Love them or hate them, you have to admit that there is something fascinating about bats. (Also arachnids, such as tarantulas, and snakes. But later for these)
My spouse, Lovina, – and spice – for the last 2/3 of a century, has a Master’s degree in organ performance from the University of Utah. Some years ago she was invited to play the beautiful pipe organ for a concert in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. This is an impressive structure separate from the Tabernacle and Temple. It had been discovered that the building had bats in its attic (belfry?). Before the day of the concert, that structure had been fumigated. With the result that during the concert, many displaced bats were flying around overhead making their little squeaking chirps. I was sitting in the balcony so as to have a good line of sight to the organ. And Lovina. And also to a performance I have never seen before or since. A small troop of ushers with 20 foot poles and butterfly nets traipsing up and down the aisles catching bats. When they were lucky. All the while attempting to be as inconspicuous as possible. With less than the desired results in either endeavor.
In spite of the side show, the concert was a resounding success. And memorable.
Friend or Foe
With this introduction, we come to the main purpose of this essay. Recently there was a TV special on bats by NOVA. As a physician, I was aware, of course, of the reputation of bats (and rats and cats) as carriers of various nefarious diseases. Think rabies, especially, but bats have been implicated in Ebola and histoplasmosis and are thought to maybe be the main reservoir of our friend, the coronavirus.
But is a bat a friend or foe? In war it is a life or death decision to know what the other guy is. (In the Civil War, the outcome may have been altered if Stonewall Jackson had not been mortally wounded by friendly fire.)
But how about bats? This essay is not intended to be an attempt to educate on the biology of the Order Chiroptera. For that I happily refer you to the delightful book by Merlin Tuttle, PhD, called, “The Secret Lives of Bats: My Adventures with the World’s Most Misunderstood Mammals” (2015).
As NOVA pointed out, bats have certain unique features that may lead to discoveries about human diseases. For example, longevity. Most bats are in the size range of mice which live about 2 or 3 years. But bats have been documented to live for 10 times as long, into their 30s and 40s. Is their secret hidden in their telomeres? Furthermore, they may actually be carriers of various deadly viruses such as Ebola and, of course, the coronaviruses. They may also carry rabies but this hazard to humans has been blown way out of reason. But how do they carry these viruses without being killed by them? If our immune systems were as effective as those of bats, we would be a happier, healthier society.
Bats may, or may not, be important vectors of virulent human viruses, but what are they good for? While a few of the larger bats prefer to feast on fruit and some have a taste for frogs, most are insectivorous. They come out of their caves every evening by the millions and devour ton quantities of insects that otherwise devour food crops. Farmers are saved from expense, and society is saved from the ravages of pesticides distributed to the environment.
That is not all. The insects are converted into commercially valuable fertilizer, guano. And bats are champs in the pollination sweepstakes. And while they are at it, they disperse undigested seeds over wide areas. Which is important for reforestation after forest fires. And as if that were not enough, they can boost the local economy through tourism, as in the Congress Bridge bat colony in Austin, TX.
But despite their proven benefits to humanity, bat populations are plummeting in many areas because bats are considered to be pests and therefore foes to be annihilated. Tuttle is out to reeducate the world. And he makes a powerful case. I wish all the “batophiles,” such as Dr Tuttle and many other “batty” scientists and enlightened citizens great success.
Gordon Short, MD
Merlin Tuttle: The Secret Lives of Bats, My Adventures with the World’s Most Misunderstood Mammals. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2018)
Michael J. Harvey, Scott Altenbach, Troy L. Best: Bats of the United States and Canada. Johns Hopkins University Press (2011)
Marianne Taylor & Merlin D. Tuttle: BATS, an illustrated guide to all species. Smithsonian Books (2019)
The Secret World of Bats: Bat Conservation International (2005) DVD, 48 minutes.
BAT Superpowers, The Amazing Biology of Bats: NOVA (2021) DVD, 55 minutes.
A few days ago I was thinking of the coincidence that the American Civil War had a widely reported military death toll of 620,000 and that is about the same as the death toll from Covid-19 in this country since the pandemic began.
