Bacteria — The Invisible Enemy

You have daydreamed of that long awaited vacation for a long time.  Through 40+ hour weeks for the last five years, you have scrimped and saved.  The first thing you see when you open your locker at work is that calendar from 2012 that has that image of foreign beaches, beautiful crystal sands, and a hammock hung between 2 giant palm trees.  Now, finally, your bags are packed, the tickets are in your hand, and nothing can get in the way of your enjoyment of that long-awaited and much-deserved vacation to ____________ (fill in the blank).

You have researched the best places to eat, the most amazing things to do, and have prepared for everything that might happen.  Your suitcase contains sunblock and a hat to help protect your skin, vitamins to fill any voids that might be created by the diet change, those handy little pills for motion sickness, and of course that book that you have been telling yourself you would read as soon as you got a break.

Yet with all of this preparation, Novartis Consumer Health states that as many as 65% of vacationing travelers will become ill while on vacation (1998).  With 2 out of 3 people falling prey to Moctezuma’s Revenge or something equally heinous, what is an intrepid adventurer to do to make certain they are in the healthy, happy, 35% of vacationers who are able to take mass quantities of “wish you were here” selfies while swimming with dolphins?

The origin of this problem, unfortunately, is hard to find.  In fact, it is invisible to the naked eye, and this invisible enemy lurks everywhere!  Not quite the vacation that you envisioned is it?  Being attacked by invisible creatures while you are sipping umbrella decorated coconut beverages!  But what are these invisible enemies?  Is there a magic or science that can make them visible so they can be fought and taken out before they ruin your first vacation in years?   While there is a way to see them, it probably won’t be found beach-side.  With a little care, however, these invisible enemies won’t even get a chance to come between you and your adventures.

These invisible enemies are bacteria.  Christian Nordqvist of MNT states that there are about a million of these tiny microscopic creatures in a single milliliter of fresh water.  Well if this is true, then the locals should be totally worn out from the constant fighting off of these nasty bacteria, right?  That would be true if it were not for the vagaries of evolution, and the national pride of bacteria.

The National Pride of Bacteria

That’s right, bacteria has national pride and therefore varies from country to country.  A recent study from YaleNews shows that not only the kind of bacteria varies according to where you live, but so does the quantity of the bacteria.  Using a simple test that compared the living bacteria on the hands of 44 women, 29 in Australia, and 15 in America, the results showed that not only were the types of bacteria different, but that the Australian women, due to cultural and lifestyle differences carried almost 11 times the number of bacteria per square centimeter, 386,753 bacteria, than their American counterparts with only 34,982 bacteria.  Conversely, the American women carried almost half again as many types of bacteria with a ratio of 1,240 different types of bacteria for the Americans and 880 for their Australian counterparts (Gershon, 2014).  That is a lot of invisible enemies!

In truth, Australians with their 11 times as many bacteria per square centimeter are no more likely than the average American to get ill, so why does a simple trip to another country cause 2 out of 3 people to fall prey to illness?  The simple answer is…They are not your bacteria!

Over time, your body acclimates to the invisible bacteria that populate where you live, work, and play.  They live in your system, proliferate, occasionally take a vacation themselves to your neighbor’s world, and for the most part, you never feel the effects of your own personal invisible bacteria.  You develop immunity to them, and we all know what doesn’t destroy you makes you stronger.

How can I protect myself from getting sick?

You grab a drink at that cute little cabana, and your body comes into contact with an unknown enemy.  It is probably an enemy your body has never seen before, never fought, never overcome.  This enemy and a million of its closest friends are hiding in a single drop of water that is waiting in the bright sunshine on a sandy beach in Vacationville.  However, you can help yourself not become one of those 2 out of 3 people who spend what should be the best times of their lives huddled in a hotel room praying for relief.  Simply don’t drink the local water!  While hard to do in a hot climate, request your drinks be served without ice.  Instead, splurge on Perrier….You are worth it!

References:

Gershon, E. (2014). Bacteria On Your Hands Reflect The Country You Live In. YaleNews. Retrieved from http://news.yale.edu/2014/05/11/bacteria-your-hands-reflect-country-you-live 

Nordvqist, C. (2016). What Is Bacteria? What Are Bacteria? Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/157973.php

Novartis Consumer Health. (1998). National Travel Survey Reveals that 63% of Travelers Get Sick on Vacation and Spend More Than $1,200 Per Trip.  Retrieved from http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/national-travel-survey-reveals-that-63-of-travelers-get-sick-on-vacation-and-spend-more-than-1200-per-trip-77944712.html