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‘Targeted Hygiene’ Embraces Some Dirt and Germs

By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, July 3, 2019 (HealthDay News) — Somewhere between the Mom who obsessively wipes down every knob and toy her child might touch, and the Dad who thinks rolling in the dirt is “good” for kids, there’s a healthy medium, British experts say.

“We have to find a way to protect against infectious diseases and harmful microbes, whilst at the same time sustaining exposure to the essential beneficial microbes in our world,” explained Sally Bloomfield.

Bloomfield is a member of the International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene, and also the co-author of a new report that surveyed British adults on their attitude towards dirt and germs in the home.

The 2018 survey, from the Royal Society for Public Health, suggests people are confused about how much dirt is OK. A lot of that confusion is probably coming from the rise of the “hygiene hypothesis” — the notion that today’s homes are overly sanitized, and kids need contact with germs to build up healthy immune systems.

But this notion can be taken too far, as Bloomfield’s group found.

In fact, nearly one in four people polled agreed with the statement that “hygiene in the home is not important because children need to be exposed to harmful germs to build their immune system.”

Men were twice as likely as women to express that opinion.

On the other hand, misconceptions around the level of “danger” posed by dirt were also common.

Bloomfield’s team found that “almost two-thirds of those we surveyed (61%) said touching a child’s dirty hands after they have been playing outside was likely to spread harmful germs.”

But that’s simply not true. In fact, “there is little evidence that outdoor dirt and soil is contaminated with harmful microbes (unless there are animals nearby),” according to the report.

Different germs, different hazards

Bloomfield, a researcher at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the key thing to remember is that all germs are not created equal.

Exposure to diverse microbes from other people, domestic animals and the natural environment do help build a healthy immune system and microbiome — the varied microbes normally living in the gut and respiratory tract, experts agree. However, exposure to the wrong types of germs can both weaken the microbiome and cause infections.

Continued

And if those infections require antibiotics, “good” bacteria in the gut get destroyed along with the bad, they pointed out.

So, how to find a balance between being a compulsive germaphobe who’s constantly cleaning or the lax parent letting kids chow down on mud pies?

Bloomfield believes a new, more nuanced model, called “targeted hygiene,” is probably the answer.

Targeted hygiene means intervening with kids and their environment, but only when you can stop the risk of infection. This doesn’t necessarily mean avid cleaning. Cleaning does get rid of visible dirt, but it won’t necessarily reduce the risk of infection.

What does? Handwashing.

Handwashing is a simple component of targeted hygiene, and should be timed to certain activities, Bloomfield said.

“Our own bodies, our food and our domestic animals are the most likely sources of spread of infection — so the times that matter are [times such as] when we handle raw food, when we use the toilet, when we care for our pets, when we are infected or caring for someone who is infected,” she explained.

So, be sure to wash your hands well:

  • when you first come home;
  • if you’ve been caring for or playing with a pet;
  • after toileting;
  • before eating or preparing food;
  • after handling raw meat, fruits or vegetables;
  • after sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose.

‘Common sense’ clean

Most — but not all — of the British adults surveyed seem to understand the value of hand washing, since “73% of respondents said they ‘always’ washed their hands thoroughly with soap after using the toilet and after preparing raw meat,” the report found.

In addition to hand washing, Bloomfield said other important measures include cleaning surfaces that come into contact with food, cleaning surfaces regularly touched by many people, and washing dishcloths immediately after using them so they don’t spread germs.

Dr. Aaron Glatt is a spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America. He reviewed the new report and said he “likes the idea of targeted hygiene.”

“Good common sense remains the best way to prevent infection,” Glatt said. “You don’t need to wash your hands 40 times a day, but appropriate hand washing needs to be stressed. If you’ve just come out of the bathroom or are going to be preparing foods, wash your hands.”

Continued

When it comes to routine cleaning, Glatt said the kitchen and bathrooms are two major areas that need attention.

He agreed that pets can potentially be a point of transmission for infection, but if they’re cared for properly, they shouldn’t be a concern.

“We even allow pets into the hospital for therapy,” Glatt said. “In general, kids and pets interact in a positive way.”

Again, common sense should be your guide: “Kids shouldn’t let a pet lick their plate and then eat from it,” Glatt said.

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SOURCES: Sally Bloomfield, honorary professor, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene, United Kingdom; Aaron E. Glatt, spokesperson, Infectious Diseases Society of America, and chair of medicine, South Nassau Communities Hospital, Long Island Medical Center, New York; June 2019,Too Clean or Not Too Cleanreport, Royal Society for Public Health

Copyright © 2013-2018 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

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Flying Insects in Hospitals Carry ‘Superbug’ Germs

By Robert Preidt

HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, June 21, 2019 (HealthDay News) — Many flies and flying insects in hospitals carry bacteria that could pose an infection risk to patients, and more than half of them carry the types that resist antibiotics, a new study says.

British researchers used ultraviolet-light flytraps, electronic fly killers and sticky traps to collect nearly 20,000 flies, aphids, ants, wasps, bees and moths at seven hospitals in England over 18 months, and found that almost 9 in 10 insects had potentially harmful bacteria on or in their bodies.

