Monthly Archives: December 2010

Walking for Exercise

Walking for exercise is one of the most effective, inexpensive, enjoyable and safest activities you can do to stay healthy. Other than some comfortable footwear, you do not need any special equipment or nine other people to do it.

Trailnet-Walk-05photo © 2007 Trailnet | more info (via: Wylio)

Walking is so accessible – it can be right outside your front door or on a lunch break at work. You can go to other venues for a change of scenery, none of which adds any cost to the price of beneficial exercise.

And numerous studies demonstrate the enormous benefits of walking to people of all ages. The benefits are physical, mental and emotional.

As a physical exercise, it’s easier on the joints compared to high-impact sports or jogging. The speed is not as important as the duration of the activity. The cardiovascular benefit is most dependent on getting the heart rate up a little, but still in a safe range and sustaining that pace for 15 to 20 minutes. Actually, aerobic exercise can be very effective even in small installments. If you only have 5-10 minutes to walk several times a day, the cumulative benefit is comparable to the same sustained activity for 30 continuous minutes.

Research has shown that Americans walk less than people do in other countries. Studies have also shown that use of a pedometer or other movement-measuring device can be very helpful in measuring and stimulating people to be more active when they pay closer attention to the amount of their daily activity. Inexpensive pedometers ($25-50) or the more expensive motion sensors ($100) are fun tools to measure and track your progress.

The more you walk, the more calories that are burned and the easier it is to maintain weight. Toning the muscles provides overall stamina and significant cardiovascular benefits.

What may surprise some is the appetite suppressant effect of regular exercise. For serious dieters, the more active you are burning calories, the less restrictive with food you need to be. If the feeling of being deprived can be avoided, then staying with your food plan is more likely.

A regimen of regular walking can be a great stress reducer and relaxation tool. As any aerobic exercise burns calories, the increased circulation to the brain helps prevent memory loss, and it relieves physical and emotional tension. With relaxation, we can be more mindful and clear thinking about all things.

Since the evidence is overwhelming that walking helps so many aspects of your health, what are you waiting for? Let’s get moving!

– Dr. Bruce Kaler

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Vaccines for Grown Ups

I was just sewing up a patient’s lip when I asked about his last tetanus shot. He shrugged and mumbled something about childhood, which it turns out, is a pretty common response.

We worry about vaccinating our kids, but what about us? Vaccines prevent disease in big people too. With that in mind, here are the major ones you need to be sure are up to date:

Vacuna influenza / Flu vaccinephoto © 2009 El Alvi | more info (via: Wylio)

Tdap
Until recently, we knew adults needed protection from tetanus and diphtheria, but pertussis is mainly a childhood disease, so we didn’t vaccinate for it. Trouble is, it can be fatal to kids, and usually kids catch it from an infected adult. So this vaccine is a 3-in-1. You get great immunity from tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis with a single Tdap vaccination. This vaccine should be received every 10 years.

Flu
Flu vaccine is next in importance. There are more than 40,000 influenza deaths per winter in this country alone. This is a yearly vaccine and is another 3-in-1. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention and World Heath Organization closely monitor the various strains of influenza circulating around the world. They pick the three stains of flu most likely to hit the U.S. this winter and make a new vaccine against all three. Because there are different influenza strains every winter, you need a new flu shot every fall or early winter. The flu vaccine is recommended for almost everyone.

Pneumonia
Pneumococcal pneumonia is still a very serious disease. This bacterial pneumonia was called “the old man’s friend” as it commonly caused death in the elderly. That’s no kind of friend I like. Pneumonia is most dangerous to those who have less robust heath due to age, disease or smoking. For that reason, this one-time vaccine is recommended for those over 65, people with heart or lung disease, or smokers.

Chicken Pox/Shingles
Varicella vaccine – this is marketed as either the chicken pox or the shingles vaccine. It protects against both because both diseases are caused by the same virus. Because it is a herpes-type virus, the virus lies dormant in the nerves for decades after active infection. If your immunity against this virus goes down, the virus can travel down the nerves and cause painful blisters in one area of your body (shingles). This is another one-time vaccine, and most adults should consider receiving this.

Prevention is always easier than facing the disease. In many ways, children are stronger and healthier than the grown ups who take care of them because they get vaccinated. Give yourself the same chance, and take a minute to talk to your doctor about these vaccines.

