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New study says we live in (and travel with) our own unique germ clouds

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We’ve seen how fast germs can travel throughout hospitals. Now we may have a clearer picture of how those germs travel once they leave the building.

New research published in Science finds that the bacteria, viruses and yeast that live on and around our bodies form something of a cloud that is unique to every one of us. While that cloud travels with us, what we leave behind can be used as an identifier—perhaps even a better way to track people than DNA or actual fingerprints.

Researchers studied seven families for the study (18 people, three dogs and one cat) over six weeks. Participants swabbed their hands, feet and noses, as well as various surfaces around their homes. Three of the families moved during the study, providing research on traveling germs.

“We had a young couple that moved from a hotel into a new house,” Jack Gilbert, one of the authors of the study, told NBC News. “Their microbiomes overwhelmed the microbiome of the hotel room so their hotel room looked more like their new home, microbially speaking.”

The study also found that one person leaving a home significantly affects the germ makeup.

“If one person left the home even for a few days, their contribution to the microbiome diminished,” reported the study’s authors.

In addition to learning more about the germs around us, the study also may tell us more about how to protect ourselves from those germs–particularly key for nurses and other healthcare workers. Gilbert also says that, among other things, the findings may show how normal this “germ cloud” may be.

“It’s also quite possible that we are routinely exposed to harmful bacteria—living on us and in our environment—but it only causes disease when our immune systems are otherwise disrupted,” he said.

What do you think of this study’s findings? Does it change how you think about germs and infection control in the hospital? Sound off below!

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