A total of 86 bacterial strains were found in the insects. Enterobacteriaceae — a family that includes E. coli and Salmonella — were the most common (41%), followed by Bacillus (which includes the food poisoning germ B. cereus) at 24% and staphylococci (which includes S. aureus, a cause of skin infections, abscesses and respiratory infections) at 19%.

In some cases, the level of bacteria carried by insects was enough to potentially cause infection in humans.

The findings show that “a variety of flying insects collected from U.K. hospitals do indeed harbor pathogenic bacteria of different species,” said study lead author Federica Boiocchi, a Ph.D. student at Aston University in Birmingham.

The study also found that 53% of the bacterial strains on the insects were resistant to at least one class of antibiotics — so-called “superbugs.” Of those, 19% were resistant to multiple antibiotics.

Resistance was most common for penicillin, but resistance to other widely used antibiotics, including vancomycin and levofloxacin, was also found, according to the study.

“What’s quite interesting, though, is the high proportion of drug-resistant bacteria found in these samples. It’s a vivid reminder of how our overuse of antibiotics in health care settings is making infections more difficult to treat,” Boiocchi said in a university news release.

The insects were collected from a number of areas of the hospitals, including those where food for patients, visitors and staff was prepared or stored, as well as wards, neonatal units and maternity units.

The highest numbers of insects were collected in the spring and summer.

Anthony Hilton, a professor of applied microbiology at the university, noted, “What we are saying in this paper is that even in the cleanest of environments, it’s important to take steps to prevent bacteria being brought into hospitals by insects.”

The findings were published June 21 in the Journal of Medical Entomology.

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SOURCE: Aston University, news release, June 20, 2019

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Hospital Privacy Curtains Attract Some Scary Germs

By Robert Preidt

HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, April 12, 2019 (HealthDay News) — Privacy curtains in hospital rooms might offer patients some personal dignity, but they can also harbor dangerous, drug-resistant bacteria.

That’s the claim of a new study where researchers took more than 1,500 samples from privacy curtains in 625 rooms at six skilled nursing facilities in Michigan. The samples were collected from the parts of the curtains touched most often. Samples were also gathered from patients.

Sampling was done when patients were admitted, and again after 14 days and 30 days, and then monthly up to six months, when possible.

The findings showed that 22% of the samples from the privacy curtains tested positive for multidrug-resistant organisms, with contamination rates ranging from 12% to 28.5%, depending on the facility.

Of those samples, nearly 14% were contaminated with vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE), 6% with resistant gram-negative bacilli, and about 5% with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

“We were surprised to see that multidrug-resistant organisms, especially VRE, shed by patients routinely contaminate their privacy curtains. These pathogens on privacy curtains often survive and have the potential to transfer to other surfaces and patients,” the study authors wrote.

In fact, the same resistant germs were detected on patients and their privacy curtain in nearly 16% of the sampling visits, the researchers found.

“Patient colonization with MRSA and VRE were each associated with contamination of the bedside curtain,” according to Dr. Lona Mody and colleagues at the University of Michigan Medical Center.

Where six-month data could be collected, curtain contamination was often intermittent, the investigators found.

The findings were scheduled for presentation this week at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases, in Amsterdam. Research presented at meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Based on the findings, the researchers said that drug-resistant germ contamination of privacy curtains is common, as is patient/curtain co-contamination.

“As privacy curtains are used all over the world, it’s a global issue,” Mody and colleagues explained in a meeting news release. “Further studies are needed to determine conclusively whether contaminated privacy curtains are a source of multidrug-resistant organism transmission to patients.”

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SOURCE: European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases, news release, April 11, 2019

Copyright © 2013-2018 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

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Are Kids’ Ball Pits Jumping With Germs?

By Serena Gordon

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, March 26, 2019 (HealthDay News) — If the cacophony of children screaming and throwing tiny plastic balls everywhere hasn’t prompted you to forgo ball pits, a new study may just send you scurrying for the door.

The research found that ball pits in physical therapy clinics — and undoubtedly in public ball pits, too — were awash in microbes, some potentially quite dangerous.

The study team found 31 bacterial species and one species of yeast. Some of those bugs are responsible for pink eye, urinary tract infections, bloodstream infections, heart inflammation and more.

“Be aware of this if you take your child to a physical therapy clinic, especially if the child has a compromised immune system,” said senior study author Dobrusia Bialonska, assistant professor of environmental microbiology at the University of North Georgia.

“You might consider asking for no treatment in the ball pit. We definitely showed that there are things on the balls that can potentially hurt a child who is immune-compromised,” she said.

Does that mean all kids need to steer clear of ball pits in fast food restaurants or other play spaces?

No, Bialonska said.

“We’re talking about pediatric physical therapy patients that may have some immune problems and may be more fragile. If kids are healthy, let them go and play. It may help build their immune system,” she said.

But kids should wash their hands when they jump out of the pit, especially if they’re going to eat after playing, Bialonska quickly added.

Ball pits became popular in the 1980s when they began popping up in commercial restaurant chains across the United States. But these play areas are often contaminated with visible dirt, vomit, urine and feces, researchers said. Numerous bacteria had already been identified in ball pits, but researchers wanted to learn how those used for physical therapy for children might compare.