Take care,

Dr. B

Healthy Holiday Travel Tips

Here are some tips to make sure you reach your destination this holiday season without contracting a nasty cold or the flu.

long checkin line at st. louis airportphoto © 2010 The Consumerist | more info (via: Wylio)

Get a flu vaccine as soon as possible. The current vaccine is widely available in almost all communities. It takes a minimum of two weeks to develop any immunity after receiving the flu shot. Although this requires acting soon and planning ahead, it is the absolute most important factor.

Get adequate rest the night before travel. Having seven to eight hours of restorative sleep will give you a fighting chance of resisting whatever exposure you get when traveling. Travel days are usually long and hectic. If it can be avoided, you don’t want to start your day already run down.

Make sure you have a pocket-sized Kleenex, Purell, and saline nasal spray. Using hand sanitizer periodically after touching public surfaces once you settle into your seat and before eating is important. Avoid touching your own face, nose or mouth with contaminated hands. Usually illness such as the flu and other common respiratory illnesses are not airborne. They don’t fly over your left shoulder while you are looking the other way. The majority of transmission is self-inflicted. You have the germs on your hands and then eat, touch your nose or mouth.

Keep an arm’s length from other travelers and airport attendants when possible. Be aware that others may be sick and not be so mindful when they cough or sneeze. This is tough to avoid in close quarters, especially in your seat on an airplane. However an understanding and awareness could prevent you from being the unsuspecting target of their germs.

During your flight, stay well hydrated. The cabin air is usually very dry. For comfort, occasional use of saline nasal spray is good. Keeping the nasal mucosa moist and generally staying well hydrated will make you less vulnerable to the unavoidable germs you may encounter. Eat wisely and avoid alcohol during your flight.

Prolonged sitting in cramped positions puts you at risk for blood clots or phlebitis. Even a healthy person is at risk. The cramped position, lack of regular muscle movement in the lower extremities, high altitude and not drinking enough water can put you at risk. Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT) is a very serious medical condition caused by blood clots in the legs. If untreated, it can lead to life threatening problems. Wear comfortable nonrestrictive clothing. Wiggle toes and feet. Stretch legs periodically if the space allows. Get up and move around the cabin briefly every 20 to 30 minutes. Changing position and physical activity can help restore sluggish circulation which puts you at risk.

If you have any chronic medical problems, consult your health care provider before your trip. Even some medications can increase your risks. Your physician may recommend a medication or aspirin prophylaxis for the trip.

Don’t let paranoia about germs or DVT distract you from the enjoyable goals of holiday travel. A few simple steps and planning should help you have a happy, healthy and successful trip.

– Dr. Bruce Kaler

Is it a Cold or the Flu? Dr. Baxter Debunks the Myths on FOX Dallas

When winter rolls around, so do the germs. But does that cough and fever mean you have the flu or just the common cold?

Dr. Shiu-Yueh Baxter, Center Medical Diretor of our Carrollton clinic, spoke with KDFW-TV FOX Dallas this morning to discuss the difference between the two and to explain the truth behind common winter flu myths. The segment is available here.

The Pearls – or Perils – of Holiday Living

We are a society committed to excess in all things, which is perhaps never more apparent than the holiday season.

Bring on the holiday feast – more food, more wine, more sweets and eats (sorry, I found myself channeling Dr. Seuss for a moment). So let’s sort out the Christmas elves from the gremlins.

christmas tree in marunouchiphoto © 2006 François Rejeté | more info (via: Wylio)

This, more than anything else, is a season of exhaustion. We struggle through hundreds of self-imposed Christmas chores, struggling to fit more into an already overwhelmed schedule. Something must give, and that something is usually sleep.

Sleep Deprivation
It’s no small medical issue. The symptom list that results from not getting enough sleep is extensive: muscle aches, memory loss, lack of coordination and stomach distress. Diseases such as hypertension and diabetes are worsened by insufficient sleep time. And you can actually die from extreme lack of sleep. This has been proven in lab animals, but scientists have been reluctant to do the experiment on humans. However, some of us are experimenting with this on our own.

Pass the Eggnog
What is eggnog anyway? Traditional eggnog is made from milk, cream, sugar and raw eggs, with a shake of cinnamon or nutmeg. It’s not surprising that it’s quite high in fat and cholesterol, although some modern versions are a bit lighter. Brandy, whisky or rum is usually added. Interestingly enough, adding liquor actually improves the safety profile of eggnog. That’s because alcohol kills germs often found in raw eggs, like salmonella. That jigger of brandy you add may just prevent an unscheduled time out in your festivities.

