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Recommended Reading: Rethinking “Germs”

Posted Mar 11 2013 10:29am

By now, you’ve probably heard about the latest “superbug” to emerge : carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE. Not only is it “resistant to virtualy all antibiotics,” but it can spread that resistance to other bacteria. It has also proven quite lethal. Certainly, there’s cause for concern, especially since it’s largely spread in hospitals, where the health of so many is already vulnerable.

microbe_killer There’s an unhappy “side effect” to all the media and social chatter about this, though: the fear of “germs” gets stoked all over again. Ironically, that fear can actually contribute to the rise of superbugs when it leads us to use more antibiotics, more triclosan and other antimicrobial chemicals in a futile attempt to become “germ-free.”

The truth is, not only do we need exposure to “germs” for the sake of good health; in a way, our bodies are actually more microbial than human. While each of us contains about 100 trillion human cells, the Human Microbiome Project has estimated that we also contain 10 times as many non-human microbial cells.

One hundred trillion times 10!

And what science is finding is that our very lives depend on them – even some long thought to be only harmful.

That research is the focus of a couple recent articles that we think are well worth your time:

  • “Why We Need Germs” (Saturday Evening Post)
    According to Post medical contributor Sharon Begley, “Our decades-long war on germs is looking seriously wrongheaded,” and goes far beyond the issue of people becoming immune to antibiotics and similar medications. Microbiota act like genomes – determining who is more prone to certain diseases and medical conditions. Knowing which microbes live in healthy people can help medical experts in the future.
  • Germs Are Us (New Yorker)
    “We have a certain narrative,” says microbiologist Martin J. Blaser, “Germs make us sick. But everyone focusses on the harm. And it’s not that simple….” That less simple story is the focus of this much longer, detailed and thoughtful essay on our emerging understanding of the human microbiome and what this tells us about our relationship with microbes.Dr. Blaser again: “We are an endlessly variable stew of essential microbes. And they are working in ways we have not yet understood. Antibiotics are so miraculous that we have been lulled into a belief that there is no downside. But there is: they kill good bacteria along with the bad bacteria.”

Do give both these articles a read.

Image by Double-M , via Flickr


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