January 22, 2016

POGNOPHILIA:

Are beards good for your health? (BBC Magazine, 20 January 2016)

In this study, published in the Journal of Hospital Infection, they swabbed the faces of 408 hospital staff with and without facial hair.

They had good reasons for doing so. We know that hospital-acquired infections are a major cause of disease and death in hospitals, with many patients acquiring an infection they didn't have when they went in. Hands, white coats, ties and equipment have all been blamed, but what about beards?

Well, the researchers were surprised to find that it was the clean-shaven staff, and not the beardies, who were more likely to be carrying something unpleasant on their faces.

The beardless group were more than three times as likely to be harbouring a species known as methicillin-resistant staph aureus on their freshly shaven cheeks. MRSA is a particularly common and troublesome source of hospital-acquired infections because it is resistant to so many of our current antibiotics.

So what's going on? The researchers suggested that shaving might cause micro-abrasions in the skin "which may support bacterial colonisation and proliferation".

Perhaps. But there was another more plausible explanation staring them in the face. That beards fight infection.

Unlikely? Well, driven by curiosity we recently swabbed the beards of a random assortment of men and sent them off to Dr Adam Roberts, a microbiologist based at University College London, to see what, if anything, he could grow.

Adam managed to grow over 100 different bacteria from our beards, including one that is more commonly found in the small intestine. But, as he quickly explains, that doesn't mean it came from faeces. Such findings are normal and nothing to worry about.

Far more interesting, in a few of the petri dishes he noticed that something was clearly killing the other bacteria. The most obvious suspect was a fellow microbe.

Posted by at January 22, 2016 8:05 PM

  

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