Before Ian, 2022 Was a “Quiet” Year for Hurricanes

Before hurricane Ian, the NYT was reporting that this was a quiet year for hurricanes. Now, after Ian, some environmentalists are saying that Ian is evidence that global warming is causing hurricanes to increase in number and severity. This in the name of “science”?

(p. A14) It has been a hurricane season without hurricanes.

. . .

Last month was the first August in 25 years without a named storm in the Atlantic Ocean. No hurricanes have made landfall this year in the United States.

For the full story, see:

Rick Rojas. “Quiet Year for Hurricanes Is Bringing Little Comfort Along Louisiana’s Coast.” The New York Times (Tuesday, September 6, 2022): A14.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version has the date Sept. 5, 2022, and has the title “On the Gulf Coast, a Quiet Hurricane Season (So Far!) Brings Little Relief.”)

Trang Almost Did Not Perform Simple Experiment Because “People Would Have Known This Already”

(p. D3) A team of scientists has found a cheap, effective way to destroy so-called forever chemicals, a group of compounds that pose a global threat to human health.

The chemicals — known as PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — are found in a spectrum of products and contaminate water and soil around the world. Left on their own, they are remarkably durable, remaining dangerous for generations.

Scientists have been searching for ways to destroy them for years. In a study, published Thursday [Aug. 18, 2022] in the journal Science, a team of researchers rendered PFAS molecules harmless by mixing them with two inexpensive compounds at a low boil. In a matter of hours, the PFAS molecules fell apart.

. . .

At the end of a PFAS molecule’s carbon-fluorine chain, it is capped by a cluster of other atoms. Many types of PFAS molecules have heads made of a carbon atom connected to a pair of oxygen atoms, for example.

Dr. Dichtel came across a study in which chemists at the University of Alberta found an easy way to pry carbon-oxygen heads off other chains. He suggested to his graduate student, Brittany Trang, that she give it a try on PFAS molecules.

Dr. Trang was skeptical. She had tried to pry off carbon-oxygen heads from PFAS molecules for months without any luck. According to the Alberta recipe, all she’d need to do was mix PFAS with a common solvent called dimethyl sulfoxide, or DMSO, and bring it to a boil.

“I didn’t want to try it initially because I thought it was too simple,” Dr. Trang said. “If this happens, people would have known this already.”

An older grad student advised her to give it a shot. To her surprise, the carbon-oxygen head fell off.

It appears that DMSO makes the head fragile by altering the electric field around the PFAS molecule, and without the head, the bonds between the carbon atoms and the fluorine atoms become weak as well. “This oddly simple method worked,” said Dr. Trang, who finished her Ph.D. last month and is now a journalist.

For the full commentary see:

Carl Zimmer. “MATTER; Fighting Forever Chemicals With Chemicals.” The New York Times (Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022): D3.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date August 18, 2022, and has the title “MATTER; Forever Chemicals No More? PFAS Are Destroyed With New Technique.”)

The research summarized in the passages quoted above was published in:

Trang, Brittany, Yuli Li, Xiao-Song Xue, Mohamed Ateia, K. N. Houk, and William R. Dichtel. “Low-Temperature Mineralization of Perfluorocarboxylic Acids.” Science 377, no. 6608 (Aug. 18, 2022): 839-45.

Costs of Covid Lockdowns and Mask Mandates Exceeded Benefits

(p. A15) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention belatedly admitted failure this week. “For 75 years, CDC and public health have been preparing for Covid-19, and in our big moment, our performance did not reliably meet expectations,” Director Rochelle Walensky said. She vowed to establish an “action-oriented culture.”

. . .

U.S. states with more-restrictive policies fared no better, on average, than states with less-restrictive policies. There’s still no convincing evidence that masks provided any significant benefits. When case rates throughout the pandemic are plotted on a graph, the trajectory in states with mask mandates is virtually identical to the trajectory in states without mandates. (The states without mandates actually had slightly fewer Covid deaths per capita.) International comparisons yield similar results. A Johns Hopkins University meta-analysis of studies around the world concluded that lockdown and mask restrictions have had “little to no effect on COVID-19 mortality.”

