Dirty Little Secret
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Let’s face it: Germs are everywhere –
on doorknobs, tables and chairs, in the mall, on planes and buses…the list goes on and on. While adults may do their best to keep contact with germs to a minimum, youngsters are an entirely different story. Between school, the playground and friends’ houses, kids are everywhere and touch everything.
Should parents be chasing their children and hosing them down with hand sanitizer every chance they get? Not necessarily, says Dr. Earl Washburn, a pediatrician with Marshall Pediatrics in Placerville. “Germs are a part of our bodies and a part of our world,” he explains. “In the past several years many people have used antibacterial soaps and hand gels in the hope of reducing exposure to illness. Many experts now question whether all these antibacterial products do any good.” Plus, some research is now finding that having an environment be too clean may lead to increased allergies in kids. A study released in June 2012 found exposure to antibacterial chemicals and preservatives in personal care products, like soap and toothpaste, could make kids more prone to a wide range of allergies.
Not all germs are the same. In fact, some can even be good for you. For example, Dr. Washburn says probiotics are bacteria thought to be beneficial, especially to digestion. In fact, the human intestinal tract is full of bacteria, both good and bad. “Most bacteria are just fellow travelers with us, a few can make us sick, and some are seen as beneficial because they help aid digestion,” he explains. When you ingest an antibiotic medicine, it kills all forms of bacteria, including the good. For this reason, Dr. Washburn says taking a probiotic product afterward can help reestablish beneficial bacteria in the stomach. He says one such bacteria commonly used is lactobacillus acidophilus. However, he cautions this can be problematic for children with an immune deficiency and advises parents to consult their child’s doctor first.
A LITTLE SOAP AND WATER
Dr. Washburn says standard hand washing before meals and after going to the bathroom is all that’s necessary to help fight off unwanted germs. But what is the proper way to wash your hands? Dr. Washburn says it’s “nothing special” – just a good scrub with soap and water.
“Fear of germs and trying to be hyper-clean is very unlikely to be helpful; germs are everywhere, and we live with them without harm most of the time,” Dr. Washburn assures. “Normal cleanliness, such as what your mother or grandmother would have encouraged, makes sense.”