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A Germ of Truth

My Friend Debbie     If I could have Zip-locked my kids before they went off to school, I would have. I was the mom who carried 409 in her purse for public bathrooms, and every restaurant table received a thorough wipe down. But on the day a three-year-old vomited in the childcare room at the gym, I exposed my germ phobia to the world.

     I was on the elliptical when a childcare provider discretely approached another mom and mouthed the words, "He just threw up." All moms can read lips bearing such a troubling message. I catapulted off the machine, speeding down the hallway faster than Chariots of Fire toward the childcare room. I even beat the vomiting kid's mother to the scene.

     Whisking my sweet angel away, I offered hurried apologies and quickly exited, holding my breath and leaving a trail of antibacterial wipes behind me. Once in the parking lot, I felt intense shame at my extreme behavior and my unwillingness to help in a situation that was very distressing for a fellow mom. Clearly, I needed germ therapy.

     At what point does good hygiene escalate into an irrational fear of germs? I'd say, if you are boiling your nursing bras, bleaching your laundry to shreds, or using 50 or more paper towels daily in your kitchen, you might have a problem. And, doctors are now saying super-clean isn't necessarily best for the immune system.

     According to an online clearing-house for anxiety issues, "the myriad of antibacterial and germicidal products on the market may actually be contributing not only to germ phobia, but to illness. This is because most products on the market do not kill 100% of bacteria (which should not occur, anyway); instead, they only kill the most susceptible bacteria, and leave the more virulent bacteria plenty of room to multiply." [1]

     All vigilant moms want to know some secrets to keeping families healthy, but just how far should one go? Are all bacteria dangerous? Why do parents with neurotically clean houses still have sick kids? How effective are wet wipes? After an informative talk with my husband, a public health physician, I am ready to expose germs for what they really are, and encourage my friends and family to boost their immune systems to fight bacteria naturally.

Allow bacteria to do what God made it to do.

     Dr. Jerry Strohkorb, deputy health director for the City of Chesapeake, says he and his colleagues try to spread the message that not all bacteria are bad. Bacteria live naturally inside and outside of the body, generating essential vitamins, preventing yeast overgrowth, and helping the body digest food. My Friend DebbieHyperactive cleanliness can damage this natural balance. Such negative effects of squeaky-clean behavior include increased risk of allergies and asthma, digestive problems, vitamin deficiencies, yeast infections, and worst of all - increased risk of antibiotic resistance.

     Dr. Strohkorb also says that an overactive focus on cleanliness can lead to obsessive-compulsive anxiety disorders. "Focus on preventing disease, not eradicating germs," he explains. Get a good night's sleep and maintain a healthy diet. Take fish oil and decrease sugar intake, both of which are proven methods to boost the body's immune system. Sleep with a humidifier during dry winter months and drink plenty of water to help your body flush out germs. Finally, don't be afraid to let your kids play in the dirt. That's what kids are supposed to do.

     Doctors agree that the best weapons against disease-causing germs (influenza, cold viruses, etc.) are a strong immune system and reasonable hygiene (i.e. hand washing and alcohol-based hand gels.) Reasonable situations for hand washing include after food preparation, sneezing, trips to the bathroom - or, as in my case, any situation that involves vomit. When it's time to wash up, what do health professionals recommend?

Are antibacterial formulas better than good old-fashioned soap?

     Researchers at the University of Michigan say no. A public health team "found that washing hands with an antibacterial soap was no more effective in preventing infectious illness than plain soap. Moreover, antibacterial soaps at formulations sold to the public do not remove any more bacteria from the hands during washing than plain soaps." [2] These university researchers concluded that the main active ingredient in most antibacterial formulas - triclosan - may even cause some types of bacteria to become resistant to widely used antibiotics such as amoxicillin.

How effective are alcohol-based hand sanitizers?

     The sanitizing gels rate highly for effectively killing many types of bacteria and viruses, but with one main limitation. Wallace Kelly, an infection control registered nurse at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, explains that "alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not effective in killing other types of bacteria such as those from the gastrointestinal tract, or hazards such as food-borne E. coli and salmonella because alcohol doesn't destroy spores, but washing hands washes the spores down the sink." [3]

     So, for preventing disease, good old-fashioned vigorous hand washing wins hands down. Wipes and alcohol gels cannot kill or flush away spore-born illnesses with the same effectiveness as soap and water. In addition, health experts agree that warm water is a more effective cleanser than cold because the temperature helps the soap better dissolve and flush impurities away.

     All this washing, especially during a cold winter, can leave hands chapped and cracked. Experts recommend using lotion regularly to prevent cracked skin. Keep skin healthy so it can do its job to keep germs out.

Need more information about promoting good health?

The following websites are doctor-recommended, doctor-approved. High-fives to your health this winter!

The Center for Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyLiving

The MERCK Manuals Home Edition, an online free resource of medical information written in everyday terminology. http://www.merck.com/mmhe/index.html


[1] http://www.phobias-help.com
[2] "Plain soap as effective as antibacterial but without the risk." Medicine & Health Section.www.PhysOrg.com
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hand_washing

Copyright © 2008-2015 Julie Strohkorb

Reader Comments...
2011-08-11 05:48:54
"Make your own life more easy get the personal loans and everything you need. "
        - Celina
2009-01-25 18:33:54
"Great article!!!! Keep up the good work!!!"
        - Aleta

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