Then magically an article appeared in Time magazine by Rachel Lance, PhD, that summarizes the situation better than I could. I draw pertinent information from her article. (Incidentally, Rachel has written a fascinating book on the Hunley story called, “In the Waves: My Quest to Solve the Mystery of a Civil War Submarine.” I would hope Clive Cussler, who discovered the final resting place of the Hunley, approves. I certainly do. It’s a fascinating story.)
In recent years our civilization has been confronted with a dizzying array of new, or at least newly discovered, diseases Many of these are viral hemorrhagic diseases such as Hanta, Marburg and Ebola. And then there are other viruses such as SARS and its offspring, SARS-CoV-2. And along came ZIKA to join the well known influenza and diarrhea and common cold viruses. Get rid of smallpox and polio and there are always other volunteers to fill their ranks.
And unless we think we are so smart, our old bacterial friends have become antibiotic resistant to keep us humble. That old scourge, Mycobacterium tuberculosis hangs around waiting to catch the unwary. Not wanting to be ignored, fungi are represented by Candida auris along with Cocidioides and Histoplasma. And parasites like the Plasmodium family have never gone away.
So lets compare the Civil War scourges with our current crop.
Here in no particular order are some prominent Civil War diseases (The list is not exhaustive.):
It’s worth noting that malnutrition exacerbated the pathogenicity of these bugs. Accounts of the diets of many Civil War soldiers makes one wonder how they were able to function at all. Salt pork? Hardtack? Ugh! And “sanitary” facilities were worse than primitive. A bench across a latrine ditch excavating in one direction with the dirt filling in behind. And handwashing facilities? Are you kidding? It’s no wonder diarrhea and dysentery were rampant. And also why an army on the march was much healthier (think Sherman’s “March to the Sea”).
In spite of vaccines for many of these diseases, especially the childhood diseases, all of these delights are still of current interest.
Here are some current goodies to brighten your day:
This, of course, is just a sampling and many more could be listed. But you get the point. While it is still true that most microorganisms are harmless, or even beneficial, there are many that lurk around ready to pounce. If you’re not familiar with it already, you owe it to yourself to look up that old song, “Some little bug is going to find you someday.” (Google it.) The poem dates back to the late 1800s and a number of people have put it to music.
Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus may always have been with us. It appears to be a genetic variant whose origins are unknown. But ever since those intrepid Brits, Fleming and Florey, discovered that some microorganisms may produce substances that inhibit the growth of other organisms, we have become dependent on these miraculous substances to treat all our infections. So far, so good. But Penicillium notatum probably never intended to be the savior of mankind. Furthermore, P. notatum is not the best critter to produce significant quantities of the magic substance.
In the Sept 2021 Scientific American there is a little item about the related P. rubens. Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928 and its usefulness was appreciated by the beginning of World War II. How to ramp up production? Here is the story as told by Jim Daley in the article on page 22:
Andrew Moyer, a microbiologist there [Peoria, Ill], took on the problem. Moyer’s fellow researcher Mary Hunt found a moldy cantaloupe at a Peoria market and brought it to the lab for analysis. . . .As was the case with many women conducting research in that era, Hunt’s contribution to the discovery and study of that mold – which turned out to be Penicillium rubens – was diminished at the time. Moyer’s 1944 publication on P. rubens mentions Hunt only in the paper’s acknowledgments, and the press referred to her as “Moldy Mary.” P, rubens could better tolerate a new fermentation process that let it quickly produce hundreds of times more penicillin than previously studied strains, which let the Allies massively scale up antibiotic production. The same strain is still used to manufacture penicillin today.
But what does this have to do with MRSA? As the susceptible strains of Staph aureus have been killed off, the resistant strains that have maybe always been lurking around in small numbers have been allowed to flourish. Hence the search for modifications of penicillin that would still be effective. Methicillin has been the last candidate in the congregation to do the job. When bugs resistant to it showed up, we were in trouble. Which we still are. Especially since MRSA has an increased incidence in hospitals. What that means is that it is especially important to practice excellent hygiene procedures such as surface disinfection and frequent, good handwashing. Guess what. Brevis can help.
