Life

Why Summer-Time Pests Can be Dangerous for Your Health and How to Avoid Them

The worst thing these little guys do is not just make us itchy

Nearly everyone has been bitten by a tick, mosquito, or flea, and can agree these pests are a damper on otherwise fun-filled summer activities. What most don't know is that these pests are vectors: carriers of many harmful diseases. These diseases are on the rise in the US, and are expected to become an even larger problem as climate change intensifies. Keep yourself and family informed and safe this summer with the following information on vector-borne diseases and how to avoid annoying and dangerous bug bites.


Vector Borne Disease Transmission in the US

When imagining the world's deadliest animals, pictures of venomous snakes or sharp-toothed sharks come to mind. Globally malaria, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, is responsible for millions of deaths each year (2). While it's not as prevalent in the US, other vector borne diseases like Zika, Dengue, West Nile, Lyme, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and the plague (yes, the plague) are a problem (3).

Mosquitos—Zika,West Nile and Dengue

You may have heard about Zika in the news, as the first cases of transmission in the US in 2016 made national headlines (4). Zika is transmitted primarily through mosquito bites, but can also be contracted through sex with an infected person. The illness is characterized by fever, joint pain, eye-redness, and a rash. Zika can also be transmitted to a fetus through the mother, and this can lead to microcephaly (small head) and other severe birth defects (5). The CDC recommends that expectant mothers, women aiming to become pregnant, and their partners refrain from traveling to areas with Zika outbreaks and take extra precautions to avoid mosquito bites. You can find additional information regarding the CDC's current travel recommendations here.

In the US West Nile virus is the leading cause of mosquito-borne disease, with cases in all 50 states. There are also smaller and limited outbreaks of Dengue in the US as well. Both illnesses are similar in symptom profile: fever, rash, vomiting, and bodily aches and pains. In rare cases, both can become serious, and even fatal, if untreated. Severe Dengue presents with bleeding in the nose, gums, or vomit, and severe West Nile presents with nervous system symptoms such as meningitis (brain inflammation), convulsions, tremors, etc. Similar to Zika, Dengue is typically contracted from travel to US territories with some transmission occurring locally in Southern US states. West Nile transmission, however, is widespread throughout the continental US (6).

Ticks—Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Lyme Disease is the most common vector borne disease in the US accounting for roughly 60% of reported vector-related cases (6). Lyme-infected ticks are found throughout the US, but are most abundant in the Northeast (7). When an infected tick bites, it takes about 36-48 hours of attachment to the body to transmit the disease (7), so vigilance is key to avoiding Lyme! About a week after the bite, most (but not all!) will notice the characteristic "bulls-eye" rash. The other symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, fever, chills, and muscle and joint pain. Pay attention to your body; early treatment of Lyme leads to complete recovery, but leaving it untreated can lead to cases of "chronic Lyme" where symptoms can flare-up long after infection (7).

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF), although less common, can be VERY serious, and deadly if not treated early. RMSF symptoms include a fever along with headaches, upset stomach, and often a splotchy rash (8).

Lyme and RMSF not only affect humans, but can be painful infections for our furry companions. Be sure to check yourself and pets for ticks after being outdoors, especially in woodsy areas! Proper removal and testing of ticks will help with early detection and allow you to enjoy the outdoors this summer!

Fleas—Plague

Although uncommon now with around 15 cases per year in the US, the disease that infamously ravaged Europe's population actually still exists. Plague is transmitted through contact with infected rodents, and bites from infected fleas. Concentrated in rural parts of the Western US, cases present with fever, chills, weakness, and extremely swollen lymph nodes. Prompt medical treatment is crucial for the prevention of serious complications; so, look out for symptoms, especially if your pets are scratching!