. . .

In 2006 he and colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh considered an array of proposed measures to deal with a virus as deadly as the 1918 Spanish flu.

Should schools be closed? Should everyone wear face masks in public places? Should those exposed to an infection be required to quarantine at home? Should public-health officials rely on computer models of viral spread to impose strict limitations on people’s movements? In each case, the answer was no, because there was no evidence these measures would make a significant difference.

“Experience has shown,” Henderson’s team concluded, “that communities faced with epidemics or other adverse events respond best and with the least anxiety when the normal social functioning of the community is least disrupted.” The researchers specifically advised leaders not to be guided by computer models, because no model could reliably predict the effects of the measures or take into account the “devastating” collateral damage. If leaders overreacted and panicked the public, “a manageable epidemic could move toward catastrophe.”

This advice was subsequently heeded in the pre-Covid pandemic plans prepared by the CDC and other public-health agencies. The WHO’s review of the scientific literature concluded that there was “no evidence” that universal masking “is effective in reducing transmission.” The CDC’s pre-2020 planning scenarios didn’t recommend universal masking or extended school and business closures even during a pandemic as severe as the 1918 Spanish flu.

For the full commentary see:

John Tierney. “Fauci and Walensky Double Down on Failure.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Aug. 19, 2022): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date August 18, 2022, and has the title “Fauci and Walensky Double Down on Failed Covid Response.”)

Though Visible, Not Everyone Saw the Unexpected Buckyball

(p. A24) Robert F. Curl Jr., who shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry as one of the discoverers of remarkably simple but completely unexpected carbon molecules known as buckyballs, died on July 3 at a retirement home in Houston. He was 88.

His death was announced by Rice University, where Dr. Curl was a professor emeritus of chemistry.

Buckyballs, with their round, hollow structure, upended chemists’ notions of what was possible for the shapes of molecules. A flood of scientists started studying them, spurring the nascent field of nanotechnology and dreams of building molecule-size machines.

. . .

The finding was serendipitous, because they had been looking for something else.

“You could argue it wasn’t any of our areas of interest,” James R. Heath, a graduate student of Dr. Smalley’s who performed many of the buckyball experiments, said in an interview.

. . .

For the experiment, Dr. Kroto was interested in molecules containing long chains of carbon that had been observed in interstellar space. He hypothesized that the long-chain molecules were created in the atmospheres of carbon-rich red giant stars.

. . .

At a science conference in 1984, Dr. Kroto ran into Dr. Curl, an old friend. Dr. Curl told him about an apparatus of Dr. Smalley’s that used a laser to create an intensely hot vapor that coalesced into clusters. Dr. Kroto realized that this apparatus could create conditions similar to those in the atmosphere of a red giant.

. . .

. . . Dr. Smalley finally agreed to try it, and the three professors, along with Dr. Heath and two graduate students, started their work.

They indeed discovered the long carbon chains that Dr. Kroto had wanted to find.

They also found something else — the buckyballs.

Dr. Heath said Dr. Curl provided a healthy dose of skepticism during the 11-day whirlwind of discovery.

“All of us were like excitable kids,” Dr. Heath said. “And Bob was like the adult in the room. And he would come up with reasons that we had to go back and test and make sure that this was right or that was correct. We all viewed Bob not like he was a devil’s advocate — more like he was an insurance policy. If Bob agreed with you, you were probably right.”

It turned out that the Exxon experiments had also created small numbers of buckyballs, but those researchers had overlooked them in their data. At Rice, the scientists realized what they had found.

For the full obituary see:

Kenneth Chang. “Robert F. Curl Jr., 88, Nobel Prize Winner in Chemistry.” The New York Times (Thursday, July 21, 2022): A24.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date July 20, 2022, and has the title “Robert F. Curl Jr., Nobel Prize Winner in Chemistry, Dies at 88.”

