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Anna Crist

student researcher , University of Oregon

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Purell now, Bacteri-ell later?

The hygiene hypothesis, the idea that “too much cleanliness prevents the development of a well-balanced immune response”(Sironi and Clerici, 2010), has received a lot of support and also criticism. It has recently been challenged by the hypothesis of “early immune challenge”, which states that a lack of appropriate immune stimulation during early childhood might account for the increased development of allergies in industrialized countries (Kramer et al, 2013). This proposal places less emphasis on excessive hygienic practices and focuses more on the insufficient exposure to specific environmental microbes, particularly those from non-urban environments, as the reason behind the rise of atopic disease. While different, both hypotheses point to the beneficial health affects of some microbes.

What do you think is the reason for increased allergy levels in industrialized countries? Do you think that a concoction of the “right” microbial species in the form of a lotion, drink, or inhalant (aka "Bacteri-ell") could be a future replacement for natural exposure to beneficial microbes?
Instead of using hand sanitizers like Purell, do you see a future where people from some regions of the world are unsanitizing their hands with “Bacteri-ell”?

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    May 1 2013: I think that if our society ever decides that exposure to microbes is a good thing most people would simply stop using sanitizer on certain things or try to run into particular microbes "naturally". I can totally see, however, a new health trend to be ingesting certain microbes in a very expensive bottle.
    We already encourage pro-biotic ingestion of things like kombucha and yogurt that are marketed as being full of different strains of things that are good for you.
    However popular culture still rails against the idea of not washing everything. In one episode of "The Office" Dwight is laughed at for this propensity for people sneezing on him to "increase his resistance".
    There are examples of relatively famous people actually believing in exposure to germs creating resistance. One example is Yvon Chouinard (He started Black Diamond Gear and owns of Patagonia clothing company . In an interview he says he used to encourage his kids to not wash their hands after playing outside, yet nobody is calling him crazy due to his success in life. Perhaps one day all of society will feel the same way he does, but I have a feeling it is going to take a long time before anything like that happens.

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