July 2012

Skin Bacteria: Friend or Foe?

Are the Germophobes right to avoid skin bacteria like the plague?

A few years ago, Tyra Banks had a show about the dangers of bacteria. In “Baby Got Bacteria” episode of Tyra Banks' talk show, she had someone measure the amount of bacteria that the average person had on their feet when barefoot. The results, if I recall correctly, weren’t pretty under a microscope. One teenager’s friends were so grossed out by her high level of bacteria that they “forced” her to get weekly pedicures.

But is bacteria really all that bad for us? Are all kinds of bacteria the same?

According to a recent study published in "Science Express," bacteria might actually be helpful to us. The study confirms that the immune cells and the bacteria on the skin are likely to help prevent inflammation.

In the study, the germ-free mice had abnormal immune responses in their T-cells; however, when the researchers added Staphylococcus epidermidis (the skin’s usual bacteria) back onto the skin, the mice had their normal immune system responses back.

Inflammation can lead to other skin problems, including excema and other conditions. That said, some inflammation is good in order to ward off illness and disease.

I’m not certain how this will affect the germophobes amongst us: will the germophobes stop sterilizing their environments in order to make themselves healthier?

I doubt it.

Madonna's Wacky Anti-Aging Device

"Oxygen therapy has long been pitched as a miracle cure."


Madonna was recently spotted on tour traveling with a weirdo medical device, which was seen being toted by an assistant. (Roadie? Bodyguard? Medical consultant? Low man on the totem pole?) You can see detailed paparazzi photos here. The final zoom image shows that the device bears the name "Intraceuticals," a company which provides "an exciting array of oxygen treatments."
I suppose if my entire job hinged on me looking as good as possible, and if I was 53, I would probably be feeling a little bit desperate too. And it should be said that Madonna really does look amazing - not just "for her age," she just plain old looks amazing. Nevertheless, she is fighting a losing battle, because time comes for us all.
Or does it?

A Bad Year For Rabies

"... Until recently, rabies was considered 100% fatal for patients who did not receive the vaccine..."
Rabies cases seem to be up this year over previous years. And (anecdotally at least) there seem to be more bizarre cases involving non-traditional carriers. Like the woman who was attacked by a rabid deer, or the campers who were attacked by a rabid beaver. It may simply be a statistical quirk (some years will naturally be higher than others - but it all evens out). Or it could be that last year's unusually mild winter allowed more animals to survive, and meant that the traditional rabies carriers (raccoons and bats) spent less time in hibernation and more time running around infecting one another.
Wired Magazine has an excellent and in-depth article taking a new look at the recent history of this bizarre disease. Until recently, rabies was considered 100% fatal for patients who did not receive the vaccine in time. (Luckily, rabies is one of the few diseases where you can get the vaccine after you contract the disease and, if your luck holds, it will still work.) Approximately 55,000 people die from rabies around the world every year, and it is an excruciating death. The only thing doctors were able to do was sedate the patients enough to help ease their pain in the final week of life.
Until recently, that is.

Bubonic Plague: Still here, still dangerous

A while ago I read a news report about a man in Bend, Oregon who contracted Bubonic plague. At the time I thought "That's an interesting historical curiosity - I sure am glad for our modern antibiotics!" I had assumed that this was nothing more than a little blip on the news, and that the patient would soon be hale and hearty and going about his life. 

But it turns out that, despite what I had assumed, even with prompt treatment the Bubonic plague can still pack a real wallop. The most recent victim, Paul Gaylord, is still in the hospital recovering. This 59 year-old man who was a professional welder has lost his fingertips and toes, and will no longer be able to pursue his career. [Warning: graphic images.] To make the story even more sad, his cat died, and his trailer is still full of mice which may be able to pass along the infection.

The real drug war

Why aren’t we waging it on Rx meds?

This sobering thought is an oldie but goodie—well, not a goodie, but something that’s alarming when you think about it: though we don’t have any accounts of death due to vitamins in about three decades, about three million people have died due to prescription drugs.

I can definitely believe this, especially since my own mother got sick herself after taking diet medication as she attempted to lose her pregnancy weight. These simple diet pills were like speed, were known to cause death, and resulted in meth-like behavior for both my mom—who cleaned the house all day long, every single day—and me, who spent my early childhood copying her, as children do with their parents.

The appendix: its purpose found

For centuries, the medical establishment has believed that the appendix was a useless evolutionary oversight. In humans, the appendix is a little tube-shaped pouch which is located near where the small intestine and large intestine meet. The appendix has an unfortunate tendency to get infected, swell, cause immense pain, and perhaps even burst. If this happens and the patient is not able to get surgical intervention quickly enough, they can easily die. 

Stupid appendix!
But not so fast: a team of American immunologists have found that the appendix also serves as a reservoir for gut bacteria. A "safe house" for the microorganisms that we need in order to digest our food. If they get wiped out by a bout of cholera or some other form of gut-cleansing disease, they can be repopulated thanks to the population which lives in the appendix. The appendix keeps them safe, thus serving as a repository.