Tips to help children have a fun and safe Halloween

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

It’s almost Halloween again. Before sending your little ones out in search of candy, consider the following to ensure that he or she has a trick-free Halloween:

  • Don’t buy a costume unless it’s labeled “flame-retardant.”
  • Make sure that wigs and “beards” don’t cover your child’s eyes, nose or mouths.
  • Encourage your child to choose a costume without a mask. Masks can make it difficult for your child to breathe. Use face paint instead.
  • Suggest a light-colored costume for your child, or add glow-in-the dark tape on the front and back of a dark costume.
  • Avoid oversized or high-heeled shoes that can cause your child to trip and fall.
  • Make sure that accessories, such as swords or wands are flexible.
  • Put a name tag with your phone number on or inside your child’s costume.

If your child will be trick or treating: Continue reading

Smoke alarms dramatically raise fire survival rate

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

October is fire prevention month. According to the National Fire Protection Association, a home structure fire was reported every 87 seconds in 2009.

When a fire starts in a wooden home, the inhabitants often have no more than minutes to escape. Confusion about what to do wastes those valuable minutes. Early warning given by smoke alarms is very important. Fire alarms dramatically increase the survival rate of all of the family. Two-thirds of home fires that kill children 5 and younger occur in homes without a working smoke alarm.

Make sure you change your battery when daylight saving time changes late Saturday night or early Sunday morning.

Parents should install an alarm on each level of the home and outside bedrooms or other sleeping areas. Remember to test alarms monthly and change batteries at least once a year — preferably twice, at biannual time changes. If an infant sleeps in a separate room, place an alarm in the room. Keep the door closed to protect against the smoke of a hallway fire. Use a baby monitor to hear it if the alarm sounds. Continue reading

Death, anyone?

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

The emerging fears about Ebola are only in part about getting an infection. To put the snake on the table, the real issue is our fear of death.

The subject of death and dying is almost always difficult. As a physician, I have had the opportunity to be present and bear witness as patients died from trauma, disease and old age. Attending these souls in their final days is one of the most profound experiences in medicine. Being with death challenges the families of the dying and each of us. It pushes each of us to examine and experience the emotions, beliefs, spiritual issues, as well as earthy and pragmatic matters tied to this ultimate material transition.

If you are not in health care, you likely do not have a lot of experience with death. Perhaps you have some experience of death those in your family, workplace or friends. This is predictably painful, bringing not only grief but also more questions than answers. Continue reading

Semiprecious pathogens

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Some diseases are older than others. AIDS, for instance, is a recent phenomenon, while malaria has plagued humans for millennia.

Recently, scientists examining ticks fossilized in amber found they were infected with bacteria similar to those that cause Lyme disease, a spirochete bacteria named Borrelia burgdorferi.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bite of an infected tick. The discovery of an ancient Borrelia-like bacterium, now named Palaeoborrelia dominicana, shows that tick-borne diseases have been around for millions of years.

Lyme disease was identified in the early 1970s when mysterious cases of rheumatoid arthritis struck children in Lyme, Conn. and two other nearby towns.

The first symptom is a rash called erythema migrans, which begins with a small red spot where the tick bite occurred. Over the next few days or weeks, the rash gets larger, forming a circular or oval red rash much like a bull’s-eye. This rash can stay small or can cover the entire back. Continue reading

Falling is big risk for older women

Dr. Tristi Muir

Dr. Tristi Muir

Our Bodies, Our Selves

While most women today no longer fight off wild animals for survival, we constantly try to combat other dangers. Cancer screenings are now on most women’s preventive health agendas. We know that regular mammograms, pap smears and colonoscopies help keep us safe.But what about the risks posed by taking a fall?

As we age, we fall more frequently and recover more slowly.Falls are responsible for 70 percent of accidental deaths in people 75 and older.Only seven percent of woman diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer die of their disease within five years. Yet fully one-quarter of all elderly people who fracture a hip will be dead within six months.Among those who survive a hip fracture, half end up in a nursing home after hospitalization. Of women sent to nursing homes, half remain there for more than a year.With frightening statistics like those, we need to take the dangers of falling very seriously.

Everyone loses muscle, bone mass and strength as they age.Some women envision enjoying their golden years in a rocker on the front porch, passively watching the years roll by, rather than taking life by the horns and signing up for Zumba class.Pain, arthritis, neurological conditions or incontinence may hold them back. Yet maintaining and even gaining muscle strength is a very important way to guard against falls.Weightlifting or water aerobics can increase muscle strength and function without the dangers associated with high-impact sports. Building muscle is the first step to improved balance.As children, we darted side-to-side avoiding a tag in the middle of a game, all the while building our core strength and muscle memory to keep us upright. We need to regain that kind of agility. Pilates, yoga and water aerobics classes help women improve their flexibility and balance. They allow a woman to keep her body, rather than her rocker, moving. Continue reading

You ain’t from here

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Today, I finally met and had a nice conversation with ole John Dundee, whose father’s family has been in Galveston since long before the Storm. Not Ike, the 1900 one. Oh, that big one. It is fascinating what draws people to a place and how some just settle in for generations while others move on to happier hunting grounds.