Alcoholic Beverages
Eggnog isn’t the only holiday beverage consumed in excess. Has there ever been a holiday gathering where liquor consumption isn’t encouraged? We drink wine, spirits and aperitifs in celebration, and gift them as well. No self-respecting host would let a guest’s cup run dry. Because of this over-indulgence, the Thanksgiving to Christmas interval is famous for record amounts of DUIs and highway fatalities. Add a little liquor to the sleep deprived, and you are living dangerously. It may be time for a cab.

Food
The feast wouldn’t even be a feast without a ridiculous abundance of food. Actually the ham or turkey dinner and accompaniments isn’t the big problem with holiday eating, not at least until the third or fourth serving. It’s the fast food that’s a much bigger threat, as well as the steady intake of sweets that seem to surround us. Running around too short on time, we skip eating until it’s practically an emergency. Then we make hasty choices and go for immediate gratification. Fast food is represented in all its appealing variations at the food court at your local mall – how convenient. Does healthy food even stand a chance?

“Christmas Crud”
It’s a medical euphemism for the colds, strep throat, influenza, bronchitis and pneumonia that circulate this time of year. Our exposure to respiratory germs is greatly increased as we spend more time in crowds, at stores, gatherings and assemblies. Seldom are we not in sight of someone coughing, sniffling or sputtering.

Our immune system also isn’t at its best. Your body’s defenses work best when we follow our mother’s advice: get plenty of rest, consume good food and keep a low stress level. That is the makings of top functioning immune systems. On what planet does this exist at Christmas time? The result – a lot of exposure and little energy to defend yourself, a veritable “bug fest.”

Stress
Did we mention stress? Pick your flavor: money stress, shopping stress, party stress, over-commitment stress. Stress to decorate the house, wrap the presents and send out personalized and meaningful handwritten cards. We all suspect that stress can be a problem. Stress affects everyone a little differently, but insomnia, anxiety, chest pain and irritability are common. Stress is magnified when we don’t feel in control of our situation. Anybody’s Christmas list getting the best of them or is it just mine?

christmas tree 2004photo © 2004 scott feldstein | more info (via: Wylio)

Take a deep breath, maybe two. Your true friends and family don’t need to be impressed with your perfect cards – they like you anyway. Maybe your card list has too many people that you are no longer close to – they won’t miss you. What’s the real chance you can buy somebody the perfect gift, something truly special that they haven’t gathered in 40 or 50 years of consumerism? You don’t have a prayer. Make the gifts you give be time and attention – how about you make a lunch date with them and get caught up…in February.

This holiday season can be less of a heath disaster if you simply avoid excess in order to make your Christmas a merry one.

Happy Holidays!

Dr. B

Letter from a U.S. HealthWorks Patient

The following is an unsolicited letter written by a patient to one of our Southern California clinics.

I just wanted to write a note to thank you for providing some of the best doctors I have known. I came to you as a workers’ compensation case, and to be honest I was a little worried about the care I would get because of that.

The first few months was trying to just stabilize my back injury without much progression, and after a few months I landed in Dr. Wood’s care – wow, what a difference!

Sadly I have had to challenge his limits as everything we were trying from chiropractic, physical therapy and epidural treatments weren’t quite delivering the relief I needed. You should first know I am extremely fearful of needles. I am still quite amazed I allowed the epidural treatment to happen, but I knew I was in good hands. In fact, I can remember telling Dr. Wood on a re-check after the epidural, “You said I would be OK, and not only was I OK, but I’m pain free (which I was for 6 months). I’m pretty sure that’s the only time a man has told me the truth.” That was said sarcastically, of course.

As I mentioned, the epidural treatment didn’t last as long as we hoped, and I hate taking medications. I don’t want to do anything invasive as long as I don’t have to. Dr. Wood suggested I try acupuncture. Voodoo acupuncture?! I was pretty skeptical of acupuncture. I’d never had it, and I didn’t even know how it worked. I reminded Dr. Wood of my fear of needles, to which he said “The good news is it’s in your back, so you won’t see it. The bad news is it IS needles, however, not invasive and something we can do indefinitely unlike epidurals.” Again, I trust him.

I began seeing Dr. Arman, and I have to admit the first 3 or 4 appointments weren’t great for me. I came out of there feeling worse than when I went it, limping out of there at times. I liked Dr. Arman enough to give him one last try before calling it quits. On my fifth visit, he took the time to try and figure out why was happening. In my case, the commonalities of the “extras,” such as the infrared, the electric stimulator and heat, were something that had been applied during PT and chiropractic, which he had also been trying. He decided to try straight up acupuncture and voila! Magic! It was that simple. The last few treatments I hopped off the table, rather than not slid, stood up straight, not hunched, walked one foot in front of the other, not dragging. I think Dr. Arman is a fantastic doctor and person. I think he truly cares for his patients. He took the time to figure out why the acupuncture wasn’t working for me and adjusted it. He was willing to adjust the “norm” to get it to work for me, and it did!

