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Disease can be our ally, not just our enemy, says new book by UCR evolutionary biologist

ess in a matter of generations. A sexually produced baby, however, has an entirely new set of genes to outwit the diseases that surround us.

Q: We keep hearing about new and scary diseases: bird flu, West Nile virus, E. coli. Which should we be worried about the most?

A: None of these. Although its important to keep an eye on new epidemics, and keep them from growing, a far more urgent problem is antibiotic resistance in many of the most dangerous diseases, like infections with formerly easily conquered bacteria. Nearly a third of infections with Streptococcus pneumoniae, the bacteria that causes a form of pneumonia, meningitis, and ear infections, are resistant to penicillin. Tuberculosis, syphilis, typhoid, gonorrhea all have antibiotic-resistant strains in some parts of the world. Because of the frequent use of antibiotics in hospitals, infections acquired there are particularly problematic; more than 70% of the bacteria causing infections in people while they are patients in hospitals are resistant to at least one of the drugs commonly used to fight them. Its a problem weve caused, and its not going away any time soon.

Q: So what can we do to be healthier, if diseases are always going to be around?

A: For one thing, we can ease up on the siege mentality that tells us we have to scrub every surface we touch. Children growing up with more siblings and pets, and those that get more colds, end up with fewer allergies and a lower incidence of asthma, and scientists increasingly think that is because their immune systems are exposed to the normal barrage of particles that stimulate appropriate function.

Q: If disease is so natural, does that mean we should let our bodies heal themselves and not try and interfere with modern medicine?

A: Absolutely not. Disease symptoms can be either produced by the body to help get rid of a disease agent, or they can be produced by the
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Contact: Iqbal Pittalwala
iqbal@ucr.edu
951-827-6050
University of California - Riverside
5-Apr-2007


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