How Infectious Diseases Spread

How Infectious Diseases SpreadIn a fascinating new study into how infectious diseases spread, published in Peer J, researchers have discovered that people are literally surrounded with a specific, individualized cloud of germs and bacteria. In fact, the signature is so distinct that the study analyzed air samples and successfully discerned individual participant’s identities.

Researchers concluded that each person has a unique “microbial cloud” — that they named the “microbiome.” Previously, scientists were aware of a variety of microbes, including Streptococcus in the mouth, others that are typically hosted in the gastrointestinal tract, as well as Propionibacterium and Corynebacterium on the skin. However, this surprising study from the University of Oregon found that people actually leave traces of their own microbiome in a mist or fog around themselves and in an area where they have previously been.

Study author James Meadow and his colleagues used a unique methodology – they tested 11 participants by sealing each in their own sanitized chamber. The results suggest that air samples could even pinpoint which individual had just left a sealed chamber, based on the makeup of their particular cloud of bacteria. Within four hours, they identified each individual by sequencing the haze of bacteria left behind in the chamber. “Our results confirm that an occupied space is microbially distinct from an unoccupied one — and demonstrate for the first time that individuals release their own personalized microbial cloud.”

Meadows explained the research team’s astonishment, “We expected that we would be able to detect the human microbiome in the air around a person, but we were surprised to find that we could identify most of the occupants just by sampling their microbial cloud.”
The team hopes that this new discovery will lead to more development and understanding of infectious diseases and how they are treated, as well as a further exploration into the ways in which they are spread – they surmised it may even be helpful in combatting crime by giving investigators a new tool to identify perpetrators.