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A Local, Inexpensive Way to Purify Water In Developing Countries

The World Health Organization estimates that lack of access to clean drinking water causes 1.6 million deaths each year, mostly from diarrheal and parasitic diseases. Because of this, importing disinfecting chemicals is a priority for many developing nations. But what if instead they could rely on inexpensive, local means to turn contaminated water into potable, purified water?

A team of researchers led by Stephanie Butler Velegol, an environmental engineering instructor at Penn State, are looking to the past for water-purifying techniques they might be able to adapt for today. One possibility: the Moringa oleifera tree, a common food source in tropical and subtropical regions. But in addition to the edible seedpods, seeds, leaves, roots and flowers, locals in the areas where it grows also make use of the Moringa oleifera for its bacteria-killing properties. As far back as ancient Egypt, crushed Moringa seeds were rubbed on clay pots to purify the water inside; for many years dried powder from the crushed seeds has been used as a handwash.

The process works via a positively-charged protein called the Moringa Oleifera Cationic Protein (MOCP), which kills dangerous water-borne bacteria by causing their cell membranes to fuse. However, because the organic matter remains in the water, the protein continues to provide a food source to any bacteria not destroyed, allowing the water to become re-infected again in a matter of days. A 2012 paper proposed a solution to this by a suggesting a process during which the MOCP was attached to grains of sand, which could be easily removed from the purified water, washed and then used again.

More recent studies have examined when seeds should be harvested for the most bacteria-fighting potency. Researchers teamed with Bashir Abubakar, a botanist from Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria to study the effectiveness of seeds in different seasons, and found that the extracted protein of mature dried seeds collected in the rainy season is most effective, followed by mature dried seeds collected in the dry season.

If the seeds prove viable on a large scale, Moringa oleifera tree plantations could also help boost local economies. What's more, the less money spent on importing chemical purifiers, the more funds will be available for infrastructure and other social needs.

[h/t Penn State]

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The Very Disgusting Reason You Should Always Wash New Clothes Before Wearing Them
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It’s sometimes assumed that clothing with a price tag still dangling from the sleeve can skip an initial wash. Someone else may have tried it on, sure, but they didn’t run a marathon in it. Why not just throw it in the closet as soon as you get home?

One big reason: lice. As The Independent reports, Donald Belsito, a professor of dermatology at Columbia University Medical Center, told NBC's Today show recently that clothing fresh off store racks can harbor infestations of lice, scabies, or fungus.

You might be familiar with head lice as the dreaded insects that occupy the scalp and give school health monitors cause for concern. Head lice can be transmitted via clothing and other fabrics, and anyone who tried on a shirt or dress before you did can be a carrier. While they only live for one or two days without a blood meal, that’s still enough time to cause problems if something is being tried on frequently.

Scabies is far more insidious. The mites are too small to see, but the allergic reaction they cause by burrowing into your skin to lay eggs will be obvious.

Both scabies and lice can be treated with topical solutions, but it’s better to kill them by washing new clothes in hot water. A good soak can also get rid of formaldehyde, a common chemical used in fabrics to help ward off mold in case stock gets wet in transit. Formaldehyde can cause allergic skin reactions. For all of these reasons, it’s best to hit the washing machine before those new pants ever hit your hanger.

[h/t Independent]

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How Promoting Handwashing Got One 19th Century Doctor Institutionalized
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Regardless of how often we actually do it, it's common knowledge that washing our hands before eating, after coughing, and after using the bathroom is good for us. But the connection between handwashing and health wasn't always accepted as fact. As Danielle Bainbridge explains in the PBS web series Origin of Everything, the first doctor to campaign for cleanliness in hospitals was not only shunned by other medical professionals, but ended up in an insane asylum.

Prior to the 19th century, handwashing primarily existed in the context of religious ceremonies and practices. It plays a role in Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, and Buddhism in some form or another. But washing up to stop the spread of disease wasn't really a thing for most of history. People weren't aware of germs, so instead of microbes, they blamed illness on everything from demons to bad air.

Then, in 1846, a Hungarian doctor named Ignaz Semmelweis made a breakthrough observation. He noticed that women giving birth with the help of midwives were less likely to die than those treated by doctors. He determined that because doctors were also performing autopsies on victims of puerperal fever (a bacterial infection also known as childbed fever), they were somehow spreading the disease to their other patients. Semmelweis started promoting handwashing and instrument sterilization in his clinic, and the spread of puerperal fever dropped as a result.

Despite the evidence to support his theory, his peers in the medical community weren't keen on the idea of blaming patient deaths on doctors. Partly due to his commitment to the controversial theory, Semmelweis was shunned from his field. He suffered a mental breakdown and ended up in a mental hospital, where he died a few weeks later.

Germ theory did eventually become more mainstream as the century progressed, and washing hands as a way to kill unseen pathogens started gaining popularity. Even so, it wasn't until the 1980s that the CDC released the first official guidelines instructing people on best handwashing practices.

If this story suddenly has you in the mood to practice good hygiene, here's the best way to wash your hands, according to experts.

[h/t Origin of Everything]

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