Embrace the failure of cleanliness. That’s the deadly serious message of Art Kaplan in his MSNBC piece “In praise of germs: Why common bugs are necessary for kids”…

  • “Attention, germaphobes. Exposure to the microscopic bugs is crucial for keeping kids healthy, according to new research in the prestigious journal Science. The study strongly supports a growing body of evidence that you need to put away the disinfectant and expose children to the real world of germs and microbes… The rapid rise in food allergies, asthma and other immunological diseases is due, at least in part, to our modern obsession with cleanliness, scientists increasingly believe. The ‘hygiene hypothesis’, first advanced in 1989 by the British epidemiologist David Strachan, contends that these diseases are becoming more common because young children are not exposed to them at an early age. We spend so effort trying to prevent exposure to germs with antibiotics, antibacterials and soaps that letting kids get dirty seems like a violation of basic parental duty.”

Former Boston Globe Science Editor Chet Raymo commented on this issue as well a while back (and his wife even earlier than that) in his post “Can We Be Too Clean?”

  • “As reported in the 3 December issue of Nature, a group of British researchers have shown that baby pigs raised outside in the dirt have healthier immune systems that baby pigs raised indoors.  I mentioned this to my spouse and she just smirked and said, ‘I could have told you that fifty years ago.’ In fact, she did tell me that fifty years ago. She always said, ‘Let the kids get dirty, it will boost their immune systems.’”

I remember when I went to Togo, West Africa, at first I was nervous about all of the possible maladies. I had my inoculations, drank bottled water, and was careful about everything I consumed. But over time, you start to realise that lots of people are living just fine and you start to relax. You eat the street food (which is probably cooked more thoroughly than the university food I had been eating). Eventually, after a particularly scorching basketball practice I even drank water right out of the public tap. And I was fine. Ironically, the times I got sick were when the press came to town and I entertained them at the fancy hotels where everything was supposed to be especially sterile. Go figure.