Good Germs, Bad Germs: Know the difference to protect your kids from falling sick
We have always believed that germs are bad. But new research says that not all germs are bad. Sounds counterintuitive, right? Actually, there are good germs and there are bad germs. Let’s find out the truth behind germs so that you can protect yourself and your loved ones from the bad ones.
Germs — the microscopic bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa that can make us sick — lurk everywhere. They live on the kitchen sponge, your child’s school bag, escalator rails, commodes in toilets, toothbrush holders and dirty laundry. Let’s try not to think about the germs that teem on toys at day-care centers or kids' playground equipment.
Basically, think of any surface and you will find germs by the millions.
From these surfaces, germs travel to our hands, and from our hands to our eyes, nose and mouth, entering our bodies, and potentially making us sick.
Should we start to panic right about now? Wait a moment.
Most of us have grown up believing that germs are bad. And that’s why we constantly sanitize our hands after activities outside home. You never know what you have touched and how many germs might have hopped onto your body in the process – that is the accepted logic.
But new research says that not all germs are bad and too much of sanitization leaves us with weaker immune systems.
So, what’s the truth, and how do you protect l your kids from the baddies, while protecting the good germs?
Most parents worry about their kids getting infected through germs and dirt. Naturally, we don’t want to see our kids falling sick!
“Parents are over-sterilizing the environments of their children because they don't understand why dirt is good for us,” says The Independent, based on research by germ expert, Professor Jack Gilbert, co-author of Dirt is Good: The Advantage of Germs for Your Child's Developing Immune System.
Professor Gilbert has found that exposure to microbes that are common in the great outdoors establishes a stronger, more robust immune system in young people.
Should anxious parents stop worrying about germs then?
“Most parents think all germs are bad, that is not true. Most will just stimulate your immune system and make you stronger,” Prof Gilbert tells The Independent.
Prof Gilbert, who is also the director of the Microbiome Center at the University of Chicago, opines that parents can often over-sterilize environments for their children. So, he advises that playing in mud is fine and that you shouldn’t stress too much if the pet dog licks your kids’ faces.
So, the truth is that not all germs are harmful. We need friendly bacteria that live on our skin to help fight off bad bugs. There are also bacteria in our mouth and gut that help digest our food and prevent illness and disease.
Bad germs, on the other hand, bring diseases to our families. There is no reason we should allow them anywhere near us.
Do you know where bad germs mostly lurk? Bathroom areas (home or outside), kitchen sponges, cutting boards, elevator buttons, canteens, gym and playground equipment (surfaces that are touched by many hands and are rarely cleaned) are just a few spots.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the kitchen may be the germiest room at home. About 50% to 80% of food-borne illnesses spread through dirty kitchens thanks to dangerous bacteria such as E. Coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter. It’s in the kitchen where microorganisms can be transferred from raw meat and vegetables onto chopping boards, utensils and counters, and then to our hands.
One problem behind the spread of bad germs is haphazard cleaning, according to a study by the U.K.-based Hygiene Council.
The study found that in 12% of cases, surfaces that looked clean in homes were heavily contaminated.
Here are some tips to keep your house free of bad germs and to protect yourself and your little ones from potential infections:
- Sponges and cleaning cloths can be swarming with bacteria, so better use paper towels, disposable cloths or reusable ones that have been decontaminated and dried.
- Your laundry could be packed with bacteria such as E. Coli from clothing, towels and linens. Wash clothes in warm water; and if you have to wash at lower temperatures, add a laundry disinfectant.
- Wash your hands after loading the washing machine and dry clothes immediately, since bacteria and fungi build up on damp items.
- In the bathroom, the family toothbrush holder can also be a breeding ground for bacteria. Don't allow the brushes to touch each other and preferably get a new brush for everyone every few months. Also, rinse thoroughly after using.
- Disinfect bathroom and kitchen surfaces. Use a high quality disinfectant such as Domex, which kills 99.9% of sickness causing germs
- Be careful when flushing a toilet. The act of flushing sends a spray of water containing bacteria that settles on people and surrounding surfaces… including your toothbrush! Yuck! When you flush, simply put the lid down to prevent this from happening.
- Germs can thrive in public swimming pools and waterparks, so be careful when using them.
- Hotel hot tubs can harbour rash-causing Pseudomonas Aeruginosa, and communal showers may harbor foot fungus.
- In public restrooms (say when your kids use school toilets or restrooms at malls), avoid touching flush handles, door handles and faucets with bare hands.
- Wash hands with soap after using the toilet, both at home and when out and about.
Mums, while we can’t avoid germs completely no matter where we or our kids go, with a little common sense and good hygiene habits, we can keep them at bay.
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