The study team collected samples from six ball pits in Georgia physical therapy clinics. They randomly selected nine to 15 balls from each location, then swabbed the whole surface of each ball to find any microbes.

Continued

There were microorganisms on all of the balls, though some had very few. The researchers said it’s not unusual or concerning to see microbes anywhere humans are present. There should be concern when there are a lot of microbes, however.

Researchers noted a significant variation in the extent of microbial contamination from clinic to clinic. That suggests a need to develop guidelines for cleaning the balls and the pit area when they are used for physical therapy in potentially vulnerable kids, researchers said.

Bialonska said there are no standards or directions for cleaning these areas. She said someone had used a commercial washing machine to clean the balls. Others have tried using ultraviolet light to disinfect the balls.

Dr. Maryann Buetti-Sgouros, chair of pediatrics at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, N.Y., was not involved with the research, but reviewed the study.

“Common sense has to dictate how you address risks as a parent,” she said. “If there’s somewhere germy, what will you do to decrease the risk? A little bit of germs isn’t awful. Carry antibiotic wipes.”

Another expert agreed.

“Many of the microbes isolated are part of our normal flora,” said Dr. Salman Khan, an infectious disease physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “However, some of these have the potential to cause disease in patients with immunocompromising conditions and open wounds.”

Buetti-Sgouros said she doesn’t think ball pits are inherently worse than other places where kids play, but the balls cannot be sterilized between uses and are going to get covered in bacteria.

If you’re taking a child for physical therapy where there is a ball pit, she suggested asking how the balls are sterilized. “In this study, one of the clinics didn’t have as much bacteria. What were they doing differently?” she said.

Buetti-Sgouros also pointed out that injuries are a concern at ball pits and other kid play areas, such as those with multiple indoor trampolines.

“Again, let common sense dictate. But, I’d rather see kids outside where there’s ventilation and air,” she said.

The study was recently published in the American Journal of Infection Control.

WebMD News from HealthDay

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SOURCES: Dobrusia Bialonska, Ph.D., assistant professor, environmental microbiology, University of North Georgia, Dahlonega; Maryann Buetti-Sgouros, M.D., chair, pediatrics, Northern Westchester Hospital, Mount Kisco, N.Y.; Salman Khan, M.D., infectious disease physician, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; March 21, 2019,American Journal of Infection Control

Copyright © 2013-2018 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

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Your Showerhead May Be Bathing You in Risky Germs

By Steven Reinberg

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 7, 2018 (HealthDay News) — You no doubt think that stepping into your shower will wash away dirt and germs, but a new study shows your showerhead might instead dump nasty bacteria on you that may cause lung infections.

Most people know to keep their bathrooms clean, especially the toilet and sink. But researchers discovered that places in the United States and Europe where germs called mycobacteria are found in abundance in showerheads are the same places where bacterial lung infections are most common. In America, that includes parts of Southern California, Florida and New York.

“We live in a world covered in bacteria, and the bacteria in our showerheads follow some interesting geographic trends, and can be altered by our water source and water chemistry,” said study lead author Matthew Gebert.

“We’re exposed to microbes constantly in our day-to-day lives, some beneficial, some innocuous and a few potentially harmful,” Gebert explained.

He’s a research associate at the University of Colorado’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.

Bacteria thrive in showerheads and water distribution systems. Although most of these bacteria are harmless, some can cause lung infections, he said.

Still, just because mycobacteria live in your showerhead doesn’t mean you’ll get sick or are more likely to get a respiratory infection, Gebert added.

In fact, researchers can’t say that a person with a respiratory infection got it through showering, but understanding the sources of mycobacterial exposure is important.

“We don’t want people rushing home and throwing away their showerheads or obsessively cleaning them every day, nor should anyone change their showering habits — swallowing the water is OK,” he said.

For the study, Gebert and his colleagues analyzed showerheads from homes around the United States and Europe, and found an abundance of bacteria. The kind of germs varied by location, and by the chemistry of the water and where it came from.

An interesting finding was that homes whose water was treated with chlorine disinfectants had high concentrations of certain germs, the researchers noted.

The study was published recently in the journal mBio.

Continued

“I don’t think there are necessarily any negative implications from the study,” Gebert said. “But because bacteria that can cause illness live in our showerheads, it’s important to understand how people can be exposed to them.”

Dr. Marc Siegel, a professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, noted that bacteria grow in wet places like showerheads.

“This is a reminder to clean your showerhead, which nobody does,” he said, though “most of us are likely to tolerate mycobacteria and not get sick from it.”

Bacteria in showerheads won’t cause an outbreak of lung infections, but people who are run down or who have a compromised immune system or a chronic condition may be vulnerable, Siegel suggested.

Bacteria also live on your toothbrush and in your sink — any moist surface, he said.

Siegel recommends cleaning your showerhead every week or two with a disinfectant that contains ammonia to be sure you kill all the germs nesting there.

“Add your showerhead to the list of things in the bathroom that need cleaning,” he said.

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SOURCES: Matthew Gebert, research associate, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder; Marc Siegel, M.D., clinical professor, medicine, NYU Langone Medical Center, New York City; Oct. 30, 2018,mBio

Copyright © 2013-2018 HealthDay. All rights reserved.