I just wanted to let you know, you have TWO great doctors located in your facility. Professionally, they are outstanding. Personally, they have great attitudes, and I guess it was lucky for me that I found them. I hope they will continue in your establishment, and I hope they, in the very near future, won’t be seeing me any longer as they have finally been able to get me on the path of standing up straight, walking without a limp, disconnecting from my heat pad and feeling great. They are amazing!

Not that I won’t miss them and know that if needed, they will be there, but I am looking forward to pain free days of not seeing doctors as often as I do.

I can’t thank them enough for working with me, not over me, for listening to me, for believing me and working so hard to get me out of constant agitating pain. The time I wait for Dr. Wood has drastically improved. The time I wait for Dr. Arman has always been great. Additionally, your facility is clean, the staff is pleasant including Dr. Wood’s assistant. She is wonderful about always getting me any assistance I need. She is friendly and always smiling.

I spend enough time at your facility to know if it’s just a fluke or if they are just genuinely great people – and they are.

Keep up the great work!

Sincerely,
Keralea Pratt

Head Injuries in Young Athletes

Nearly 1.2 million young athletes play football in the United States each week. Fifty percent of them are likely to have a concussion some time in their high school playing career. Thirty-five percent will have more than one head injury. Which one will be mild, improving uneventfully, and which will result in severe disability is impossible to predict.

Cosmos vs. Diablas football game in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA _K8P0872photo © 2007 Mike Baird | more info (via: Wylio)

We have learned over the last few years that these injuries are more frequent and have an effect on the injured athlete for a much longer period of time than previously thought. Recent research tells us these young people are at much greater risk to develop problems later from seemingly mild head injuries.

More young people are participating in organized sports than ever. There are intrinsic differences in the young athlete that make them more vulnerable to injury because both the brain and body are still growing and have not reached their full mature potential. Approximately 60,000 sports-related head injuries occur to high school athletes each year. High school football has been compared to notoriously dangerous jobs such as coal mining.

Part of the challenge for responsible adults working with young athletes is the athlete’s lack of maturity and experience. It creates greater liability for injury and difficulty in even recognizing subtle yet important signs. Young athletes often hide their injury or pain because of the eagerness to return to play, avoid embarrassment, not let their team down or try to meet unrealistic expectations. This is particularly important with head injuries as there may be no visible sign of the injury. The athlete may deny their symptoms of headache, confusion, dizziness with a determined attitude to return to play.

Research over the last couple years has pointed to the importance of subtle signs which may be the only clue. Even seemingly mild blows to the head may lead to more serious injury. Certainly repeated small injuries increase the risk of serious complications.

The exact cause of concussions is not well understood but there are some recognizable patterns in symptoms and behavior. Common symptoms of post concussion syndrome include:

• Headache
• Dizziness
• Fatigue
• Memory loss
• Light sensitivity
• Difficulty concentrating

X-ray skullphoto © 2010 Erich Ferdinand | more info (via: Wylio)

Behavior can be minimally or profoundly affected by head trauma. Personality change, irritability or anxiety is not unusual. Other changes can be difficulty regulating emotions, poor coordination, or temporary learning disability. The precise cause of symptoms remains unclear and is a source of disagreement among researchers.

More emphasis on preventing these common but serious injuries is needed. This must include attention to good technique and understanding how to play the game well. Knowing the rules and use of proper protective equipment is also mission-critical.

We have learned that rest of both mind and body is important to allow the brain to heal. There is no exact formula for this. Each person must be cautiously evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Working together with your healthcare provider to formulate a plan for rest and transitional activity can ensure a rapid recovery and help prevent future injury.

– Bruce Kaler, M.D.

Medical Decision Making and the Cost of Care

Every employer wants to find the best source of medical care to treat his or her employees. Every insurance company wants the best treatment for injured employees at the most reasonable price.

So let’s talk about the actual determinants of the cost of care and strategies for getting the most out of your workers’ compensation premium.

The diagnosis is the single strongest determinant of cost.
There is little surprise that a broken neck is much more expensive than a broken toe. Any effect on cost by the provider at this point is limited. Certain diagnoses simply need some intense and expensive treatment. If you can get your occupational clinic doctor to make a trip to your company, you might avoid some of the more serious injuries altogether – and that would be a savings.