Well-Financed Fusion Startup Claims to Be a Year Away From Energy Break-Even Point

(p. B4) Zap Energy, a fusion energy start-up working on a low-cost path to producing electricity commercially, said last week that it had taken an important step toward testing a system its researchers believe will eventually produce more electricity than it consumes.

. . .

While many competing efforts use powerful magnets or bursts of laser light to compress a plasma in order to initiate a fusion reaction, Zap is pursuing an approach pioneered by physicists at the University of Washington and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

It relies on a shaped plasma gas — an energized cloud of particles that is often described as a fourth state of matter — that is compressed by a magnetic field generated by an electrical current as it flows through a two-meter vacuum tube. The technique is known as “sheared flow Z-pinch.”

. . .

Advances in stabilizing the magnetic field that is generated by the flowing plasma made by physicists at the University of Washington led the group to establish Zap Energy in 2017. The company has raised more than $200 million, including a series of investments from Chevron.

Recent technical advances in fusion fuels and in advanced magnets have led to a sharp increase in private investment, according to the Fusion Industry Association. There are 35 fusion companies globally, and private funding has risen above $4 billion, including from well-known technology investors like Sam Altman, Jeff Bezos, John Doerr, Bill Gates and Chris Sacca. Mr. Gates and Mr. Sacca invested in Zap’s most recent funding round.

. . .

The Zap Energy physicists and executives said in interviews last week that they believed they were within a year of proving that their approach was capable of reaching the long-sought-after energy break-even point.

If they do, they will have succeeded where an array of research efforts — going back to the middle of the last century — have failed.

The Zap Energy physicists said they had made the case for the “scaling” power of their approach to produce a steep increase in neutrons in a series of peer-reviewed technical papers that documented computer-generated simulations they would soon begin to test.

For the full story, see:

John Markoff. “A Seattle Start-Up Claims a Big Step For Fusion Energy.” The New York Times (Thursday, June 23, 2022): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 22, 2022, and has the title “A Big Step Toward Fusion Energy Is Hailed by a Seattle Start-Up.”)

“Quiet, Unassuming” Dr. Zelenko Got Twitter Suspension and Death Threats for Speaking on Hydroxychloroquine

Dr. Zelenko was stricken with a rare form of lung cancer in 2018, shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic. I wonder if that increased his personal sense of urgency to find a cure for Covid-19?

(p. A21) Vladimir Zelenko, a self-described “simple country doctor” from upstate New York who rocketed to prominence in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic when his controversial treatment for the coronavirus gained White House support, died on Thursday in Dallas. He was 48.

. . .

Like many health care providers, he scrambled when the coronavirus began to appear in his community. Within weeks he had landed on what he insisted was an effective cure: a three-drug cocktail of the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine, the antibiotic azithromycin and zinc sulfate.

. . .

“At the time, it was a brand-new finding, and I viewed it like a commander in the battlefield,” Dr. Zelenko told The New York Times. “I realized I needed to speak to the five-star general.”

On March 28, [2020] the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency authorization to doctors to prescribe hydroxychloroquine and another antimalarial drug, chloroquine, to treat Covid. Mr. Trump called the treatment “very effective” and possibly “the biggest game changer in the history of medicine.”

But, as fellow medical professionals began to point out, Dr. Zelenko had only his own anecdotal evidence to support his case, and what little research had been done painted a mixed picture.

Still, he became something of a folk hero on the right, someone who offered not just hope amid the pandemic but also an alternative to the medical establishment and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who insisted that months of research would be needed to find an effective treatment.

. . .

A quiet, unassuming man, Dr. Zelenko seemed unprepared for the attention he received, which included harassing phone calls and even death threats. In May 2020, a federal prosecutor opened an investigation into whether he had falsely claimed F.D.A. approval for his research.

. . .

