No, Kelly Brogan, germs are not “trying to kill us.” And yes, they are real.

I’m honestly not even sure where to start with this. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This claim comes from Kelly Brogan, “holistic psychiatrist” and noted HIV denier. She claims, “Goodbye to germ theory! Can we really maintain the childish illusion that there are a handful of identified ‘bad germs’ out there trying to kill us?”

She bases this on the fact that there are a lot of different microbial species in sand.  I wish I was kidding. Why this undermines the germ theory, I’m not quite sure.

But beyond the whole bizarre claim, it’s not the germ theory that is childish–it’s her (mis)understanding of it. There aren’t a bunch of “bad germs” out there “trying to kill us.” There are just bacteria, and viruses, and parasites, and fungi who, if you can say they “want” anything at all, only want to reproduce. Period.

Sometimes that survival means harming humans who come into contact with these pathogens. Take cholera, for example. Cholera isn’t “normally” a human pathogen. It’s an environmental bacterium, that prefers to live in brackish waters in association with marine copepods and other animals. On occasion, the cholera bacteria are removed from this environment and swallowed by humans. The bacteria, trying to survive, release toxins that evolved in their “regular” environment–but just happen to devastate humans, causing us to lose liters of water and even our intestinal epithelial cells in response to the bacterial toxin.

Oops.

We know this through an enormous combination of studies. Epidemiological studies, dating back to John Snow before we even understood the bacterial cause (Snow just figured out that the disease was transmitted by water, and other contemporaries had seen “comma-like” organisms in the water, but no one put two and two together until years later). Animal models, experimentally infecting them with cholera. In vitro studies using cell culture. Ecological and genomic studies, tracing the cholera bacterium through the environment and people’s guts to examine how it’s spread all around the world.

And this is just a singular example; many more are explained in this story by Ed Yong, and many more could be listed than are described there. Lucky for us, the vast, vast majority of microbes out there don’t do us harm.

Maybe Brogan thinks the germ theory is wrong because all of those bacteria don’t kill us (but we wouldn’t expect them to!). Or maybe because not everyone who is exposed to a pathogen becomes sick (but that’s not news–even Pasteur and Koch knew that, and it has nothing to do with the article Brogan linked).

Or maybe she just has no understanding of science or medicine, and wants to shamelessly mislead her followers so they buy what she’s selling.

I bet it’s that one.

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