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Germs — not enemies always

Professor B.M. Hegde
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“Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction” — Pierre Pachet

Thanks to the soap and antiseptics industry, the whole world is becoming obsessed with the fear of germs. In an antiseptic soap ad on TV, a child was telling her cat not to come into the house. The mother was watching from behind. Her child told the cat, “Don’t come inside, mummy will hit you.” The mother then takes the child for a bath with that soap telling the child, “Mummy will hit not the cat but will hit the germs with this soap!”

The next morning, I saw the usual sight of the Municipal Corporation lorry carrying waste dumps for incineration. The lorry had five workers and a couple of rag-pickers. One of the women had an infant whom she put on the front seat while they were loading the vehicle. They rummage through the content as if it were some heap of gold! The woman breastfeeds the child in between. One cannot pass by that area because of the foul smell. I have been seeing this scene enacted daily. Despite my pleas to the powers that be, the routine has not changed. These people do not have gloves or shoes. They bring their breakfast and eat it while on duty. They keep smoking beedies in between. I have not seen them wash their hands anytime!

This also brings to mind the study of asthma in Mumbai slums compared to the best homes there. The ratio of asthma incidence was 10 to one in favour of the clean kids! The multitude of germs in the slums keeps the children’s immune system robust to avoid asthma. Whereas the child from the wealthy home gets antibiotics for even a common cold, the slum child probably has not come in contact with antiseptics and/or antibiotics, thus keeping its immune system robust. A crawling baby will go to every corner to pick up the dirt and eat! It is hardwired before birth to do that to get germs inside to strengthen the immune system! During delivery, the baby acquires trillions of germs of all kinds into its orifices from the mother’s genital tract. Naturally, a Caesarean section baby will be poorer to that extent.

For every cell in your body there are nine germ cells. No one could scientifically be proud because she/he has to have those germs bossing over her/him! Human meta-genome has about 25,000 human genes, while it also has 2-3 trillion germs genes. We have been living happily ever after with them inside us. Do not hate them from outside. They are our friends and saviours indeed!

When one takes antibiotics the gut gets depleted of these friends and we suffer from immune deficiency. Today, fatal gut infections are treated by transplanting fresh stools (faeces) from a healthy donor, faecal transplant. If one is lucky to have his mother alive, her faeces will cure the fatal infections in minutes to hours! Our mother’s gut germs are identical to ours, anyway! Resetting the gut germs is the best way to build our immune guard.

Antiseptics, soaps, and antibiotics have created a new world of killer super bugs — multi-drug-resistant germs which are now threatening the world. The sooner we wake up, the better. The newer, quick dust eating washing powders have another danger lurking in the background. Many of them use bacillus subtilis as their base. This germ generates a protein residue when it works on clothes. This protein is a lung poison. It provokes an incurable lung disease, fibrosing alveolitis (cryptogenic).

The world needs deschooling quickly about the benefit of looking after our friends —the germs in their natural habitat — for our own good in the long run. Let children play in the dirt outside in the sun. Simple, inexpensive, oil-based soap is all that is needed with clean water to wash one’s hands or for taking bath. No antiseptic soaps are needed. They could damage one’s immune system in the long run.

“A sad soul can kill quicker than a germ.” — John Steinbeck

(The writer is a former professor of cardiology, Middlesex Medical School, London, and former Vice-Chancellor of Manipal University. hegdebm@gmail.com)

Simple, inexpensive, oil-based soap is all that is needed with clean water to wash one’s hands or for taking bath. No antiseptic soaps are needed.

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