Monday, 23 May 2011

Dirty Soda fountains could cause severe health complications

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad:  Next time you order for a glass of fruit juice or soft drink dispensed  through soda fountains in a multiplex or fast food centre, make it sure you are not compromising on your health. Fountain-dispensed soft drinks and fruit juices mixed with ice could be a potential source of harmful bacteria including coliform responsible for uncontrolled diarrhoea and vomiting.
The microbiology laboratory of the city-based National Geophysical Research Institute collected as many as 16 samples of fruit juices, ice and unbottled fountain-dispensed soft drinks from shopping malls, cinema halls and fast-food centres managed by multinational firms, and analysed them for the presence of coliforms. A majority of the samples had harmful bacteria that could cause severe health complications in people with 
compromised immunity and sensitive digestive system.
Soft drink manufacturers supply concentrate, which is mixed with water and carbondioxide for dispensing through soda fountains in shopping malls, multiplexes and fast food chains. "The purity or otherwise of the unbottled soft drinks served through soda fountains depends on the water mixed. If the water is contaminated, the trouble begins. No one is sure about the purity of the water used. The machine has to be cleaned at 
regular intervals to keep it germ-free," said NGRI-CSIR senior scientist Dr AM Dayal.
Dr Mohammad Abdul Rasheed, incharge of the microbiology lab, said they had adopted different microbiological methods to evaluate the safety level for human consumption of soft drinks and street-vended fruit juices. "Our study has confirmed the presence of pathogenic bacterial counts in significantly high numbers in juices containing ice. Those without ice showed least contamination. Contamination is mainly due to poor quality of water used for preparation of ice, unhygienic conditions and bad sanitation on the premises," Dr Rasheed pointed out.
Besides Dr Dayal and Dr Rasheed, Dr Veena, Ms M Lakshmi and Ms K Deepti are part of the team that analysed the samples. Though the NGRI researchers could not find much contamination in soda fountains in the city, a similar study conducted in the USA last year revealed the presence of E coli in well known brands of beverages.
The US study based on 30 samples collected from soda machines found a possible faecal contamination of soft drinks. E coli lives in the human digestive system and its presence elsewhere signifies mixture of the sample with human faeces. When almost half of the soft drink samples in the USA had coliform bacteria, one can imagine the level of contamination in India, a country known for compromised hygiene.
According to NGRI scientists, bottled aerated soft drinks could be relatively safer than the fountain-dispensed ones as the pressure of carbondioxide and the acidity levels in bottled beverages prevent growth of harmful bacteria. The rubber tubing in the soda fountain if not cleaned properly at regular intervals could turn out to be the breeding ground for infection-causing bacteria.
"The main culprit in most of the cases is the ice, because of the type of water used and the way ice blocks are broken to pieces. "Street vended fruit juices are not recommended for human consumption as they are contaminated by various sources," Dr Rasheed warned.

Swallow root: Decalepsis hamiltonii kills typhoid germs

Syed Akbar
Decalepsis hamiltonii or swallow root is an ancient herb that has been used for centuries by tribes deep in the jungles, down the Vindhyas. Though there have been several claims on its medicinal properties, it's
only of late that scientific studies are conducted to verify some of them. It has been found to be good against bacterial infection including Salmonella typhii that causes typhoid and Helicobacter pylori that is
responsible for ulcers in the stomach and even cancers.
The root of Decalepsis is used in herbal medicine, particularly Ayurveda and Unani. It is regarded as a blood purifier and general health tonic to boost the immune system. Research on rats has shown that it has anti-diabetic properties. It is found to protect the liver and prevents formation of cholesterol deposits in the blood vessels.
Decalepsis should be used in small quantities as excessive intake may lead to health troubles. Pregnant women and lactating mothers should avoid Decalepsis as a precautionary measure. Those planning for a surgical procedure should stop taking Decalepsis at least 15 days before hospitalisation, as the herb is known to dilute the blood. Those on anti-coagulant and blood thinning medicines should avoid Decalepsis.
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Home remedies
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The root extract of Swallow root works as a general tonic since it has anti-oxidant properties. It also prevents cancers of various types. Ready-made root extract of Swallow root is available in herbal stores. One may also go in for Swallow root tonic to keep the physiological functioning of the body in good condition. Alternatively, one can take a few grams of fresh or dried root and prepare decoction adding it to a glass of water. Filter the decoction and consume it.
A little quantity of Swallow root powder daily will help in preventionof complications linked to diabetes.
Recent studies have shown that Swallow root can be used in cancer therapy along with the regular medicines. Root extract or powder can be consumed in a little quantity to prevent cancer complications.
Swallow root powder is often prescribed to reduce swelling (inflammation), and in treating typhoid. It is regarded as a good appetiser. A little of root powder before the meal will increase the hunger.