C. diff used to go by the moniker Clostridium difficile. Now it has been upgraded to Clostridioides difficile because the gurus in charge of nomenclature have to justify their existence. Of course the bug itself is unaware of the name change and so it just goes on producing colitis and diarrhea especially in guts that have been made susceptible by prior treatment with antibiotics that suppress the normal flora. C. diff is uncommon in the general population (about 3%) but likes to hang around hospitals where maybe 30% of patients are inhabited by this critter. Metronidazole and vancomycin have been used as treatments but the bug may become part of the normal flora and subject the person to repeat bouts of diarrhea.
Elimination of this bug from the environment is a challenge because it forms spores that are resistant to the usual alcohol antiseptics. Physical removal by good hand washing procedures is effective but who knows how to wash their hands? (Brevis can help!)
Incidentally, the rest the Clostridium family consists of a bunch of bad actors that cause such delightful conditions as botulism, tetanus, and gas gangrene, a particular scourge of Civil War battlefield injuries that led to early amputations of injured limbs. Seems Clostridium perfrinens and related bugs were in the guts of horses and horse were ubiquitous on the battlefield. (I once had an autopsy on a man who was kicked by a horse in his leg. In a matter of hours, doctors noticed crepitation around the wound. Within a couple more hours they had performed a hindquarter amputation – disarticulation of the hip – but it was not soon enough and in several more hours he was in the morgue. Several years later my wife and I did a 5 day backpack trip from north to south across the Uinta mountains. On the final day we were hiking down a rough trail that thad been heavily traveled and damaged by horse packers. I warned my wife to be careful and not fall. Which she promptly did. Her knee hit a rock producing a superficial abrasion that drew a little blood. When we got down to the town of Roosevelt, I insisted Lee go to the local hospital where I knew the doctor. Terry thought I was being a little melodramatic but the autopsy had definitely focused my attention.)
This new sign can be used for communicating precautions required for accessing rooms with allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) patients. Protective Environment Precautions are used to reduce exposure to environmental fungi (e.g., Aspergillus sp).
This sign is consistent in style and design with the Standard Precautions Signage series from Brevis. This sign is printed on quality card stock and is also available with Plastic Lamination for ultimate durability.
Teaching kids healthy habits is important. But how do you get them to pay attention to a dull topic such as how to wash their hands? With a little creativity, both learning about hand washing and implementing that knowledge can be fun for kids.
Make the Process a Game
Correctly washing hands is essential to be effective. There are five steps: #1 wet, #2 lather, #3 scrub, #4 rinse, and #5 dry. Making a game out of learning these steps helps kids wash the right way. A parent can stand near the sink as the child prepares to wash his hands and say “1.” The child responds with “wet” and takes the corresponding action. This process is repeated for the next four steps. Kids are both saying and doing the step, which reinforces what they are learning.
Lave and Learn
Older children can use the required 20 seconds for hand washing to practice learning other things. For instance it is the perfect opportunity for them to count to 20 in a foreign language they are learning. Cleanliness can be next to language fluency.
Use of warm, soapy water is suggested for hand washing. Demonstrate the difference between hot, cold, and warm at the sink. Ask a young child to be Goldilocks. She can say the appropriate phrase depending on the water temperature: “This water is too hot,” “This water is too cold,” or “This water is warm and just right for hand washing!”
Even English lessons can occur while hand washing. Challenge your child to list as many adjectives as he can to describe the soap he is using. How does it smell? What does it feel like? What color is it?
Engage brains while hands are washed. Have kids recite where they got the germs being washed off. While scrubbing they can say, “I’m washing the germs off I got from petting Fido.” “I’m washing the germs off from the garbage can I took out for Mom.” This exercise opens their eyes as to how and where germs can be picked
Check It Out
Soap is key for hand washing. Pump soap comes in various smells and colors. Let your child choose the soap to use. If her favorite color is pink, she might be fascinated with pink-tinged Himalayan salt soap.
