The story about beards containing the same bacteria as found in the toilet went viral a few days ago- and having an interest in such things I had to find the source. No record in pub med, no record in any scientific study.
Digging deeper – A report from Journal of Hospital Infection, where they concluded the following:
It is unknown whether healthcare workers’ facial hair harbours nosocomial pathogens. We
compared facial bacterial colonization rates among 408 male healthcare workers with and
without facial hair. Workers with facial hair were less likely to be colonized with Staphylococcus
aureus (41.2% vs 52.6%, P ¼ 0.02) and meticillin-resistant coagulase-negative
staphylococci (2.0% vs 7.0%, P ¼ 0.01). Colonization rates with Gram-negative organisms
were low for all healthcare workers, and Gram-negative colonization rates did not differ
by facial hair type. Overall, colonization is similar in male healthcare workers with and
without facial hair.
But that wasn’t what this report was based upon. It was a local news station that had a few samples sent to a microbiology laboratory and they found bacteria that were in the same class as those found in the colon. That is- not the bacteria found in the colon, not the bacteria found in the hind parts of humans, but the same species. In fact, those bacteria are further apart genetically than humans are from dogs.
I breathed sigh of relief – because two things are clear:
Beards are ok – and of course you wash them often.
As a surgeon, having a beard is a bit more protective than not.
Ok- three things: It is still good to be skeptical and check out sources.
Bacterial ecology of hospital workers’ facial hair: a cross-sectional study. Wakeam, E., Hernandez, R.A., et. al. Journal of Hospital Infection. 2014 May;87(1):63-7. PMID: 24746610
Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and received his MD. Dr. Simpson, then became a renowned weight loss surgeon, and a leading advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he advocates teaching people to improve their health through their food. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcom Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit www.terrysimpson.com.