Safety

Is football safe for kids?

Mark Proctor, MD
Mark Proctor, MD, Contributing Editor

Many team sports have tremendous health benefits for children, but youth football, in particular, continues to pose a concern because of the high risks of concussion and other injuries. A recent NEJM article has taken a stance against allowing tackling in youth football. But is this position really the best way to promote the health and safety of youth athletes?

What the rise of Zika (and other viruses) might tell us about our planet

John Ross, MD, FIDSA
John Ross, MD, FIDSA, Contributing Editor

Zika, a virus that was almost unknown just a short time ago, is now certain to spread to almost every country in the Americas. But why have the U.S. and other countries become more vulnerable to the threat of exotic pathogens? There currently aren’t enough data to make any solid connections, but many experts agree that the rise of global trade and travel, climate change, and ecosystem changes are all major factors.

Lead poisoning: What everyone needs to know

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Even though the use of lead has been regulated for many years, tragedies like the one currently ongoing in Flint, Michigan still occur. Exposure to lead in childhood can have health effects that can change a child’s life forever. We’ve listed steps you can take to keep your child — and everyone in your home — safe from lead poisoning.

What you need to know about Zika virus

John Ross, MD, FIDSA
John Ross, MD, FIDSA, Contributing Editor

Zika, a formerly rare and obscure virus, has recently spread throughout the Pacific islands and the Americas. Although Zika virus rarely makes people seriously ill, it’s been implicated in a huge rise in the number of birth defects in babies born to mothers who’ve had Zika. Although its impact in the U.S. is expected to be much less severe than in warmer climates, we’ve listed some tips to reduce your exposure to the type of mosquito that carries Zika.

Cold and flu warning: The dangers of too much acetaminophen

Susan Farrell, MD
Susan Farrell, MD, Contributing Editor

Many common cold and flu medications and prescription-strength pain relievers contain acetaminophen (Tylenol) as one of their active ingredients. If you take several of these drugs at once during a bout of cold or flu, you might accidentally take more than the safe dose of acetaminophen, potentially causing liver damage. It’s always best to read the labels — and to keep in mind that most winter viruses get better on their own with rest, fluids, and time.

Guns and your health

Wynne Armand, MD
Wynne Armand, MD, Contributing Editor

Many people choose to own guns for sport or protection. But from a physician’s standpoint, guns create as many — or more — problems than they solve. Several studies have found that guns injure or kill far more people, often unintentionally, than they’re intended to protect.

Awake, alert, and alive: Is two hours’ sleep enough?

Stuart Quan, MD
Stuart Quan, MD, Contributing Editor

According to an estimate from the Institute of Medicine, up to 20% of all motor vehicle crashes are related to drowsy driving. A panel of experts recently concluded that anyone who has slept less than two hours in the previous 24 hours is not fit to drive. This is only a rough guideline, however, because the relationship between sleep and safe driving is complex. (For example, a pre-existing sleep debt and driving at night increase the effects of drowsiness.) In general, driving while sleep-deprived is a dangerous undertaking for you — and others on the road with you.

Experts say no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Many women think an occasional drink during pregnancy poses no harm, but a recent report suggests that no amount of alcohol is safe for the developing fetus. Alcohol affects the development of many organs, most notably the brain. While fetal alcohol syndrome, the most severe form of alcohol-induced damage, is unlikely to result from an occasional drink, researchers are finding that smaller amounts of alcohol can still have a negative effect. For that reason, no alcohol at all is safest when you’re pregnant or plan to conceive. If you’d like help cutting back on alcohol, don’t be embarrassed to talk with your doctor about it—she or he can help.

Bicycle injuries are mounting, especially in adults

Beverly Merz
Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

These days, more and more adults bike to work, combining their daily workout with their daily commute, all while helping the environment. Unfortunately, biking is getting riskier. A study in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association found that, between 1998 and 2013, the rate of bike injuries rose by 28% and the rate of people admitted to the hospital because of bike injuries rose by 120%. People over 45 had the greatest increase in injuries. And the majority of bike accidents now happen on city streets. The good news is that you can help protect yourself by learning and following the rules of the road, staying alert, and keeping some common-sense safety tips in mind.

Stopping foodborne illness — faster testing, vigilance at home

Heidi Godman
Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter

The steady stream of reports about foodborne illness is making many people think twice about their food. Foodborne illness sickens 48 million people annually, sending 128,000 to the hospital and killing 3,000. To improve testing for foodborne illness the FDA sponsors a Food Safety Challenge. Purdue University researchers walked away with the $300,000 grand prize, announced last week, for their new method that would dramatically shorten the time it takes to test for Salmonella, a disease-causing bacteria. While faster ways to detect microbes in food are a step in the right direction, we need to take action at home right now. All fresh foods contain at least low levels of potentially harmful microbes. Handling food properly and cooking it thoroughly can prevent most cases of foodborne illness.