Medical provider selection is another large determinant of cost.
Occupational injuries are treated by occupational medical specialists, family practitioners, emergency rooms, urgent care clinics and a few dozen others. The industrial fee schedule is set by the state, but the care ordered and performed by different providers for similar injuries can dramatically affect the cost of care. The first difference is how rapidly a correct diagnosis is made. Someone with true expertise in repetitive motion injuries will be able to quickly sort out the case of carpel tunnel from nerve injury in the neck (which may not even be work related).

Doctors with patient, 1999photo © 2009 Seattle Municipal Archives | more info (via: Wylio)

Different medical providers utilize different amounts of resources to get at the truth. I have had the unfortunate experience of reviewing charts of doctors who needed an MRI on virtually any joint injury in order to make a diagnosis. Medical testing should not take the place of a thorough and thoughtful examination of the injury. Costly decisions can also be made by taking the other path and not ordering enough testing. An inexpensive X-ray of the neck will often save needless treatment of mysterious arm symptoms.

Proper utilization of specialists can also be a multiplier on the cost of care. Identifying the patient with a surgical knee should be made early in the case, not delayed until a month or more of expensive therapy has occurred.

Length of care is another major factor in cost.
This depends somewhat on the specific diagnosis. Even within a particular diagnosis there are wide variances in length of care. The expertise of the treating physician has a great influence on this, so logically, arriving at the correct diagnosis early speeds up care considerably. Putting together the best plan of evidence-based treatment also keeps things moving. Sometimes simply knowing the system will eliminate some needless delay. Knowing workers’ compensation regulations or knowing who to call to get special testing lessens both expense and frustration for company and employee alike.

Specific treatments need to be picked with care. They can be useful, wasteful or cause backward progress. Sometimes money spent on expensive testing doesn’t improve or speed care. The classic example is doing an MRI on someone with a low back injury without leg pain in the first week of treatment. This MRI is usually either normal (and adds nothing to the treatment plan) or a bulging disc is seen, which is actually a normal variant, but will considerably slow care once it is discovered. Nerve testing also has a window of time that produces the most useful information.

Physical therapy is everybody’s favorite to debate, and this is a major expense.
The early start of a physical therapy program in the proper patient is absolutely essential to rapid recovery. But who is the proper patient? Many tomes have been written on selecting this patient. Most doctors believe that functional impairment of a body area suggests some physical medicine rehabilitation is necessary. The patient who has palpable spasm in the low back and can’t move is an ideal candidate. If things work fine, and just hurt, therapy may not be needed. The people between these two extremes are the more difficult cases. Sometimes it comes down to instinct (based on years of practice), and someone just looks like they will never recover unless we make them move. Others obviously have a hard time slowing down, even with a serious injury.

Doctor Handphoto © 2009 Truthout.org | more info (via: Wylio)

It probably goes without saying that care must be good to be cost effective. Having the wrong diagnosis, doing the wrong test or wrong operation is sure to add cost quickly. Particularly abhorrent to insurers is doing two months of physical therapy, then doing the test and operating, only to start therapy all over again post op. Marginal care also results in impairment or disability ratings, which are another significant expense.

We could continue this discussion for awhile longer, but you get the idea.

Take your injured employee to the clinic or the hospital – whichever is more appropriate. Find a thoughtful provider who makes reasoned decisions and to whom you can talk. Seek a relationship with this provider. Pay attention to the care – is it working? Is it necessary and appropriate? Be willing to get involved and ask questions. Your employees will get better care because of that, and you will know your workers’ compensation dollars are well spent.

Stay well,

Dr. B

Bed Bugs: Hazardous to Your Health or Just an Irritating Insect?

Bed bug infestations seem to be on the rise. So much so that some hotels are now putting warning cards on their rooms’ nightstands – tips on how to identify and avoid the little critters.

Just the mention of this unwelcome little parasite is enough to make many adults itch, so a small dose of fact may help dispatch this goblin.

What Exactly Are Bed Bugs?
They are insects; small but easily visible to anyone looking. They are brown in color, a half inch long and 1/8th inch wide. They usually hide during the day and are active at night. Having an exoskeleton, they must shed their skin, like a snake, to grow.

bed bugs on the box springphoto © 2009 lauren | more info (via: Wylio)

This is handy to know because the shed skin will be lying around and is more easily found than the hiding bed bugs. They live for about six months and reproduce with the usual enthusiasm, as is common in the insect world.

