IS it safer to be continually exposed to bacteria?

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Offline Ian Campbell

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Ian Campbell  asked the Naked Scientists:
Just heard your Science Show 2010-12-11  concerning E. coli and other bacteria on peoples' hands in the UK.

Humans seem to be cavalier about hand washing, Canadians included.

Would it be safer for us to have continual exposure to these bacteria, so our individual immune response would be strengthened even at the risk of infection ?

With everyone so contaminated herd immunity would also be stronger preventing a run away epidemic.

When we went through the H1N1 scare in Canada, it made me smile when I saw that one of the Canadian government responses was to put sanitizing gel in plastic bottles in park pit toilets 300 km from the cities even when there was a seeming shortage of toilet paper.

newbielink: [nonactive]  thanks

Ian Campbell

What do you think?
« Last Edit: 12/01/2011 11:30:03 by _system »


Offline mpt-matthew

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IS it safer to be continually exposed to bacteria?
« Reply #1 on: 12/01/2011 23:48:43 »
I agree, sort of.
I know people who keep their babies in bubbles and now they always get ill.
It is essencial in the development of our immune system.

Its just like a vaccine preparing our immune system.

There was an paper published recently about how H1N1 infected people are showing great resistance to all sorts of current strains of flu (cant find the link).

Washing hands and being extra clean is important in certain situations. After the toilet, dealing with meat, hospitals etc.
This is because there is an increased risk, i.e. it will make you ill (and others, thats not that good).
Hospitals is obvious, as people have a reduced immune system etc.

Though, with something like H1N1 it was very hard at the time to judge exactly what it was and how bad it was (its easy to say in hindsight).
Had you washing your hands (because you had H1N1 flu and didn't know it) prevented you from infecting a baby, pregnant woman, or ill person (who could have potentially died). Then surely it is good, and it is selfish thinking that just because you wont get ill from H1N1 others wont get ill, and for all anyone knew at the time, die.
Biological Sciences - University of Leicester, England.


Offline CliffordK

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IS it safer to be continually exposed to bacteria?
« Reply #2 on: 19/01/2011 20:00:54 »
Humans have over-sanitized our world.

There is very little benefit of using antimicrobial soaps at home, and the risk is making them less effective in places like hospitals where they are needed.  Plain old soap and water is just fine for home use.

I thought I had heard of studies where rural people had more active immune systems and were thus more disease resistant than urban people...  due to greater exposure to pathogens.  However, the question would be whether they actually get exposure to the same HUMAN pathogens. 

In fact, here is a very old study in which they seemed to demonstrate the opposite effect, than when rural people were displaced into an urban environment (college), they were at greater risk due to having had less previous exposure to human pathogens.

This study seems to indicate a slight decrease in certain diseases in the rural population, but perhaps only within their environment (less exposure to the pathogens).

Keep in mind that H1N1 is not a bacterial infection. 

Anyway prudence is advised.

But no need to "live in a bubble".

One other note. 

There are very few diseases in which you can infect yourself.  I.E. You can not give yourself something that you already have.


Offline Don_1

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IS it safer to be continually exposed to bacteria?
« Reply #3 on: 20/01/2011 14:53:33 »
Our defence systems need exercise. While it is prudent to take precaution against some infections, to be totally protected from all would leave our defence system redundant, which might result in it becoming ineffective. What would we do then, if something were to breach our artificial barriers?
If brains were made of dynamite, I wouldn't have enough to blow my nose.