US Trends and Climate Change

Occurrence of these diseases in the US has more than tripled between 2004 and 2016 with more than 640,000 reported cases (which is likely a large underestimation) (6). The amount and habits of disease carrying critters highly depend on environmental factors such as temperature, rainfall, and humidity. Many vectors thrive in warm, humid, climates and breed in flood reservoirs. As our planet warms and extreme storms become more abundant, scientists predict a continued increase in vector-borne diseases and possible reintroduction of Malaria or Yellow Fever to the US (6, 10). The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) state vector borne diseases have emerged in new areas, as more locations become suitable habitats. The "mosquito season" has increased by an average of 40 days in most major US cities. Also, as climate change-induced disasters lead to the mass migrations of people from tropical areas, pathogen carrying pests will have the opportunity migrate as well (11). Caring about our Earth is caring about our health!

How to Protect Yourself

Enough of pesky bugs and scary symptoms— here is how you can enjoy your summer safely!

1) The most crucial way to protect yourself is to seek medical care if you have any of the symptoms listed above after you've spent time outdoors

2) Insect Repellant! Keep the bugs from biting with an effective bug spray!

3) Wear long sleeves and pants outdoors when possible

4) ALWAYS check for ticks after venturing through wooded areas

5) Practice proper lawn/yard care such as mowing the grass frequently, keeping wood/bush trimmings in dry, isolated areas, and eliminating standing water sources near your home

6) Be diligent when traveling! Do your research and take caution when going to equatorial areas

7) Protect your pets! Additional information on pet flea and tick control can be found here.


References:

(1) https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/press/releases/2014/April/some-437000-people-murdered-worldwide-in-2012-according-to-new-unodc-study.html

2) https://www.who.int/neglected_diseases/vector_ecology/mosquito-borne-diseases/en/

3) https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/vector-borne/#anchor_1508427386

4) https://www.cdc.gov/zika/reporting/2016-case-counts.html

5) https://www.cdc.gov/zika/healtheffects/index.html

6) https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6717e1.htm

(7) https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/index.html

(8) https://www.cdc.gov/rmsf/communication/rmsf-can-be-deadly.html

(9) https://www.cdc.gov/plague/index.html

(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4342958/pdf/rstb20130552.pdf

(11) https://climatenexus.org/climate-issues/health/climate-change-and-vector-borne-diseases/

Life

Buying holiday decorations? Here's what you should know

Don't let these chemicals ruin your holiday cheer

You may need to be careful rockin' around the Christmas tree this year! Why you ask? Well, there might be some unexpected chemicals in that holly jolly decoration above your head. Holiday decorations can bring great cheer, but sometimes they can contain an unwanted surprise. Some decorations may be made with toxic chemicals - keep a look out for the ones below!
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Life

Is Your Artificial Christmas Tree Toxic?

Tips to reduce your exposure to these hazardous chemicals

Artificial Christmas trees are becoming increasingly popular for families. They're seen as being convenient since they don't shed needles and can be reused year after year. Because they can be reused, families tend to save money by choosing artificial trees over a real one. A study from the The American Christmas Tree Association (yes that is a real and reputable organization!) performed a life cycle analysis and found that one artificial tree that's reused for eight or more Christmases is more environmentally friendly than purchasing a real tree each year (1). The study also found that Christmas trees, both real and fake, accounted for a tiny part (< 0.1%) of a person's annual carbon footprint.

But are artificial Christmas trees as good for your health as they are for your wallet? The majority of artificial trees are made using a plastic called polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and lead, which is used to stabilize PVC (2). The lead in the trees break down over time and forms lead dust. These particles are released into the air and can cause health issues, especially in young children. Most people do not realize that artificial trees contain lead, and only California requires a lead warning label (2). It is estimated that there are 50 million households in the United States that own artificial trees with lead in them (3).

Don't panic! If you are an owner of an artificial Christmas tree made out of PVC, there are precautions you can take to reduce your family's exposure to lead.

  1. PVC releases more gases when it is first exposed to air. They also release gases as they degrade. A good way to reduce the amount of lead in your household is to take the tree out of the box and air it outside when you first purchase it (4).
  2. If you have used your artificial tree for many Christmases, you may want to consider purchasing a new one. PVC tends to weaken and degrade after nine years (4). Newer artificial trees do not leach as much lead as older ones.
  3. Light cords that come with your artifical tree are prone to have levels of lead that exceed the limit set by the EPA (4). It is recommended that you wash your hands immediately after touching light cords. And definitely don't let young children handle cords.

