Monday, January 29, 2007

ooohhhh, germs!!!

So, my newest post in on a topic that tends to get my goat, the concept of 'germs'. Having a PhD in microbiology and immunology (although I fully admit, I'm an immunologist first, and a virologist second), I see 'germs' in a much different light than the average person. First off, my bias is that germs are number one, everywhere, and number two, generally getting a bad rap. When it comes to little kids, I'm in the 'let them eat dirt' camp. Children have immature immune systems and unless they get an education (much like kids and school) they won't do a great job when they grow up either. If the immune system doesn't get a chance to fight off the bevy of microscopic invaders, it tends to turn inward for some action. Thus, we get increased asthma, allergic and autoimmunity (diseases like thyroid disease, multiple schlerosis and rheumatoid arthritis). I'm not simplifying these complex diseases, I'm just saying that an idle immune system is a devils playground. So, in this context germs are good. The bacteria and viruses that all of these cleaner companies try to tell you are so harmful, well thats only half the story, so please put down the antibacterial soap and go make mudpies with your kids.

That brings me to the second point, the completely dreadful overuse of antibiotics. The concept of some MD's (not all, since I happen to have a great family doctor) that they have to send you off with a pill of some sort, and antibiotics have become the default. I actually hate to go into a new doctors office (which I sometimes have to do when I can't get into see my great family doctor), because what usually leads me there is something I'm convinced either is a bacterial infection that my crappy immune system can't kill off, or something I'm not sure is a bacterial infection, thus I need them to test for it. I feel that I need to prequel any chat with the words, "I have a PhD in Immunology and I'm working as a virologist, so please don't try to explain the difference between a virus and a bacterium to me". Nevertheless, MD's I've seen fall into two camps; they either just prescribe me antibiotics without any real investigation into the cause, which annoys me because I want to be sure that taking these drugs are worth it to me, or they refuse to give me antibiotics, convinced that they can diagose me with a virus from across the room. In these cases, I bring up my job. Then there is usually a swab of some sort, and finally a real diagnosis... Or I just take the antibiotics, or go to my family doctor who will actually look for the problem. So, if I have this frustration, and I know better, how many people are out there taking these drugs that are not going to work or suffering from bacterial infections that their doctor thinks is viral? What people need to consider is that making a new antibiotic is an expensive venture for biotech, and they just aren't doing it anymore. Thus we are left with only so many antibiotics. And people taking too many are causing the proliferation of antibiotic resistant strains that eventually, we just won't have the drugs to fight off. So, to all the family doctors out there, please take the time to investigate, and lay off the script pad unless there really is cause. Germs are our friends, lets not piss them off.


SteveN said...

My thoughts exactly. Except you could add in the idea that prophylactic antibiotic treatment (except for the odd case) should be banned, including in the farming context! Bloody cows spewing out loads of Penicillin into the environment can’t be good. Especially when you consider something like Walkerton.

Melanie said...

That was well said! I completely agree a few germs never hurt a child - except Jenavieve lost a lot of weight when she had Norwalk... but regular run of the mill bugs are great to have and recover from! People have a hard time seeing the difference between eating raw hamburger meat (bad) and eating your steak rare (ok if you like it) and the common cold.

I personally like my family doctor - I often go in for a swab when I have a cold. I once had glomerulonephritis as a result of an undiagnosed strep infection - so I like to get a real diagnosis and I ask for her to send Rx for the antibiotics to the pharmacy only after the results come back! It makes more sense to be treated for an illness you actually have rather than removing our "good germs".

Have a good day Marianne!