Sunday, January 21, 2018
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First Aid

First Aid

Even if it will hopefully be the less of the cases, accidents happen -abroad and at home-. Because we believe that being prepared is the best of the ways of getting over it as fast and successfully as possible, in this section we try to cover two areas of the subject health that we consider are really crucial in case of having a problem. First, everything concerning first aid to help you to treat the problem as soon as it appears. Second, the different health systems of countries to know which hospitals you can go to or what kind of health card you can use.



For as long as humans have been on this planet, the microscopic life forms that we call germs - bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and others - have been here, too. For all this time, they have been growing and multiplying in the soil, in the water, and in our bodies. Most of the time, people and germs coexist peacefully; in fact, humans couldn't live in a germ-free world. But germs are also the source of many human illnesses.

Kinds of germs

Let's get to know germs better. What do they look like and how do they live? How do they harm us and how do medications work against them?


Bacteria are living things made of only one cell. Bacteria weigh about 1 trillionth of an ounce each, and they come in three basic shapes: cocci, shaped like small balls or spheres; bacilli, shaped like rods or sticks of chewing gum; and small spirals called spirochetes.

Under a microscope, scientists can often identify different species of bacteria by their shape, their grouping pattern, and the purple or pink color that they pick up from a special laboratory procedure called a Gram's stain. For example, staphylococci bacteria from pimples would look like clusters of purple grapes, while Escherichia coli bacteria from the intestines would appear as single pink rods.

Besides having a characteristic appearance under the microscope, each species of bacteria also has a typical bacterial lifestyle. For example, some bacteria colonize a particular part of a person's body and remain there, often without causing illness. Some may even help the body function, as in the case of intestinal bacteria. Other bacteria prefer the soil and live there harmlessly (like the bacteria that causes tetanus) - until they find themselves trapped inside a dirty cut on a gardener's hand. Bacteria differ in their need for oxygen, too, with some living only where there is air (aerobic bacteria) and others living without oxygen (anaerobic bacteria).

Of the approximately 1,600 species of known bacteria, less than 200 are pathogenic (disease-causing). Pathogenic bacteria can cause illness in at least three different ways: by invasive action, directly invading and attacking a part of the body; by making toxins, chemical byproducts that act as poisons; or by multiplying into large clumps that block tiny blood vessels or interfere with the normal closing of heart valves. Depending on the type of bacteria and the illness it causes, bacteria can spread in the following ways:

  1. through contaminated water and food
  2. in the tiny fluid droplets of coughs and sneezes
  3. through dirty hands
  4. through contaminated surfaces
  5. in a sick person's body fluids


On a microscopic scale, viruses are midgets compared with bacteria. Since most viruses are only 1/100 to 1/1000 the size of most bacteria, there are actually some forms of viruses that prey on bacteria instead of animals or humans. All viruses are submicroscopic, meaning that you can't see them with a standard laboratory microscope. In fact, it was not until the electron microscope was invented in the 1940s that scientists had any notion of what even the largest virus looked like.

On the outside, viruses come in several different shapes. Some are 20-sided polygons, others are rod-shaped, and some even appear to have a head and a tail. On the inside, viruses contain a core of nucleic acids, either DNA or RNA, surrounded by one or two protein shells called capsids. Many viruses also have an outer envelope made of a mixture of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Scientists classify viruses according to the type of nucleic acid they contain (DNA viruses or RNA viruses), their capsid composition, the presence or absence of an envelope, and the way they reproduce.

Viruses can only "live," grow, and reproduce inside other living cells. Outside of living cells, viruses are just structured and complex - but inactive - collections of molecules. Whenever a virus rests on the surface of a dirty glass or floats in the droplets of a contaminated sneeze, it is technically "lifeless." Yet once a person swallows it or breathes it in, that same virus can invade the person's cells, reproduce, and make the person sick. Viruses do this by replication. They invade living cells and use the cells' internal chemical reactions to duplicate their viral nucleic acids and proteins. Then they assemble new viruses and release them to infect other helpless cells nearby.

Many viruses invade the body by crossing the moist mucous membranes that line the breathing passages, eyes, intestines, or reproductive tracts. They get there by traveling in an infected person's body fluids or in the airborne droplets of coughs and sneezes. Once inside the body, viruses can spread from one area to another through the blood vessels and arteries, the fluid-filled channels between tissues, and even along the length of nerve cells. Once they invade and cause illness, some forms of viruses can be totally defeated by the immune system. Others, like the chicken pox virus and herpes simplex virus, can lie dormant in our cells and cause more than one episode of illness, even years after infection.


The fungi are a group of about 50,000 species of simple plants that cannot manufacture their own food from the soil, water, and air around them. Instead, they must draw nutrition from nearby plants and animals, living or dead. Some fungi, such as mushrooms, are very large and complex, but others, such as yeasts, exist as single cells.

Because fungi prefer warm, damp areas, they love to grow on moist parts of our bodies; athlete's foot, and vaginal "yeast" infections are two common fungal infections. Since our breathing passages are moist, some forms of fungi can invade them as well.

Persons whose immune systems are weakened by cancer, AIDS, or certain medicines have an increased risk for serious fungal infections. In these persons, a fungus can spread throughout the body, even to the brain, and be deadly.


Like bacteria, protozoa are one-celled organisms and are too small to be seen without a microscope. Because they love moisture, protozoa are most commonly found in the earth's fresh water, oceans, and soil. Only a few of the 30,000 protozoan species cause disease in humans; they include the species that cause amebiasis (from amoebas), giardiasis, and malaria. Although disease-causing protozoa usually spread through contaminated water, many can also be carried on contaminated food and dirty hands. Malaria is spread through the bite of a mosquito that injects the protozoa called Plasmodium into the blood.

