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Who's up for a Swine Flu Party?

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The story making the rounds these days is that swine flu parties "“ flu flings "“ are all the rage here in Merry Olde. Now, I've been to the odd garden party and birthday party, even a "fancy dress" party, but I have not yet been invited to a swine flu party (at least, not intentionally).

The swine flu party has its origins in those chickenpox parties of yore, when parents hoping to get the pox out of the way early would push their children toward the first child to fall ill, the idea being that their child would then develop immunity to the illness. Newspapers the world over, especially here in England, are urging people to use their common sense and to stay away from swine flu parties, on the grounds that contracting the flu in general is a bad idea and doing in such a potentially risky way is even worse.


But the likelihood of people actually hosting these parties is pretty low "“ no one has been able to produce solid evidence that such events have occurred and no newspapers have been able to find a parent willing to say, "Yes, I intentionally infected my child with swine flu "“ what?" (If, however, these parties invited celebrities who've had the flu, like Harry Potter star Rupert Grint, for example, who recovered from his bout with the swine flu just in time for the Leicester Square premiere of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, they may stand a better chance of actually being the wild success news media seems to fear they are.)

The stories surrounding the swine flu parties, then, can fall into the category that much reporting around the pandemic has: Well-intentioned fear mongering with a side of over-earnest freaking out.

Don't get me wrong, we are now in the stage where we have friends who've come down with the swine flu, where a summer cold can look suspiciously porcine, where we're armed with hand sanitizer for every trip out of the door. The threat of flu cannot be underestimated "“ but nor should it be overblown, a talent that the British press has in spades. The British press, in general, tends towards a more breathless, sensational, even combative form of reporting than we're used to in the States "“ headlines shrieking about the number of British deaths from the illness, the tragically young age of those who have died, and the coming apocalypse are so common they seem to blend in with the scenery. (And it's historical: check out The Times' archives of reporting on past flu epidemics.)

Swine-Flu

Unrelated photo taken by mental_floss editor Jason English on a trip to his local zoo.

The major story "“ admittedly reported with somewhat less morbid fascination than other swine flu stories had been "“ of a few weeks ago posited the worst-case number of people in Britain who could die from the swine flu at 65,000, a calculation based on a 0.35 percent mortality rate, and that the NHS is preparing for accordingly. Many stories also failed to mention that on average, 6,000 Britons die each year from the regular flu, though that number can spike "“ in the 1999 to 2000 flu season, around 21,000 died from the flu. And at the time, the swine flu death toll was around 30, where it has remained in the month since.

This reporting was also taking place around the same time that the BBC put out a TV docu-drama called The Spanish Flu: The Forgotten Fallen, which seemed to take a similar maudlin tone, albeit clothed in historical reporting, to that horrifying nuclear fall-out miniseries from the "˜80s, The Day After. Reporting about the movie also noted that advisors to the film said that the Spanish flu bore striking similarities to the current swine flu pandemic. As timely as I'm sure those BBC execs were thinking, was it really a good idea?

While reporting on the swine flu has largely quieted down, especially as civilization continues to tick along, the big story this week is that the vaccine itself might actually be more lethal than the disease. This was the same problem that arose during the 1976 outbreak of swine flu, which we discussed last spring. Under headlines like "Death linked to swine flu vaccine," papers have been reporting that health officials are warning that the current swine flu vaccine may share similarities with the 1976 vaccine, which resulted in more than 25 deaths from the onset of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a paralyzing neurological disease. All well and good, just adding another chunk of wood on the fear-mongering pyre, and reinforced by the article placed next to it: A lengthy editorial by a woman who had the swine flu, which was less a flu it seems, and more a visit to the fifth ring of Dante's Inferno.

eyes-wide-shutIn any case, speaking of parties "“ a country party for some well-heeled European types may have inadvertently become a swine flu fest a few weekends ago when, at the stroke of midnight, guests doffed their clothes and began earnestly reenacting that scene from Eyes Wide Shut. (You know the one.) The owner of the old English manor where the party took place said he was more than a little shocked by the whole thing and that attempts to stop the guests met with failure. The bonking wrapped up at around 3:30 a.m., with some guests retiring to their rooms and others leaving for the nearby TravelLodge.

Now that's a swine flu party.

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5 Tips for Becoming A Morning Person
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You’ve probably heard the term circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is an internal clock that influences your daily routine: when to eat, when to sleep, and when to wake up. Our biological clocks are, to some extent, controlled by genetics. This means that some people are natural morning people while others are night owls by design. However, researchers say the majority of us fall somewhere in the middle, which is good news if you want to train yourself to wake up earlier.

In addition to squeezing more hours out of the day, there are plenty of other good reasons to resist hitting the snooze button, including increased productivity. One survey found that more than half of Americans say they feel at their best between 5 a.m. and noon. These findings support research from biologist Christopher Randler, who determined that earlier risers are happier and more proactive about goals, too.

If you love the idea of waking up early to get more done, but you just can't seem to will yourself from out under the covers, here are five effective tips that might help you roll out of bed earlier.

1. EASE INTO THE HABIT.

If you’re a die-hard night owl, chances are you’re not going to switch to a morning lark overnight. Old habits are hard to break, but they’re less challenging if you approach them realistically.

“Wake up early in increments,” Kelsey Torgerson, a licensed clinical social worker at Compassionate Counseling in St. Louis suggests. “If you normally wake up at 9:00 a.m., set the alarm to 8:30 a.m. for a week, then 8:00 a.m., then 7:30 a.m.”

Waking up three hours earlier can feel like a complete lifestyle change, but taking it 30 minutes at a time will make it a lot easier to actually stick to the plan. Gradually, you’ll become a true morning person, just don’t try to force it to happen overnight.

