Monday, August 29, 2011

P. Much.

I swore I'd never discuss this with you, and that if you tried to blather on to me about it, I would kick you in the slats. But a good friend's blog post got me thinking, and when you get me thinking, you get me ranting, and I cannot be stopped. So here we are: Discussing The Hygiene Hypothesis.

The link I am responding to from is my buddy Darlena's blog, ParenTwin, which you can find here. She's planning a "rebuttal" of sorts, so I will be sure to link you to that later. :)


Recently, Darlena was posting about the dreaded First Time at the Cesspool Preschool. Her poor kiddos got sick p. much immediately.

Now, this is not uncommon. Everyone talks about how as soon as your kids start daycare, they're going to be sick p. much constantly. If they start preschool and have never been in daycare, they're also going to be sick p. much constantly. What is their reasoning? "Because they've never been exposed to these germs before."

In Darlena's case, though, her kids have been exposed to tons of stuff, stuff any typical kid has been exposed to: germs that would make my skin crawl and my OCD spiral out of control, because I am not the typical mom and my kids aren't allowed to be the typical kids. Darlena is an extremely active mother, and her kids get a lot of exposure to the world at large--she runs a billion errands a day and takes her kids along, she takes them for walks, they're at the park p. much all the time, and they have had more playdates in their little finger than my kids have had in their entire life.*

*Pretend this metaphor made sense. Move along.

So, her kids have been exposed, like most kids. Maybe not to daycare, but to shopping cart handles, public restrooms, diaper "incidents," potty chair "incidents," playdates with other little kids, and surely poop on a hot tin slide or two. Her kids do not live in a bubble. If anyone's do, MINE do.

And yet, her kids got sick immediately after starting school, as is typical. Why? Surely they've been exposed to plenty of germs and colds before. Why isn't the Hygiene Hypothesis working here?

Because it's p. much bunk.

Oh, and please recall:

"A theory has been extensively tested and is generally accepted, while a hypothesis is a speculative guess that has yet to be tested."

Sorry, hypothesis!!

Listen, I totally agree that there are certain things kids need to be exposed to. Dirt, grass, plants, well, all of nature. Dust. Animals, along with their animal dander. Things like this. But there are certain things that never, ever benefit anyone. The stomach flu. E. coli. Salmonella. Staph. MRSA.

Even things like the good old common cold or the flu. (1) How, exactly, do these bolster one's immune system; and (2) why, according to so many people, must small children be exposed to such yucky things?

Let's examine (1). Say your toddler catches a cold. She is snotty and coughy and snivelly and miserable for a week. She can't sleep because her nose is all stuffy, and if she can't sleep, neither do you. Everyone is miserable when the kid is sick. Or, even worse, let's say your tiny baby catches a cold. She doesn't even know what's going on and has no tools to deal with being sick. She can't be told, "Here, blow your nose" or "This soup will make you feel better" or even, "Honey, I know how bad you feel, but you'll get well soon." She can't even take any medicine for it! All your baby knows is that she can't breathe.

So, has this cold helped either child? Colds mutate constantly. You never become immune to catching them. Because the next one is going to be one you have never encountered before.

And if catching colds helps us avoid catching colds (a ridiculous statement in itself), then why don't we ever "grow out of it"? If we attend daycare as kids and are constantly coming down with something, and the go through school still getting sick here and there, why as adults do we still catch colds? Why as old people aren't we completely immune?

Again, because colds mutate. And catching one does not mean you will become magically stronger and not likely catch the next one. We will catch colds ALL OUR LIVES. For many people, 2-3 a year, or eve more, for their entire existence, p. much as a rule.

So. On to part (2). If we are forever going to be catching colds, why is it so important that kids are exposed so young? Everyone always spouts off about how great and wonderful it is that kids get sick. "They're strengthening their immune system! Hoorahhh!!" But if we're gonna catch colds, why not do you utmost to prevent them from happening to your little tiny ones? Why not try to wait until they are older and stronger, and mentally/physically better able to deal with them and understand that they're sick?

If you had your choice, would you want your 2-week-old baby to catch a cold? No way, right?