After the F.D.A. rescinded its approval of hydroxychloroquine as a Covid treatment, he founded a company, Zelenko Labs, to promote other nonconventional treatments for the disease, including vitamins and quercetin, an anti-inflammatory drug.

And while he claimed to be apolitical, he embraced the image of a victim of the establishment. He founded a nonprofit, the Zelenko Freedom Foundation, to press his case. In December 2020, Twitter suspended his account, stating that it had violated standards prohibiting “platform manipulation and spam.”

. . .

In a memoir, “Metamorphosis” (2018), Dr. Zelenko wrote that he grew up nonreligious and entered Hofstra University as an avowed atheist.

“I enjoyed debating with people and proving to them that G-d did not exist,” he wrote. “I studied philosophy and was drawn to nihilistic thinkers such as Sartre and Nietzsche.”

But after a trip to Israel, he began to change his mind. He gravitated toward Orthodox Judaism, and in particular the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

He graduated from Hofstra in 1995 with a degree in chemistry, and he received his medical degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 2000.

. . .

In 2018, doctors found a rare form of cancer in his chest and, in hopes of treating it, removed his right lung.

For the full obituary see:

Clay Risen. “Vladimir Zelenko, 48, ‘Country Doctor’ Who Pushed Unfounded Covid Remedy.” The New York Times (Saturday, July 2, 2022): A21.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date July 1, 2022 and has the title “Vladimir Zelenko, 48, Dies; Promoted an Unfounded Covid Treatment.”)

Dr. Zelenko’s pre-Covid-19 memoir is:

Zelenko, Vladmir. Metamorphosis. Lakewood, NJ: Israel Bookshop Publications, 2019.

A highly credentialed Yale academic presented evidence of the promise of hydroxychloroquine for early outpatient treatment in:

Risch, Harvey A. “Early Outpatient Treatment of Symptomatic, High-Risk Covid-19 Patients That Should Be Ramped-up Immediately as Key to the Pandemic Crisis.” American Journal of Epidemiology 189, no. 11 (Nov. 2020): 1218–26.

Adapting to Climate Change, Bird Species Send Out Explorers to “Scout New Habitats”

(p. B1) From what we can tell, the Steller’s sea eagle trekking across North America does not appear homesick.

The bird has strayed thousands of miles from its native range in East Asia over the last two years, roving from the Denali Highway in Alaska down to a potential sighting South Texas before moving eastward and back north to Canada and New England. Its cartoonish yellow beak and distinctive wing coloration recently attracted crowds of rapt birders to Maine before turning up on April Fools’ Day in Nova Scotia.

“We live in a world of very little surprise,” said Nick Lund, the outreach manager for Maine Audubon and creator of The Birdist blog. Catching a glimpse of a far-flung bird in one’s backyard, he said, “is like the purest form of joy.”

But the rogue Steller’s sea eagle isn’t just a lost bird: It is an avian vagrant, a term that describes birds that wing their way well beyond their species’s normal range of movement.

Humans have long marveled at such exotic stragglers — which experts also refer to as waifs, rarities, extralimitals, casuals and accidentals — and what they suggest about the biological importance of wandering. “The ‘accidentals’ are the exceptional individuals that go farthest away from the metropolis of the species; they do not belong to (p. D4) the ordinary mob,” Joseph Grinnell, a field biologist in California, noted in 1922. “They constitute sort of sensitive tentacles, by which the species keeps aware of the possibilities of aerial expansion.”

. . .

A new book, “Vagrancy in Birds,” extends this century-old notion — arguing that vagrancy does not always represent a tale of navigational avian misfortune, but can be one of the first visible signs of bird species adapting to human-driven alterations to Earth’s waters, lands and skies.

“We’re destroying and creating habitats,” said Alexander Lees, a co-author of the book and a senior biodiversity lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University in England. “We’d expect wildlife to adapt to that.”

. . .

“We think of ranges as stable in space and time. But ranges are incredibly dynamic and they can change,” Dr. Lees, of Manchester Metropolitan University, said.

