Everything's contamin... oh to hell with it

I saw this link on a friend's facebook page, and left that tab open in my browser for a while, intending to write a post on it.

Professor Charles Gerba, the lead researcher, swabbed the handles of 85 carts in four states for bacterial contamination.

Gerba says 72% of the carts had a positive marker for fecal bacteria. When they examined some of the samples, they found Escherichia coli, also known as E. coli, on half of them.

I just couldn't muster the energy. Thankfully, Mike the Mad Biologist took care of this one.

both S. aureus and E. coli are commensal organisms: they live on and in us, and typically don't cause disease--usually, only when they wind up where they don't belong. If you come into contact with them--the aforementioned wiping your ass--you'll be fine unless you're severely immunocompromised or have an open wound.

This is scaremongering.


I've written about this topic before - every few months a story comes out about grocery bags or apple stores being host to countless "dangerous" dangerous microbes, ready to infect you and liquify your insides blah blah...

Everything's "contaminated." Period. Reading the comments of that story actually reaffirmed my faith in humanity though - many of the first ones were from people skeptical of the danger and a bit dismissive. Hopefully, editors will take the hint and this sort of crap will stop showing up in my google news alerts.

More like this

I've recently read a book in which it was discussed that part of the reason for the dramatic increase in so many autoimmune diseases in recent years, might be due to a less rural environment that most of us live in. This book also suggested that it is quite possible that becoming overly fastidious might be a bad thing. Basically the point was that some of the bugs we picked up dealing with livestock and being exposed to dirt might have played a protective sort of role in our over all health. This book went on to point out we are exposed to various bacteria by passing through the birth canal, by nursing at which point we also recieve antibodies. In short, yes, bacteria can create problems, but they might also help to keep our immune system running correctly. And, unfortunately no, I can't recall the name of the book. Having said all of that, I will certainly wash my hands after exposing them to anything I wouldn't want to eat.

By Mike Olson (not verified) on 09 Mar 2011 #permalink

@ Mike - Yeah, that's called "The Hygiene Hypothesis." There's a lot of work being done to try to understand the reasons for it, but it's certainly the case that our immune system evolved to see lots of bacteria and parasites (worms), and takes cues from the environment during development.

"when we were kids, we ate dirt for fun, and we liked it!"

Well, okay, maybe it wasn't all that likable even at the time, but it may have been good for us.

By Bob O`Bob (not verified) on 09 Mar 2011 #permalink

On a similar but different note: I'm reading Feb's Sci Am. There is a short article in their "advances" section on immunology which discusses self infection with a parasite. Specifically, self-infection with whipworm apparently a sort of helminth, which can ease the autoimmune response in a variety of conditions. Colitis, asthma, arthritis, allergies and type 1 diabetes. Frankly, I find that amazing.

By Mike Olson (not verified) on 09 Mar 2011 #permalink

Whoops! Proof reading and fact checking is still a difficulty: According to Sci Am, treated ulcerative colitis in a human patient, the other autoimmune issues were in rat studies.

By Mike Olson (not verified) on 09 Mar 2011 #permalink

Yup, that's this paper

There are clinical trials underway to test most of the hyper-inflammatory diseases you mentioned, and more.

I'm always a bit upset when they include diabetes in those lists though. Yes, Type-1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, and worm infections have been shown to reduce the incidence of type-1 diabetes-like disease in mice. However, diabetes is generally only diagnosed after so much damage has been done to pancreatic islets that it can't be reversed. Things that tamp down the inflammatory response are too late. So unless you propose treating everyone at risk for diabetes with worms, it won't be an effective solution.

That said, yes - worm treatments are really fascinating (I actually did a mini-research project my first year of grad school on this topic).