Treating Infections Caused by Germs
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When scientists look for new drugs to fight infections, they target specific vulnerable areas in a particular germ's structure or internal chemistry. Then they try to destroy or disrupt these vulnerable areas by using chemical medicines that are safe for humans. Because the different types of germs - bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa - are so different in structure and function, the need to "aim" drugs at their specific vulnerable areas means that all medicines won't necessarily kill all types of germs. For example, the penicillin family of antibiotics kills bacteria by disrupting a component of their cell wall. Yet these same penicillins are useless against viruses, because viruses have no cell walls. The antiviral drug zidovudine (AZT) works by interfering with the mechanism of virus replication inside human cells, so it is useless against bacteria and other germs that don't reproduce by this form of replication.

For doctors, the first challenge in treating any infection is to quickly identify which type of germ is causing it. If it is determined that medication is necessary, the next task is matching the germ with the specific medicine that will attack it most effectively. Not all infections can be treated with medication. But when a successful match is made between the germ and medication, the patient needs to take the medicine as directed, for as long as prescribed, to make sure that all germs have been destroyed.


Bleeding & Broken Bone


Most small cuts do not present any danger. Larger wounds, particularly those where an artery has been damaged, can cause severe bleeding and result in falling blood pressure and shock. Depending on the type of wound and its location, there can be damage to tendons and nerves. Bleeding from large cuts may require immediate medical treatment.


For Minor Bleeding From a Small Cut or Abrasion

  1. Rinse the wound thoroughly with water to clean out dirt and debris.
  2. Wash the wound with a mild soap and rinse thoroughly. Avoid antiseptic solutions, which don't provide any additional protection.
  3. Cover the wound with a sterile adhesive bandage or sterile gauze and adhesive tape.
  4. Examine the wound daily. If the bandage gets wet, remove it and apply a new one. After the wound forms a scab, a bandage is no longer necessary.
  5. Call your doctor if the wound is red, swollen, tender, warm, or beginning to drain.

For Bleeding From a Large Cut or Laceration

  1. Wash the wound thoroughly with water. This will allow you to see the wound clearly and assess its size.
  2. Place a piece of sterile gauze or a clean cloth over the entire wound. If available, use clean latex or rubber gloves to protect yourself from exposure to blood. If you can, raise the bleeding body part above the level of your child's heart. Do not apply a tourniquet.
  3. Using the palm of your hand on the gauze or cloth, apply direct pressure to the wound for 5 minutes. (During the 5 minutes, do not stop to check the wound or disturb any blood clots that may form on the gauze.)
  4. If blood soaks through the gauze, do not remove it. Apply another gauze pad on top and continue applying pressure.
  5. Call your doctor for all large cuts or lacerations, or if:
    1. you are unable to stop the bleeding after 5 minutes of pressure, or if the wound begins bleeding again. (Continue applying pressure.)
    2. you are unable to clean out dirt and debris thoroughly.
    3. the wound is near a face or a neck.
    4. there is something stuck in the wound.
    5. the cut is more than 1/2 inch long or appears to be deep. Large or deep wounds can result in nerve damage. If you have any doubt about whether stitches are needed, phone your doctor.
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Broken bone

A broken (fractured) bone requires emergency care. Suspect a possible broken bone if you heard or felt a bone snap, if you have difficulty moving the injured part, or if the injured part moves in an unnatural way or is very painful to the touch.

A sprain occurs when the ligaments, which hold bones together, are overstretched and partially torn. Simply overstretching any part of the musculature is called a strain. Sprains and strains generally cause swelling and pain, and there may be bruises around the injured area. Most sprains, after proper medical evaluation, can be treated at home.


For a Suspected Broken Bone

  1. If the injury involves your neck or back, do not move unless you are in imminent danger. Movement can cause serious nerve damage. Phone for emergency medical help. If you must move, the neck and back must be completely immobilized first.
  2. If you have an open break (bone protrudes through the skin) and there is severe bleeding, apply pressure on the bleeding area with a gauze pad or a clean piece of clothing or other material. Do not wash the wound or try to push back any part of the bone that may be sticking out.
  3. If you must be moved, apply splints around the injured limb to prevent further injury. Leave the limb in the position you find it. The splints should be applied in that position. Splints can be made by using boards, brooms, a stack of newspapers, cardboard, or anything firm, and can be padded with pillows, shirts, towels, or anything soft. Splints must be long enough to extend beyond the joints above and below the fracture.
  4. Place cold packs or a bag of ice wrapped in cloth on the injured area.
  5. Keep lying down until medical help arrives.

For a Suspected Sprain or Strain

  1. If the injury involves your neck or back, do not move unless you are in imminent danger. Movement can cause serious nerve damage. Phone for emergency medical help. If you must move, the neck and back must be completely immobilized first.
  2. It may be difficult to tell the difference between a sprain and a break. If there is any doubt whatsoever, phone your doctor or go to the nearest hospital emergency department. An X-ray can determine whether a bone is broken.
  3. First aid for sprains and strains includes rest, ice, compression, and elevation (known as RICE).
    1. Rest the injured part of the body.
    2. Apply ice packs or cold compresses for up to 10 or 15 minutes at a time every few hours for the first 2 days to prevent swelling.
    3. Wearing an elastic compression bandage (such as an ACE bandage) for at least 2 days will reduce swelling.
    4. Keep the injured part elevated above the level of the heart as much as possible to reduce swelling.
  4. Do not apply heat in any form for at least 24 hours. Heat increases swelling and pain.
  5. Your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter pain relievers.
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