Germophobia 101: there are microbes on pacifiers; therefore pacifiers cause atherosclerosis & diabetes

Oh my God.  I hope upon hope that the quote in this story was unintended.  The story is from US News and World Report: Dirty Pacifiers May Make Infants Sick: Study – US News and World Report

It is excruciatingly painful to read.  First, the headline is misleading and way out of line.  US News should be reprimanded for this.  There is no evidence presented that pacifiers are making anyone sick.

What is the story about?  At a conference someone(s) presented results of taking used and new pacifiers and chopping them up and seeing what grew on different parts.  And they found – get ready – microbes on them.  And more microbes on the used ones than the new ones.  And they even found some microbes that were apparently resistant to antibiotics.

Scared yet?  You shouldn’t be because of course  Fortunately the story does quote on sane person

Dr. Ben Hoffman, medical director of the Children’s Safety Center at Oregon Health and Science University’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, said he can’t think of an infection a child has had that he would attribute to a pacifier. 

“The majority of things you’re going to find on a pacifier are things we’ll find on our clothes, normal human flora,” said Hoffman. “It’s not a reason to demonize pacifiers if people find them useful.”

But alas it also quotes the lead author of the study.

Glass doesn’t recommend that parents use pacifiers to calm their babies and toddlers. “After doing the study, I say why take a risk? The key is to recognize that pacifiers can cause illness,” he said. “In the long run, it may be that what you do now [using a pacifier] may have a lot to do with whether a child ends up developing atherosclerosis or type 2 diabetes.”

What? The? Fu$*#? Pacifiers have microbes on them.  Therefore they cause atherosclerosis and diabetes?   Completely, unbelievably insane and irresponsible.  And I think US News should have made it clearer that this is just completely out of line.

Author: Jonathan Eisen

I am an evolutionary biologist and a Professor at U. C. Davis. (see my lab site here). My research focuses on the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). To study this I focus on sequencing and analyzing genomes of organisms, especially microbes and using phylogenomic analysis

7 thoughts on “Germophobia 101: there are microbes on pacifiers; therefore pacifiers cause atherosclerosis & diabetes”

  1. We like to blame the media for overhyping science, but often it comes from the scientists themselves.

    In this case, it's pretty clear that the original author is the one doing wild extrapolation.

    This is actually very typical unethical-scientist behaviour: X is published as peer-reviewed science, scientist is quoted as saying he believes 1000X.


  2. IMO the news editors should take the responsibility to check if what they publish is not just wild speculation, especially in health issues where patients (and parents) get scared very easily. People who don't know much about science and medicine (which is almost all of the readers) count on editors of major news to review the facts for them (“if USNews prints it, this can't be all wrong”)…


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