It seems the NY Times has been on a microbiome binge the last several weeks. Two articles on the topic is more than I’ve seen in the public forum in several years, but it’s a good thing. This past weekend I wrote about the human microbiome and commented on the role our internal biodiversity plays in a host of things; from digestion, to overall immune health, to how we tolerate different foods. See “Guts and Bugs” for more on that. On May 27th the NY Times post an article about the house hold microbiome. Not just the bacteria that colonize your internal personal compartments, but those that colonize all the surfaces and every little nook and cranny around your house, “Getting to Know Our Microbial Roommates”.
Another interesting topic for those germaphobes out there, and the sciencey folk. I found this article to be a much simpler and less comprehensive discussion than the previous article I mentioned, but none the less a good topic for discussion. It’s fairly common knowledge that within our homes reside hundreds of different microscopic species (bacteria, fungi, virus, phages…) that we interact with on a day to day basis. A common misconception is that all of these are evil and need to be bleached to high heaven. I think what the article relays and what the early results coming out show (data from another CU Boulder lab!) is that most of these household microbes are what is commonly found on our skin, in our noses, in the soil and within the inhabitants of the household. Basically, most of them are nothing to be scared of and a little bacteria never hurt anyone (well most of us).
Of course there are the exceptions, don’t eat that raw chicken (and clean up after) or lick that mold growing on the old cantaloupe in your fridge, but for the most part we can relax a little bit. The one thing that scares me a lot more than the home is the hospital. The author briefly touches on this, a topic that is becoming increasing problematic in the healthcare industry and is most prominently seen in the rise of MRSA infections (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). These places are breeding grounds for microorganisms, and with the constant flow of sick patients in and out, combined with the use of anti-microbial agents and antibiotics, we’re selecting for only the strongest of all these bugs. I’m not saying don’t go to a hospital if you’re injured or sick, but I am saying that its a real rising danger that everyone should be aware of. The health care industry is doing its best to understand the issue and how to deal with it long term, but its still a work in progress. Fresh air, sunshine and a strong immune system are always the best ways to circumvent this possible danger.