If you're currently tree-less and in the market for an artificial one, consider purchasing a tree made out of polyethylene. This plastic is safer than PVC and does not leach lead. Additionally, trees made out of polyethylene tend to be more durable than PVC trees.

While artificial PVC Christmas trees don't pose a high health risk overall to the general population, it's very possible for young children to have severe negative health effects (3). It's important to be aware of the health risks that go along with trees made out of PVC, and the ways to avoid lead exposure for yourself and your family this holiday season.


References

  1. https://www.christmastreeassociation.org/real-artificial-christmas-tree-environment/
  2. https://rtkenvironmental.com/lead/warning-hidden-health-hazard-artificial-christmas-trees/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15628192
  4. https://www.menshealth.com/health/a19548208/do-christmas-trees-make-you-sick/
Sometimes it may feel like everywhere you turn, there's some sort of junk food being advertised—whether that's cupcakes or fries or deep fried things on a stick. And more than sometimes, you have a child begging you for a sweet treat or sugary drink. It can feel like a daunting task at times to encourage and foster healthy eating. While we know there are many factors that influence a child's food choices, here's one that you may not have thought of.
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Life

Avoid These Stressful Ingredients the Next Time You Relax with a Bath Bomb

We don't need these chemicals messing with our #selfcare

December means it's time to start thinking about those stocking stuffers or Chanukah gifts for your loved ones. What's better than a bath bomb to relax and take in those sudsy, therapeutic fragrances? Bath bombs can also get your kids to bathe without putting up a fight. They're basically magic! But, have you stopped to think what else they are putting in those bombs to make those suds glisten and fizz?

What's in a Bath Bomb?

It turns out, there can be a whole range of questionable chemicals packed neatly into those appealing little bombs. It's hard to tell exactly what's in each bath bomb because the ingredients vary widely among manufacturers, but fragrances, artificial colors, boric acid, and glitter are some common ingredients.

Fragrance is never a welcome sight on the ingredient list. The FDA does not require companies to disclose ingredients used to make fragrances in products like bath bombs in order to protect company "trade secrets (1)." Many synthetic and natural fragrances also include such hormone-disrupting chemicals as phthalates, which can be absorbed through the skin and have been found to pose specific risks for pregnant women and children (2). Studies have also linked health effects of phthalates to miscarriage, gestational diabetes, reduced IQ, and ADHD with increased exposure to phthalates.

As for dyes, the evidence is limited when it comes to FDA approved dyes readily being absorbed through the skin. However, one study found that certain dyes may be absorbed after shaving (3). Also, young children often swallow water while bathing and ingestion of some of these chemicals for young children is definitely not recommended!

Boric acid also has some side effects that you may not want to risk. It can be absorbed through the mucous membranes and has been linked to hormone disruption and developmental and reproductive toxicity (4). And then there is glitter, which is just more plastic that can end up in our lakes, rivers, and streams.

Alternatives and DIY Recipes

While there may be harmful ingredients in some bath bombs, you don't have to give them up! It's easy to avoid these ingredients with just a little extra effort. You can choose to purchase "fragrance-free" or "phthalate-free" bath bombs, but making your own bath bomb is super easy. Here are also some DIY recipes to try at home.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup baking soda
  • ½ cup citric acid
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • ½ cup finely ground sea salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons almond oil (or apricot oil)
  • ½ teaspoon coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon of witch hazel
  • 1 teaspoon beet root powder
  • wild orange essential oil
  • rose essential oil

Directions

  • Blend all dry ingredients in a bowl.
  • Blend wet ingredients in another bowl.
  • Combine all ingredients.
  • Place in mold of choice or just form a ball about 1-2 inches in diameter.
  • Allow the bath bombs to dry for approximately 1-2 days.
  • To use, place bath bomb in the bath.
  • To store, place in airtight container. Storing in a refrigerator can allow the bath bombs to keep for about 3 weeks (5).


