Massage & Bodywork

MAY | JUNE 2016

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IT'S ALL ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIPS Our relationships to bacteria can change depending on circumstances and location. Some microbes that are perfectly harmless or even helpful in one place may become pathogenic in another. The inherent strength or resilience of the person being colonized is another variable. Most people can tolerate or thrive with certain levels of resident bacteria, but those who are immune-compromised have lower tolerance and a higher risk of potentially dangerous infection. In the context of massage therapy, this becomes a signifi cant issue when one of the people in the massage relationship is at risk for a problem: maybe the client is in a weakened state, or maybe the therapist has an open wound in an area that contacts the client's skin during a session. Even when both client and therapist are vital and healthy, a risk of disease transmission still exists if someone has been exposed to virulent, transmissible pathogens outside the massage environment. TRANSMISSION RECEIVED Microorganisms have many ways to move from one host to another. For the purposes of this discussion, we will focus on how skin-borne pathogens pass from one person to another. Direct Contact Some diseases are spread by direct contact between bodies. Mononucleosis is a viral infection that is spread most effi ciently through direct salivary contact—which is why it is sometimes called the "kissing disease." When we pet a dermatophyte- carrying kitten, we may introduce parasitic fungi to our skin, and end up with a raging case of ringworm. Even if our clients are healthy, we can pick up their passengers through our own untended hangnails and develop a serious infection. The risk of spreading something infectious by direct contact is the main reason we learn that open or compromised skin—on the client or the practitioner—is at least a local caution for massage: many organisms that are benign on the surface of the skin can be threatening if they gain access to the blood or lymph systems. Indirect Contact Indirect contact refers to the transmission of a microorganism by way of a transfer mechanism: a living vector (like a malaria-carrying mosquito), or an inanimate fomite (like a staph-carrying dollar bill). Common fomites include money, grimy keyboards, oily doorknobs, C h e c k o u t A B M P 's l a t e s t n e w s a n d b l o g p o s t s . Av a i l a b l e a t w w w. a b m p . c o m . 41 Biodiversity One of the recent discoveries about human bacterial colonies is their amazing diversity. Skin swabs of human subjects show almost no overlap in species populations. One of the projects that illuminated this fi eld came from North Carolina State University and the Nature Research Center at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences called "The Belly Button Biodiversity Project." These researchers took samples from dozens of visitors to the museum, and found an average of 67 distinct bacterial species in each navel swab, and most people did not share any species—in fact, none of the identifi ed bacteria were found on every subject. The project is being followed by another, called "Armpit-pa-looza." I am not making this up. —Ruth Werner

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