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Study: Let the Sun In to Cut Down on Germs

FRIDAY, Oct. 19, 2018 (HealthDay News) — Lots of sunlight in your home can significantly reduce levels of bacteria that flourish in the dark, a new study says.

Researchers found that about 12 percent of bacteria, on average, were able to reproduce in dark rooms, compared with 6.8 percent in sunlit rooms, and 6.1 percent in rooms exposed to UV light, ABC News reported.

The mix of bacteria found in a building is called its microbiome.

“When designing buildings, we should take into account and understand how the microbiome may be selected, based on the design,” study author Ashkaan Fahimipour, a post-doctoral researcher in biology and built environment at the University of Oregon, told ABC News.

“This could actually have an impact on health,” Fahimipour added.

The study did not identify bacteria that might harm health. What it shows is that the amount of natural light in a building affects its microbiome, ABC News reported.

The study was published in the Journal of the Microbiome.

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Germs Gaining Resistance to Hand Gels in Hospitals

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 1, 2018 — Potentially dangerous bacteria already resistant to antibiotics are now developing resistance to common alcohol-based hand gels, a new study reports.

A bacteria called Enterococcus faecium is a leading cause of hospital-acquired infections, and it’s been shrugging off antibiotics at an increasing rate, said senior researcher Timothy Stinear. He is a molecular microbiologist at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

“It’s a WHO [World Health Organization] and CDC-recognized superbug,” Stinear said. “In the hospital it is already resistant to nearly all classes of antibiotics.”

Now E. faecium appears to be developing resistance to alcohol-based sanitizers, possibly in response to the vast use of the antimicrobial gels in hospital hand-hygiene programs, Stinear and his colleagues have found.

E. faecium has adapted to the health-care environment,” Stinear said.

E. faecium and other enterococci are bacteria found in the gut, and typically are not hostile or harmful, the researchers said in background notes.

However, these germs have emerged as a major cause of hospital-associated bacterial infections, the study authors noted. This family of bacteria account for a tenth of hospital-acquired bacterial infections worldwide, and are the fourth and fifth leading cause of blood poisoning in North America and Europe, respectively.

According to Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, “E. faecium is a highly prevalent bacterial species that is a very common cause of infections that range from bloodstream infections to urinary tract infections.” Adalja was not involved with the new study but was familiar with the findings.

“The vancomycin [antibiotic]-resistant form of this bacteria, which the CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] estimates kills more than 1,000 people a year in the U.S., is a priority pathogen that is involved in many hospital-acquired infections,” Adalja explained.

In the new study, Stinear’s team collected 139 E. faecium samples between 1997 and 2015 from two Melbourne hospitals and exposed them to diluted isopropyl alcohol, to see how effectively alcohol would kill off the bugs.

Bacteria samples dating from 2009 onward were on average more resistant to alcohol, compared with bacteria collected prior to 2004.

To see whether this resistance would translate into more infections, the researchers introduced different strains of E. faecium onto the floors of mouse cages. They then wiped down the cages with isopropyl alcohol wipes, which should have effectively disinfected them.

Bacteria that had developed a resistance to alcohol sanitizers were better able to dodge disinfection and colonize the guts of mice placed in the cages, the findings showed.

Genetic analysis of alcohol-resistant bacteria found that they had developed several mutations in genes linked to cell metabolism. These mutations appear to make the cellular membranes of E. faecium more resistant to solvents like alcohol.

“We were able to identify and document the specific genetic changes that have occurred in the bacteria over the 20 years, which also helps to explain the increased tolerance,” Stinear said.

These mutations have developed as hospitals have become more stringent in infection control, relying heavily on alcohol-based rubs as a way to keep harmful pathogens from spreading, he explained.

“Alcohol-based hand hygiene use has increased 10-fold over the past 20 years in Australian hospitals, so we are using a lot and the environment is changing,” Stinear said.

Adalja agreed. “Bacteria like Enterococcus are very adept at evolving mechanisms to survive in the face of harsh conditions, so it is no surprise that this species is developing tolerance to alcohol-based sanitizers,” he said.

Stinear said that harsher hand rubs containing higher concentrations of alcohol will be needed to overcome this resistance.

Hospitals also need to make sure that the rubs are used thoroughly by staff, making sure that all skin surfaces on the hand are covered and given enough contact time to kill the bugs, the study authors added.

“Furthermore, there also should be an enhanced focus on hospital cleaning as well as isolation of patients found to be colonized with” antibiotic-resistant bacteria, Stinear said.

Adalja suggested that a search should be made for other good antimicrobial agents that could take the place of alcohol rubs.

“As hand hygiene with alcohol-based sanitizers is a key prevention tool in hospitals, tolerance to alcohol rubs will be very problematic and may necessitate the use of alternative methods to optimally prevent its spread,” Adalja said.

The new study was published Aug. 1 in Science Translational Medicine.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about vancomycin-resistant enterococci.

© 2018 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Posted: August 2018

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Are Germs Falling From the Sky?