Parsley keeps bad breath away

Syed Akbar
Parsley or Petroselinum crispum is a native of the Middle East. But it is now grown widely for its medicinal properties and health value. This leafy vegetable is used in Ayurveda, Unani and even in the modern medicine.
Though it is generally recommended for its ability to fight bad breath, Parsley is used for treatment of a number of health issues like stones and calculi in the kidney, infection of gall bladder, boils, sting and bites by insects, flatulence and indigestion. It is also recommended as a natural blood purifier and general health tonic.
The leaves of Parsley, both fresh and dried, as also its tap root are used in herbal formulations. The leaves can be chewed raw or consumed as herbal tea, decoction or tincture. Ointment, poultice or leaf paste of Parsley can be applied externally for skin problems including inflammation. Some herbal doctors prescribe head wash using paste of Parsley leaves to kill head lice.
The leaves are rich in vitamin C and thus they help in purifying the blood and keeping the circulatory system in good condition. Pregnant women should avoid Parsley as it may create health problems. Others should use it in prescribed quantities as heavy dosage may lead to complications.
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Home remedies
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Take a few leaves of Parsley, clean them with water and chew them. This prevents bad breath. Parsley is rich in chlorophyll and other natural substances that prevent harmful bacteria from growing in the mouth and causing bad breath. You can also prepare mouth gargle using Parsley leaves. Take a few leaves, clean them and put them in a glass of water. Boil the water, filter the solution and use it for gargling the mouth, twice a 
day. Prepare solution fresh everyday.
Some herbal doctors prescribe Parsley tea for problems like stones and calculi in kidneys. It is also recommended for jaundice.
Chewing a few leaves of Parsley daily will help in fighting flatulence and indigestion and keeps the digestive system healthy.
Take a few leaves, crush them and apply on painful boils, insect bites or sting for relief from the trouble. Inflammation or swelling can also be reduced by applying leaf paste or ointment on the affected area.



Terror camps in Pakistan: Expert says India cannot take as a precedent the US raid

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: India cannot take as a precedent the US raid on Osama Bin Laden's hideout in Abbotabad to attack terror camps in Pakistan unless at the risk of war, says international law expert Dr PC Rao.
According to Dr Rao, who is a judge in the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, Hamburg, Germany, the sovereignty of a country is supreme under international law and it can be breached only through a sanction of the Security Council. Any military action against another country should be preceded by the permission of the Security Council.
The question of self defence arises if the military of a country is involved in attacks against another country. In the case of Pakistan, terror groups operating within its territory are involved in attacks on Indian soil. Unless it is established that the terror groups are supported by the government, military action cannot be taken against 
non-State actors.
"India, however, can launch a military offensive against terror camps in Pakistan after seeking the approval of the Security Council. Otherwise, any military attack on Pakistan  will lead to a war and disturb international peace. US is a super power and no country dare question its unilateral military actions. Moreover, the relations between the US and Pakistan are on a different note. But India cannot take the US action as a precedent to raid and destroy terror camps across the border, unless at the cost of war," Dr Rao pointed out.
He said India can continue its dialogue with Pakistan and seek custody of the terror suspects on its wanted list. Simultaneously, it can seek the help of countries which are friendly to both India and Pakistan to prevail upon the later to hand over the suspects for trial back home.
Sating that there have been suggestions that India should follow the US example, Dr Rao pointed out that in matters relating to maintenance of international peace and security, the Security Council is competent to take enforcement action against a State acting in violation of the international obligations under the charter of the United Nations.
Though the US has violated the international norms, a case cannot be built against it as Pakistan as a sovereign nation has not raised the issue on international forum, though its Parliament has passed a resolution condemning it. "Pakistan has made no complaint against the United States. It may be that it gave its consent, either formally or informally, to the United States. In the light of the above, the question of examining 
the legality of American action in any international forum may not arise," he said.



