DEAR DR. ROACH: Like most women, I was raised to avoid letting any part of my body touch the seat of a public toilet. As I age, I find it more and more difficult to maintain “the stance.” Just how dangerous is that toilet seat? What awful diseases are we chancing by giving in to our quivering thighs and sitting down? Millions of women want to know! — B.G.
ANSWER: Toilet seats are comparatively very clean and free from unhealthy bacteria. I say “comparatively” since the 50 bacteria per inch on a toilet seat compares to 10 million per square inch on a typical kitchen sponge. Your kitchen counter and cutting board are likely to have many more bacteria than a toilet seat. If your skin is healthy and intact, you can sit down on a toilet seat and be reassured that you have low risk.
It is possible — however, unlikely — to catch a disease from a toilet seat. If the last person who used it had a contagious gastrointestinal illness (Norovirus and Shigella are the main ones), it’s possible you could pick it up. You are much more likely to get a contagious disease via your hands, by touching other people or what they have touched. That’s why washing your hands remains your best defense, especially after using the bathroom. If you are in an outbreak of a contagious illness (cruise ships have historically been associated with Norovirus), you could consider using an antiseptic wipe on the toilet seat, which reduces bacteria count by 98 percent. Also, during an outbreak or in high-risk situations (such as if you have or are taking care of someone with a compromised immune system), after washing your hands, use the paper towel to turn off the faucet and to touch the door handle.
DEAR DR. ROACH: I am a 73-year-old male in good health. I recently have developed a cracking, popping sound when turning my neck. It is not painful, although sometimes my neck is a little sore. Can you shed a little light on what may be going on? — D.P.
ANSWER: A popping sound in the neck usually comes from one of the tendons (which attach muscles to the bones they move) rubbing across a bony prominence. (A similar sound can be heard by “cracking” knuckles or other joints, which is when nitrogen bubbles come out of solution). We tend to creak and crack more as we get older, which may be due to some arthritic changes making those bony prominences more prominent. However, popping sounds are common and do not usually represent something wrong.
DEAR DR. ROACH: My husband just had his appendix taken out by laparoscopic surgery. Is it safe for him to fly? If so, are there any precautions he should take? — D.G.
ANSWER: There are two issues involved here. The first is that air introduced by surgery into the body will expand while at altitude, at least to a small extent, even in a modern pressurized cabin. That means you’ll need to wait up to a week after major abdominal surgery. Chest surgery might mean a wait of up to two weeks. For laparoscopic surgery, two days is probably sufficient. Ask his surgeon to be sure.
The second issue is blood clots. After any surgery, there is a propensity for blood clots for as long as four weeks. For those flying after surgery, it’s particularly important to take precautions, such as flexing your leg muscles while seated and getting up and moving in the cabin as frequently as possible.
Only his surgeon may recommend aspirin or other treatment to reduce clot risk, if appropriate. Aspirin can be risky after surgery.
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Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu or request an order form of available health newsletters at 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803. Health newsletters may be ordered from www.rbmamall.com.
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