By Robert Preidt

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Feb. 8, 2018 (HealthDay News) — As if you weren’t worried enough about the germs on surfaces around you, new research suggests that viruses and bacteria are literally dropping down on your head.

Scientists report that large numbers of all manner of germs circulate in, and fall from, the Earth’s atmosphere. Not only that, the virus that lands on you may have traveled from another continent, the researchers added.

The germs are swept up in soil dust and sea spray into an area called the free troposphere. It’s located above weather systems but below the stratosphere where jets fly.

At that altitude, viruses and bacteria can be carried thousands of miles before they fall back to Earth’s surface, the researchers said.

“Every day, more than 800 million viruses are deposited per square meter above the planetary boundary layer — that’s 25 viruses for each person in Canada,” said study co-senior author Curtis Suttle, a virologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

Deposit rates for viruses were nine to 461 times greater than for bacteria, the researchers said.

“Roughly 20 years ago, we began finding genetically similar viruses occurring in very different environments around the globe,” Suttle explained in a university news release.

“This preponderance of long-residence viruses traveling the atmosphere likely explains why — it’s quite conceivable to have a virus swept up into the atmosphere on one continent and deposited on another,” he said.

The study was published recently in the International Society for Microbial Ecology Journal.

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SOURCE: University of British Columbia, news release, Feb. 5, 2018

Copyright © 2013-2017 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

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Germs May Be Valuable Passengers on Trip to Mars

By Mary Elizabeth Dallas

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 4, 2017 (HealthDay News) — Astronauts on space missions to Mars may need more germs on the ship with them to stay in good health, a new study suggests.

As scientists prepare for a mission to Mars in the coming decades, the health and safety of astronauts is a top priority. In this new research, scientists honed in on the microorganisms that would be living in close quarters with crews aboard spacecraft.

Researchers from Germany, the United Kingdom and Austria, led by the German Aerospace Center, enlisted a crew of six male “Marsonauts.” They lived inside a mock spacecraft in Moscow from June 2010 to November 2011.

During the mock Mars mission, the researchers monitored how the composition of bacteria changed over time. What they found was that the diversity of germs dropped dramatically during the equivalent of a space flight to Mars.

“Until now, little was known about the influence of long-term confinement on the microorganisms that live inside habitats that may one day be used to travel to other planets, and whether the structure of the microbiota changes with time,” said study author Petra Schwendner, from the University of Edinburgh.

“Ours is the first comprehensive long-time study that investigates the microbial load, diversity and dynamics in a closed habitat — a mock-up spacecraft — for 520 days, the full duration of a simulated flight to Mars,” she said.

During the mock mission, the crew never left the closed habitat. They were also subjected to a regimented lifestyle that future Mars astronauts will face. This involved a strict diet and schedule, which included cleaning the habitat and conducting scientific experiments.

The crew also collected 360 microbial samples from the air and various surfaces at 18 intervals.

The study showed communal areas, sleep areas, the gym, and the bathroom had the greatest volume and diversity of bacteria while the medical space had the least.

The researchers noted, however, that microbial diversity aboard the “spacecraft” declined dramatically during the mission.

The findings were published Oct. 3 in the journal Microbiome.

Continued

“In addition to potential health risks for the crew, some of these microorganisms could have a negative impact on spacecraft, as they grow on and might damage spacecraft material,” Schwendner said in a journal news release.

“To ensure the systems’ stability, countermeasures may be required to avoid development of highly resistant, adapted microorganisms, and a complete loss of microbial [germ} diversity,” she said.

The crew was the main source of human-associated bacteria within the habitat, but the prolonged confinement seemed to have the most significant effect on the bacterial community, the researchers found.

The study authors suggested their findings provide insight on habitat maintenance and could help scientists develop strategies to ensure a healthy environment for astronauts during future deep space missions.

WebMD News from HealthDay

Sources

SOURCE: BioMed Central, news release, Oct. 3, 2017

Copyright © 2013-2017 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

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Germs May Be Valuable Passengers on Trip to Mars

By Mary Elizabeth Dallas

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 4, 2017 (HealthDay News) — Astronauts on space missions to Mars may need more germs on the ship with them to stay in good health, a new study suggests.

As scientists prepare for a mission to Mars in the coming decades, the health and safety of astronauts is a top priority. In this new research, scientists honed in on the microorganisms that would be living in close quarters with crews aboard spacecraft.

Researchers from Germany, the United Kingdom and Austria, led by the German Aerospace Center, enlisted a crew of six male “Marsonauts.” They lived inside a mock spacecraft in Moscow from June 2010 to November 2011.

During the mock Mars mission, the researchers monitored how the composition of bacteria changed over time. What they found was that the diversity of germs dropped dramatically during the equivalent of a space flight to Mars.

“Until now, little was known about the influence of long-term confinement on the microorganisms that live inside habitats that may one day be used to travel to other planets, and whether the structure of the microbiota changes with time,” said study author Petra Schwendner, from the University of Edinburgh.

“Ours is the first comprehensive long-time study that investigates the microbial load, diversity and dynamics in a closed habitat — a mock-up spacecraft — for 520 days, the full duration of a simulated flight to Mars,” she said.

During the mock mission, the crew never left the closed habitat. They were also subjected to a regimented lifestyle that future Mars astronauts will face. This involved a strict diet and schedule, which included cleaning the habitat and conducting scientific experiments.

The crew also collected 360 microbial samples from the air and various surfaces at 18 intervals.

The study showed communal areas, sleep areas, the gym, and the bathroom had the greatest volume and diversity of bacteria while the medical space had the least.

The researchers noted, however, that microbial diversity aboard the “spacecraft” declined dramatically during the mission.

The findings were published Oct. 3 in the journal Microbiome.

Continued

“In addition to potential health risks for the crew, some of these microorganisms could have a negative impact on spacecraft, as they grow on and might damage spacecraft material,” Schwendner said in a journal news release.

“To ensure the systems’ stability, countermeasures may be required to avoid development of highly resistant, adapted microorganisms, and a complete loss of microbial [germ} diversity,” she said.

The crew was the main source of human-associated bacteria within the habitat, but the prolonged confinement seemed to have the most significant effect on the bacterial community, the researchers found.

The study authors suggested their findings provide insight on habitat maintenance and could help scientists develop strategies to ensure a healthy environment for astronauts during future deep space missions.

WebMD News from HealthDay

Sources

SOURCE: BioMed Central, news release, Oct. 3, 2017

Copyright © 2013-2017 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WebMD Health

Germs May Be Valuable Passengers on Mission to Mars

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 4, 2017 — Astronauts on space missions to Mars may need more germs on the ship with them to stay in good health, a new study suggests.

As scientists prepare for a mission to Mars in the coming decades, the health and safety of astronauts is a top priority. In this new research, scientists honed in on the microorganisms that would be living in close quarters with crews aboard spacecraft.

Researchers from Germany, the United Kingdom and Austria, led by the German Aerospace Center, enlisted a crew of six male “Marsonauts.” They lived inside a mock spacecraft in Moscow from June 2010 to November 2011.

During the mock Mars mission, the researchers monitored how the composition of bacteria changed over time. What they found was that the diversity of germs dropped dramatically during the equivalent of a space flight to Mars.

“Until now, little was known about the influence of long-term confinement on the microorganisms that live inside habitats that may one day be used to travel to other planets, and whether the structure of the microbiota changes with time,” said study author Petra Schwendner, from the University of Edinburgh.

“Ours is the first comprehensive long-time study that investigates the microbial load, diversity and dynamics in a closed habitat — a mock-up spacecraft — for 520 days, the full duration of a simulated flight to Mars,” she said.

During the mock mission, the crew never left the closed habitat. They were also subjected to a regimented lifestyle that future Mars astronauts will face. This involved a strict diet and schedule, which included cleaning the habitat and conducting scientific experiments.

The crew also collected 360 microbial samples from the air and various surfaces at 18 intervals.

The study showed communal areas, sleep areas, the gym, and the bathroom had the greatest volume and diversity of bacteria while the medical space had the least.

The researchers noted, however, that microbial diversity aboard the “spacecraft” declined dramatically during the mission.

The findings were published Oct. 3 in the journal Microbiome.

“In addition to potential health risks for the crew, some of these microorganisms could have a negative impact on spacecraft, as they grow on and might damage spacecraft material,” Schwendner said in a journal news release.

“To ensure the systems’ stability, countermeasures may be required to avoid development of highly resistant, adapted microorganisms, and a complete loss of microbial [germ} diversity,” she said.

The crew was the main source of human-associated bacteria within the habitat, but the prolonged confinement seemed to have the most significant effect on the bacterial community, the researchers found.

The study authors suggested their findings provide insight on habitat maintenance and could help scientists develop strategies to ensure a healthy environment for astronauts during future deep space missions.

More information

NASA has more information on the effects of space travel on the human body.

Posted: October 2017

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Antibacterial Scrubs for Nurses No Match for Germs

MONDAY, Sept. 4, 2017 — Special antibacterial scrubs for nurses don’t fend off germs any better than traditional nursing garb, a new study finds.

“Health care providers must understand that they can become contaminated by their patients and the environment near patients. Although not effective, we looked to eliminate this risk for contamination by changing the material of nurses’ scrubs,” said lead study author Dr. Deverick Anderson.

Anderson directs the Duke University Medical Center’s Center for Antimicrobial Stewardship and Infection Prevention.

For the study, researchers tracked 40 nurses who wore three types of scrubs over three 12-hour shifts in which they monitored one or two patients each in medical or surgical intensive care units. The scrub types included: a traditional cotton-polyester blend; one treated with silver-alloy inside fibers; and one treated to kill bacteria.

The investigators monitored germs by taking cultures from the clothing worn by the nurses, and also from patients and the hospital environment around the nurses — including bed rails, beds and supply carts.

The findings showed that the scrubs were contaminated at the same level regardless of type, and that new contamination moved in during one-third of shifts. A germ known as Staphylococcus aureus was transmitted most often.

“There is no such thing as a sterile environment. Bacteria and pathogens will always be in the environment,” Anderson said in a news release from the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America.

“Hospitals need to create and use protocols for improved cleaning of the health care environment, and patients and family members should feel empowered to ask health care providers if they are doing everything they can to keep their loved one from being exposed to bacteria in the environment,” he added.

