Modern sterile conditions in hospitals keep every kind of organisms out of operation theatres and wards, but this might be not such a good idea, according to Dr Jack Gilbert, researcher at the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago. He believes that in doing so hospitals also ward off organisms that are necessary to combat harmful microbes.
Gilbert thinks that nurse Florence Nightingale, who lived in the 19th century, was right when she wrote in her Notes on Nursing (1859) that fresh air coming through open windows was good for patients. That way there are more organisms in the room, but less pathogen (dangerous infectious agents).
“Open windows let bacteria in from outside and you will either dilute out the pathogens, or you are not allowing the pathogens to establish themselves because there is too much competition for the nutrients and energy that the bacteria need to survive,” said Gilbert.
He offers the example of the intestines, where gut flora helps the immune system to work against pathogens, and cites a recent research on airborne bacterial community at a health care-community, conducted by the University of Oregon, USA. The study, published in the ISME Journal, shows that, while window-ventilated rooms contain more organisms, the abundance of pathogens in mechanically ventilated rooms is higher.
Gilbert, who gave a talk about this issue at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Vancouver, Canada, also raised the example of a colleague who works in Venezuela without sterilized instruments, stating that “he sees less acquired infections from surgery in that environment than they do in Chicago.”
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Kembel, S., Jones, E., Kline, J., Northcutt, D., Stenson, J., Womack, A., Bohannan, B., Brown, G., & Green, J. (2012). Architectural design influences the diversity and structure of the built environment microbiome The ISME Journal DOI: 10.1038/ismej.2011.211