Science Book a Day Interviews Jason Tetro


Special thanks to Jason Tetro for answering 5 questions about his recently featured book – The Germ Code: How to Stop Worrying and Love the Microbes

Jason Tetro has spent the last 25 years learning about the effect germs have on our lives, most lately as a microbiologist at the University of Ottawa. He is now a consultant to international companies and non-profit organizations working to improve health. He has broadcast and written for a wide range of media including CTV Ottawa, the CBC, Toronto Star, Scientific American, The Huffington Post Canada, Popular Science and his “Germ Guy” blog. He also campaigns for a healthy attitude to germs through public speaking and social media. His hashtag #handhygiene was so successful it has been adopted by the World Health Organization. He lives in Toronto. – From Jason’s Homepage

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#1 – What was the impetus for The Germ Code?

When I was asked to write TGC, I wanted to provide a different perspective on microbes in our lives.  I hoped to show people we have a relationship with microbes even if it is currently dysfunctional.  To accomplish this, I knew I had to turn away from the scientific voice and find a more human one.  More specifically, rather than turning to science media for inspiration, I looked to another source:  Woody Allen.  His movies about dysfunctional relationships have captivated audiences worldwide and would make for the perfect stencil for the book.  There are three acts per se and each one takes us on a journey from discovery to antagonism to finally redemption. It was a difficult journey but I believe well worth it.

#2 – Why are we so afraid for germs today? What has led to this hysteria about germs?

I think there are two reasons behind germophobia.  The first is simply, history. Microbes have been involved in some of the worst plagues and continue to threaten our health and safety. But, the species behind these plights make up only 0.01% of the microbial species in existence. This leads to the second reason, coverage.  The media has enjoyed the so-called “war on germs” and has propagated it for well over a Century. I don’t blame them mind you; they are doing their job. But it has led to a skewed view such that the bad actors get most of the coverage. That is changing slowly thankfully and we are seeing more positive stories where microbes play the main role.

#3 – Some of your book focuses on the flu. How might understanding past flus help us avoid future catastrophes?

If history has taught us anything, flu has continually shown us we are neither prepared nor capable of being able to stop its spread.  That being said, history has also shown this virus is one of the easiest to prevent.  This dichotomy reveals quite a bit about the real issue when it comes to the flu.  It’s not the microbe that’s the problem.  It’s us.  Societal trends – a topic on which I’ve published in the scientific literature – are the greatest contributor to the spread of the virus.  So, no matter how much our science progresses, without proper behaviour changes, we’ll never see an end to this virus.  The history of flu and the description of the 2009pdm strain in TGC show exactly how a single strain can become a pandemic.  But what I hope readers can appreciate is how easily this could have been stopped.  So, to answer your question, we already know how to avoid future catastrophes. We just have to actually adopt these actions.

#4 – Covering everything related to germs might be difficult. Did you cover everything? Or are you saving germ-related chapters for future publications?

I barely covered the surface with TGC.  I took some of the most prominent and Allen-esque stories but they make up a small fraction of the stories that have happened since the discovery of microbes.  Not to mention, each and every day there are tens of thousands of microbially-focused individuals making discoveries just waiting to be shared.  Much like human relationships, no one will ever be able to cover everything about our bond with microbes. So yes, there is more to come…

#5 – Are you working on any new books/projects you can tell us about?

I just finished the first draft to my new book. It’s so fresh there isn’t even a title yet. But it will provide a different look at our relationship with microbes.  This time, however, it will be more positive and focus on the present and the future.  I’ve also finished co-editing an academic book on microbes and human health.  No timelines yet but I hope they will come out soon.

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