TED Conversations

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 almost feel like there's no point in creating a product like "bacteri-ell" to replace purell in our society. It seems like it would be a silly thing that people wouldn't want to use, because since their polar opposites, they serve entirely different functions. People use Purell to keep themselves from coming in contact with other people's illnesses or to get ready to eat or just for general hygiene, and a lot of these things that things that bacteri-ell wouldn't help prevent. I do understand that it makes sense to have a higher level of exposure to microbes that can help with immune response and such things, but I think this should be accomplished in a more natural way, by such things as letting kids play outside and interact with other people at a young age, so they can be naturally exposed to a range of microbes while they're still young enough to combat anything harmful they may come in contact with. I know that as a child I was allowed to do these things and I have a very healthy immune system. I very rarely get sick and I don't have any allergies because I think I was exposed to these things enough in my daily life as a child that they're already incorporated into my body. I don't think a product like bacteri-ell would be necessary, really.
    • May 1 2013: I agree with Melissa. There are definitely services antibacterials provide that keep plenty of us healthy everyday. Purell prevents the spreading of viruses, and I use it regularly throughout the winter to prevent sickness during exam time. Exposure to the right bacteria should happen early, as Melissa said, and regular outdoor activity should theoretically be enough to maintain the microbes, as well as introduce new ones, on and in the human body.
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        May 1 2013: Yeah, I definitely think that a natural exposure is the way to go. That's how many cultures and how people historically gained exposure to bacteria and it's worked this long, so why change it? While medical advances have been great and something like a bacteria lotion seems convenient, it seems like something along that line could go terribly wrong, as it takes out the necessity for outdoor exposure. I feel as though it would be less effective to be introduced to airborne allergens and microbes through the air, rather than through our skin, as that it not the main way we have exposure to these things in the real world, so our resistance may not be as effective or strong.

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