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There is a fabulous implication in a study done in 1954 by Marjorie Bohnhoff that seems to have been missed, but which is obvious when one reads Missing Microbes by Martin J. Blaser, MD, and on page 252 in Notes about page 190, he writes an astonishing paragraph:

In their initial experiments, Marjorie Bohnhoff and her colleagues showed that the dose of Salmonella required to infect half of the exposed mice went from about 100,000 bacterial cells to 3, following a one-day exposure to the antibiotic streptomycin (M Bohnhoff et al., “Effect of Streptomycin on susceptibility of intestinal tract to experimental Salmonella infection, ” Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology  and Medicine 86 [1954]: 132-37.) In later studies, the team extended the work, showing that penicillin was just as effective as streptomycin, that they could enhance susceptibility of mice to a Staphylococcus species that was incapable of colonizing by itself, and that injecting the antibiotic into tissues had no effect, thus implicating the normal gut bacteria in the protective effect and their depletion by antibiotics in promoting infections. (M. Bohnhoff and C. P. Miller. “Enhanced susceptibility to Salmonella infection in streptomycin-treated mice,” Journal of Infectious Diseases III [1962]: 117-27.) These and further observations are more than fifty years old, but they have been largely forgotten.

That quote is taken from my post, “How many days for Ebola to become symptomatic and infective?” revisited. What struck me first and Dr. Blaser too, who is an eminent research scientist, was that the research referred to was ignored and forgotten. But, if that research is even close to being accurate, then taking antibiotics was shown to have put people at risk of contracting other diseases for a period of time. Perhaps people were at increased risk for a month or more while their body’s natural infection-fighting biome was reestablishing itself. In the experiment quoted above, “the dose of Salmonella required to infect half of the exposed mice went from about 100,000 bacterial cells to 3, following a one-day exposure to the antibiotic streptomycin .” As Blaser demonstrates in his book, a healthy human intestinal biome contains approximately 800 different species of bacteria that help us digest food and protect us from disease. But after a heavy dose of antibiotics that has been taken to kill some serious disease, the other bacteria are gone also. These helpful bacteria are generally available in one’s natural environment, but it takes time for them to reestablish themselves in one’s intestines, and it’s during that time that other disease-producing organisms can establish themselves. The most famous one at the moment is C. difficile, but there are others and they are evolving. What Blaser recommends, and he is a person with decades of Center for Disease Control experience, is to avoid taking any antibiotics unless it is absolutely necessary.

But there is another implication in the paragraph quoted above, and that is it generally takes a large number of a disease bacteria to infect a mammal such as a mouse or a human. In the research it took 100,000 Salmonella viruses to infect 50% of the mice exposed to that disease. That is a vast number, and it implies that given a substantially small number of disease bacteria there would be almost zero cases of infection. The reason is that the natural biome occupies all of the ecological niches, and these healthy bacteria have been fighting with the bad ones for millions of years, and they don’t willingly give up their food supply or their place of residence. The Salmonella just can’t compete with 800 different species of enemies, so it takes a massive amount of them to get established, and cause disease. But, after a dose of antibiotics there are few surviving healthy bacteria to fight with.

What this old research stated clearly was that a healthy animal can easily fight off small quantities of potentially infectious bacteria, and the lesson to be learned from that is to keep the numbers of hostile bacteria invading one’s body to a small number. The usual recommendation is frequent washing with soap and water, and Dr. Blaser recommends avoiding antibacterial washing agents unless one is in a location with known diseases around, like a hospital. However, it appears that kids who grow up in a scrupulously clean household are prone to getting sick. That may be wrong, however, because those same kids who were super-sanitized were probably subjected to more doses of antibiotics than free-roaming kids.

The point of this build-up is that for normally healthy people a washing of one’s skin and flushing out one’s mouth and nostrils with normal clean tap water will dilute bad bacteria, and unless there was a heavy dose of bacteria it will reduce the number to where one’s healthy biome’s bacteria will keep them from creating an infection. If one is at home all day a rinsing off with tap water after going to the toilet would be enough, but when one is in public and touching things like money and door handles, one should wash with tap water as soon as practical. And in a public situation where there is known to be dangerous bacteria, like a hospital, it may be best to use the antibacterials present in dispensers. If that is necessary, and you have washed your hands and face with antibacterial soap, then as soon as you depart that potentially infective place, wipe your hands between your upper arms and chest, and then wipe your hands together vigorously and then wipe your face. The point is to get some of your existing bacteria back onto your face and hands before the bad bacteria get there and colonize. This is a very simple treatment for avoiding catching disease, and can be done discretely enough that no one will notice, unless they have learned to do it themselves. That is how your armpits can save your life.

Wash your hands and face with clean water, or with soapy water if in a dirty area, and after they are dry rub your hands between your upper arms and chest and then on your face.