2. EXERCISE IN THE MORNING.

Your body releases endorphins when you exercise, so jumping on the treadmill or taking a run around the block is a great way to start the day on a high note. Also, according to the National Sleep Foundation, exercising early in the morning can mean you get a better overall sleep at night:

“In fact, people who work out on a treadmill at 7:00 a.m. sleep longer, experience deeper sleep cycles, and spend 75 percent more time in the most reparative stages of slumber than those who exercise at later times that day.”

If you don’t have much time in the morning, an afternoon workout is your second best bet. The Sleep Foundation says aerobic afternoon workouts can help you fall asleep faster and wake up less often throughout the night. “This may be because exercise raises your body’s temperature for about four to five hours,” they report. After that, your body’s core temperature decreases, which encourages it to switch into sleep mode.

3. MAKE YOUR BEDROOM IDEAL FOR SLEEP.

Whether it’s a noisy street or a bright streetlight, your bedroom environment might be making it difficult for you to sleep throughout the night, which can make waking up early challenging, as you haven’t had enough rest. There are, however, a few changes you can make to optimize your room for a good night’s sleep.

“Keep your bedroom neat and tidy,” Dr. Nancy Irwin, a Los Angeles-based doctor of psychology on staff as an expert in sleep hygiene at Seasons Recovery Centers in Malibu, suggests. “Waking up to clutter and chaos only makes it more tempting to crawl back in bed.”

Depending on what needs to be improved, you might consider investing in some slumber-friendly items that can help you sleep through the night, including foam earplugs (make sure to use a vibrating alarm), black-out drapes, light-blocking window decals, and a cooling pillow

Another simple option? Ditch the obnoxious sound of a loud, buzzing alarm.

“One great way to adapt to rising earlier is to have an alarm that is a pleasing sound to you versus an annoying one,” Dr. Irwin says. “There are many choices now, whether on your smartphone or in a radio or a freestanding apparatus.”

4. TAKE THE TIME TO PROPERLY WIND DOWN.

Getting up early starts the night before, and there are a few things you should do before hitting the sack at night.

“Set an alarm to fall asleep,” Torgerson says. “Having a set bedtime helps you stay responsible to yourself, instead of letting yourself get caught up in a book or Netflix and avoid going to sleep.”

Torgerson adds that practicing yoga or meditation before bed can help relax your mind and body, too. This way, your mind isn’t bouncing from thought to thought in a flurry before you go to bed. If you find yourself feeling anxious before bed, it might help to write in a journal. This way, you can get these nagging thoughts out of your head and onto paper.

Focus on relaxing at night and stay away from not just exercise, but mentally stimulating activities, too. If watching the news gets your blood boiling, for example, you probably want to turn it off an hour or so before bedtime.

5. GET YOUR DAILY DOSE OF LIGHT.

Light has a immense effect on your circadian rhythm—whether it’s the blue light from your phone as you scroll through Instagram, or the bright sunlight of being outdoors on your lunch break. In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, scientists compared the sleep quality of 27 subjects who worked in windowless environments with 22 subjects who were exposed to significantly more natural light during the day.

“Workers in windowless environments reported poorer scores than their counterparts on two SF-36 dimensions—role limitation due to physical problems and vitality—as well as poorer overall sleep quality," the study concluded. "Compared to the group without windows, workers with windows at the workplace had more light exposure during the workweek, a trend toward more physical activity, and longer sleep duration as measured by actigraphy.”

Thus, exposing yourself to bright light during the day may actually help you sleep better at night, which will go a long way toward helping you wake up refreshed in the morning.

Conversely, too much blue light can actually disturb your sleep schedule at night. This means you probably want to limit your screen time as your bedtime looms closer.

Finally, once you do get into the habit of waking up earlier, stick to that schedule on the weekends as much as possible. The urge to sleep in is strong, but as Torgerson says, “you won't want your body and brain to reacclimate to sleeping in and snoozing.”

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technology
New Device Sanitizes Escalator Handrails While They're in Use
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LG

If you have ever hesitated to touch a well-used escalator's handrails for fear of contracting some disease from the masses, LG Innotek has an answer for you. The company just released a handrail sterilizer that uses UV light to kill nearly every germ coating the rubber belts, according to The Verge.

As the railings move with the escalator, they pass through the UV light, which kills 99.99 percent of germs, according to tech developer LG Innotek. The sterilizer is placed just before escalator users hop on, ensuring the handrails are still relatively clean when you grab on at the bottom. The device is a little bigger than a regular hand sanitizer dispenser (around the size of a piece of paper) and starts automatically when the escalator begins moving. It runs on power generated by the movement of the escalator.

UV radiation is used to kill super-germs in hospitals (and one company wants to bring it to planes), but it's relatively easy to use on your phone, your toothbrush, or anywhere else in your house. You can already get handheld UV sterilizers online, as well as aquarium-specific ones. In April 2017, LG Innotek released a faucet that purifies water by UV-sterilizing it inside the aerator. However, the fact that escalator railings are constantly on the move makes them easier to clean automatically than subway railings, door handles, and other potentially germy public surfaces we touch every day.

Bear in mind that while nobody likes getting a cold, germs aren't always bad for you. Some types can even help protect you against developing asthma, as scientists found while researching the health differences between Amish children and their counterparts on more industrialized farms. Whether you touch the handrails or not, cities have their own unique microbiomes, and those ubiquitous bacteria are pretty much guaranteed to get on you whether you like it or not. On the bright side, if you are a germophobe, UV sterilization has been touted as a possible alternative to other antibacterial treatments that cause supergerms.

[h/t The Verge]

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