year in Cambodia alone

Although in six countries – Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia and Vietnam – it is known to be endemic (present all the time albeit in smaller numbers), at least eight people have died of bird flu in Cambodia this year alone.  Of note – the emergence of a new, mutated strain of the disease for which the existing vaccines do not work.

Just as a reminder, the H5N1 bird flu virus  spread across Asia in the last few years, killing millions of fowl and several hundred people but never gained genes to spread easily among humans. This is unlike the swine flu virus (H1N1) which readily affects humans and spread rapidly in 2008 from Mexico to the US and beyond, killing thousands.

While it is expected that the the new Avian mutant virus may not  be so  transmissible to humans, it is difficult how dangerous it potentially is. Nevertheless, it is of sufficient concern for the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to issue a warning urging stiffer surveillance measures to prevent the disease spreading to new areas, particularly when bird migration can take the virus to countries which have never got the illness.

The threat of catching the disease aside, the economic impact of another outbreak can be quite tremendous, considering that in 2008, some 400 million domestic poultry were slaughtered and the disease was said to have cost the world’s economies US $20bn.

Here Comes The Sun

Summer is upon us..well, at least for those from the Northern hemisphere. And that means at least 2 things..sunglasses and sunscreen lotions. While the former is quite straight-forward, try understanding the confusing world of sunscreens, aka sun-tan lotions. Case in point:

  • Sunscreens are to protect against the 2 types of ultra-violet rays: UVA (which causes wrinkling) and UVB (causes burning). Both are cancer-causing. The ones on the market right now have varying protection against these 2 rays.
  • All sunscreens wrongly claim to be waterproof or sweatproof. They are merely water resistant and even then for a limited time only.
  • Sunscreens with SPF (sun-protection factor) of  more than 80 offer better protection than those with lesser SPF. In reality, the maximum SPF possible is 50. A SPF of 15 is usually sufficient to prevent sunburn.

The confusing world of sunscreens is about to get simpler, if the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration)has its way:

Although these regulations are going to take 1-2 more years to implement, it will be a step in the right direction for today’s empowered consumers. However, the biggest problem of all is really to ensure that those exposed to the sun will apply enough of the lotion to give them adequate protection!

“This Is Your Captain Sleeping” – Yet Another Cause for Sleepy Pilots

In an infamous incident in 2008, 2 airline pilots fell asleep at the controls resulting in the plane overflying the destination. They were found later  to have suffered from OSA (see my posting at that time here ). But now it appears that in the US, a more common malady has been found that can cause pilots to be sleepy when on duty…the Crash Pad Syndrome.

Continental flight 3407, which crashed 2 years ago and killed 50, was attributed to sleep fatigue - both pilots slept in crew-rooms instead of proper beds.

Crew lounges such as this in La Guardia airport provide pilots with rest relief which may be inadequate


It turns out that most US airlines domestic pilots are quite lowly paid (I’m told USD 20,000 a year) that they cannot afford a proper hotel-room for a good night’s sleep before reporting for duty as such rooms are not provided for by their employers for a flight from home-base. ABC News a few days ago revealed that these pilots would either ‘rest’ in crew-rooms which do not have beds and are not designed for a good night’s sleep; or resort to what are called crash-pads.

The crash-pads are extremely popular and are found near busy airports where their existence is kept a secret to the public. At US$25 a night, it offers affordable accommodation especially in expensive cities like New York.

This Crash-Pad in La Guardia comprise of triple-bunk beds at $25 a night and are available 24/7

Pilots need to bring your own pillow-cases,sheets and towels as there is a rapid turnover.(ABC News)

FAA, the body which regulates US pilots, maintains at least an 8-hour mandatory rest period and a working day that should not exceed 16 hours. Sleep is recommended in  rooms which are dark,  cool in temperature, and where there is no intrusive noise. Whether these crash-pads can fulfill these criteria is doubtful and may create significant pilot fatigue. Fatigue results in a decreased ability to maintain function or workload due to mental or physical stress (like inadequate sleep). This in turn causes inability to concentrate and impaired reaction times, both essential when operating an airplane.

As a passenger, I get the shivers when I see a pilot yawning  when reporting for duty..

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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Here We Go Again..

The volcanic ash is set to force major airports like Heathrow to close again today Monday 17 May,2010..

To know about the health effects of the ash, see here.

Full-Body Airport Scanners – A Hazard to Health?

When it was reported in several news websites on May 7th that a US airport security screener allegedly beat up his colleague for poking fun at the size of his private parts during testing of full-body image scanners (see here), it brought up the question many have been asking..are these scanners (there are aready 450 in US airports alone) a violation of privacy and human rights?

Body-Scanners take only 30 secs - privacy issues aside, how safe are they?

No, say US airport security. That’s because the personnel that guide you in the booth are not privy to the images seen on the screen, which is in a remote site. Furthermore, the images blur out the face to enhance privacy and the images cannot be stored.  Human rights activists still scream foul play – what’s to prevent these assurances from being surreptitiously removed in future?

It all started when an Ethiopian passenger on a domestic US flight supposedly linked to terrorists strapped explosives in his underwear on Christmas Day which escaped detection by airport security. Since then, these full-body airport scanners have been introduced in all major US airports.

Privacy issues aside, are these scanners a health hazard, in particular in terms of radiation?

These full-body scanners fall into two main categories: millimeter wave and backscatter. The first directs radio waves over a body and measures the energy reflected back to render a 3D image. The latter is a low-level X-ray machine that creates 2D images. These scanners are electronic versions of a body search and can detect non-metallic weapons & explosives on body surfaces. They cannot detect stuff placed in body cavities, so look out for intrarectal devices next!!

The millimeter wave scanners emit less radiation than a typical cellphone while the backscatter device exposes the body to as much radiation as 2 minutes of flying. Both these devices are approved by FDA to meet health and safety standards, so there appears to be no health issues involved.

Millimeter Scanners -images are in 3D

Backscatter Scans -the 2D images show less resolution

So what if a passenger is still not willing to submit to the scan on privacy reasons or on religious grounds? The US Transport Security Administration maintains that the scan is optional, those not willing to undergo them can opt to choose a body search instead. Which is not much of an option, really!

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