Microbes in the News Assignment: Post #3

Article and link: “Too Clean for Our Children’s Good? The Checkup’ by Perri Klass, MD, The New York Times, April 17, 2017.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/17/well/family/too-clean-for-our-childrens-good.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FBacteria&action=click&contentCollection=science&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=3&pgtype=collection&_r=0

Summary: This article talks about the many various ways in which our children are protected from interaction with microbes, including giving birth by caesarian section, bottle-feeding, and possible exposure to antibiotics. Such protection on the one hand affords protection from disease but on the other hand offers greater risk that children may experience complications of the “built environment.’ It is a concern that living in such a clean, controlled environment could lead to an underdeveloped immune system and subsequent health problems which may have otherwise been avoidable had the body been exposed to a diverse array of microbes at a young age. In order to combat this problem, it is recommended that young children be introduced to these microbes in the outside environment through “controlled exposures’ in the form of either “natural exposure’ consisting of interaction with their environment or through a type of vaccine yet to be developed.

 

Connections: This article include discussion of the development of the human microbiome, its importance in the overall health of an individual, the avenues by which children are typically first exposed to microbes, and also the concept of vaccination with microbes in order to improve health. All of these are topics which have been mentioned or discussed over the course of the semester.

 

Critical analysis: I liked the contrast that the author provided between the microbes found outdoors as opposed to those found within the “built environment.’ While I had naturally assumed that the inside of a house or apartment may be “cleaner’ than the outside world, I had not given much thought to the members of the microbial populations to be found in each of the two environments; in reality, the inside of a dwelling is not necessarily any more microbe-free than the outside, it is instead simply inhabited by a different, and possibly narrower, variety of microbes. I did not detect anything scientifically inaccurate or confusing in this article, and think that it did perform an adequate job in relaying this information to the public. The author did not get too technical in any of their explanations, yet clearly stated the anticipated problem, reasons behind that belief, and also the possible solutions to the problem.
Question: Are researchers suspecting that the health problems mentioned are primarily due to inadequate exposure to pathogenic bacteria? Or do interactions with the non-pathogenic bacteria also play a role in shaping the immune system of children? What kinds of “natural exposures’ are parents advised to pursue in order to assist their child’s immune system to develop properly?

3 Comments for “Microbes in the News Assignment: Post #3”

cepike

says:

Kjersten, I also had not thought of the microbiota of the built environment as being separate and distinct from those of the “outside” world – how interesting! I wonder if being raised in the built environment confers some kind of benefit to the child’s microbiome, even as it does encourage the development of some allergies? I also appreciated the author’s easy-to-read style – it’s so nice to see popular science writing that is both accurate and enjoyable to read.

In answer to your questions, I’ll refer you to a different New York Times article about the hygiene hypothesis (which I posted about not 10 minutes ago!) – the author covers several studies that look at the effects of exposure to diverse microbes during childhood and their effects on the developing immune system. Here it is: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/05/opinion/sunday/educate-your-immune-system.html

aamartushoff

says:

I agree that I, too, had the misconception that “inside” is cleaner than “outside.” It makes sense that it isn’t cleaner, but that it contains a different array and proportion of microbes. The word “cleaner” is relative when dealing with bacteria.

As for your question, I definitely think that exposure to even non-pathogenic bacteria is important. Underexposure to bacteria is just as dangerous as overexposure. In immunology, Dr. Ferrante discussed how underexposure to bacteria leads to more autoimmune disorders such as allergies. It is more of a first-world problem, whereas third-world countries that experience an overexposure of bacteria do not have nearly as many autoimmune disorders as places like the US do.

aamartushoff

says:

I agree that I, too, had the misconception that “inside” is cleaner than “outside.” It makes sense that it isn’t cleaner, but that it contains a different array and proportion of microbes. The word “cleaner” is relative when dealing with bacteria.

As for your question, I definitely think that exposure to even non-pathogenic bacteria is important. Underexposure to bacteria is just as dangerous as overexposure. In immunology, Dr. Ferrante discussed how underexposure to bacteria leads to more autoimmune disorders such as allergies. It is more of a first-world problem, whereas third-world countries that experience an overexposure of bacteria do not have nearly as many autoimmune disorders as places like the US does.

Leave a Reply to cepike Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *