TOPIC OF THE TIMES BOOK REVIEW: BACTERIA, VIRUSES AND EBOLA

Disease continues to be on the rise not only in other countries but in the U.S. as well. In particular, some scientists claim that humans have been too reliant on bacterial-killing chemicals creating the notion that we have made our world too clean; This is often referred to as the “hygiene hypothesis” which strongly suggests that such over- use of these chemicals while accomplishing the intended effect of killing bacterial also kills “good” bacteria and in the long run, makes our immune systems inert. (Bacteria are cells which “eat, move and breathe, and reproduce”. In contrast, viruses require a host. They are parasitic and attack healthy cells and reproduce. They are commonly associated with infections including HIV).  The problem is not isolated to human use of such chemicals because we have dramatically increased the administering of antibiotics to animals which are then harvested by humans. Our “ancient microbes” (the weight of all the microbes in the oceans is the approximate equivalent to the weight of 240 billion African elephants) are being lost with great rapidity and they need to be replaced. The “body is composed of an estimated 30 trillion human cells, but it is host to more than 100 trillion bacterial and fungal cells, the friendly microbes that coevolved with our species”.  “In other words, 99 % of the unique genes in your body are bacterial, and only about 1% are human”. If we continue to lose certain “friendly” microbes which provide genetic protection against threats, such as a plague, dangerous pathogens (microbes that make you ill) likely will emerge faster.  Prebiotics are “chemical compounds that stimulate the growth of organisms we considerable favorable and are useful; “Probiotics” (essentially bacterial cultures commonly sold in health stores) may be useful but “we can’t explain their mechanisms of action, if any, because we cannot directly see the interior dynamics of the human gut”.  All of this and much more from Martin J. Blaser, MD, in his new book, “Missing Microbes”: How The Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues” where he makes the legitimate claim that our over-dependence on antibiotics and bacteria- killing compounds cannot be helpful and therefore, we must be mindful of the importance of keeping good bacteria in our gut. He makes suggestions as to how this can be accomplished and why our younger generation is now being subjected to “Modern Plagues” like obesity, diabetes and related illnesses. It is a timely and interesting book.

 

EBOLA THREAT

The continuing concern over the uncertainties of the spreading of Ebola infections have forced people to think about bacteria and viruses. There is no known cure for the disease and medical personnel seem to have been caught off-guard and are quickly attempting to organize emergency protocol procedures aimed at handling people who have been infected, or might have. A second Dallas nurse infected with Ebola flew on a commercial airline just one day before being placed in isolation (3 people have been infected so far). Naturally, some medical experts are concerned about the possibility of her contaminating others she came into contact with. According to an ABC News Report, Dr. William Schaffer, Chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, played the scenario down. He said the average person does not have to be concerned. The two known people infected at the Dallas hospital were quickly isolated and their contacts were quickly found and put under surveillance, their homes and belongings were disinfected. The key in such matters is the speed in which patients are quarantined. At the end of the day, medical personnel and disease prevention experts appear to be running a two-minute offense with several questions about the spread of the disease unanswered however the issue appears to now have the full attention of the government.

Anxiety levels have run high since the reporting of the outbreaks in Africa and then the United States. Concern about the spread of the disease dramatically increased when Thomas R. Frieden, Director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the response to the Ebola cases in the U.S. were inadequate. Some experts are predicting the death toll in Africa to exceed 10,000. By comparison, 30,000 patients die from the flu some years in the U.S.

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