The researchers suggested that the scrubs may have failed to keep germs at bay because their antibacterial properties weren’t strong enough to combat persistent exposure to germs over short periods of time.

The study was published online Aug. 29 in the journal Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology. Funding was provided by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More information

For more about hospital-based infections, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Posted: September 2017

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Human Gut Germs Dictated by Diet

By Mary Elizabeth Dallas

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Aug. 25, 2017 (HealthDay News) — What you eat, or don’t eat, affects the mix of germs in your digestive tract, new research indicates.

Thousands of microbial species thrive in the human intestine, helping people digest fiber and make vitamins and other molecules. They also help strengthen the immune system and protect against potentially harmful bacteria, Stanford University School of Medicine researchers say.

The rise in farming some 15,000 years ago dramatically changed the human diet, the researchers noted. And in just the last 100 years, people have become increasingly sedentary and less likely to consume fiber-rich whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

Antibiotics, cesarean sections and other lifestyle changes have also helped shift the composition of microbes in the human gut, the study authors added.

To see how “progress” may have affected microbial diversity, the researchers examined seasonal changes in the gut microbes of the Hadza in Tanzania — one of the world’s last remaining traditional hunter-gatherer populations.

The Hadza rely primarily on meat, berries, baobab (a fruit), tubers and honey. The researchers found their gut bacteria different and more diverse than the gut bacteria of those living in the cities of industrialized countries.

“The 100 to 200 Hadza sticking to this routine will possibly lose it in a decade or two, maybe sooner. Some are using cell phones now,” senior study author Justin Sonnenburg said in a Stanford news release.

“We wanted to take advantage of this rapidly closing window to explore our vanishing microbiota,” said Sonnenburg, an associate professor of microbiology and immunology.

Stool samples from the Hadza showed their mix of gut microbes changes with the seasons and their diet.

The significant modifications made to the human diet over the past 10,000 years could help explain the loss of diversity in the germs residing in the typical modern digestive tract, the study suggests.

“Surviving hunter-gatherer populations are the closest available proxy to a time machine we in the modern industrialized world can climb into to learn about the ways of our remote human ancestors,” Sonnenburg said.

“Our own microbiota can change significantly from day to day, or even within hours, in response to what we’ve been eating,” said Sonnenburg. “Fiber’s all that’s left at the very end of our digestive tract where these microbes live, so they’ve evolved to be very good at digesting it. The Hadza get 100 or more grams of fiber a day in their food, on average. We average 15 grams per day.”

The findings were published Aug. 25 in the journal Science.

WebMD News from HealthDay

Sources

SOURCE: Stanford University School of Medicine, news release, Aug. 24, 2017

Copyright © 2013-2017 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

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Neighborhood Sandbox: A Breeding Ground for Germs

By Steven Reinberg

HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, July 7, 2017 (HealthDay News) — Kids love to play in sandboxes, and it helps them develop motor and social skills.

But have you ever considered what kind of germs might be lurking in that communal sand?

Sandboxes can be breeding grounds for bacteria, parasites and other infectious germs, whether brought in by animals using them as litter boxes or by kids interacting with other kids, researchers say.

Dr. Marc Siegel, a professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, describes sandboxes as “swimming pools without disinfecting chlorine.”

In a new study, researchers found that a particularly nasty bacteria called Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) was present in nearly 53 percent of sandboxes tested in Spain.

“We do not consider our paper as alarming,” said lead researcher Dr. Jose Blanco, from the department of animal health at Complutense University of Madrid.

“We have a lot of pathogenic bacteria around us. We have to live with them, and learn to live with them,” he said.

C. difficile can cause symptoms in humans ranging from mild diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon, Blanco explained.

“This study shows the wide distribution of [these] bacteria in the environment, and the need for more studies to elucidate its presence in our communities,” he said.

According to Siegel, C. difficile has become more common in hospitals and nursing homes, where it rapidly spreads from patient to patient.

Another doctor noted that it is also hard to beat back the bacteria.

“C. difficle can be difficult to treat, because the bacteria creates an environment within the intestines that makes it easy for it to grow,” said Dr. William Muinos, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami.

Treatment with antibiotics can take weeks or even months, and there is always sa potential for the child to be reinfected with C. difficle, he said.

Siegel added that it’s clear from this study that the bacteria is becoming entrenched outside health care facilities and is taking root in the community as well.

Continued

For the study, Blanco and his colleagues looked for C. difficile in 20 sandboxes for children and 20 sandboxes for dogs in and around Madrid.

Testing samples from all of the sandboxes, the researchers found that more than half contained various types of C. difficile. Nine of the children’s sandboxes had the bacteria, and 12 of the dog sandboxes did.

Certain strains of the bacteria showed increased toxin production and some were resistant to antibiotics, the investigators found.

But C. difficile is not the only germ hiding in the sand, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Studies in the United States have found other pathogens in sandboxes, including parasites such as Toxoplasma gondii, which can cause flu-like symptoms, and parasitic Ascaris eggs that can cause abdominal discomfort.

