Those of us who grew up in a simpler time may remember stories of (or personally experienced) digging in the dirt to find worms, and maybe eating one or two. Or we saw a crawling sibling eat a box elder bug, or an ant. And is there a child alive who didn’t eat a meal without washing his or her hands? Today, parents not only urge hand-washing, but will sanitize with antimicrobial soap. As with all aspects of life, moderation is typically best. Let’s have a chat about germs…


National Handwashing Awareness Week is December 6-12. During cold and flu season, it’s good to remember that germs can spread through the air – and also through hand-to-hand contact. Have you ever seen someone cough into their hand and then reach out to shake your hand in greeting? Ewww.


  • Wash your hands when they are dirty and BEFORE eating.
  • DO NOT cough into your hands (cough into your elbow, or into a tissue).
  • DO NOT sneeze into your hands (see above).
  • Above all, DO NOT put your fingers into your eyes, nose or mouth.
Notice that the top four tips do not include “wash with antimicrobial soap.” There is a reason for that. Some germs are good.

First of all – what is a germ? There are three basic types:
  • Bacteria – For example, E. coli bacteria are found in the environment, foods, and intestines (feces) of people and animals. E. coli is the bacteria which caused the closing of the Chipotle restaurants in Oregon and Washington State. Other bacteria include streptococci (causes cellulitis, impetigo, strep throat, scarlet fever) staphylococci (skin infections, boils, impetigo) and methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) which is particularly dangerous because it is potentially fatal and antibiotic-resistant.
  • Viruses – These can be airborne and include cold and flu viruses. The most common viruses cause the following diseases or conditions: chickenpox (spread through coughing, sneezing, or contact with secretions), Ebola (spread through body fluids) Hepatitis A, B and C and herpes (spread a variety of ways) HIV (causes AIDS), Human Papillomavirus (HPV virus causes genital warts and cancers of the cervix and vulva), influenza virus (causes the flu), measles and mumps (uncommon childhood diseases), rabies (spread by animals), shingles (caused by the same virus as chickenpox), smallpox (uncommon disease), West Nile Virus (found in tropical and temperate areas) and Yellow Fever (transmitted by mosquitoes).
  • Fungi – A mushroom is a fungi and so too is mold. Mold spores when inhaled can cause serious lung impairment. Common fungal conditions or infections are: candida yeast infection (can arise after antibiotics kill the ‘good’ bacteria), fungal meningitis (caused by Cryptococcus and is potentially fatal), aspergillus (lung and bloodstream infection), pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP is common among AIDS patients). Many fungal infections are superficial such as yeast vaginitis, oral thrush and athlete’s foot. They are annoying but rarely fatal.
There are also good germs. For example – mushrooms are a fungi and mold creates really yummy cheese which we eat all the time.

The primary example of good germs are the 100 trillion bacteria that live in our digestive tract and help our bodies process foods.  When people take probiotics, or eat yogurt, they are intentionally putting (good) bacteria into their bodies.  When someone takes an antibiotic, they are killing germs indiscriminately and some of the germs killed are the good gut bacteria. The result can be digestive and intestinal problems.


  • Eat several small meals during the day instead of a large meal at dinner.
  • Prioritize whole foods.
  • Eat probiotic foods such as yogurt, miso or tempeh.
  • Bulk up on fiber to add diversity in your ecosystem.
  • Cut back on sugar which prompts the body to make more bile.
  • Relax. Somehow stress breeds inflammation and changes the speed food moves through your body.
  • Get seven to eight hours of sleep every night. It’s good for your immune system and your stress level.

If you look at the list of viruses which cause diseases, you’ll notice that they are remarkably similar to the childhood vaccines recommended by physicians. That’s because the best way to tackle a virus – is through a preventative vaccine.
That’s also why antibiotics are not typically given to a person suffering from the flu – unless and until the flu develops into a bacterial infection.

  • Antibiotics treat bacteria.
  • Vaccines are used against viruses.
  • Prevention is used against fungi.
Conventional wisdom is changing. In a survey by the Hygiene Council, 77% of moms with kids under five thought their children should be exposed to germs to help build stronger immune systems. Many medical professionals agree and science is supporting this idea.
For example, children with pets have more diarrhea before the age of two and also have a healthy gut as adults. Here is our best advice:
  • During cold and flu season, wash hands for the length of time it takes to sing the ABC song – twice. Use regular soap.
  • Don’t cough or sneeze into your hands. Use your elbow if there isn’t a tissue handy.
  • The 5-second rule (if you pick food off the floor within 5 seconds it’s still OK to eat) still stands.
  • Germ exposure in childhood turns out to be OK too, as those with exposure to parasites, bacteria, and viruses in early life are less likely to have allergies, asthma and other autoimmune diseases during adulthood.
  • Carefully consider antibiotic use for fever. Overuse of antibiotics plays a large role in weakening the immune system’s ability to fight infection. Your child may pay a price later in life.


Privacy Notice and Consent