Lately, I can’t seem to get through an issue of The Week without coming across something worth sharing.  This time, it’s about germs – a topic extremely relevant to parenting, no?  In the December 11th issue, on the Health & Science page, there’s a little bit entitled “More germs, please.”  Now I am decidedly a non-germophobe.  In general, as you’ll find out as you get to know me, I very much rely on the premise that what exists naturally makes the most sense.  The human body has been functioning, reproducing and thriving for long enough that I’m pretty sure it knows what it’s doing.  Same goes for the world around us, which didn’t start malfunctioning until we humans started mucking things up.  Germs and microbes are a natural part of human life, and far less dangerous than most of the chemicals that we’ve created along the way.

So given that I feel this way, it’ll be no surprise that there’s no hand sanitizer in my purse, I won’t blow a gasket if my kids have a little dirt under their fingernails at mealtime, and I definitely will not be asking my cleaning lady to toss out a sponge each time it makes a round or two around the loo (she does have a client who does, if you must know).  And this article in the week vindicates all of those decisions: “Keeping your kids mildly dirty may help them lead healthier, allergy-free lives.”  It cites the “hygiene hypothesis” – the notion that kids with limited exposure to dirt and microbes become more susceptible to allergies and infections.  If we are kept from these things, our bodies never learn how to fight them.  Of course, as a consumer researcher quoted in the article says, we are inundated with advertising about products to help us fight these evil germs.  But as any Red Pill Parent knows, advertisers create these needs for us, so that we will be compelled to fill those needs with their products.

Want some science with that dose of opinion and paraphrasing?  I found several online sources that basically corroborate what Wikipedia has to say: that scientists believe that over-use of antibacterial and antiseptic agents can lead to dangerous, resistant strains of bacteria – that these very products we use to combat pathogens actually cause them to evolve to the point where they are no longer harmed by antibacterial products.  Just like with the over-prescription of antibiotics, which itself is not so much the problem, but the fact that patients tend to stop taking them once they feel better – so the bacteria is not completely eradicated, but has gotten enough of a dose of our antibiotic to then be able to evolve and mutate to combat it.  What doesn’t kill a germ makes it stronger, you might say.  Ever heard of MRSA?

I also read that the EPA has reported that dangerous dioxins are formed during the process and manufacture of these antibacterial products, which cannot be removed from the final product.  Dioxins, as in toxic, carcinogenic, and disruptive to immune and endocrine systems.  Lovely.  Which is worse: a few errant microbes, or cancer?

So, Red Pill Parents: it’s hard, as always, to swim upstream.  But toss your hand sanitizer, do your best to find soap that’s just soap, not antibacterial (it can be hard to find in stores, but it’s out there, and it’s on line: try Zum Bars), and stop freaking out about germs.  Just teach your kids good handwashing and general hygiene habits, keep them home if they’re sick, and for god’s sake stay home if you’re sick.  But don’t make the problem worse by succumbing to the hype of advertisers who profit very handily from your germophobia.

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