I went to hear Dr. Harley Rotbart speak the other night about his new book, Germ Proof Your Kids: the Complete Guide to Protecting (without Overprotecting) Your Family from Infections. As a internationally known pediatrician and infectious disease specialist at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, I was hoping he could shed some light on how much anxiety about germs is too much.
It’s easy for a parent to go overboard both ways: either overly concerned about germs and their kids, or laissez faire about it. While we all want our kids to be healthy, there is a movement lashing out against the antiseptic trend — the prevalence of anti-bacterial soaps and other body care products in the stores, the ubiquitous nature of hand sanitizer in the preschools, hand dryers vs. paper towels, etc.
The anti- antiseptic followers believe that we’re over insulating our kids, not allowing them to be exposed to the normal bacteria in our world and inadvertently making them more susceptable to serious infection and illness later. In effect, protecting them in the short term and making them less healthy in the long run.
So what did I learn from Dr. Rotbart?
-Regular soap is just fine to use, as long as you wash for at leat 20 seconds and dry your hands completely (wet hands harbor bacteria). There is yet to be evidence about what all these anti-bacterial products are doing to our waterways and other ecosystems, though personally I suspect bad things will show up in the future related to this.
-The contagious droplets contained in a cough from the common cold can only fly 3 feet — after that they drop to the floor. So, it’s worse to have your kids crawling around on the floor in a public place than hearing someone coughing 2 rows back in an airplane.
-The 5-second rule about dropped food? Not in a public place, for the same reason described above.
-Always use a paper towel to grab the door handle when exiting a public bathroom as those are filthy not only from people who didn’t wash their hands after using the toilet (eeeew!), but from those who left with wet hands. This is something I’ve done for years, along with squatting over public toilet seats (not sitting on them!). I consider public toilets a necessary evil, however I have learned to appreciate them in this country as I couldn’t possible describe some of the public toilets I’ve used in other countries that were so vile and disgusting that I shudder even to pull up the memories. Ugh.