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House Dust, Flagellated Bacteria and Asthma


Most places where we live, work and study are filled with dust and dust mites. Those dust bunnies under your bed are a nuisance, but do you know what it contains? Warning—the following sentence may cause you to have an “ick factor” reaction. The most common ingredients in house dust are bits of human skin that we all shed each day, animal fur and dander, debris from dead insects (including dust mites), bits of food, lint, fibers from our clothes (including bedding, furniture, towels, etc.), dirt we bring in on our shoes, and other particulate matter (which may include chemicals such as lead, insecticides and arsenic). OK you were warned—hopefully you’re still reading! These are only some of the “ingredients” that go into the creation of house dust.

In recent studies done by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and Duke University Medical Center, researchers found additional house dust ingredients that may be another asthma trigger. OK—time for another warning. The following finding is a bit creepy: scientists found house dust also contains the flagellin.

What is Flagellin?
Flagellin protein comes from certain bacteria known as flagellated bacteria. The word “flagella” means a whip-like structure. Flagellated bacteria use this whip-like structure to move around to find food, etc. The flagellated bacteria (some of these can live in our homes, offices, schools, etc.), shed cells containing the flagellin protein, which then ends up in our house dust.

The Tie Between Flagellin and Asthma
The most common type of asthma is allergic asthma, which is caused by inhaling substances you’re allergic to. This sets off the allergic response, leading to asthma exacerbations and attacks if you have allergic asthma. Scientists in the study found that flagellin is not an allergen itself, but can set off the allergic response in the immune system.

The study of flagellin protein used mice as test subjects. The mice that breathed in house dust (and were sensitive to the flagellin protein) were found to show typical asthma symptoms, including airway obstruction, increased mucus production and airway inflammation. Researchers also found that mice lacking a certain gene capable of detecting the presence of flagellin had reduced asthma symptoms.

The researchers in this study also found that people who have asthma have higher levels of antibodies against flagellin, than do people who don’t have asthma. They believe this shows evidence of a tie between environmental factors (such as house dust) and allergic asthma in those who have asthma. Scientists involved in this study say more research is needed before we can draw any definite conclusions about the tie between flagellin protein and asthma.

How to Combat Flagellin in Our Homes
One way to combat dust bunnies, containing flagellin and other yucky stuff, is to keep our homes, offices and schools clean. Depending on your family’s sensitivity to dust, you may have to dust every day or only once a week. Dusting, washing floors and bedding (at least once a week) all go a long way to keeping those with allergic asthma healthier. You’ll find a link below that will take you to an article that has further details on how to clean your home to keep allergens and asthma trigger levels down.

Asthma research keeps advancing, helping all of us who have asthma. Reading about flagellin in your house dust may have left you with the “ick factor,” but the information enforces the idea of keeping a clean home in order to keep your asthma stable and managed.

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The Hygiene Hypothesis and Allergic Asthma
Control of Dust and Dust Mites
How to Create an Asthma-Safe Home
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Content copyright © 2014 by Sherry Vacik. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Sherry Vacik. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Sherry Vacik for details.

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