Make a Clean Getaway

By Scott LaFee

March 3, 2021 7 min read

The Food and Drug Administration is advising consumers to avoid hand sanitizers from Mexico, which may contain a toxic form of alcohol. Some of these products use methanol or wood alcohol, which can be toxic when absorbed through the skin.

Methanol-contaminated hand sanitizers have been implicated in blindness, cardiac and central nervous system effects, hospitalizations and death. Exposure can result in nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system or death, reports STAT. Young children who ingest these products, and adolescents and adults who drink them as an alcohol substitute, are most at risk.

Think Before You Drink

There is plenty of evidence that alcohol can harm brain health, but a new study pinpoints three key time periods in life when its negative effects are likely to be greatest. All are periods when changes in the brain make it particularly sensitive:

1. Gestation (from conception to birth)

2. Later adolescence (15-19 years)

3. Older adulthood (over age 65)

In each of these periods, write scientists in The British Medical Journal Today, the brain is especially vulnerable to environmental exposures. In the first two periods, the youthful brain is undergoing creation and dramatic development or refinement. In later life, alcohol appears to heighten the risk of dementia.

Body of Knowledge

Smoking rates are trending downward, but it's still the leading cause of preventable death and disease, killing 480,000 Americans every year, says the American Cancer Society. Most people associate smoking with cancer: In some parts of the country, nearly 4 in 10 cancer deaths are attributable to smoking, but tobacco use has other implications. See the next item.

Get Me That, Stat!

Smoking history and whether one has quit the habit has a significant bearing on the risk of becoming hospitalized or dying after COVID-19 infection. Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic measured smoking in pack years among more than 7,100 COVID-19 patients diagnosed from March to August 2020 and found that people who smoked the most were more than twice as likely to require hospitalization and almost twice as likely to die compared to never-smokers.

Mark Your Calendar

March is awareness month for ovarian cancer, deep vein thrombosis, endometriosis, brain tumors, colorectal cancer and beds. Sleep on that.


1: number of years life expectancy declined in the U.S. in the first half of 2020, largely due to the death toll from COVID-19 pandemic

77.8: current life expectancy at birth for total U.S. population, in years

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Stories for the Waiting Room

Some new findings suggest that masks help protect people wearing them from getting or spreading SARS-CoV-2 because the humidity created inside the mask helps combat respiratory diseases like COVID-19.

Hydration of the respiratory tract (keeping it warm and moist) is known to benefit the immune system.

Doc Talk

Peripheral oedema: swelling of the hands or ankles

Phobia of the Week

Alektorophobia: fear of chickens

Food for Thought

A Scottish study reports that people who eat a Mediterranean-style diet, i.e., rich in leafy green vegetables and low on meat, are more likely to remain mentally sharp in later life. The researchers found these people scored higher on a range of memory and thinking tests in their late 70s. However, there's no mention of what haggis might do to you, mentally or otherwise.

Best Medicine

Q: Why do they call it the novel coronavirus?

A: It's a long story.


"If pregnancy were a book, they would cut the last two chapters." — author Nora Ephron (1941-2012). She had one son.

Medical History

This week in 1864, Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first Black woman to receive an American medical degree. It was awarded by the New England Female Medical College in Boston. As a medical pioneer who prevailed over the severest of societal restrictions, Crumpler spent her lifetime working to improve the health of the black community. In 1883, her desire to educate others on general medical principles resulted in the publication of "A Book of Medical Discourses: In Two Parts," based on her personal journals. The book focused on instructions for women on how to provide medical care for themselves and their children.

Medical Myths

Some mattress sales pitches are a mite gross: They argue that you should buy a new mattress at least every 10 years because your used one has doubled in weight, thanks to an accumulation of dead skin, dust mite colonies, oil and moisture.

But is it true? Well, not exactly — or at least there are no precise numbers. Mattresses do absorb dead skin, oils and moisture over time. And dust mites do enjoy living inside mattresses, where they feed upon all of that dead skin. No one has ever conducted a study of accumulating mattress weight, but Ohio State University researchers have estimated that a typical used mattress may have 100,000 to 10 million resident mites and their accumulated droppings. On the plus side, the mites are microscopic and hardly weigh anything, individually speaking.

Also, dust mites are generally harmless to people, though they or their feces can cause allergic reactions in some, particularly persons with asthma.

Last words

"Yes, but not too many." — Dutch poet Gerrit Achterberg (1905-1962). Achterberg had just parked his car when his wife asked if she should make some fried potatoes. He replied and then suffered a fatal heart attack.

To find out more about Scott LaFee and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Photo credit: soumen82hazra at Pixabay

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