These little guys are blood suckers, like mosquitoes. In fact, they share many characteristics with mosquitoes. Both species are attracted to carbon dioxide in your exhalation and both favor feeding in darkness. The bed bug pierces the skin with a feeding tube, injects a little fluid that stops blood clotting, and sucks up their dinner a.k.a. your blood. This occurs infrequently, once or twice weekly, and the amount of blood taken is microscopic, so you don’t need to worry about anemia or bleeding to death.

During World War II, bed bugs were almost universal. In a short time after the war, bed bugs were almost eradicated. This great victory was made possible by the liberal use of DDT (yes, that DDT). Looking back, one might wonder if the treatment was worse than the disease. Now DDT is gone (almost), and bed bugs are back. Don’t make an emergency trip to a third world country to buy some DDT, however – other insecticides are much less toxic and still do the job.

How Do People Get Bed Bugs?
The eggs are almost invisible. They cling to clothing, bedding and furniture. This is called hitchhiking. Using a piece of contaminated clothing or sleeping on contaminate bedding can transmit the infestation. My 12-year-old daughter is practically a poster child for what not to do. She does sleepovers among an ever widening circle of friends and is constantly trading clothes.

Adolescent bed bugphoto © 2010 Rick | more info (via: Wylio)

What are the Health Consequences of a Bed Bug Infestation?
The first thing to point out is the word infestation, not infection. The bugs are not living in you. They live in the bed and bite you once in a while. The worst heath issue is a serious case of “the willies” (that is a technical term for totally freaked out).

Other than the anxiety, bed bugs, at worst, give you a red blotchy rash that might itch a bit. Bed bugs are not a vector for disease. You will not catch malaria or HIV from bed bugs. The bite is almost painless and any itching or irritation gets better on its own.

How Do You Get Rid of Bed Bugs?
Dispatching the creatures is more pest control than medical. You need an exterminator, not a doctor. Bedding should be washed in hot water and bleach, and cloth furniture should be thoroughly vacuumed. The eggs are easily washed off during normal showering. Some insecticide that is less toxic than DDT may be applied in your home.

The risk of bed bugs to your heath is minor. Armed with a few facts, we are effectively immunized against the worst of “the willies.”

Take care,

Dr. B

Are TSA Scanners More Than Embarrassing?

As you may have heard recently, flying hasn’t been this exciting since the Wright brothers took off from Kitty Hawk.

That’s because now just getting through recently imposed security procedures requires considerable bravado. The new X-ray based devices give Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees delightfully detailed pictures of your every physical nuance.

But what are the health risks of these new body scanners? Are they dangerous?

Peep Showphoto © 2008 Steve Jurvetson | more info (via: Wylio)

Interestingly enough, it is much easier to find a platitude than an actual value of radiation exposure for these scanners. Every official source having anything to do with the devices says that you get more radiation in an airplane flight at 30,000 feet in two minutes than in a backscatter scanner. But what in the world does that even mean?

As you probably suspected, radiation is bad for you. This is a rather recent discovery in medicine, dating back only 100 years. For those who still had doubts about radiation’s badness, 1945’s atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought that point home.

The trouble with radiation, in any dose, is it can cause damage to DNA, which is pretty important stuff, maybe the most important stuff in the known universe. It’s literally the blueprint for your entire being. Damaged DNA can be non-viable or can even be the start of cancer.

The dose of radiation for a backscatter scanner has been measured between 0.005 and 0.009 milli-rem (mrem). This needs to be put in context. Background radiation is all around us, fortunately in low doses. We breathe low levels of Radon gas and spend time in the sun – both are radiation sources. For comparison, a chest X-ray is about 6 mrem, and a year of normal sunshine exposure adds up to a cumulative total of 60 mrem.

So the dose of radiation from backscatter scan is actually quite low. This scan adds some immeasurably tiny risk of cancer. The concern seems to be more a perception of risk, rather than actual risk. The average patient will happily undergo a chest X-ray, roughly 1,000 times the radiation of a scanner, when he has high fever, cough and can’t breathe. The difference between radiation from a chest X-ray and a scanner is perhaps the medical radiation dose gets you a good diagnosis and effective treatment. The scanner gets you nothing personally, unless you count not getting blown up.

Little doubt, the whole new security process will be re-thought, re-engineered and hopefully improved as more and more people voice their displeasure.

I can’t help thinking that a completely incompetent would-be terrorist, who couldn’t even blow up his underwear bomb, has altered the course of history.

Take care,

Dr. B