It’s only a week into the year and germs are already a hot topic! The rapid rise of the flu has been the most prominent headline.  But I’ve been talking about several other issues from the impact microbes have on the mind to advancing the need for alternatives to antibiotics in agriculture.

Let’s just say it’s been a wild start to 2015 and it is only going to get crazier…and busier.

With that being said, I don’t want to let this blog go by the wayside as it did in 2014 (and again, I apologize).  As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve invited a few colleagues to share with me some of their experiences with the germy world. I’m hoping their personal perspectives will bring a different light to the subject.

It’s all part of the sciPOP experiments. I think these different viewpoints will widen the scope of our relationship with germs beyond the microbiological and immunological.

First up…Nathalie Earl.  She is one of my closest friends and confidantes and has been since my days in high school. She is a herpetologist and an expert in the lab with her own publication record. She’s also an amazing mother of two wonderful kids and will be my mentor when I take the reproductive plunge.


For the record, one of her nicknames is Kermit
(how appropriate)

A few weeks ago, she told me a story about something she saw while having a cup of coffee. It was such a fascinating story I asked her to write it here.  I’m sure you will find it as intriguing as I did.

I’m hoping Nathalie will become a regular to this blog as I find I always learn when I talk with her.  Hope you can help me welcome her with your comments.

So, without further ado…Nathalie Earl.


So germs are a hot topic…we live with them everyday and many of us read the Germ Guy’s Blog about them. Yet we don’t go to the coffee shop to talk about them; well unless you are a group of microbiologists (and yes, Jason has…many times!) For the rest of us, I know what you are probably thinking…germs in the coffee shop?

Well YES! However; not most likely what you are thinking.

It was a first for me – I love people watching and how we interact with one another.  So when I saw the little baby,  I was like most people …Oh! What a cute baby, then I saw IT – a luggage tag hanging from the handle of the car seat, just above the baby, it read:

I am a PREMI and your
GERMS are too BIG for me!

My first reaction; Jason would love this! Then I contemplated the message.  This baby’s parents were trying to prevent unwanted physical contact with their baby and had found a way for him/her to let people know that is was NOT OK to touch.

baby-501630_640Interesting, right?

That being said, why should we Joe Q Public care?  What would lead this parent to put up this message?

Well, premature babies have an underdeveloped immune system, that’s why.

The quick and dirty explanation is that premature babies have not come to full term. That means they have not produced enough white blood cells or antibodies to be around other people. If they do, their immune system cannot fight off germs that could cause infections. So, whether it is an adult or another full term infant, distance is needed, even if no one appears to be sick.

So, we know premies are off limits.  But a coffee shop can be chock full of germs. So, how do we ensure we don’t spread infections to others especially during cold and flu season? People like The Germ Guy, are on the radio/TV/or internet telling us to wash our hands as often a possible.  With these reminders we have adapted our greetings to not involve contact or if contact is required the “fist bump” as an acceptable alternative.  When a handshake is required it is more often (then not) followed by the clicking sound of the cap on our personal bottles of hand sanitizer.  Besides, the smell of coffee and alcohol sanitizer can be somewhat relaxing – having been around Jason, I know this for certain!

Okay, many would say that we require exposure to germs to help strengthen our immune system.  I do agree on the condition people have a strong enough immune system.  Thus this only applies to adults and children older than 6 months.  In this way, we can have a properly functional immune system and enjoy or endure exposure to many germs over our life time.  But if you are a premi, forget about it.

So what do you think?  Were the parents over protective with the sign? Should the baby have stayed at home until he/she had a stronger immune system?  What about when we go to the coffee shop alone? Do you ever worry about what germs are carried to the coffee shop? Or are you too busy getting caffeinated to be curious about the consequences?

As Jason always says, I’d love to know your answers and thoughts…