How clean is your office?

By Terry A. Rondberg

Like many wellness practitioners, I don’t believe in the traditional “germ theory.” Of course I know germs exist, but I don’t think they “cause” illness. The true cause is the inability of the human body to deal with germs and counter their effects. After all, if germs were the actual root cause of illness, everyone who came into contact with them would be ill — that is, ALL of us!

Hand hygeineHaving said that, most of the people we see in our offices have impaired immune systems, to some degree or another. The existence of subluxations; the lack of proper diet or exercise; the overuse of antibiotics; and even physical, mental or emotional stress can all weaken the immune system to the point where the body is vulnerable to the impact of germs and viruses.

That’s why proper infection control procedures are critical in any wellness office. Unfortunately, this basic tenet of hygiene is often overlooked in medical settings. In fact, a report published in the June 9 issue of JAMA found that such lapses were common in many of the 70 ambulatory surgical centers studied. These centers are rapidly becoming the primary facility for a wide variety of medical and surgical procedures that don’t require hospitalization. In 2007, these facilities performed more than 6 million procedures including endoscopy, pain injections, and dental procedures.

The problem is, these places are often germ breeding environments where medical personnel don’t adhere to basic infection control procedures such as washing their hands.

Melissa K. Schaefer, MD, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, and colleagues conducted the study and assessed procedures in five different categories: hand hygiene, injection safety and medication handling, equipment reprocessing, environmental cleaning, and handling of blood glucose monitoring equipment.

More than half of the facilities (67.6%) studied had at least one lapse in infection control noted by surveyors and 17.6% of the facilities had lapses identified in three or more categories.

Nearly one in five facilities (19.4%) didn’t properly apply “hand hygiene” (a euphemism for washing hands!) or use proper personal protective equipment such as gloves. More than one quarter of them (28.4%) had deficiencies related to injection practices or medication handling, primarily through use of single-dose vials for more than one patient.

Another 28.4% of these facilities failed to adhere to recommended practices regarding reprocessing of surgical equipment; and 18.8% didn’t properly clean high-touch surfaces in patient care areas.

Thankfully, chiropractors don’t have to be concerned with the high risk procedures involving injections and drugs, but tables and other high-touch surfaces need to be kept clean and disinfected.

The recommendations given by researchers from Parker Chiropractic College — published in Chiropractic & Osteopathy in 2007 — are excellent. They stated:

“Pathogenic microbes may be present on chiropractic treatment tables and can be effectively killed with proper disinfecting. Hand washing/sanitizing is an important measure in infection control as is table disinfecting. Rudimentary behavioral changes to improve chiropractic clinic infection control are needed. More comprehensive behavioral models are needed. All teaching clinics and private chiropractic offices should adopt infection control practices including routine table disinfecting and hand sanitizing. Effective measures can be put in place at minimal costs.”

References: JAMA. 2010;303[22]:2273-2279 — Abstract

“Assessment and risk reduction of infectious pathogens on chiropractic treatment tables,” Chiropractic & Osteopathy 2007

The thymes, they are a-changing!

By Terry A. Rondberg

For years, I’ve been railing against the over-use, misuse and outright abuse of antibiotics. Time and again, I’ve reported on the evolution of “superbugs” that have built up a resistance to traditional antibiotics.

Plants as medicine?
Plants as medicine?

Recently, I heard some good news about the topic. Researchers have found that inexpensive plant-derived essential oils might be a natural alternative to many chemical antibiotics.

According to research presented at the Society for General Microbiology’s spring meeting in Edinburgh in May, the essential oils of thyme and cinnamon were found to be particularly efficient antibacterial agents against a range of Staphylococcus species.

Strains of these bacteria are common inhabitants of the skin and some may cause infection in immunocompromised individuals. Drug-resistant strains, such as meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) are extremely difficult to treat.

“Not only are essential oils a cheap and effective treatment option for antibiotic-resistant strains, but decreased use of antibiotics will help minimise the risk of new strains of antibiotic resistant micro-organisms emerging,” said lead researcher Professor Yiannis Samaras of the Technological Educational Institute of Ionian Islands, in Greece.

Dr. Samaras and colleague, Dr. Effimia Eriotou, tested the antimicrobial activity of eight plant essential oils. They found that thyme essential oil was the most effective and was able to almost completely eliminate bacteria within 60 minutes.

The Society’s announcement about the research provided additional information on essential oils, which have been recognized for hundreds of years for their therapeutic properties, although very little is still known about how they exert their antimicrobial effects in humans.

Australian aborigines used tea tree oil to treat colds, sore throats, skin infections and insect bites, and the remedy was sold commercially as a medicinal antiseptic from the early 20th century. Various scientific studies have demonstrated that essential oils are not only well tolerated, but are effective against a range of bacterial and fungal species. Their therapeutic value has been shown for the treatment of a variety of conditions, including acne, dandruff, head lice and oral infections.

The Greek team believes essential oils could have diverse medical and industrial applications. “The oils — or their active ingredients — could be easily incorporated into antimicrobial creams or gels for external application. In the food industry the impregnation of food packaging with essential oils has already been successfully trialled. They could also be included in food stuffs to replace synthetic chemicals that act as preservatives,” the researchers added.

I have mixed feelings about this report. Of course I’d like to see more attention paid to health care that doesn’t rely on chemical drugs. But I think this type of report only goes half way to the goal of changing the prevalent mindset about health.

It isn’t enough to switch to phytochemical substances as “treatments” for disease. We need to get to the point where we’re balancing the human system and optimizing its own ability to counteract any environmental stresses it encounters. As long as researchers keep thinking of plants and foods as “medicine” we aren’t making the fundamental changes that are vital for true wellness.