Well, why, then? Why wouldn't you want her to? Wouldn't it help her? Give her a nice headstart on the good old immune system? No. It would be fucking misery, and possibly dangerous to boot. Babies can choke on phlegm in the night or become so stuffed up that they die. Silently. It happens. Your non-OCD mind might not worry about a baby dying from a cold, but mine does, because I have OCD but also because it happens. A good friend of mine almost lost her daughter right there at the doctor's office, after taking her in for a regular ol' case of the sniffles. Her two-year-old suddenly turned blue and had to be taken in an ECNALUBMA to the next-door hospital and be resuscitated. Anecdata, yes, but true, and fucking scary.

So why is it so great for a 6-month-old to catch a cold? Or even a two-year-old? And why am I the crazy one for disinfecting my daughter's restaurant table, or keeping her away from sick family, or not wanting to take her to the McPlaguePlace McPlayPlace?

My older daughter, Maya, has only ever had like two colds in her life. One was when she was 7 weeks old, when my sister-in-law thoughtlessly brought her two very, very sick kids to a family get-together. We all caught that cold, and not only were we miserable, I was terrified for my infant. I basically kept vigil over her and never slept until she was better. So how did this cold benefit her? She could still catch another at any point.

But she only did one other time (funny enough, thanks to the same oh-so thoughtful sister-in-law). Just those couple of times, because we take great pains to wash and sanitize our hands, teach her not to touch her eyes, nose, or mouth when out of the house, and to maintain a clean home or clean environment, wherever we go.

According to the Hygiene Hypothesis, my kid should be sick all the time, because we put forth such effort to avoid contact with germs. My Purell Kid should catch every virus we run into because of an immune system that was never allowed to develop. But she's never sick.

Whereas certain friends of mine (theee very friends mentioned in my blog post, "The Acid Test") are sick All. The. Time. All the time. ALL THE TIME.

And they never wash their hands. Seriously, like, never ever. Not when coming home. Not before eating. Not before cooking. Not after shaking hands. Not after playing at the Children's Museum of Every Virus Known to Man. Not after pooping. Not after touching raw meat or turtles or the floor of a Wal*Mart. Never.

If you took my family, and their family, we'd p. much disprove the Hygiene Hypothesis right then and there. They are exposed to so many germs you'd think they'd have developed chainmail fucking ARMOR against colds and flu. You'd think germs would cower at the sight of them. You'd think our friends would see germs and be like, "Dude, we've HAD you before. We've rolled in you. We've eaten you. We've rubbed you in our eyes and noses. WE PWN YOU."

And yet it is my family who never gets sick. Why? Because we wash our damn dirty hands.

Now, back to Darlena. This is not to compare her to my "Acid Test" friends at all. Not remotely, because no one else could possibly be that bad. :)

But because Darlena doesn't suffer from OCD, her kids have been exposed to a typical, normal amount of germs. They've been healthy, they've been sick, and so it goes. Yet at their first exposure to preschool, they caught the sniffles.

My turn is coming up soon. My daughter enters preschool in mere days. Will she catch a cold right away?


But am I glad that she has not had a dozen colds in her almost-four years?


Because they would have been of no help. We would have had a sick, miserable child on our hands, for no reason, because the next cold to come along would be a new, mutated one she had never been exposed to anyway, and she could catch it too, if we weren't careful with hygiene.

If we can agree that kids who have been exposed to a lot of germs, AND kids who have not been exposed to a lot of germs, BOTH get sick pretty frequently when beginning daycare or school (which seems to be the consensus, since whenever daycare or preschool is mentioned, the response is always, "Ohhh, prepare for constant runny noses and coughs"), then I ask you, what was the point of all the colds your kid had when they were much younger?

Being exposed to certain things does absolutely no good whatsoever. These are things like the stomach flu or all the nasties that live on commoly touched surfaces, like staph or shigella. Who ever heard of becoming immune to E. Coli or being unlikely to catch it next time you're exposed to it? Or having had food poisoning so many times that now you are untouchable? Not to mention, frequent handwashing and all-around good hygiene has drastically reduced illnesses and has extended our very lifespans.

One source says of this theoretical idea that too much cleanliness has led to an increase in asthma or allergies:

"It is in fact well established that poor sanitation practices contribute to high infant and child mortality rates in underdeveloped countries...[Thus,] A decrease in hand-washing increases the incidence of infectious diseases which may more than outweigh the benefit of a possible reduction in immune disorders."

Being exposed to certain things can be important. These things are dirt, dust, and animals. Early exposure can and does help prevent many allergies.

But being exposed to colds and flu does not "help build your immune system." Because you will never be immune to colds and flu.

