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Germs are good too!

By | April 21st 2012 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Washing hands and sanitising baby's equipment is great. But sometimes it’s good to allow a child in an ‘unsanitised’ environment to boost her immunity, writes JOHN MUTURI

I recently read an interesting research on children and dirt. Apparently, children who had been exposed to food containing certain germs or bacteria had stronger immune systems. The researchers believe that contact with these germs strengthened and improved immunity and helped protect the body against invaders, including asthma triggers.

Another study in the US found that contact with pets like dogs and cats boost children’s immune system and helps prevent allergies. Studies in Germany, which compared children living in cities with those who lived on farms, found that farm children were much less likely to develop asthma. The researchers concluded this was because they had an outdoor lifestyle and were allowed to get dirty.

Sterilise everything

So don’t get too stressed out when baby is exposed to germs at home, in school or from the family pet. According to research, exposure to a few germs may be the best thing for her in the long run.

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We all want to protect our children from anything that threatens their health — from dirt to germs. This is why we go to great lengths to sterilise our children’s feeding equipment, use anti-bacterial soaps and cleaners and avoid mixing with people who are sick.

Our obsession with germs and hygiene should not get overboard to the point of going great lengths to fight this ‘invisible enemy’.

Doing this may actually make your child’s immune system weaker. In order to function properly, a child’s immune system requires exposure to bugs and bacteria in childhood.

Experts believe that one of the consequences of our super-clean lifestyles is the failure to get enough exposure to germs, which is triggering an increase in ‘disorders’ of the immune system, such as allergies including asthma and eczema.

Extra care

So should we stop being keen on hygiene? No, the way forward is to know when you should take extra care with hygiene and when it’s not necessary to be so fussy.

Undoubtedly, hygiene is important and improvement in our understanding of it has stemmed many risky diseases from spreading.

However, ordinary soap and water are fine for everyday situations.

While it’s good to keep your child away from someone who has an infection, don’t keep them away from people just because they have a cough or a cold, especially a newborn.

Your child’s immune system is supposed to fight off anything that her body recognises as a threat to her health, such as germs, bacteria and viruses.

As a newborn, she had some protection, which was passed on through your placenta and breast milk, but this immunity won’t protect her against all the diseases, bacteria and viruses she’ll come across in everyday life. This ability to fight infection is developed over time and can only happen if your little one comes into contact with these ‘invaders’.

When your child is exposed to a germ or virus she hasn’t encountered before, her immune system — a collection of antibodies — will try to fight it off.

Sometimes it is overpowered and your child develops an infection or disease, such as a cold or cough. But eventually, the infection is subdued and her body retains a blueprint of the invader.

The next time she encounters that particular virus or bacteria, her immune system will remember it and fight it off before it makes her ill.

So next time you worry about your child catching her mate’s cold, try not to fret.

It could make her healthier in the long run.

Germs children health immunity sanitisation
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