Galveston seems to be a magnet for both the lifers and the gypsies and we are all richer for it. My talk with John and his mom, who is a relative newbie to the Island, only having lived here since 1942, reminded me of Cecil, a 93-year-old patient I took care of in Colorado.Sometime in the 1930s, during the Great Depression, Cecil and his family were traversing the U.S. looking for a better life. Their Model T pickup broke down in the high country San Luis Valley of Colorado. Their only possessions were a bag of potatoes and a bag of beans, so they decided to light there and became contributing members of the community, teachers, farmers, small business owners, and so on. Continue reading

Ebola — you won’t get it from shaking hands

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

A strange thing happened to me last Monday when I went to the clinic.

With the report of a man in Texas with Ebola who had been discharged from a Dallas hospital, then readmitted very sick a couple days later, I realized that any patient I came in contact with that day, or any day, might have this deadly virus.

Now we don’t usually think of work in health care as inherently a hazardous profession — say like being a soldier, firefighter or policeman. Yet it has actually always been so. From doctors and nurses who cared for patients with leprosy and bubonic plague in medieval times to those caring for the Ebola epidemic in Africa today, our colleagues in white coats put their lives on the line caring for those who have no other recourse for help.

Emergency workers, ambulance crews, and paramedics are often called into dangerous settings after shootings, bombings, and other catastrophes where the sites are not always secure or safe. They transport people with unknown diseases and unknown risk.

Of course, we have developed methods of reducing risk. Part of annual training at UTMB for all clinical staff includes reviewing universal precautions, which include several levels of infectious disease control. These range from basic hand washing and use of rubber globes to advanced personal protective equipment, including specialized gowns, masks, and in some cases like the Galveston National Laboratory, even hazmat type suits and respirators. Continue reading

Single change in one letter makes you a natural blond

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Out of the 3 billion letters contained in the human genetic code, all it takes to be born a blond is a single change in a certain place from an A to a G.

With the sheer complexity of the human genome, this new discovery shows how remarkably simple it is to be a natural blond. Especially when you consider the lengths people go to become one artificially.

This discovery actually came from research on the evolution of Sticklebacks, small fish that emerged from the oceans and colonized streams, rivers and lakes at the end of the last Ice Age.

Scientists at Stanford University have been studying how Sticklebacks have adapted to different habitats around the world, and particularly how different populations acquired their skin colors.

They discovered that changes in a single gene determined the pigmentation of fish throughout the world. The gene responsible, the Kit ligand gene, is also in the human genome. Different versions of it have evolved around the world and are associated with differences in skin color. Continue reading

Low-power laser treatment works on molecular level for cavities

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

For all those who cringe at the thought of going to the dentist or hearing the word cavity, there is hope.

Apparently, when low-power laser light is focused onto damaged teeth, it stimulates the regrowth of dentin to correct the damage.

The laser light stimulates the stem cells that already are in teeth to differentiate and repair damage from within, so that someday dentists can repair or even regrow teeth without fillings.

Teeth consist of four different tissues; three of these — enamel, dentin and cement — are harder than bone, while one — dental pulp — is soft. Enamel, the hardest material in the body, is the outer surface of the crown of a tooth.

Once enamel has completely formed it cannot be repaired, but it can remineralize. It allows teeth to withstand large amounts of stress, pressure and temperature differences.

Dentin lies beneath enamel and forms the main portion of a tooth through numerous microscopic channels called dentin tubules. Continue reading

New evidence suggests long-term relationships with bacteria begins before we’re born

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

While we know for sure that the microbiome of bacteria living in and on us are key to our own well-being, more evidence suggests that we acquire our microbiomes before we’re even born.

While a baby does acquire bacterial flora from its mother as it moves through the birth canal, scientists now think that our symbiotic, lifelong relationships with bacteria begin in utero long before birth.

They found bacteria living in the placenta, an organ previously thought to be sterile.

They also discovered a baby’s bacteria to be similar to the bacterial flora of the mother’s mouth, making oral hygiene during pregnancy extra important.

An experiment in 2008 by Spanish scientists indicated that bacteria are acquired in some way before birth.

They inoculated pregnant mice with labeled bacteria, which were then found in the meconium, the first bowel movement after birth.


This was true even when the babies had been delivered by C-section. So scientists knew then that bacteria are acquired before birth and even without the birth canal, changing what we thought we knew about the womb.

Since then, scientists at Baylor College of Medicine have been studying the inside of the womb and birth canal in both humans and animals.

They discovered that the vaginal microbiome changed during pregnancy, but it did not resemble that of newborns. So where did they get their bacteria from?

Baylor scientists then examined placentas from 320 women immediately after birth. Using DNA sequencing, they identified the individual types of bacteria each placenta contained.

Comparing them to bacteria growing in and on the mothers, they found that the types of bacteria living in the mothers’ mouths most closely resembled those in their own placentas.

Interestingly, the bacteria in the placenta consisted of high proportions of bacteria responsible for synthesizing vitamins and other nutrients, which probably benefits a developing fetus and newborn.

So a fetus is first exposed to bacteria from the placenta, then at birth additional bacteria are introduced, and then again when babies are exposed bacteria on their parent’s skin, in breast milk and in their environment.

Other studies have shown the influence of the microbiome on a mother and her baby. In one experiment, monkeys who ate a high-fat diet while pregnant and lactating produced babies with different proportions of bacteria in their guts than those of monkeys fed a normal diet.

The short- and long-term consequences of abnormal maternal and infant microbiomes are not yet known, but it’s speculated that these changes could influence the metabolism of the infant and the development of metabolic disorders.

Science is increasingly aware of the role and importance the microbiome has in various parts of the body and the part it plays in human health and disease.

Professors Norbert Herzog and David Niesel are biomedical scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Learn more at