Human microbiome transplant

Responses to Josiah Zayner’s attempt to replace his body’s bacteria are almost as interesting as the experiment itself. It seems like most of the medical community believe professional approval of one’s theory and practice is what determines therapeutic success, and not the actual measurement of physical outcomes.

Anyway, as is usual in gut flora replacement therapy, Mr. Zayner has successfully remediated his long standing intestinal problems. Genetic tests show that he is now host to a new, healthier mix of internal bacteria harvested from a friend’s feces. The rest of his homemade treatment was less successful; he was not able to completely eradicate his skin bacteria, nor was he able to prevent re-infection from his surroundings. The article is sort of simultaneously horrifying and illuminating; scientists who self-experiment are strange birds more often than not.

That pink stuff in your bathroom

No, a pink residue is not a problem with your water quality, and is not harmful in this situation. It is evidence of bacteria that are common inhabitants of our environment. The most typical of these bacteria is one known as Serratia marcescens. These bacteria come from any of a number of naturally-occurring sources, such as soil, mulch, dust, and surface waters, and they thrive in an environment that is moist and high in phosphates.

Serratia infection is responsible for about 2% of nosocomial infections of the bloodstream, lower respiratory tract, urinary tract, surgical wounds, and skin and soft tissues in adult patients.

Until the 1950s, S. marcescens was erroneously believed to be a nonpathogenic “saprophyte”, and its reddish coloration was used in school experiments to track infections. It was also used in biological warfare testing by the U.S. military as a substitute for weaponized tularemia bacteria. On September 26 and 27, 1950, the U.S. Navy conducted a secret experiment named “Operation Sea-Spray” in which S. marcescens was released by bursting balloons of it over the densely populated San Francisco Bay Area in California. Although the Navy apparently believed the bacteria were harmless, beginning on September 29, 11 patients at a local hospital developed very rare, serious urinary tract infections, and one of these individuals, Edward J. Nevin, died. Cases of pneumonia in San Francisco also increased after S. marcescens was released.

Stainless steel, the metal bacteria love.

Hospitals love stainless steel, because it looks so “clean”. Unfortunately it is a fantastic media for growing pretty much any pathogen, so it’s a major vector for hospital illnesses. Despite appearances, stainless steel is a filthy metal. Should medical care facilities have prioritized an appearance of cleanliness before testing the reality? Most people outside of the profession would say no, especially given how simple the testing is.

But hospitals in North America have been ripping out their old brass hardware for decades, in response to complaints that it “always looks dirty”. Removing those crusty old doorknobs has put patients and visitors at risk. Brass is a copper alloy, and both copper and silver are self-sterilizing metals (although curiously neither one is listed in the antimicrobial index at this time).

All this is pretty obvious from simple observation in my opinion, but there’s been some research done too. Plow through this quote:

small strips of stainless steel, brass, aluminum, and copper were inoculated with broths of Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus group D, and Pseudomonas species. […] The results were striking. The copper and brass showed little or no growth, while the aluminum and stainless steel produced a heavy growth of all microbes. How fast did the microbes die on copper and brass? The test was repeated at drying intervals of 15 minutes, I hour, 5 hours, 7 hours, 20 hours, and 24 hours. Brass disinfected itself in seven hours or less, depending on the inoculum size and the condition of the surface of the metal, freshly scoured brass disinfecting itself in one hour. Copper disinfected itself of some microbes within 15 minutes. Aluminum and stainless steel produced heavy growths of all isolates after eight days and growths of most isolates (except Pseudomonas) when I ended that part of my investigation after three weeks -link to original here, with pictures.

If you choose to use stainless steel in your kitchen or lunchbox, that’s fine as long as you scour it thoroughly between uses. I don’t recommend those tiny-necked stainless bottles that can’t be properly cleaned, though – I’ve seen stuff grow in the bottoms of those that looked like kelp, I swear. Inch-long strands of waving black kelp.

And don’t ever touch anything made of stainless steel in a sickroom environment. Research from the EPA and others critical of hospitals’ love affair with stainless shows that superbugs like MRSA and clostridium difficile will happily thrive on stainless steel or aluminum indefinitely, but brass rapidly self-sterilizes without the application of antiseptic toxins or antibiotics… and we all know that these superbugs were created by overuse of antibiotics, right?.

If you want a safer home, office or school environment, never use stainless or aluminum where you could use brass or silver instead. And tell your doctor to change his gloves if he’s going to touch a stainless doorknob, that’s just nasty.