How Investigating Bacteria Will Change Health Care In Hospitals
Jennifer Welsh | Nov. 1, 2012
We often think of the world around us as sterile and static, especially when we are in a hospital. In reality, every surface on earth is literally teeming with millions of bacteria.
The goal of "Hospital Microbiome" is to try to see what microbes and viruses will move in to the hospital and how patients and hospital staff impact the variety of microbes that live in the hospital. Gilbert and his team will track the bacteria in the hospital before it opens and as it starts accepting staff and patients.
This data will help hospital administration, doctors, nurses, and researchers get a better understanding of how these bacteria and viruses make their way around a hospital, sometimes causing dangerous infections in the patients.
We asked Gilbert to explain the project and what they are hoping to find out from this hospital, below is an edited and condensed version of our conversation.
Business Insider: You've worked on multiple microbiome projects – Earth and Home — could you explain to me what microbiome is?
Jack Gilbert: A microbiome is the bacteria and other single celled organisms that live on and in whatever it is I'm studying. The home microbiome is the surfaces of your home, the kitchen counters, the doorknobs, and light fixtures and you, your hands, your feet and your nasal passages.
In the earth it's exactly what it sounds like, it's the entire planet. We have very ambitious goals of characterizing all microbial life on the planet.
BI: What kinds of microbes are you looking for in these projects?
JG: Um, all of them.
Essentially we want to uncover and identify the different types of bacteria that are present and associated with these kinds of environments.
In the home and the hospital it's obviously important to understand the pathogens, the bacteria that cause you to get sick. Where they come from, who brings them into those environments, how they develop and persist, and what that means.
It's shocking how little we actually understand about that after a century of work in microbiology. We have very little understanding of how these things move between surfaces and people.
BI: We think of the things around us as static, but these microbe communities change and evolve over time.
JG: Yeah, for example in the hospital microbiome project we have the unique opportunity to start exploring in detail the bacteria that live on the surfaces of the hospital, before all the patients move in.
We will be sampling the door handles, the floor, the toilets, showers and water in the incubators and the operating room.
When the patients and the staff move in there's a possibility they will bring with them less friendly bugs. They build up in the hospital environment and we don't know how they do that.
This causes people to get sick and even die in hospitals all over the United States and all over the world on a daily basis. These so-called healthcare acquired infections are very prevalent problem and we have very little understanding of how they get into the hospital, how they spread, what are the mechanisms of their development.
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Labels: bacteria, Health Care, Hospitals, microbes, microbiologists, microbiome, viruses