References

1.https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-ingredients/fragrances-cosmetics

2.https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp73-c1.pdf
3.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23127598
4.https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Boric-acid#section=Health-Hazardhttps://draxe.com/health/are-bath-bombs-safe/
5.https://draxe.com/beauty/diy-bath-bomb-recipe/
6. https://homemadeforelle.com/bath-bombs-for-kids/#Ingredients
Life

The Hidden Risk in Store-Bought Slime

Avoid this hazardous ingredient with our own DIY slime recipe

Slime seems to be the hottest new toy for kids. They love that it's a tactile toy they can squeeze and smash. But before you rush out to buy a new tub of gooey slime on your next shopping trip, have you ever wondered what's actually in it? Turns out, there's a not-so-kid-friendly ingredient lurking in many slime products sold in stores, as well as in some DIY kits and recipes.

What's So Bad About Boron?

Boron is a chemical commonly used in many brands of slime, DIY kits, and some DIY recipes to give it that rubbery texture. While it may feel fun, it's actually not great for our health. Boron is an acute eye, respiratory tract, and nasal irritant and is harmful if swallowed (1). If ingested, it can also cause nausea and vomiting (2). Long-term exposure to boron can also cause negative reproductive health effects (3, 4). The problems with boron don't stop once you throw slime away either. It turns out that boron lasts a long time in the environment and has hazardous effects on aquatic life (5).

To make matters worse, there's a lot more boron in slime than there should be. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) recently tested different brands of slime and found concentrations as high as 4700 parts per million (ppm) of boron, (6) which is more than fifteen times the allowable level for toys sold in the European Union (300 ppm for sticky/liquid toys) (6). Canada, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates have even instituted policies limiting or banning boron in children's toys (6).

Safe Slime

Luckily, it's easy to make your own boron-free slime. We like this recipe for full-proof slime that substitutes boron/borax (a boron compound that's found in a lot of other slime recipes) with cornstarch and school glue. We guarantee your kids will still have hours of fun with this non-toxic slime!

Fluffy Volcano Slime

  1. Pour 1/4 cup white school glue and a 1/2 cup of cornstarch in a bowl
  2. Add 3 drops of food coloring (optional)
  3. Mix well
  4. Knead it with your hands for 10 minutes
  5. Heat it in the microwave for 20 seconds
  6. Let it cool, then knead it for another 10 minutes (7)

References

2. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-09/documents/health_effects_support_document_for_boron.pdf

3. https://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/sis/search/a?dbs+hsdb:@term+@DOCNO+328

4. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-09/documents/health_effects_support_document_for_boron.pdf

5. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Boron

6. https://uspirg.org/sites/pirg/files/reports/WEB_USP_Toyland-Report_Nov18_2-1.pdf

7. https://www.cnet.com/how-to/make-slime-without-borax/

Roundups

15 Non-Toxic Toys for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Fun, healthy, safe, and great for those budding imaginations

Updated for 2019!

You can pat yourself on the back for bringing these non-toxic toys into your home or gifting them to friends. These are the highest rated, healthiest toys for your growing little one. Not only did we make sure that the materials are safe, but we made sure parents like you love these toys. All the toys here are great for revving up their imagination and creativity and are made to last. If you're looking for something for a newborn or a baby under 1, here are our top picks for best non-toxic newborn toys.

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Roundups

15 Non-Toxic Toys for Newborns

healthy, safe toys for 0-1 years old

Updated for 2019!

Even before they can talk, babies know how to play. Sure, they will play with whatever is in front of them, but having their own toys is way more fun, and saves things like your watch from being covered in slobber. Here are some of the highest rated, healthiest toys out there, but be sure to check out our roundup of toy brands, too. If you're looking for something for someone a bit older, here are our picks for best non-toxic toys for toddlers.

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