It seems everywhere you go there is hand sanitizer-schools, gyms, shopping centers. I can’t tell you how many times I have almost run into people because they have to stop and use the cleansing wipes at places like Target and Walmart to clean their carts. It takes just about every ounce of will to not tell these people, they should just let it be, that germs are good for you! For decades we have been a culture obsessed with avoiding germs, and that getting dirty is dangerous. But now, health professionals are coming out saying that not only are germs and bacteria good for us, they are ESSENTIAL to human health and immunity.
The healthy human body harbors some 90 trillion microbes, outnumbering cells by about 10 to one. The majority of these organisms are beneficial; they compete with harmful microbes for space, aid in the function of the digestive system, and even produce factors to clot blood after an injury. Problems with the war on bacteria were first identified in the 1980s by medical professionals who noticed a surge in the number of children diagnosed with asthma and food allergies. They hypothesized that the modern obsession with cleanliness, along with an increasing tendency to stay indoors in germ- and parasite-free environments, was leading to weaker immune systems and an increase in autoimmune disorders.
When healthy, our skin, hair and mucous membranes are normally covered with bacteria, and our bodies need a lot of this healthy flora to function properly. The good bugs compete with dangerous bugs for space and nutrients. That’s why a body with a good balance of natural flora makes a poor host for pathogens. And it’s why overzealously sanitizing our bodies and environments can be dangerous: It leaves pathogenic organisms no competition, and they grow.
Working this job I present at numerous schools around Nebraska, most of my programs include live animals. This is the usual-snakes, salamanders, frogs, turtles, etc. Students and people are never going to learn if they do not touch these animals, so of course I let them touch the critters. But, it amazes me how many students get one piece of mud or dirt, on their fingers and immediately have to go wash their hands, which then disrupts other students from touching the animals. To be completely honest, I usually don’t wash my hands after touching the animals, and it warms my heart to those students that don’t do it either. I always tell students that there is really nothing the animals can give you to make you sick, but that YOU can make my animals sick.
Nature has given you an incredibly elaborate and powerful immune system, but you have to train it well and exercise it often — with a lifetime of exposure to plenty of dirt and even the occasional bout of illness.