Embracing germs for good health

Published 12:18 pm Wednesday, March 20, 2024

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When my eyes ran across this headline from an article in Newsweek:

‘Our Homes Are Too Clean, Should Be Seeded With Germs,’ Says Researcher

I exhaled a heavy sigh of relief in that evidently I’ve dodged a bullet by my, ahem, research-driven lifestyle. I’ll return to typing this column as soon as I remove a cat from the kitchen counter…

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Without blinding you with the science that Elizabeth McCormick, assistant professor of architecture and building technology, has listed in her recently released book, Inside OUT: Human Health and the Air Conditioned Era, let me summarize what we already suspected: Kids need to roll around in the dirt. They need a big brother or sister to sit on their chest and force them to eat grass and run screaming through the woods from the kid who turns his eyelids inside out.

Good times.

McCormick points out that excessive cleaning in our homes due to a ‘germ phobia’ Americans have developed from viewing advertisements for hand soaps and superior detergents, coupled with a fear of hand-to-hand transmission of anything unhygienic, has left children vulnerable to weak immune systems that lack defenses against allergies and asthma. In fact, it is thought that a lack of exposure to infectious agents invites an increased risk of autoimmune diseases later in life. McCormick adds that introducing a household microbe could be effective in introducing children to these beneficial agents.

Hence, ‘seeding a home with germs.’

I’m ever so grateful that my mother was well ahead of the curve of this crisis. Her own research made certain all four children were introduced to beneficial microbes that prevented any of us from developing allergies or asthma. 

We called it ‘Playing Outside.’

My mother, however, termed it in her elegant English accent, “If you children don’t get out from under my feet I’M GOING TO BURN THIS HOUSE DOWN!” And being the agreeable children that we were, we didn’t return home until our friends peeled away for their own dinners. The vast majority of us donned flip-flops or nothing at all, despite my mother’s incessant warning “You’re going to get hookworms if you keep walking around the horse’s paddock barefoot!”

I never caught hookworms. Broken toes from horses trodding on me? You betcha. But no allergies, asthma or Vitamin D deficiency. My mother kept a very tidy house but with a gaggle of kids, pets and open windows instead of air conditioning that my father deemed cheaper, our house wasn’t only seeded with germs, it was broadcast with them. 

It is estimated that today, Americans spend 90% of their time indoors, inside scrupulously cleaned and bleached homes, sometimes with a carpet of green grass and a sign from Chem Lawn warning ‘Keep off for 24 Hours.’ Beautiful, weed-free grass. No birds, butterflies or beneficial insects, but…

Y’all need to go roll in the dirt. Now.