Vagrancy, the scientists argue, might help species chart an escape route from human-driven climate change and widespread habitat destruction. Instead of staying put and facing potential extinction, a few solitary pioneers can scout new habitats as their former homes become unlivable.

The critically endangered Chinese crested tern, for example, was presumed to be extinct after last being spotted in 1937. Then, in 2000, and again a few years later, biologists rediscovered the species at sites in China and Taiwan where it hadn’t bred before. In 2016, scientists found two nesting Chinese crested tern pairs incubating eggs on an uninhabited island in South Korea. Its tiny surviving population — only about 50 birds — is still threatened by egg-poaching humans and nest-destroying typhoons. But as one conservation officer noted in 2017, the Korean nesting site “means the future of this species looks more promising now.”

. . .

“There’s this historical narrative around vagrants that they have to be lost. They have to be aberrant. There’s something wrong with them,” Dr. Zawadzki said.

But faced with climate change, she said, the opposite might prove true: The ability to explore — or, seen another way, the opportunity to “get lost” — becomes a huge advantage.

“They’re more likely to survive,” she said.

For the full story, see:

Marion Renault. “They’re Not Lost. They’re Adapting.” The New York Times (Tuesday, April 12, 2022): D1.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 12, 2022, and has the title “These Birds Aren’t Lost. They’re Adapting.”)

The book mentioned above is:

Lees, Alexander, and James Gilroy. Vagrancy in Birds. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2022.

Discoverer of Catalyst Role of mRNA Had Trouble “Getting His Work Published”

(p. B12) Sidney Altman, a molecular biologist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for sharing in the discovery that ribonucleic acid, or RNA, was not just a carrier of genetic information but could also be a catalyst for chemical reactions in cells — a breakthrough that paved the way for new gene therapies and treatments for viral infections — died on April 5 [2022] in Rockleigh, N.J.

. . .

HAs seems to happen so often in science, Dr. Altman stumbled upon his discovery. “I wasn’t looking for what I found,” he said in a 2010 interview with Harry Kreisler at the Institute for International Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

He had studied how a small RNA molecule, called transfer RNA, carries genetic code to make new proteins. Some of the code is not necessary, so an enzyme cuts it out before it is used.

Then, in 1978, Dr. Altman began studying an RNA-cutting enzyme from E. coli bacteria that was composed of an RNA molecule and a protein. He managed to separate the two pieces and test them to see how they reacted in the enzyme process. Much to his surprise, he discovered that the protein did not perform as an enzyme without the RNA molecule. He later discovered that the RNA molecule could be the catalyst, even without the protein.

The finding ran completely contrary to what at the time was established theory, which held that it was the proteins that were the catalysts in enzymes.

The discovery of what are now known as ribozymes was so radical that Dr. Altman had trouble getting it accepted.

Joel Rosenbaum, a professor of cell biology at Yale and a colleague of Dr. Altman’s, told Chemistry World magazine that when Dr. Altman first tried to get other scientists to accept his research, “the community of molecular biologists, including several at Yale working on RNA, did not want to believe the work.”

“He had a hard time obtaining invitations to speak at scientific meetings and, indeed, getting his work published,” Dr. Rosenbaum said.

For the full obituary, see:

Dylan Loeb McClain. “Sidney Altman, Who Stumbled on a Breakthrough in Genetics, Dies at 82.” The New York Times (Saturday, April 16, 2022): B12.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated April 18, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

CAR T Therapy Is a Durable “Cure” for Some Leukemia Cancers

(p. A17) Doug Olson was feeling kind of tired in 1996. When a doctor examined him she frowned. “I don’t like the feel of those lymph nodes,” she said, poking his neck. She ordered a biopsy. The result was terrifying. He had chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a blood cancer that mostly strikes older people and accounts for about a quarter of new cases of leukemia.

“Oh Lordy,” Mr. Olson said. “I thought I was done for.” He was only 49 and, he said, had always been healthy.

