By Harold Eddleman, Ph. D.
Congradulations, if your child is doing everything possible to get you to read this page. It must be because he wants to work with bacteria and I asked him to have you read this page so that you would have a better idea of the risks of working the microbes.
I once met an adult who was so terrified of bacteria, she would not talk to a nurse or anyone who might have come in contact with a bacterium sometime in the past! The facts are that with every breath we inhale 100,000 dust particles and many of those are bacteria or mold spores. Here in the Ohio Valley some of those are ______ and skin tests reveal most of use have antibodies to that organism. That is a very serious human pathogen, yet in the 27 years that I have realized this was a geographic hotspot I have located only one case of a problem.
A shop teacher told me he once had a fungus ball in the lung. He blamed it on having sniffed a moldy bottle. That is a pretty dumb thing to do, but I would suspect the spore that started the growth may have been one of the huge number he inhaled every day like the rest of us. There is very dangerous activity and that is breathing while you move dry, dusty grass clippings or wood chips from tree prunings. ____ is common there.
Working with dusty moldy hay would be especially dangerous. I recall as a kid after a day of placing loose hay in the loft how painful deep breathing was. Now that I know more about such things, I guess I would use a simple respirator.
Compared to the above activities which most people think about very little, the bacteria and mold experiments I suggest on my pages should be low risk. The above should help you and your child see the things to avoid.
I would never put bacteria in a hypodermic needle or leave contaminated broken glass lying around (as it is on many neighborhoods) due the ease these could introduce bacteria into a cut.
There is a strong likelihood that you child will learn so much about bacteria that the new knowledge will protect him in the future much more than any risk in doing experiments found on my website.
I have taught a few hundred kids microbiology in my highschool classrooms. I can't remember a student getting hurt. I got hurt about 3 times finishing projects for students who tried to put glass tubing in a rubber stopper hole that was too small. I always flooded the wound with rubbing alcohol and there was no infection. Therefore, I suggest rubber tubing and glass stoppers are the greatest risk to your child.
In a college class, I saw a kid get a burn from an alcohol fire on his desktop and it was painful but had no lasting effect. Therefore, I never use alcohol around flames. That student did know there was a fire. The alcohol and flame belonged to his neighbor. Alcohol flames are invisible. I often sterile inoculating loops with alcohol, but I never use flame to burn the alcohol off as is common practice. It is not necessary to flame them. I just wait a few seconds until the alcohol evaporates. More details on my webpages.
My webpages begin with food organisms: yeast, milk, etc. We know those are safe because we eat them. I have never heard of a student becoming infected even when highschool kids worked with potential pathogens. I do not understand why, but schools tend to choose such bacteria. I find the non-pathogens more interesting and educational.
I may add more later
First draft Jan 1998 - Revision #1 = 98 Jan 31
Written by Harold Eddleman, Ph. D., President, Indiana Biolab, 14045 Huff St., Palmyra IN 47164