Hand washing can spark an inquiring mind. Offer both hand sanitizer and pump soap for use in the bathroom. Ask your child to report her observations. How do they compare? Are the textures different? Does one make her hands feel cleaner?
Encourage your child’s creativity during hand washing. Have him pretend he is doing a commercial for soap while washing his hands. He can talk to the mirror about why he likes this particular soap and why others should buy it. Or challenge him to think up a cool new scent of soap he would like to use. Would kids scream to wash their hands with ice cream soap?
Children need to understand hand washing is not a “splash and dash” activity. Effective hand washing lasts at least 20 seconds. People often sing “Happy Birthday” while washing their hands since it takes 20 seconds to sing it. Challenge your child to compose his own song to sing while washing his hands. A personalized song makes the hand washing time fun for them.
The More the Merrier
Siblings can enjoy a group activity. Tell them they are participating in a consumer survey. Offer three different soaps. After they have tried each one, ask them to rate the soaps as #1, #2, and #3 in preference. Are the children’s rankings different?
Perhaps your child would have a blast washing his hands if he is a mad scientist testing out his creation. Seeing is believing so have your children apply GlitterBug Potion with invisible glowing marker before washing. After washing have them view their hands under a blacklight. See any residual glowing? If so those are the most likely trouble spots. Task children with making a record of how many glowing areas they can see. Are certain areas glowing more commonly? Did they follow the five steps carefully? Do certain techniques minimize the glowing?
Only your imagination limits the number of ways to engage kids in hand washing. Making the activity enjoyable encourages kids to participate and results in healthy, happy, hand washing children.
What’s the best way to keep from getting sick and making others sick? Washing your hands! If soap and water aren’t handy, you may reach for the next-best thing: hand sanitizer. These sanitizers contain active ingredients such as ethyl alcohol, ethanol or isopropanol designed to conquer those hard-to-kill bacteria and viruses that love to make you cough and sneeze.
Goodbye to Germs
When you squirt that hand sanitizer on your hands, rub vigorously. The friction will help get in the nooks and crannies of your hands. In these brief moments, the alcohol is attacking the bacteria’s outer casing or cell membrane. The bacteria cannot survive without its supportive walls, meaning you have cleaner, more germ-free hands.
Tips for Use
A catch exists for alcohol-based hand sanitizers: The sanitizers must contain enough alcohol to make an impact. Look for a hand sanitizer that has at least 60 percent alcohol. Otherwise, your hand sanitizer is a dud in terms of keeping your hands clean. To make matters worse, using a low-percentage hand sanitizer spreads germs around your hand, making them easier to spread, according to The New York Times.
You can tell you are using enough hand sanitizer by how fast the sanitizer evaporates. Once you apply the sanitizer to your hands, the product should take at least 15 seconds to evaporate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While effective, using hand sanitizers isn’t always the answer. Washing with soap and water is your best bet when your hands are visibly soiled. Hand sanitizers stop germs, but they don’t remove dirt, blood or stool. They also do not kill certain bacteria types, such as E.coli, a common bacteria present in raw or uncooked foods. When you’re cooking or have just gone to the bathroom, go with washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds over using alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
Hand sanitizers do have an advantage over handwashing in that they are easier to access. You may not have a sink handy, but you can keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer in your desk, car, pocket or purse. This convenience appeals to healthcare workers and others who are always pressed to save time.
Secondly, frequent warm water and soap usage can dry out and crack your hands. This effect attracts bacteria to your hands. Hand sanitizer manufacturers can incorporate moisturizers to reduce cracking while keeping your hands clean.
How To See If Your Hands Have Been Properly Sanitized
One great way to see if you have applied hand sanitizer properly is by using GlitterBug® Gel. This product is formulated to be very similar to popular hand sanitizers but it has a special ingredient that glows when illuminated by black light. Apply the GlitterBug Gel and rub it in as if it were regular hand sanitizer. Then examine your hands under black light from the Brevis GlowBarLED lamp. The GBX molded disclosure center is ideal for viewing the results because it shields out extraneous or ambient light thus enhancing perception. After using the GlitterBug Gel you should see the entirety of your hands glowing. Any dark areas that do not glow are areas that may not have been safely sanitized. Visual feedback to help improve technique and therefore safety.
