Children need microbes — not antibiotics — to develop immunity, scientists say
Yes, it’s important to wash your hands. It’s critical during cold and flu season and especially if you visit someone at the hospital.
The problem is — in the West at least — parents have taken the business of keeping clean way too far.
New science shows that a lot of the tiny organisms called microbes that we’re so busy blasting away with our hand sanitizers, antibacterial soaps and liberal doses of antibiotics are having a profoundly negative impact on our kids’ immune systems, says microbiologist Marie-Claire Arrieta, co-author of a new book called Let Them Eat Dirt: Saving Our Children from an Oversanitized World.
The assistant professor at the University of Calgary, along with her co-author, esteemed microbiologist Brett Finlay, make the case that we’re raising our kids in a cleaner, more hyper-hygienic environment than ever before. They say that overdoing it the way we are is contributing to a host of chronic conditions ranging from allergies to obesity. I chatted with Arrieta recently to find out more.
What inspired you and Finlay to write Let Them Eat Dirt?
We’re both microbiologists and we’ve been studying the community of microbes that live in our guts — what we call our gut microbiome. In recent years research from our lab and other labs has shown that the health of this microbiome early in life is really crucial to our lifelong health. It’s not just that we’re scientists but we’re both parents. We thought that parents and caregivers would really benefit from us bringing this knowledge to the public.
We’ve been hearing for some time that overusing antibiotics may lead to antibiotic-resistant hospital infections, something we may associate with the elderly and other immune-compromised people. But I gather the implications are much more immediate and individual than that. What’s the connection between microbes and the development of the immune system in childhood?
When we’re born we do not have any microbes. Our immune system is underdeveloped. But as soon as microbes come into the picture, they kick-start our immune system to work properly. Without microbes our immune system can’t fight infections well.
Why did the media stop talking about Hannah Poling? Easy: her case of vaccines causing autism was unassailable. Her dad was a neurologist. They’d won big in vaccine court. Even the head of CDC, Julie Gerberding, had to concede that autism happened in rare cases. Then what happened? The Polings, and Hannah’s story, simply disappeared from the media. It was too devastating a blow, so just pretend it never happened. Thank God for YouTube!! (Also, remember: Mary Holland and others found 83 cases in Vaccine Court exactly like Hannah Poling–it’s not as rare as Dr. Gupta makes it out to be see link in the first comment below.)
Deadly shots: the polio vaccine saga
Millions of Australians were given a polio vaccine infected with remnants of a cancer-causing virus. Scientists knew the dangers but released the vaccine anyway, writes Gary Hughes.
The eight scientists gathered in the meeting room at the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories in Melbourne included the key researchers who had helped turn the tide in the fight against polio in Australia.
But the mood was far from celebratory as the meeting started on May 1, 1962. The team responsible for developing and producing the local version of the Salk polio vaccine in 1956, which had been given to millions of Australians during the following years, was faced with a crisis.
Four days earlier CSL biochemist John Withell had completed laboratory tests that confirmed what had been feared: the latest batch of polio vaccine was contaminated with a newly discovered virus that came from monkey kidneys used to produce it.
The virus had been designated SV40 – the 40th simian virus that had been identified – but this virus, first discovered by British researchers the previous year, was different. Tests in the United States had shown it could cause aggressive cancers in small animals and was not killed in the normal process used to manufacture polio vaccine.
In the words of Withell, who went on to become head of the government’s Therapeutic Goods Administration laboratories in Canberra, SV40 “was recognised straight away as a fairly nasty virus”.
Those at the meeting were confronted with the dilemma of what to do. The discovery of SV40 contamination could not have come at a worse time for the government-run CSL. The laboratories, which carried out virtually all vaccine research and production in Australia, had just undergone one of the most turbulent periods in its history, with mounting political pressure over delays in producing the polio vaccine, the removal of its director, management upheavals and rising costs.
While the introduction of Salk vaccine in Australia in 1956 had blunted the threat of polio, outbreaks had continued: in Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia in 1960-61 and in Queensland and NSW in 1961-62.
The spectre of poliomyelitis, which could lead to death or permanent paralysis, was still enough to cause widespread public panic, in turn pressuring politicians and health authorities.
In 1961 state health authorities and health ministers were pressing Canberra to provide increased amounts of the vaccine amid a growing shortage caused by production problems at the laboratories. Two entire batches of vaccine, representing about 1.4 million individual doses, had been destroyed in November 1961 because they had failed safety tests. The release of other batches had been delayed because independent tests showed the vaccine still contained live polio virus, forcing it to be reprocessed.
The pressure was showing among senior staff, with some worried about standards being compromised.