In addition, worms such as pinworms and roundworms also live in sandboxes. Roundworms called Baylisascaris procyonis are spread by raccoons, and although human infection is rare, it can cause neurologic damage and death. Toxocara roundworms can come from dogs or cats. These worms cause about 70 cases of blindness in the United States every year, according to the CDC. Most of those blinded are children.

Siegel said, “This study shows that places of community and sharing also have to be considered as places of potential germs.”

A lot of attention has been paid to swimming pools, “but if you think about it, sandboxes are worse, because there is no chlorine in them,” he added.

If you let your children play in sandboxes, make sure you wash their hands or at least use disinfecting wipes before and after they play, Siegel advised.

To help prevent getting sick after playing in a sandbox, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends:

  • Keep the sandbox covered when it’s not in use to keep out insects and animals.
  • Let the sand dry before covering it, because wet sand is an ideal place for bacteria to grow.
  • Rake the sand regularly to remove debris, clumps or other foreign material.
  • Don’t allow pets to play in the sandbox — they may mistake it for the litter box.

The report was published July 7 in the journal Zoonoses and Public Health.

WebMD News from HealthDay

Sources

SOURCES: Jose Blanco, Ph.D., D.V.M., department of animal health, faculty of veterinary, Complutense University of Madrid, Spain; Marc Siegel, M.D., professor, medicine, NYU Langone Medical Center, New York City; William Muinos, M.D., pediatric gastroenterologist, Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, Miami; July 7, 2017, Zoonoses andPublic Health

Copyright © 2013-2017 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

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Germs, Mold Found in Some Medical Pot

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 15, 2017 — Medical marijuana carries infectious bacteria and fungi that can pose a life-threatening risk to cancer patients who use pot to help with side effects of chemotherapy, a new study suggests.

The study was initially prompted by the death of a man using medical marijuana to combat the side effects of cancer treatment. His death was believed to be caused by a fungus from his marijuana, his doctor said.

Study researchers tested 20 different samples of dried marijuana obtained from Northern California dispensaries and found several potentially dangerous pathogens in the samples.

The germs found by the researchers wouldn’t harm an average pot user, but could be potentially fatal to people whose immune systems have been suppressed, said lead researcher Dr. George Thompson III.

“We found basically everything that, if you’re really immunosuppressed, you don’t want,” said Thompson, an associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of California, Davis.

Immune-suppressed patients — people who have undergone chemotherapy, for example, or those with a disease that attacks the immune system — are warned to avoid many things that could carry potentially harmful bacteria or fungi, Thompson said.

“They can’t have cut flowers in their room. They’re told to not garden. They’re told to really scrub their produce before they eat it,” Thompson said.

Patients are also told to avoid foods such as raw vegetable sprouts, undercooked eggs, fresh salsa and berries, because of infection risk, the study authors said.

But there haven’t been any similar warnings associated with medical marijuana, even though it’s basically dead plant material very likely to be covered in the same sort of pathogens, Thompson said.

Medical marijuana is frequently used to control nausea, pain and lack of appetite. This is seen in people with immune systems compromised by AIDS, cancer treatment or drugs taken after an organ transplant, the researchers noted.

The UC Davis researchers became aware of this risk when a patient developed a rare and incurable fungal infection after using aerosolized marijuana — raw, blended marijuana inhaled as a mist.

The patient ultimately died from a lung infection with a fungus called Mucor, according to his physician, Dr. Joseph Tuscano, from UC Davis.

The patient had been using medical marijuana while he was receiving chemotherapy and stem cell therapy for cancer.

To test their concern, the researchers had DNA analysis conducted to identify the fungi and bacteria contained in the samples from medical marijuana dispensaries.

Several different families of dangerous fungi were found in the medical pot, including Aspergillus, Cryptococcus and Mucor. These cause dangerous sinus and lung infections, and Mucor also can spread to the brain and spinal cord, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bacteria found in the marijuana samples included E. coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Pseudomonas fluorescens and Pseudomonas putida, Acinetobacter baumannii and Stenotrophomonas maltophilia.

Any of these germs could cause a serious respiratory infection in immune-compromised patients, said Dr. Paolo Boffetta, associate director for cancer prevention at the Tisch Cancer Institute at Mount Sinai in New York City.

It’s possible that when smoking pot, not all of the germs are burned away, Boffetta said. Some pathogens might survive and be inhaled, where they could infect the lungs.

The study authors warn against patients using inhaled forms of medical marijuana. They advise patients that consuming pot in baked goods is likely the best option, since the high temperatures involved in cooking would probably destroy the pathogens.

Paul Armentano is deputy director of NORML, a marijuana advocacy group. He said, “It behooves producers, dispensers, regulators and consumers to have these products rigorously tested and analyzed so that patients and others are consuming a product of known potency and quality, and one that is free from potentially harmful molds, pesticides or pathogens.”

Boffetta said the study findings indicate that improved regulation of medical marijuana is needed to make sure producers and dispensaries are selling pathogen-free products.

“I don’t think we saw in this paper proof that patients are getting infections. It’s just a possibility,” Boffetta said. “It doesn’t mean this is a major known risk, but it is a potential hazard that should be quantified.”

The study was published online recently in the journal Clinical Microbiology and Infection.

More information

For more about fungal infections, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Posted: February 2017

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