Six years went by without the cancer progressing. Then it started to grow. He had four rounds of chemotherapy but the cancer kept coming back. He had reached pretty much the end of the line when his oncologist, Dr. David Porter at the University of Pennsylvania, offered him a chance to be among the very first patients to try something unprecedented, known as CAR T cell therapy.

In 2010, he became the second of three patients to get the new treatment.

At the time, the idea for this sort of therapy “was way out there,” said Dr. Carl June, the principal investigator for the trial at Penn, and he had tempered his own expectations that the cells he was providing to Mr. Olson as therapy would survive.

“We thought they would be gone in a month or two,” Dr. June said.

Now, a decade later, he reports that his expectations were completely confounded. In a paper published Wednesday in Nature, Dr. June and his colleagues, Dr. J. Joseph Melenhorst and Dr. Porter, report that the CAR T treatment made the cancer vanish in two out of the three patients in that early trial. All had chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The big surprise, though, was that even though the cancer seemed to be long gone, the CAR T cells remained in the patients’ bloodstreams, circulating as sentinels.

“Now we can finally say the word ‘cure’ with CAR T cells,” Dr. June said.

Although most patients will not do as well, the results hold out hope that, for some, their cancer will be vanquished.

For the full story, see:

Gina Kolata. “Potential Leukemia Cure Leads to New Mysteries.” The New York Times (Thursday, February 3, 2022): A17.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 2, 2022, and has the title “A Cancer Treatment Makes Leukemia Vanish, but Creates More Mysteries.”)

Modern Medical Consensus Supports Thousands of Years of Indian Ayurvedic Tradition of Nasal Rinsing

(p. D6) To the uninitiated, the neti pot may seem like yet another wellness trend. After all, the teapot-like vessel was popularized in the United States by the celebrity surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz, who called it a “nose bidet” on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and has been criticized for promoting unproven supplements and health products.

Rinsing warm saltwater through your nose — in one nostril and out the other — as an antidote for a variety of woes like sinus inflammation, congestion and allergies may seem strange and possibly scary;  . . .

But according to ear, nose and throat doctors, nasal rinsing, which traces back thousands of years to the Ayurvedic medical traditions of India, is an unusual example of a practice that is at once ancient, trendy and evidence-based. And, it’s safe and inexpensive to boot.

It has a “very, very high level of evidence, randomized controlled trial evidence, that shows that it does work and it does help,” said Dr. Zara Patel, an associate professor of otolaryngology at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Here’s what we know.

. . .

In 2021, an international team of experts published a consensus on how best to manage common sinus issues, like chronic inflammation of the nasal and sinus passages that can cause runny nose, congestion, impaired sense of smell and facial pressure or pain. They concluded, based on the best yet limited evidence, that regular rinsing with saltwater was one of the treatments most proven to be effective.

Other small studies have suggested that saltwater rinses can help with seasonal or environmental allergy symptoms like congestion, runny nose, itching and sneezing.

And there is some evidence that rinsing can help soothe symptoms of acute upper respiratory infections, like those caused by common cold or flu viruses, though there is less research on this use. One of the largest studies to date, published in 2008, was conducted on about 400 children aged 6 to 10 with colds or flus in the Czech Republic. Among the children who used saltwater rinses several times per day, their symptoms resolved more quickly and they were less likely to use fever medications, decongestants or antibiotics, or to have to miss school, than the children who didn’t rinse.

Dr. Patel, who practices in California, said that rinsing can also help clear fine particles from wildfire smoke, which can be irritating.

Though the evidence that rinsing helps with these various nasal issues is of mixed quality, experts say there are few downsides to trying it. “The risk is so low and the potential benefit so high for rinsers” that it’s worth giving it a go, said Dr. Nyssa Farrell, an assistant professor of otolaryngology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

For the full story, see:

Alice Callahan. “What to Know About Nasal Irrigation.” The New York Times (Tuesday, February 1, 2022): D6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated January 31, 2022, and has the title “Do Neti Pots Really Work?”)

