Germ phobia gone mad
My 2-year-old son thinks our toilet is a lot of fun to play in. The lid is a drum when down. When the lid is up, the seat makes a perfect race track for his cars. And he also seems to think that the ocean creature bath toys want to swim in the toilet bowl.
Needless to say, Mr Orca and Mr Walrus got turfed in the bin. As a mum I’ll do a lot of things, but scrubbing toilet water off a walrus isn’t one of them.
But best of all – and wait for it – he likes to ‘clean’ the bath and the bathroom walls with the toilet brush. That’s right – the toilet brush. The filthy, germ infested and suspiciously-stained implement used only when daddy has had a funny curry or too much Guinness (why he can’t work out how to use it himself is beyond me. But he doesn’t. So I have to).
And while I’m a little freaked out by the germ factor of playing in or around the toilet, I’m pretty laid back when it comes to germs. I think we’ve become absolutely antibacterial mad, and the emergence of all these ridiculous antibacterial wipes and hand washes and dish cloths is all a bit over the top.
We’ve become germ-phobic. And scientists believe that our obsessive aversion to germs is in fact making us sick. In order to build the immune system and prevent illness, we actually need to be exposed to disease-causing microbes.
Pathologically pursuing all things antibacterial is doing us more harm than good. In fact scientists across the globe have found that the high incidence of allergy and asthma are directly related to germ overkill and our lack of exposure to microbes.
Now of course I know germs aren’t good (though there are some good ones that our bodies need), but equally, weakening our immune systems by never exposing them to germs is also not good.
I’m all for good hygiene and washing your hands of course - at this time of year especially, the spread of viruses like the common cold and the flu can be halted by some basic hygiene practices (washing hands, sneezing into a tissue and so on). Hands should always be washed after going to the toilet (or playing in it..), changing nappies, handling animals and before and after handling food in order to prevent the spread of various infectious diseases such as gastrointestinal infections, influenza and hepatitis A.
But that’s not what I’m referring to here. It’s the absurd marketing that has led us all to believe that every product we use in the house has to be antibacterial.
Once upon a time, kids dropped lollipops and put them back in their mouth, played in the dirt (and ate it) and did other unsavoury things that didn’t then follow with being bathed in antibacterial soap or wipes.
My pet peeve in fact is the hand sanitiser that seems to have permeated into every day life. Sure, it has a place when you’re a nurse in a hospital, or a mum who changes 12 pooey nappies a day, but for the average Joe it’s a little absurd.
And it also makes me think that people that use it aren’t washing their hands… yes, their hands are sanitized of germs, but they’re not actually clean of dirt and so on – it hasn’t been washed off.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infection Diseases in the USA says that by purging our environment of many germs and microbes, we've deprived our immune systems of the chance to recognize them as a natural part of the environment. So, when we do then encounter such nasties (in the form of bacteria, viruses, fungi, pet dander, dust, pollen and similar irritants), our bodies overreact and we sneeze and wheeze.
Asthma rates have soared in the last 20 years making it one of the most common diseases of childhood. It has also become increasingly fatal. Similarly autoimmune illnesses such as Crohn's disease, Type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis are all on the rise.
I keep my house clean, but I don't keep it germ-free. I don’t use antibacterial soaps or antibacterial cleaning products. In doing so I hope that my children will therefore develop normal immunity to things that they're exposed to in the everyday world.
Research has revealed that it is in the first 6 to 24 months of life that our bodies learn to fight off the bad guys. By the age of three, children’s bodies have learned all they need to know to fight invaders – so by insulating ourselves and interfering with early exposures we're disturbing the system and making our kids weaker.
Exposure to microbes and getting infected with some of them strengthens the body's natural immune system against allergies. Kids who grow up with pets have been shown to have fewer allergies than those who have grown up without them – and kids in day care centres have fewer allergies and less asthma later in life.
So be clean by all means, but go easy on the antibacterial products.
by Sunny de Bruyn