We’re All Carriers

In 1993, I took microbiology at Berea College, as part of the curriculum required for my B.S. in biology. So much has changed in technology since then.

Dr. Dawn Anderson’s lectures were interesting but labs were even more interesting. The hands-on approach increases one’s understanding in almost every science course.

A few weeks into the semester, we did streak plates. We plated for Staphylococcus and Streptococcus. Once the cultures grew, we were then to test which antibiotics worked most successfully on each strain.

For Staph, we used long Q-tip like swaps and swabbed the inside of our noses. Then, we took the tip and streaked it across a nutrient-filled agar plate and covered the petri dish. For Strep, we used a different swab and swabbed the backs of our throats and repeated the same procedure. We labeled the plates with our names and which bacteria contained inside. These were placed into an incubation chamber for us to check the following week during lab.

The following week, we were given our two plates. Both of my plates looked like cotton balls had been stuffed inside the dishes. Glancing around the room, I noticed that no one else’s plates looked anything like mine. Some had no growth on theirs at all.

I wondered if I’d done something wrong. Dr. Anderson walked around the lab glancing and inspecting plates while she gave directions for the next part of our assignment. When she reached me, she immediately took my Staph plate and held it up before the class, calling their attention by saying, “This is what a plate colony should look like.”

A few minutes later, she returned and did the same thing with my Strep plate, which was quite embarrassing, as it made me feel like I had the plague or something. Not only was this embarrassing, it greatly concerned me. Why had my micro populations exploded and no one else’s had?

After class dismissed, I stopped by her office and asked, “Why were my cultures so noticeable and no one else’s were? I seldom ever get sick or a sore throat. Shouldn’t I be sick all the time?”

“No,” she replied. “It simply means you have a strong immune system.”

She never gave a reason for why my cultures were so different than everyone else’s. I was a nontraditional student and seven years older than the others. Did that make a difference?”

While it’s true I seldom get sick, whenever my immune system gets compromised, it’s usually quite severe.

Only a few months before I re-enrolled at Berea College, I was required to take a MMR booster shot because of the measles outbreaks at colleges across the country. Had vaccines changed that much?

During the same semester, my wife-to-be and I began dating. Both of us got sore throats soon after. Nothing serious, and she told me that she often got strep throat. Since we’ve been together, we seldom suffer any sore throats at all.

In 1998, when we attended Morehead State University, our five-year-old son got a severe sore throat. My wife was taking microbiology, so she took our son to her professor and had his throat swabbed. Dr. Garner plated the cultures and found that our son had both alpha and beta strains of strep, which might explain why she and I had gotten sore throats when we first began dating. Perhaps she had one strain and I had the other, but now, our son had both and possibly we do, too.

With what’s going on in our current ‘pandemic’, little is discussed about every person’s norma flora. Norma flora is the bacteria that lives inside you and on your skin. They’ve set up colonies on all of us. Strange as it may sound, they actually fight to protect you from foreign bacteria. After all, it’s their home, too, and they don’t like intruders. They have territories where they thrive and it’s when they move out of their territories that they become a threat and possibly dangerous to you.

Hand sanitizer is a great precaution but sometimes, it’s an overkill. You’re also killing off beneficial bacteria of your norma flora. Overuse of antibiotics via injections, pills, and other means has–over time–helped create super bacteria like MRSA. MRSA is badass and resistant to most antibiotics because it has evolved to survive. These superbugs have gotten stronger. You see, that’s what your immune system should be doing. It should be getting stronger.

The more inactive people become, the more overweight people become, and the less time you access fresh air and sunlight, the weaker your immune system becomes. We all need exercise to lessen tension, strengthen our muscles and minds, and we need to socialize. Fear and worry weaken our immune systems. Stop watching all the negative news. Anchors and politicians aren’t scientists with your best interests at heart. Research. Live life. Better yourselves.

I leave you with this video of George Carlin’s Germs (NSFW explicit language) https://youtu.be/X29lF43mUlo

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