How Do Indoor Microbiomes Affect Human Health?

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The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine are conducting a study of microbial communities inside buildings and how they affect human health. The report is expected to be published later this year.

Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson talks with Jordan Peccia (@jordan_peccia), a professor of chemical and environmental engineering at Yale University and one of the scientists involved in the research.

Interview Highlights

On what's around us when we go into a building

"It doesn't matter whether the building is sealed off or not, but what is around you is microorganisms. Probably the largest types of microorganisms, or the major sources, is you yourself, or some other person that's been in the building. If the building is sealed off, there's probably more around you than if it's not sealed off.

"Some are harmful to you, and some may be beneficial to you... The harmful ones are the ones that we know about, so for instance, it could be influenza, it could be norovirus from somebody who was sick and in a waiting room before you. Some of the beneficial ones could be certain microorganisms that came off of your pets that have been shown to have some effect in reducing the risk in developing childhood asthma."

"One of the points of our reports is that, maybe we shouldn't be thinking about sterilizing every surface that's around us."

Jordan Peccia

On protecting yourself against "bad" microbes

"There's all the recommendations that are made by the Centers for Disease Control — there's washing your hands, there's keeping surfaces clean, there's covering your mouth when you sneeze. But one of the points of our reports is that, maybe we shouldn't be thinking about sterilizing every surface that's around us. That our immune systems, especially the immune systems of our children, need to develop, and they need microbial exposures. Since we spend at least 90 percent of our time in houses and other buildings and in our cars, we're gonna have to get those exposures in buildings."

On the benefits of being able to open windows at work

"I certainly know that, in the last two months, I've moved from a building where I could open the windows to one where I cannot, and you feel trapped. There is certainly clear epidemiology that shows that if you ventilate your home more, or if you have more outdoor air ventilation — even in an office building — that you'll have fewer health effects than if you have a low-ventilated building."

This segment aired on January 30, 2017.



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