Tag Archives: travel

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.

toxic-cabin-air_

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

Lost-luggage

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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“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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That Volcanic Ash Can Knock Down Planes, But What About Humans?

Now that the dust is settling, and airports and planes are “back as usual”, experts are divided as to whether the same stuff that can damage jet engines can be harmful or not for people to breathe in.

Experts are divided on this. Depending who you ask, the answer can vary just like the shifting winds which threatened to extend further the “sit-in” for planes at European airports.

The unpronounceable Eyjafjallajokull erupted on 14 April 2010, spewing volcanic ash all over Europe

The World Health Organisation set the ball rolling by announcing initially that it was “very concerned” about the potential health effects of inhaled ash from the Iceland volcano. Other experts poo-poohed this conclusion, claiming that by the time the ash settled to ground level, it would be no different from cigarette smoke or plain old air pollution. “Not all particles are created equal” said a professor or respiratory medicine from the University of Edinburgh.

The British Health Protection Agency concurs, saying that whatever remaining ash that reaches the ground, at the most, would cause those susceptible (such as asthmatics) to have an exacerbation and advised them to have their inhalers ready.

5 days after the Iceland volcanic eruption (note how the media carefully refrains from mentioning the unpronounceable Eyjafjallajokull !), WHO clarified its stand by saying air quality on the ground has not deteriorated, and the observed variation remains in the range of normal fluctuations. There is no change in the current WHO advice about potential health risks: if the volcanic ash reaches ground level in higher concentrations the ash may cause health effects, but these are likely to be minimal.

There is an excellent FAQ  on the health effects of the Icelandic volcano here.

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Where Health Tourism Is NOT Welcomed

While many countries in the Far East are welcoming visitors who want to use their medical facilities, a few in Europe dread the presence of these health tourists. Take the United Kingdom, for instance. Despite the NHS in England earning 25 million pounds sterling from health tourists annually, it accrues 5 million pounds in unpaid bills.

Travel To the UK - passport, visa and now insurance card?

So now, according to BBC News, the Department of Health is  proposing that visitors to the UK could be required to hold health insurance before they can enter the country. In a separate immigration review, the UK could also refuse entry to foreigners owing money for health care. This ruling however does not apply to visitors from the EU.

The department conceded that, while the unpaid debts were small in relation to overall NHS spending, it was “important that we maximise recovery, not least to discourage deliberate abuse by a small minority of visitors”.

Hmm..this will be a retrogressive step if applied, as health tourism has been a source of substantial foreign earnings for those countries actively promoting it, and the UK could do with some foreign direct investments. While I can understand the rationale behind this move, there are alternatives which might not be too difficult to implement, instead of checking every visitor for a valid insurance card at Immigrations.

For instance, improving the payment processes at the point of admission to hospitals, by having a deposit or a credit-card guarantee, can mitigate payment defaulters before the problems start. In essence, the NHS has to get out of its socialized medicine mentality and begin to function as a corporate entity in the way a Hospital trust should.

Meanwhile, if this must-have-insurance rule is applied, it wouldn’t be too far away before health issues pertaining to human  rights will be raised, should any visitor be deprived of healthcare which is generally considered a basic human right.

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Flying On The Wings of Stress

The 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.

toxic-cabin-air_

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

Lost-luggage

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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Healthcare Nowadays..(8): The Travelling Bidet

bidetSpotted in Skymall catalogue:  this little wonder, small enough to fit into a briefcase, is battery-operated. Just add water and its ergonomic shape gives you the reach required for a thorough and comfortable cleansing. Useful for frequent travelers who want to maintain personal hygiene.

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Health Alert (9): A New Malaria Kid on the Block

Looking at all the disease epidemics in the last decade, there is a striking similarity between them. SARS, Avian flu, Nipah virus, swine flu… they all originated from an animal source. And, probably because these animals had begun to develop immunity to them, these germs began looking for  another host – man.

And if one is empathetic, can you blame these viruses for invading man? After all, they are living things and they do need to fight for survival! Even viruses have their rights,  too. 🙂 Anyway, I digress. Looking at the spate of infectious diseases spread from animals to man in recent years (scientists call them zoonoses) , is this a trend that will herald a queue of other zoonoses which are going to affect mankind?

malaria

Malaria parasites (in purple) within a red blood cell about to burst and infect nearby cells

There are indications that this might be the case. Take for example, malaria, a disease that kills one million worldwide. Its an established fact that the causative bug, a parasite called Plasmodium is transmitted from an infected person via the Anopheles mosquito to a potential victim. Its never been known that malaria could be transferred from anyone else other than man…until recently, that is.

macaque

The Macaque - those with malaria can now pass them to man

Now, with potentially serious ramifications,it has been proven that a human can get infected with malaria coming from monkeys. This finding, by a group of researchers in Sarawak, Malaysia showed that the parasite that causes malaria only in monkeys (called Plasmodium knowlesi) has been found to have infected humans in Sarawak as well as Sabah, on the island of Borneo.(read more here).

What does this mean? Malaria would have to be classified as a zoonosis, thereby changing public health strategies. With increasing tourism now, it would be a matter of time before this type of malaria will spread far beyond Borneo, even to Western countries. This particular strain of malaria is also as deadly as the wellknown falciparum strain found commonly in Africa.

My doctor friends in Borneo have told me they have been aware of this for several years – fortunately in most cases, cure has been achieved using conventional medications. According to them, the problem often is in making the diagnosis, as some of the symptoms do mimic other diseases like dengue fever.

(This article is dedicated to Z Y)

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