The international consensus mentioned above was published as:

Orlandi RR, Kingdom TT, Smith TL, Bleier B, DeConde A, Luong AU, Poetker DM, Soler Z, Welch KC, Wise SK, Adappa N, Alt JA, Anselmo-Lima WT, Bachert C, Baroody FM, Batra PS, Bernal-Sprekelsen M, Beswick D, Bhattacharyya N, Chandra RK, Chang EH, Chiu A, Chowdhury N, Citardi MJ, Cohen NA, Conley DB, DelGaudio J, Desrosiers M, Douglas R, Eloy JA, Fokkens WJ, Gray ST, Gudis DA, Hamilos DL, Han JK, Harvey R, Hellings P, Holbrook EH, Hopkins C, Hwang P, Javer AR, Jiang RS, Kennedy D, Kern R, Laidlaw T, Lal D, Lane A, Lee HM, Lee JT, Levy JM, Lin SY, Lund V, McMains KC, Metson R, Mullol J, Naclerio R, Oakley G, Otori N, Palmer JN, Parikh SR, Passali D, Patel Z, Peters A, Philpott C, Psaltis AJ, Ramakrishnan VR, Ramanathan M Jr, Roh HJ, Rudmik L, Sacks R, Schlosser RJ, Sedaghat AR, Senior BA, Sindwani R, Smith K, Snidvongs K, Stewart M, Suh JD, Tan BK, Turner JH, van Drunen CM, Voegels R, Wang Y, Woodworth BA, Wormald PJ, Wright ED, Yan C, Zhang L, Zhou B. “International Consensus Statement on Allergy and Rhinology: Rhinosinusitis 2021.” International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology. 11, no. 3 (March 2021): 213-739. doi: 10.1002/alr.22741. PMID: 33236525.

Excessive Hygiene from Masking, Distancing, and Deep-Cleaning, Can Increase Allergies and Auto-Immune Diseases

(p. A17) The idea that exposure to some infectious agents is protective against immune-related disorders isn’t new and comes with significant scientific heft. The so-called hygiene hypothesis is constructed from epidemiologic evidence, laboratory studies and clinical trials that, put together, support the notion that an excessive emphasis on antisepsis is implicated in misalignments of the immune system that risk disease.

Allergic and autoimmune diseases are far less common in communities with less hygiene, and autoimmune disorders increase in children who migrate from areas with less emphasis on hygiene to areas with more emphasis. They are less common in agricultural communities, where exposure to dirt and animals is common, compared with neighboring communities with shared genetics but little farming. Children who attend daycare early in life—runny noses, colds and all—have less asthma and fewer allergies. Animal studies, laboratory experiments and small trials in humans all point in a similar direction: Avoiding exposure to some microbes prevents the immune system from training well and predisposes to autoimmune diseases.

. . .

This isn’t a paean to infections and poor hygiene but a reminder of the importance of balance. When I prescribe antibiotics, they have to be strong enough to treat my patient’s infection. But if I overtreat, I run the risk of giving the patient colitis (inflammation of the colon) without additional benefits. Current hygiene policies and practices need rebalancing.

. . .

The extreme concern for hygiene at the onset of Covid-19 was intuitive and understandable. The virus was spreading fast, information on routes of transmission was limited, and we as a society tried to protect one another from infection. But policies that were easy to support two years ago need re-evaluation. Distancing, deep-cleaning and masking aren’t “more is better” kinds of goods.

On the other side of the balance, health risks from extended intensive hygiene are credible. As Omicron recedes and we internalize the paucity of Covid-19 benefits from some hygiene practices, we should balance those against the benefits we lose by shielding our immune systems from normal exposures—and the ones we withhold from children by preventing the exchange of microbes through play and smiles.

For the full commentary, see:

Eran Bendavid. “Covid and the ‘Hygiene Hypothesis’.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, February 2, 2022): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date February 1, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)