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Health Capsules
July 2009
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Well Water Testing Protects Kids’ Health

If your water comes from a private well, be sure to get it tested at least once a year, especially if babies or children drink the water. A new report says that children can get sick from drinking contaminated well water.

About 1 in 6 households in the U.S. get their drinking water from private wells. With proper care, well water is extremely safe. But unlike public drinking water systems, which have experts to check the water’s safety, private wells are mainly the responsibility of the well owners.

NIH researchers took a lead role in working on the new report with the American Academy of Pediatrics. The report recommends that well owners test each year for microbes that can cause disease. Annual tests are also needed for nitrate, a molecule that comes from sewage or fertilizer. Nitrate poses special problems for infants less than 3 months old.

Families with wells need to keep in touch with state and local health experts to know what should be tested in their communities. To learn about well water in your area, visit or call 1-800-426-4791.

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Tiny germs—like bacteria and viruses—too small to see without a microscope.

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Private Drinking Water Wells (EPA)

  What’s Living on Your Skin?

Our skin is home to a much wider array of bacteria than previously thought, NIH scientists say.

The skin is one of the body’s first lines of defense against sickness and injury. Its health depends on a delicate balance between our own cells and the millions of bacteria and other microbes that live on its surface. Researchers want to understand this balance so they can develop better ways to treat and prevent troubling skin diseases like eczema, psoriasis and acne.

To learn more about microbes on the skin, scientists took DNA from human skin samples and sequenced a type of gene that’s found only in bacteria. They analyzed more than 112,000 bacterial gene sequences.

The study uncovered new details about the many bacteria that live on different parts of the body. For example, the body area with the widest array of bacteria was the forearm, which had about 44 different species. The area behind the ear had only about 19 different species.

The scientists found that the bacteria on certain body parts are surprisingly similar on different people. So the bacteria that live under your arms are probably more similar to those living under other people’s arms than to the bacteria on your own forearm.

“Our results underscore that skin is home to vibrant communities of microbial life, which may significantly influence our health,” says Dr. Elizabeth Grice, a scientist at NIH involved in the study.

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A stretch of DNA that helps to define characteristics like the size and shape of bacteria.

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Skin Diseases

Human Microbiome Project



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Computing Life

Discover how scientists use computers to expand our understanding of biology and health. Check out the interviews with researchers, movies of biological processes (like blood clotting), quizzes and more.

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