Petrol and Natural Gas in Kadapa: National Geophysical Research Institute finds hydrocarbon reserves in Kadapa (Cuddapah) basin

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Kadapa, notorious for bombs and bloodshed, will soon become the newest  destination for exploration of oil and natural gas in the country with the National  Geophysical Research Institute discovering hydrocarbons in the Kadapa (Cuddapah) basin.
Joint studies by the city-based NGRI and the Directorate-General of Hydrocarbons, Noida,  have established the hydrocarbon resource potential of the Kadapa basin. Kadapa basin is  an ancient geological structure with rich resources of oil and natural gas, and it could  well become the next destination for hydrocarbon exploration in the State after  Krishna-Godavari basin.
Presence of natural gas and oil is detected by several methods. The NGRI employed "adsorbed soil gas" methods as well as the presence of bacteria to find out hidden hydrocarbon resources. Light hydrocarbons like methane, propane, ethane and butane come out of the soil either in large or minute proportions.
If the leakage is in large quantities it can be identified easily. But in most of the cases the gases coming out are in small quantities which cannot be identified. However, in such cases certain bacterial groups live there eating these gases. The presence of these bacteria in large groups signifies that hydrocarbons are hidden underneath the earth. The NGRI studied the soil samples and took up adsorbed soil gas and microbial studies in Kadapa basin to establish the presence of oil and natural gas.
"The adsorbed soil gas studies and the inferences from geological, geophysical and other geochemical data, suggest that the demarcated areas around Nandyal and Koilakuntla may be potential for future hydrocarbon research and exploration. The Kadapa basin has hydrocarbon resource potential and efforts are on to conduct close sampling in the anomalous hydrocarbon zones," said Dr AM Dayal, head of the department of Stable Isotope and Surface Geochemical Prospecting for Hydrocarbon, NGRI.
Kadapa is an epicratonic Proterozoic basin situated over a length of 440 km and a width ranging from 150 km to 200 km. The Kadapa basin covers an area of 44,500 sq km extending into the districts of Kadapa, Kurnool, Anantapur, Prakasam and even Raichur in Karnataka.
The NGRI-DGHC teams collected 304 soil samples with spacing of four to five km along certain roads in the basin. Analysis showed 87 per cent of soil samples fall in the oil zone and remaining in the gas-condensate zone, Dr Dayal said.
Sample points with higher concentration of methane (more than 35 ppb) are clustered north-northwest and southwest of Nandyal and south-southwest of Koilakuntla with a few scattered anomalies all over the study area. The hydrocarbon anomalies obtained in the soil samples near Nandyal correlate with the good sediment thickness in the range of 6000 to 9000 metres for the Nandyal shale, which is considered as an ideal cap rock and potential target for petroleum exploration.
Frequently occurring carbonaceous shales with strong microbiotic content at different stratigraphic levels like Vempalle, Tadipatri, Cumbum and Pullempet formations also indicate petroleum source rock potential of the basin, Dr Dayal said. The structures like synclines, anticlines, fault closures in the Kadapa basin play an important role in hydrocarbon generation and entrapment.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

"Food safety plans" for cities, towns and villages in India soon

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad:  With diet and food habits being tagged to good health and longevity, the Central government now envisages "food safety plans" for cities, towns and villages in the country.
The Food Safety and Standards Rules, 2011 make a provision for food safety plans for all civic and local bodies to ensure that safe food and food products are served to people. The new Rules will replace the age-
old Food Adulteration Act to make the food safety legislation more effective in view of various food surveys showing that 85 per cent of foods available in the market are either of low quality or unfit for
human consumption.
While many countries including neighbouring China have already prepared food safety plans right from the grass roots level, India has thus far lagged behind on the food safety front. The responsibility of preparing the food safety plans for municipal bodies and panchayats has been entrusted to "designated officers", who will be appointed soon.
Every State will have a commissioner of food safety to ensure that quality food products are manufactured and sold in the market. The existing food inspectors, many of whom do not know the chemistry or biology of food, will be replaced by food safety officers, who are specialised in medicine, veterinary science, food or dairy technology, biotechnology, biochemistry, microbiology, chemistry or agricultural sciences.
The new Rules also prohibit shopkeepers, vendors or workers in hotels and restaurants from dealing with foodstuff if they are suffering from or harbouring the germs of any infectious disease. The diseases include 
simple human influenza or common cold to tuberculosis and contagious skin ailments including STD. The food safety officer concerned is empowered to refer the suspects to a qualified medical professional for medical examination.
According to PI Suvrathan, chairman of Food Safety Standards Authority of India, the new food rules also scrutinise the claims of manufacturers. This particularly pertains to claims on organic and probiotic foods.
Any food stuff or product, which is of sub-standard quality or contaminated with harmful agents is liable to be seized and food safety officers are empowered to initiate penal action against unscrupulous manufacturers and traders. There's a provision for recall of food products if they fail to meet the prescribed standards.
Imported packages, which are suspected to contain articles of food, the import or sale of which is prohibited, will also be stopped from being circulated in the market. Food products will tested in private laboratories too as the State-owned labs are overburdened with test samples.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Cholera outbreaks in Hyderabad: Altered El Tor strain is the culprit