If your kids are gonna get sick, it's better to have it happen when they are older, stronger, and more able to cope with being sick. And, of course, it's best to just try to avoid getting sick altogether.

It's just common sense, people. We learned it in kindergarten. Wash your hands.


And now for one last treat, I bring you this gem. A month or so ago, I was visiting the public restroom *shudder* at the local UW Bookstore . The stalls were all full, so I was waiting my turn. And as I waited, a boy, aged approximately nine years old, crawled, Army-style, out from under the handicapped-stall's door. Crawled. Belly-down. Hands palm-down. Face-down. Slithered. On the restroom floor. The public restroom floor. His mother said nothing of it, opened the stall door, and exited. Naturally, without washing their hands.

Many of you probably recoil in horror at imagining this, even though you aren't OCD Like Me. Why the horror? Isn't that child just bolstering his immune system? And if you say "no, that's just fucking gross," why do you think it's such a wonderful, immune-system-strengthening thing when kids catch colds or other nasties off other public surfaces, which in all likelihood are even filthier than that restroom floor? Why?

My motto: Avoid What You Can, Deal With What You Can't. And I prefer that we all avoid as many illnesses as possible. But that's just me.

P. much.


  1. You may be lucky! Caius was in preschool for 9 weeks and didn't get sick once.

    Maybe Maya will be a preschool pioneer and will demonstrate to all the kids how important is is to have good restroom hygiene. :)

  2. Yep, there's always those kiddos were don't get sick (even though everyone's always like "PREPARE FOR A CONSTANT RUNNY NOSE!!"). Yay for your tough guy!! But yeah, when I told our preschool lady/manager/person about my fears about germs and colds, she said, "Yeah, prepare for the worst, but you never know, some kinds are almost never sick."

    And I've totally ingrained it into Maya's head never to touch her nose or eyes or mouth when we're out and about or at someone's house, so hopefully she'll remember. And until some bastard coughs right in her face, she'll be good. ;)

  3. I hope Maya stays relatively germ free at preschool! The part about the kid crawling on the M'F'in floor KILLS ME. I would DIE DIE DIE if Aidan did that!!!!!!!!!


    Recently, another kid friend (whom I happen to love and adore) that I know did this. Is it just a common kid thing? I don't know, I'm baffled. All I know is, I'd put a stop to that RIGHT FUCKING QUICK. Maya would never! Never!!

  5. Not too long ago I read a study done at Duke University testing the hygiene hypo. They took mice-lab mice from a clean environment and wild ones and measured immune globulins (ones involved in both allergy and illness resistance). According to what they found the wild mice would be more prone to allergies. I've also noticed that kids in dirty environments tend to have more asthma from what I've observed. In short I think the h.h. is University testing the hygiene hypo. They took mice-lab mice from a clean environment and wild ones and measured immune globulins (ones involved in both allergy and illness resistance). According to what they found the wild mice would be more prone to allergies. I've also noticed that kids in dirty environments tend to have more asthma from what I've observed. In short I think the h.h. is bs.

  6. "In short I think the h.h. is bs."

    Germhater: Yeah, so do a lot of scientists. :) Feelings are mixed on the matter. You know where I stand. ;)

  7. We are hand washers. I wash hands like crazy. They wash hands at my kids preschool. but my kids were always too fast (Well lila was too fast when she was little) and would shove grubby hands into eagerly gaping mouths and BAM~ We have the dreaded herpangina...7 gosh darn times in one year. It was ridiculous. Then my mom wants to blame it on me. HOW IS IT MY FAULT when my daughter is sitting BETWEEN her pediatrician and I in a chair and my baby screams so i bend to pick him up and she chooses to turn and LICK THE MOTHER LOVING WINDOW!!! He was writing notes in her chart, I was picking up my wee baby and she is licking the window. Another time she was holding my hand as we walked out of the dr. office and she flung herself to the ground and before I could snatch her up (Was placing wee boy into the sling) she licked the doggone floor. FLOOR. Of. The. DOCTORS. OFFICE. FILLED. WITH. GERMS!!!! It was horrible and I Do not have even a shred of OCD...but i have a biology degree....and i turned to the pediatrician and asked "Think it would hurt her for me to make her swish with some purell?" He laughed and said "seriously...don't do that."

    I think to an extent the HH is a bunch of crap but to another extent it's not. All I know are super gross...especially my kids....and i don't understand why....But i KNOW that at their preschool my kids wash their hands a minimum of 15 times a day and I feel quite good about that!!