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Is living in buildings that exclude microbes good for health?

Office spaces and factories and even some homes are being equipped with HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters, designed to filter out dust, pollen, and microbe carrying particles, from the built environment. Yale University scientists say this may not be ideal for our health.

Explaining further, Professor Jordan Peccia says “it’s a common misconception that all microbes found in one’s home are hazardous to your health.” Instead, the microbiologist explains, “Many have no impact on health, while some may even be beneficial.”

This fits in with the hygiene hypothesis. This theory says that the marked increase in autoimmune and inflammatory diseases since the 1950s is the direct result of changes in our exposure to microbes, which occur in childhood due to a reduced exposure to the less than sanitary conditions. The theory also relies on decreasing family sizes, such as having fewer siblings, which results in a reduced chance of exposure to pathogens.

Microbes: Staphylococcus is a common bacteria which can cause anything from a simple boil to horribl...

Microbes: Staphylococcus is a common bacteria which can cause anything from a simple boil to horrible flesh-eating infections
Vano Shlamov, AFP/File

Here some studies have shown that children growing up on are exposed to such beneficial microbes and they are less likely to develop allergies as a result.

Professor Peccia picks this up: “One big question becomes how building design…modulates microbial exposure, and our own microbiomes.” A microbiome is the totality of microorganisms in a particular ecological niche. Research suggests that changes to a microbiome can lead to an enhanced risk of ill-health. For example; there is strong evidence that gut microbiota plays a significant role in the development of obesity, obesity-associated inflammation, and insulin resistance.

Professor Peccia thinks we should be doing more to train and toughen up our immune systems. He thinks the overuse of indoor air filters and inhalers might be doing more harm than good, and this has been the subject of a recent research review that the scientist and his department have undertaken.

The research is published in the journal Trends in Microbiology. The research paper is headed “Buildings, Beneficial Microbes, and Health.” The research has been recommended by airmid healthgroup (@AirmidHealth), via Twitter.

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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