Q. I am trying hard to avoid catching a cold or the flu. I was shocked to see the barista at the coffee shop grab my cup by the edge and then press the lid on with her palm. That wouldn’t be so bad if she hadn’t just made change. I wonder how many people get sick and never associate it with their coffee cup.
A. People have strong opinions about this issue. Many readers share your concern, especially if they want to sip from the cup through the lid. Others think it is silly to worry about germs on coffee-cup lids.
It is relatively easy to transmit microbes via coffee cups. A study conducted at the University of Virginia demonstrated that half of the volunteers touching contaminated coffee-cup handles caught colds (American Journal of Epidemiology, November 1982).
Cold viruses can last up to several days on surfaces such as light switches, door handles, TV remotes, pens, faucets or phones (Journal of Medical Virology, October 2007). Avoiding a cold or the flu requires washing hands and keeping them away from your eyes, nose and mouth.
Q. I want to sound an alarm about Gelnique in elderly patients. My 86-year-old father applied this gel for bladder control.
After three weeks of daily use, he started acting odd. A month in, he had symptoms of dementia. The insert that came with the drug never mentioned this as a side effect.
I made him quit taking it because he developed a rash. Not only did the rash go away, but so did most of the cognitive symptoms. Hopefully he will get back to where he was once the drug is out of his system.
I don’t want others to lose their minds needlessly. Thank goodness I did not chalk this reaction up to his age, as his physician did.
A. Your father was fortunate that you were so vigilant. Drugs for overactive bladder such as oxybutynin (Ditropan, Gelnique, Oxytrol) can affect memory and cognition, especially in older people (Current Urology Reports, October 2011). Whether the drug is taken orally or as a patch or gel, it gets into the circulation and can affect the brain.
Many other medications also may interfere with optimal brain function in the elderly (Der Internist, October 2012). They include anti-anxiety drugs such as alprazolam (Xanax) or lorazepam (Ativan), certain antibiotics (e.g., ciprofloxacin), some antidepressants (amitriptyline, doxepin) and narcotic pain relievers (oxycodone).
Q. I know the kitchen sponge grows bacteria. I have been putting it in the microwave for 30 seconds with the expectation that zapping it will kill the bacteria. Do you think this is effective?
A. Several years ago, we found an article in the Journal of Environmental Health (December 2006) that suggested wetting a sponge and nuking it in the microwave for one to two minutes at 1100 watts of energy would kill lingering germs.
One reader who tried this reported: “We microwaved our WET sponge this morning, and it caught on fire. Now our house smells terrible. It was scary and annoying at 6:30 a.m.!”