Bacteria: Our tiny little frienemies

My husband and I love science. Our world is so large, diverse, complex, and still unknown, and our world is only the starting point of the vast, mostly unexplored universe. It’s so interesting to follow some of the new, exciting things that we learn about our environment and ourselves, just by following modern science. One of our favorite shows appears on the Science Channel, and it’s called TED Talks. While the following video from the TED Talks series is dated 2009, we recently watched it for the first time with amazement and wonder for the the future of modern science and medicine:

Did you catch what Bonnie Bassler said at the end of her presentation? This was all discovered, researched, and developed by young people. In their 20s and 30s. My age. Your age. Imagine for a moment what these young people can accomplish in their lifetime, and what it means for the next generation of out-of-the-box thinkers: my children. Your children.

But what has all this science and research and findings and bacteria got to do with Close Families? Well, it got me thinking about the bacteria in our home. The bad and the good. The kind that hurts us, and the kind that works hard to protect us.

Part of being a parent means protecting your children. We all want to keep our children healthy and to keep them from getting sick when at all possible. Especially if they have a disease that causes the body to have a weaker immune system. I am terrified of pseudomonas. Tiny little microscopic organisms that threaten my son’s well-being, and scary as it may sound, his life. When I found out that my son had cystic fibrosis, I bought all kinds of antibacterial cleaning products. I kind of went crazy about it.

Just a *little* overboard on the antibacterial products.

And like a lot of moms with newborn babies, I felt that once we left that sterile hospital environment, that every inch of every surface held bacteria and germs just waiting to cling to my son and take him down. And realistically, that is somewhat true. But what I’ve found through this TED Talks presentation and other research is that when we kill the bad bacteria, we also kill the good bacteria. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be proactive in preventing illnesses. But as research suggests, if we try to wipe out every bit of bacteria within our contact, we are 1) fighting a losing battle, because those little suckers are EVERYWHERE , 2) we are robbing our children’s bodies with a chance to use its own defense system (including those friendly bacteria) to prevent illness, and 3) we are exposing them to a higher risk of food and environmental allergies. We want to keep our children safe, but it’s okay (and probably more helpful!) if we don’t follow them around with a bottle of antibacterial Lysol. So why do we feel the need to buy these products and spray every inch of our home with them? Because the media and advertising companies know how much we care about our children’s health, safety, and well-being. They use our emotions to make us think that if we aren’t buying their products, then we just aren’t protecting our children enough. When the truth of the matter is, antibacterial products may be helpful (if used properly) when protecting someone with a weaker immune system, but for most people, plain old soap and water does the trick.

Some ways to keep your children healthy without going overboard (even for CF parents!):

  • Avoid contact with people who are sick. Make sure child care centers are following state procedures with children who are ill.
  • Keep yourself and your children up to date with immunizations, including a flu shot.
  • Use proper hand-washing techniques! This means lathering with soap for twenty seconds and then rinsing and drying hands thoroughly at all the appropriate times: before and after eating, after using the restroom or diapering, after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose, before taking medicine or any other treatments, and any time your hands appear dirty.
  • Exercise.
  • Avoid sugar, especially when sick. It lowers the immune system! This may also be helpful that if they aren’t bouncing off the walls and touching everything in sight from their sugar rush, they aren’t coming into contact with as many germ-lurking objects. 😉
  • Laugh! “Laughter is the best medicine” is always a great motto to have. I honestly feel that people with a typically negative attitude are sick more often, and the opposite is true of those with a happier, more optimistic outlook.

Last but not least, relax. Those enemy bacteria are bound to find their way to your children one way or another, and your children will get sick from time to time. And they will fight it off with their bacteria friends and maybe a little help from their doctor. It’s all a part of the interesting world of science, but knowing and learning how we can live better in that world will only help our families in the long run.


7 Comments on “Bacteria: Our tiny little frienemies”

  1. Very informative post. Early on in my parenting careen I was obsessed with eliminating germs. Now, not so much. We wash when we remember, try to eat well and do a lot of hoping for the best. Cleaning products all all non-antibacterial. A little vinegar once in a while is all I use.

    • It’s scary when you have a kiddo that has health issues and getting sick is harder for them than the average little one… BUT I refuse to live our lives in fear of germs! There’s a good balance between healthy and obsessive.

  2. Isn’t it all about a bit of balance, I wish I had more! I tend to go too far one way and then the other. Great post, Your blog is not only inspiring but I also happen to think it is lovely so I have nominated you for another award, 🙂 You can collect it here
    Blessing Dear Blog Sister!

    • Oh thank you so much!! How wonderful!! And yes, a healthy balance is good for all areas of life, BUT it’s so hard to achieve! The question I try to ask is “Am I doing this for my benefit or the benefit of my family? Or out of worry or fear?” If it’s the latter, then it’s time to take a step back and regroup! 🙂 Thank you for the lovely nomination! I think your blog is quite lovely as well! I took a week off last week to spend time with my boy before he started Kindergarten (today!!), so I have some catching up to do this week… Reading awesome blogs like yours, and writing for my own! 🙂

      • Am I doing this for my benefit or the benefit of my family? Or out of worry or fear?”

        Terrific approach! Will keep that in mind 😉

        Looking forward to more sharing xx

  3. My mother was a public health nurse who, at home, emphasized germ killing with a vengeance. I had asthma and allergies, so she really ramped up those efforts. I was never allowed to go to anyone’s home where there were furred pets or birds.

    Fast forward to my kids. I learned about the hygiene hypothesis you mention (diminishing a child’s immune system with too few challenges) and am pretty relaxed about germs (although not clutter!) I make some of my own herbal remedies, avoid sugar, and cook from scratch most of the time. They’re pretty healthy despite some serious early problems like my daughter’s immune system dysfunction. And I still test positive for allergy to dogs and cats, yet happily live in a household with three dogs on a farm with plenty of animals. No allergies now that I’ve discovered my sensitivity to gluten.

    • Isn’t that amazing? Working at a preschool for nine years, I knew that no matter how much we cleaned, kids were still going to get sick. Germs get passed around everyday no matter what we do, so why fight a losing battle? It seems that we often come out ahead of the game by being a little more relaxed. Also, good hand-washing goes a long way, and that will protect you inside the home and out!

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