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Good Germs, Bad Germs

Any woman who has ever done battle with a urinary tract infection will vouch for the notion that the human body can harbor both good germs and bad germs. Bad bacteria in the bladder can turn life into a series of miserable trips to the bathroom. But at the same time, good bacteria can keep yeast that lives harmlessly in the vagina in check. Unfortunately, antibiotics don’t discriminate, so women who take these bacteria-killing drugs often trade a bladder infection for a nasty yeast infection.

As raw as that deal sounds, it may be the least of our problems when it comes to the downside of the battle against disease-causing germs. In our fervor to stamp out infectious disease, we may be creating new health threats by tampering with the microbe-laden ecosystems in our bodies and in our environment. So says science writer Gary Hamilton in the British environmental journal The Ecologist Report (June 2001).

“Our sense of germs is highly biased,” he writes. “We see how they make us sick but not how they keep us healthy. We view infection as synonymous with disease when it’s not—if it were, we’d all be dead. Thus, in fighting a no-holds-barred war on germs, we may be making a big mistake.”

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