Herpes: You have it. Seriously.

October 24, 2008

Herpes is actually very widespread, and chances are you have had some form of it… and so has everyone around you.”

A while ago, I read an article written in my college newspaper that explained how many people were contracting oral herpes via smoking hookah. This is entirely possible if disposable tips are used and not shared by smokers. A question was brought up about whether or not the herpes virus that causes cold sores could also give you genital herpes.

Herpes is actually very widespread, and chances are you have had some form of it and so has everyone around you. Now, that’s not to say that everyone has genital ulcers. Herpes has a variety of different forms. The form which most commonly causes cold sores is HSV-1. The most common form which causes genital herpes is HSV-2. Yet, here’s the answer to the previous question: HSV-1 can also cause genital herpes. So a person with cold sores can give another person genital herpes (most likely through oral sex). Another myth is that a person only is contagious if they are having an outbreak of sores at the time. In fact, herpes is always being shed, whether you are having an outbreak or not. The difference is typically in the amount of virus, though it varies per person and per simplex.

Herpes Simplex Virus-1 causes cold sores

And have you ever heard of “mono?” Known as the “kissing disease,” infectious mononucleosis is usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, which is another type of herpes. This disease infects your white blood cells and is spread through contact with infected saliva. It can cause severe sore throat, exhaustion, spleen swelling… and yet it can also have no symptoms. Then, for the rest of your life, you retain the virus and shed it, thus passing it on to other people.

And I’m sure you’ve heard of chicken pox. Did you know it is also a form of herpes? It is shed in droplets from an infected persons nose or throat, or from direct contact with the skin lesions. After contracting it once, most people will develop lifelong immunity to the virus, though the virus remains latently in the body. On rare occasions, it reoccurs in the form of shingles.

You may have thought herpes had nothing to do with you, but herpes can… surprise you.

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Hookah: Worse for you than cigarettes?

October 10, 2008

“The waterpipe smoker may therefore inhale as much smoke during one session as a cigarette smoker would inhale consuming 100 or more cigarettes.”
-World Health Organization Advisory

Hookah. It’s a pastime. You can sit down; relax with a group of friends for an hour or so and smoke some sweetly flavored steam…. Right?

Well, no. That’s the pretty side of the issue. Here’s the dirty end:

Hookah is purported to have been invented by an Indian physician, Hakim Abul Fath, around the 1600’s as an alternative and safer method for smoking tobacco. He believed that the smoke, once passed through water, would be rendered harmless. (1)

Subsequently, this belief has spread and is often used to support hookah use over cigarette or other forms of tobacco use.

From a World Health Organization advisory on the health effects of water pipe smoking:

“A waterpipe smoking session may expose the smoker to more smoke over a longer period of time than occurs when smoking a cigarette. Typically, a cigarette smoker will take 8-12, 40-75ml puffs over about 5-7 minutes and inhale 0.5 to 0.6 liters of smoke.

In contrast, waterpipe smoking sessions typically last 20-80 minutes, during which the smoker may take 50-200 puffs which range from about 0.15 to 1 liter each. The waterpipe smoker may therefore inhale as much smoke during one session as a cigarette smoker would inhale consuming 100 or more cigarettes.” (1)

Water does absorb a small amount of the nicotine, yet, as the WHO advisory states, “it is likely that the reduced concentration of nicotine in the waterpipe smoke may result in smokers inhaling higher amounts of smoke and thus exposing themselves to higher levels of cancer-causing chemicals and hazardous gases.” (1)

Due to the nicotine, heavy metals and carbon monoxide (and various other toxic chemicals) that are in hookah smoke even after it passes through the water, hookah smokers are at a heightened risk of developing cancer, hearth disease, respiratory disease and problems with pregnancy. (1)

Some studies show that hookah smoke contains 802mg of tar, compared to 22.3mg for cigarettes. Hookah smoke also contains 145mg of carbon monoxide compared to 17.3mg for cigarettes. That means, regardless of the nicotine intake, there is about 36 times the tar and 8 times the carbon monoxide in hookah than in cigarettes. (2)

Studies on hookah’s health effects are lacking, and more need to be performed. Current science shows that hookah is just as dangerous for a person’s health as cigarettes.

Personally, I feel that outlawing psychoactive drugs is an uphill battle, at best. It’s extremely hard to impose and expensive to fund the law enforcement.

Hookah is considered to be a fairly healthy alternative to cigarettes, and most people who would not ever consider smoking a cigarette smoke hookah regularly. This misconception has contributed to more hookah users who are unaware of the toxicity involved in this smoking pattern.

Moral of the story: More people need to be educated on the severe dangers of hookah and the misconceptions about it and more research needs to be done to support this educational initiative.

1. http://www.who.int/tobacco/global_interaction/tobreg/Waterpipe%20recommendation_Final.pdf

2. Alan Shihadeh and Rawad Saleh, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, Carbon Monoxide, “Tar”, and Nicotine in the Mainstream Smoke Aerosal of the Narghile Water Pipe, American University of Beirut, 2005, 7.