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, May 10: The germ that has been causing regular outbreaks of cholera in Hyderabad is a new mutant of cholera bacterium, and if it is not checked it will further spread in the environment posing severe health threat to people.
A team of researchers from Defence Research and Development Establishment, Gwalior, collected contaminated water samples from Hyderabad and subjected them to bacteriological analysis. The results showed that the regular outbreaks of cholera in twin cities is caused by altered El Tor bacteria.
El Tor bacteria is a new strain that has evolved from the classic cholera bacteria, Vibrio cholerae. This El Tor bacteria has further changed its character to become altered El Tor bacteria. Though altered El Tor bacteria has been isolated in Hyderabad, it is present in other places too.
What causes concern to health planners and medical researchers is that altered El Tor bacteria is adaptive to environment as well as toxigenic in nature. Normal or classic cholera bacteria (Vibrio cholerae) is toxigenic but does not survive in atmosphere for long, while the normal El Tor bacteria is not toxigenic but survives in environment. In contrast, the altered El Tor bacteria - isolated in Hyderabad - has both the properties 
i.e toxic and adaptive to environment.
"Outbreak due to such bacteria should be controlled well in time to prevent further spread in the environment," warns Dr AK Goel of Defence Research and Development Establishment.
"In Hyderabad study, cholera El Tor bacteria with classical strains were reported. This shows that now bacteria are more toxigenic and more adaptive to environment. However, such bacteria have been reported from different parts of country. This shows how bacteria compete in the environment for better evolution," he told this correspondent.
Dr Goel, however, clarified that the altered El Tor biotype has nothing to do with NDM-1 or drug resistance. The world has faced seven cholera pandemics affecting million and millions of people. Initial six pandemics were caused by a Vibrio cholerae strain, which belonged to classical biotype. Classical strains are more toxigenic but less adaptive to environment.
Subsequently, in seventh pandemic, the classical strains were replaced by El Tor biotype strains, which are less toxigenic but more adaptive to environment. In the new millennium, the bacterium again started modifying itself to attain the features of both biotypes. This new germ is responsible for cholera outbreaks in Haiti late last year.

Bholakpur tragedy 2009: It was a deadly cocktail of poisonous heavy metals and dangerous coliform bacteria that led to cholera in Hyderabad

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, May 11: It was a deadly cocktail of poisonous heavy metals and dangerous coliform bacteria that was responsible for the Bholakpur tragedy involving 16 deaths and hospitalisation of over 500 people in May 2009.
Residents consumed water containing coliform bacteria 24,000 times in excess of the permissible limit. The heavy metal toxicity only added to the bacteriological problem, making it further deadly. Thus far, it has been believed that the deaths were only due to biological contamination. But chemical contamination too played its part.
While there's little improvement in the sanitation even two years after the tragedy, water samples collected by the city-based microbiology laboratory of the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI-CSIR) revealed the presence of poisonous heavy metals and dangerous coliform bacteria far beyond the permissible levels fixed by the World Health Organisation.
"There should be no coliform bacteria in potable water. But in samples collected from seven sub-localities of Bholakpur, the bacterial count exceeded 24,000 per litre. In one sub-locality, the count was 11,000 per litre," NGRI-CSIR senior scientist Dr AM Dayal told this correspondent.
The NGRI-CSIR study, conducted by Dr Mohammad Abdul Rasheed, Mutnuri Lakshmi and Patil J Dattatreya, has also found that the bacteria had adapted to the heavy metals. "Normally, bacteria die in the presence of heavy metals due to poisoning. But the presence of high quantity of heavy metals and exceptionally high number of coliform bacteria confirmed that the cholera and gastro-enteritis causing germs have learnt to survive heavy metal poisoning," Dr Rasheed and Lakshmi pointed out.
Heavy metal poisoning coupled with the presence of coliform bacteria further increased the toxic levels leading to the 16 deaths and severe health complications in hundreds of people. Incidentally, some of the toxicities caused by heavy metals and coliform bacteria are similar and this led to a synergetic effect on the health of the residents. The common symptoms are nausea, persistent vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain.
"The drinking water samples were highly contaminated with high numbers of coliforms and in addition increased concentrations of iron, lead, copper, nickel, aluminium and sodium led to diarrhoeal outbreak in Bholakpur," Dr Dayal said, adding that pollution of water is increasing alarmingly creating serious threat to human health.
Samples were collected from municipal taps in Gulshan Nagar - I and II, Tazeer Nagar, Indira Nagar - I and II, Bangladesh market, and Mandigalli -I and II areas of Bholakpur in the city. The samples were compared with the water collected from the residential quarters of NGRI employees. While the Bholakpur samples failed both chemical and biological tests, there was no contamination in the NGRI water samples.

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