22 June 2007

Health hazards in the classads

People use the classifieds to find all sorts of things - accommodation, a partner, dogs, second-hand clothes or sportsgear. What about the health hazards that might lurk here?

People use the classifieds (this can include eBay, internet ads and newspapers) to find accommodation, a partner, swapping or buying fridges, dogs, second-hand clothes or sportsgear. What about the health hazards that might lurk in the classads?

When buying stuff advertised in the newspaper, you might get a lot more than you bargained for, says Cape Town doctor, Bridget Farham. She warns against buying the following items from the classifieds:

Second-hand clothing

  • Scabies can lurk in second-hand clothing for 2 - 3 months, as long as there are sufficient skin particles to keep them going.
  • Head lice and mites can lurk for a shorter period. These unwanted passengers can be taken care of by household bleach, dry-cleaning or anti-scabies medicine, says Cape Town doctor, Bridget Farham.

Bedding, mattresses and curtains

These can contain all sorts of unpleasant surprises too, says Farham:

  • Bedding and mattresses must be aired outside to get rid of dust mites. Sunshine destroys them, but this can take a day or three.
  • Bedbugs are difficult to get rid of without fumigation. Is it really worth all the trouble? Do you really feel like dealing with second-hand bedbugs?
  • Curtains must be dry-cleaned to get rid of mites and possible scabies.

That doggy in the window

  • Pets can carry ringworm. Many kittens and puppies have other worms as well, but your children are just as likely to pick them up from eggs embedded in the soil. Farham suggests that all children in warm countries should be regularly dewormed.
  • New pets should also be dewormed and inoculated against possible diseases.
  • Pregnant women should steer clear pet faeces and especially cat litter trays as a general rule, as cat faeces carry toxoplasmosis, a disease that is potentially dangerous to the unborn baby.

Cars – under R5000 bargains

  • The health hazards of failing brakes, bald tyres, fume-spewing engines, faulty exhaust systems and blocked petrol cables are all fairly obvious.
  • Injuries from motor vehicle accidents caused by unroadworthy cars account for a good percentage of patients in hospital wards.
  • The car bargain can, in the long run, cost you a good deal more than you paid for it - in medical costs.

Catering equipment

  • All second-hand catering equipment needs to be washed and sterilised as bacteria can lurk in hidden corners for quite a while. In certain cases this bacteria can lead to stomach upsets.
  • Old cooking oil is also problematic. "When cooking oils and fats are used over and over in frying processes, they start to break down to eventually form unhealthy products," says Prof Lodewyk Kock from the Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology at the University of the Free State, South Africa. In some instances, varnish-like compounds can be formed. According to Kock, consumption of re-used oil has been linked to growth problems, diarrhoea, heart disease, liver damage, enlargement of the liver, spleen and adrenal glands, and cancer.

Other potential problems in the personals
When you see an ad such as the following, be afraid, be very afraid:"Handsome good-looking, honest, financially secure gentleman seeks lady for friendship or more. All welcome."

  • Be afraid, be very afraid. Unless someone is sitting on a farm in the back-of-beyond, or recently relocated to a new city, you should ask yourself why they have not managed to make friends or find a partner in ways that work for everyone else. Why does an attractive and intelligent 68-year-old man who is financially well-off have to advertise in the classifieds to find a partner? Why are the women not beating his door down? Or does he have, to put it modestly, strange tastes?
  • Apart from the sexually transmitted infections “lonely bachelor, 38” is dying to pass on, there could be other dangers.
  • He could be a stalker, a Peeping Tom, a married man, (which is why he is looking for daytime fun only), or someone with a dubious criminal history.
  • There have also been people who use the classifieds as a source for people to blackmail.
  • Shy and retiring middle-aged women are not without their hazards either. All you know about them is what they choose to tell you. “Slightly plump” means 40 kg overweight, only one dependant probably means she is not counting the four staying with her second ex-husband, and she might also, like lonely bachelor, been around the block a few times with people with whom you might not want to share a post office queue.
  • One thing that remains unexplained is the use of the phrase ‘no chancers’ at the end of an advertisement in which a man of 72 requests the company of a young woman between the ages of 18 – 28 on a round-the-world boat trip. No person who is not a chancer would possibly respond to this advertisement in the first place.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated June 2007)


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.