Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Three new studies confirm germs are everywhere

These ubiquitous germs don’t seem to be harming anyone, but reporting on the studies generates lots of clicks.

For many years kitchen sponges have been known to harbor bacteria. Now comes the news that cleaning those sponges not only doesn’t work, it may make the situation worse by promoting the overgrowth of potentially disease-causing bacteria—for example Moraxella osloensis.

The New York Times reports German researchers found kitchen sponges contained 362 different types of bacteria and as many as 82 billion bacteria per cubic inch of space. The senior author of the study said, “That’s the same density of bacteria you can find in human stool samples” [but not the same types of bacteria] and suggested replacing kitchen sponges frequently.

These revelations were based on bacterial DNA and RNA samples from 14 [yes, just 14] used sponges. Note the use of the word “potentially” to describe the pathogenicity of Moraxella. A PubMed search for this microbe back to 1968 yielded only 82 references, many of which were not pertaining to any human illnesses. The few case reports of infections involved patients who were immunosuppressed.

No outbreaks of Moraxella infections related to kitchen sponges were found.

A favorite topic for microbiologists and epidemiologists is whether money can be a mechanism of disease transmission. A Wall Street Journal article said a study found more than 3000 types of bacteria on paper money, but most of them were not found in large enough numbers to cause an infection. As we all know, intact skin is the best defense against infection from an external source such as money.

A University of Michigan epidemiologist, Emily Martin, was interviewed for the story and said money doesn’t belong everywhere. She offered some wisdom, “Please don’t lick the bill or put it up your nose.” Who among us has not had the urge to do those things?

My favorite of the new crop of “germs are everywhere” studies is this beauty from the Journal of Food Research entitled “bacterial transfer associated with blowing out candles on her birthday cake.”

From the abstract: To test aerosol transfer to cake, icing was spread evenly over foil then birthday candles were placed through the foil into a Styrofoam™ base. After consuming pizza [why pizza?], test subjects were asked to extinguish the candles by blowing. [This] resulted in 1400% more bacteria compared to icing not blown on. [T]he transfer of bacteria and other microorganisms from the respiratory tract of a person blowing out candles to food consumed by others is likely.

In the ninth paragraph of its story about this study, The Atlantic quoted the lead author of the paper who said it really wasn’t a big health concern, “In reality if you did this 100,000 times, then the chance of getting sick would probably be very minimal.” The article went on to point out that blowing out candles on birthday cakes has never been shown to cause any disease.

But what if someone did this?


William Reichert said...

I WAS ON THE STAFF of a hospital that always had a free meal for all the staff for Thanksgiving. This was well attended and the CEO always stood at the head of the line of folks lined up to get their ration of turkey and dressing and all the "fixings". AS we passed by he wished each of us a Happy Thanksgiving and shook everybody's hand. As I approached I
realized how unsanitary this greeting was. What a bad example to all the staff . To set a better example for all those onlookers in line I shook his hand and then applied a large quantity of hand sanitizer to my hands all the while looking right at him.. I did not get employee of the month award that month for some reason.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

William, you are truly a rebel.:-)

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