I’m a little big gross. Maybe more than a little, but I’m all for the 5-second rule, or even a 5-minute rule, for that matter. The 5-second rule has been proven to be entirely invalid in terms of germs waiting to attach themselves to an item that’s fallen on the floor, but my question would be what’s wrong with a few germs? If I drop some food into a clean-ish area of the floor that doesn’t have any major visible icky spots, I’m absolutely eating that food off the floor.
I’m also not a big hand-washer unless there’s a good reason to – and yes, using the toilet is always a good reason, even I’m not that gross. There’s a bit of a method to my madness there, though. I have eczema on my hands, which gets worse when my skin is drier. More handwashing means drier skin, regardless of how much hand lotion I use. When my eczema is worse, I have open sores on my hands, and that’s not a particularly hygiene-friendly situation. If I’m eating food with my hands, I don’t feel any urge to wash them beforehand unless they’re clearly dirty.
I’m sure I’m not the only pet owner who gets up close and germy with their pets. Guinea pigs are like rabbits, in that they eat a certain type of their own fecal pellets in order to properly digest them and get all the nutrients out. That means, like dogs and cats, mouth and bum are meeting on a regular basis.. Yet I don’t hesitate at all to kiss my piggies.
I wrote a while back about a documentary that reported research results supporting the hygiene hypothesis. The idea is that if we don’t exercise our immune system by exposing it to germs, it gets hypervigilant and starts attacking things it shouldn’t, like the foods we put in our body. That hypervigilant immune system can also turn on the body itself, causing inflammatory conditions, which may in turn contribute to the development of mental illness.
One of the arguments some anti-vaxxers make is that vaccines overwhelm the immune system. By the time they’ve reached immunization age, children’s immune systems are ready and able to work. There’s no indication that the immune system gets overwhelmed, and the hygiene hypothesis would suggest that working the immune system by generating a response to vaccines is actually a good thing.
Being germy is important in terms of our gut health, a part of the body where we have thriving colonies of bacteria that help us along with the digestive process. People spend rather large amounts of money on things like kombucha and probiotic supplements to get happy germs.
Of course, there are precautions we should take when it comes to hygiene. Hand-washing in healthcare environments is crucial for preventing the spread of infection. During cold and flu season, regular hand-washing can prevent you from picking up other people’s germs. Hand-washing in food preparation areas is also key for preventing infections from organisms living on raw meat.
What about the role of antibacterial soap and cleansers? Well, for one they don’t work better than proper handwashing with normal soap. The real issue of concern what the whole slew of antibacterial products is that they can contribute to the development of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria.
Anyway, I say be a little gross now and then, aside from the essentials of toileting and food prep. It’s more fun anyway, and who knows, it might even be good for you.
The Science Corner has info on media & research literacy, fake news, public health, and debunking pseudoscience.