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With the U.S. wanting to send astronauts on long trips to Mars, it's important to make sure disease prevention tactics are in place

While NASA's disease prevention methods have worked pretty well for shorter trips, like those to the International Space Station (ISS), American space travel is looking to send astronauts to Mars in the future and stronger germ-fighting techniques may be in order.

Dr. Leonard Mermel, a Rhode Island Hospital infectious disease expert from Brown University, has written a new paper of suggestions that could keep spacecrafts germ-free during longer expeditions -- such as to Mars.

After reading hundreds of papers about infectious diseases and citing 91 of them in his paper, Mermel came to a few conclusions that could prove problematic for long-term missions. These problems include the fact that limited power means no complex air filtration (which also means no use of disinfectants or hand hygiene products because they can emit hazardous vapors; microgravity can weaken the immune system in some ways while also increasing resistance to some microorganisms, and without gravity, germs from a sneeze do not simply hit the ground; they linger in the air.

What does Mermel suggest? Beefing up NASA's current disease prevention methods. This means vaccinating astronauts for several diseases and screening for many others, which NASA already does, but extend the vaccinations to include germs like Meningoccocus and Pneumoccocus. Screenings can be done pre-flight to include many strains, such as Staphyloccocus.

Aside from that, Mermel also suggested that astronauts receive formal infection control education and a new, low-energy diagnostic testing kit.

NASA could also consider whether to irradiate more food for longer trips, since food could be a source for germs. Irradiating the food means making it completely sterile, but it could be harmful for astronauts to eat sterile food for two whole years.

Further, Mermel believes future spacecraft makers could include HEPA air filtration as well as waterless hand hygiene dispensers.

"I've been involved for two decades with trying to prevent infections in the intensive care unit and general hospital settings and I've been involved with national and international guidelines, but there are a lot of constraints in space I had never thought of before," said Mermel.

U.S. President Barack Obama challenged NASA to put a man on an asteroid by 2025 and explore Mars in 2030. With such endeavors in mind, securing spacecrafts from as many germs as possible might be a good idea.

Source: Science Daily

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They should just...
By MZperX on 10/22/2012 12:04:23 PM , Rating: 2
put the food outside and let the cosmic rays irradiate it.

RE: They should just...
By geddarkstorm on 10/22/2012 12:49:41 PM , Rating: 2
Well, it's not about sterilization -- that's easy. As the article says, we could just zap these things with gamma rays prior to storage, there'll be absolutely no organisms left alive. But that could actually be a problem.

We need our microfluora, and we need germs to keep our immune system stimulated and concentrated on extringic problems rather than turning on our own body. If astronauts were in a truly germ free environment for long term, it could make the return to Earth all the more dangerous.

There's way to get around this: we could give the astronauts pro-biotics, and release at will certain levels of microbes to keep their body's healthy. But that always will carry the risk of infection and disease of other accidents happen that weakens an astronaut's immunesystem (like chronic elevated radiation).

Playing a balance with microbes isn't easy, and I applaud the efforts of these groups to try to figure it all out for long term missions.

RE: They should just...
By drycrust3 on 10/23/2012 11:00:32 AM , Rating: 2
We need our microfluora, and we need germs to keep our immune system stimulated and concentrated on extringic problems rather than turning on our own body.

As I understand it, there is a whole world of strange microbes that exist to keep us alive, e.g. things that eat dead skin cells. If you kill them, then after a while you'll find the air filters start to clog up with flakes of skin.
I think a much better approach is to have people dress warm, to eat a healthy diet, and to maintain a normal hygienic environment.

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