The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning the public to be careful about playing with pet hedgehogs. A salmonella outbreak spanning eight states has made 11 people sick, including six kids under age 12. The outbreak’s source has not yet been determined.

The health agency offers some cautionary points, so to speak:

» Always wash your hands thoroughly after touching a hedgehog.

» Avoid kissing or snuggling with them.

» Keep hedgehogs from roaming freely in places where food is kept, such as the kitchen.

Note: As adorable as they may be, it’s not legal everywhere to keep them as pets. California, Georgia, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, New York City and Washington, D.C., all have bans.

Body of Knowledge

A recent item took note of the different elements that comprise the human body. Apparently, the source used may have been inhaling nitrous oxide (a compound composed of oxygen and nitrogen, both human elements, in this case, commonly called laughing gas). The result was messed up percentages.

Nearly 99 percent of the mass of your body consists of just six chemical elements: oxygen (65 percent of body weight), carbon (18 percent), hydrogen (10 percent), nitrogen (3 percent), calcium (1.4 percent) and phosphorus (1 percent).

The rest is comprised of stuff such as potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine and magnesium.

Get Me That, Stat!

New research shows that 26 percent of organs available for transplant in 2017 came from donors at increased risk, such as those more likely to test positive for hepatitis B and C. That’s up from 9 percent in 2010.

The researchers found that nearly all donors were being screened to detect infections, which is critical to curbing risk of disease transmission. Moreover, some types of infection, such as hepatitis C, can now be cured, creating the possibility for more available and viable donor organs.

Mark Your Calendar

March is national health awareness month for bleeding disorders, colorectal cancer, endometriosis (a disorder involving the uterus), kidneys, nutrition, problem gambling, trisomy disorders (such as Down syndrome) and cheerleader safety.

A 2015 study found that high school cheerleading ranked 18 out of 22 sports studied in terms of injury rate, but was second after gymnastics in terms of severity of injuries. Concussions were the most common cheerleading injury.

Within March, there are awareness weeks for patient safety (March 10-16), brains and sleep (both March 11-17).

March 24 is World Tuberculosis Day. March 26 is American Diabetes Alert Day.

Stories for the Waiting Room

A large new study suggests e-cigarettes are more effective at helping smokers quit than nicotine replacement products like patches. The study involved 886 smokers in the United Kingdom who wanted to quit. Some received a refillable e-cigarette; some got nicotine patches. A year later, 18 percent of the e-cig group wasn’t smoking, compared to 10 percent of the patch group.

But 80 percent of the e-cig group hadn’t given up vaping either, raising new questions about whether they had traded one habit for another — and what that might mean for their health.

Best Medicine

Smoking will kill you. Bacon will kill you. But smoking bacon will cure it.


“I know a man who gave up smoking, drinking, sex and rich food. He was healthy right up to the day he killed himself.” — Comedian Johnny Carson (1925-2005)

Medical History

This week in 1991, the “Rotablator,” an artery cleaning tool, was announced by Dr. Maurice Buchbinder at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology.

The device used a diamond head that rotated at 200,000 revolutions per minute atop a small shaft (just 0.009 inches) inserted in a clogged artery. Obstructions were pulverized to particles smaller than the size of a red blood cell, which then harmlessly exited the bloodstream.

The device won Food & Drug Administration approval in 1993.

Perishable Publications

Many, if not most, published research papers have titles that defy comprehension. They use specialized jargon, needlessly complex words and opaque phrases like “nonlinear dynamics.” Sometimes they don’t, and they’re still hard to figure out. Here’s an actual title of actual published research:

“Are full or empty beer bottles sturdier and does their fracture-threshold suffice to break the human skull?” by S.A. Bolliger et al. in the Journal of Forensic Legal Medicine in April 2009.

The researchers concluded that full and empty bottles both exceeded the minimum fracture-threshold of the human skull. In other words, you don’t want to be hit on the head with either.


Q: Of the following four categories, which is the only one that the typical American does not exceed recommended daily intake or limits?

a) Calories from solid fats and added sugars

b) Refined grains

c) Sodium

d) Saturated fat

e) This is a trick question. The typical American exceeds the recommended daily intakes for all of these.

A: E, as if you didn’t already know.

Curtain Calls

Now you know why clowns are terrifying: In 1854, 13-year-old William Snyder of Sacramento “died after being swung by his heels by a circus clown,” according to local historical records.

It’s not clear the exact cause of death. Being dropped on his head or suffering a pulmonary rupture are both cited.

But whatever the cause, a clown was involved.

Scott LaFee is a staff writer at UC San Diego Health and the former chief science writer at The San Diego Union-Tribune, where he covered science, medicine and technology. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.