As anyone who has suffered from it knows, catching the flu is a horrible experience. The fever, chills, aches, soreness, muscle pain and extreme fatigue that flu causes will keep the afflicted in bed for days. Besides being in pain and miserable, the sick person will have to miss days or weeks of work – their entire life will be put on hold. Worse, in extreme cases the illness can be fatal. While the vast majority of sufferers survive, every year hundreds of thousands die from the flu worldwide. Clearly, flu prevention is vitally important.
We all know that keeping hands clean helps keep us from getting sick, but how does handwashing actually work? Can we really get rid of all the germs on our hands? Is there a single best technique for handwashing? Do antibacterial soaps really work? Scientists have studied these questions, and some of the answers may be surprising.
What exactly are germs? Can handwashing really get rid of them?
Microbes, microscopic organisms, are everywhere, including on human skin. Many of the microbes on hands are single-celled bacteria. Many of the bacteria are always there, living harmless and unnoticed; these are called resident bacteria. Other bacteria are picked up from the environment; these are called transient bacteria. Transients can persist on skin for days to months, but can’t live there forever. They may include pathogens — disease causing organisms, or germs.
Handwashing can never completely remove resident bacteria; there may be 10,000 or more individual bacteria on each hand, and they are adept at sticking to skin and slithering down between the cracks in skin cells to avoid removal. Transient bacteria are present in fewer numbers and are not adapted to living on skin surfaces; they can be completely removed by handwashing. Therefore, the purpose of handwashing is not to make hands sterile; it is to get rid of any potential pathogens that have hitched a ride. However, handwashing technique can vary, and as we will see, some variables are more important than others in making sure pathogens have been removed.
Does it matter if the water is hot or cold?
Although germs aren’t likely to be destroyed by water temperatures we can tolerate, health experts have long recommended washing hands with warm or hot water. The reason is that warmer water should help dissolve oils and other substances coating skin, helping to wash away germs with them. Unfortunately, recent studies comparing the numbers of bacteria on hands washed with cold, warm, and hot water have shown no difference in the results — just as many bacteria remain no matter what water temperature is used. Since using hot water uses more energy and might irritate the skin if handwashing is frequent, cold water might be a better option.
What does soap actually do?
In general, soap doesn’t kill germs. In fact, populations of bacteria have been found thriving in liquid soap dispensers in public restrooms. Instead, the purpose of soap is to help remove contaminants and bacteria from the skin surface. There is an extra benefit as well; some studies have examined how thoroughly volunteers washed their hands with and without soap; the volunteers using soap did a much more thorough job. Using water alone will reduce the number of germs on hands, but using soap is more effective.
Should antibacterial soap be used? What about other sanitizers?
Although antibacterial soap is everywhere, there is no scientific evidence that it is any better at removing germs from hands than regular soap. There is also concern that triclosan, a common ingredient in antibacterial soap, could cause bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics.
For how long should hands be washed?
The length of handwashing depends on the circumstances; for example, very dirty hands or hands exposed to more pathogens need a longer period. In general, studies show that 20-30 seconds of handwashing is all it takes to remove most germs. To help time handwashing, you can hum the “Happy Birthday” song two times – this should take approximately 20 seconds.
Which areas get missed?
Worldwide, the same areas are missed again and again when hands are washed. Fingertips, cuticles, between the fingers, and the back of the hand, especially the thumb and ring finger, are areas which get the least attention; therefore, these are the areas where most germs remain.
GlitterBug is designed to disclose where hand washing can improve.
Research-based handwashing technique
In order for handwashing to work, proper technique is a must. Begin handwashing by wetting hands with warm or cool water. Apply soap and lather hands; remember commonly-missed areas such as around the nails, between the fingers, and the backs of the hands. Scrub hands together for at least 20 seconds (or two rounds of the “Happy Birthday” song) before thoroughly rinsing and drying.
As long as the proper technique is used, handwashing is an excellent way to reduce or eliminate transient bacteria, including disease-causing pathogens.