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The 'Hygiene Hypothesis' and Asthma

Narrator: This is Science Today. The surge in antimicrobial soaps and antibiotics has basically depleted bacteria, which is one of the best degraders of chitin, a common substance found in fungi, crustaceans and dust mites. Esteban Burchard a physician-scientist at the University of California, San Francisco is part of a research team looking into the possible link between environmental exposure to chitin and higher asthma rates.

Burchard: This sort of research may put a brake, so to speak, on what we determine as being acceptable behavior of spraying everything with antimicrobials before we touch it may actually be causing or contributing to the increased development of asthma and so we may have a second thought before we apply any antimicrobials.

Narrator: In the last decade, researchers have proposed the ‘hygiene hypothesis' - that the lack of exposure to dirt is linked to higher asthma rates in modern societies.

Burchard: So, we recognize that it's a clear symbiotic relationship between us and our ambient environment and the ambient microbes that exist within our environment.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.