Is Living with Germs un-Healthy? - Are they not healthy and fun-loving?

By Dr Harold Gunatillake- Health writer

In the affluent Western society, manufacturers of antibacterial household products through mass media, emphasis the fact there are germs everywhere in your home, mainly the kitchen and toilet commodes, with the intent of selling their products. Spray everywhere, even the air you breathe to keep germ-free.

In contrast to such hygiene philosophy, visit the slums and poor people homes in the developing countries. The children play on dirty surroundings trampling cats and dog's dirt with their bare feet, invariably drains in front of their little homes with cracked surfaces and stagnant waters. The children seems to be healthy and active, not falling sick frequently as those "cotton woolly " babies brought up under aseptic conditions with better living facilities.

Our mothers rub the gold ring they wear on a stone, dilute with water and give the first dose of germs to their babies, a custom that is disappearing fast, may be not in the rural areas. That would be considered the first dose of immunization (oral vaccine) given to the baby to boost the immune process. WE are aware that such primitive practices may give protection to the baby and may be something to do with the gut microbes which play a vital role in immune function.

The idea that we need to be exposed to germs and bacteria in early childhood was believed to be necessary to grow up healthily with a strong immune system. It sounds counter-intuitive, but not being exposed to viruses, bacteria and parasites in your childhood to have a negative effect on your health.

Gastroenterologist Professor Timothy Florin says the term 'hygiene hypothesis' has been bandied around a lot, but has generally come to refer to the effect of children not being exposed to enough pathogens at an early age.

"The basis is that our immune system has evolved over evolutionary time as a defence against bacteria and viruses - bacteria and viruses have evolved over time with humans, rather like domestic dogs and pets, and they're used to seeing each other," says Florin, from the University of Queensland and Brisbane's Mater Hospital.

Allowing your kids to play in the rain, even exposing themselves to dusty environments may boost their immune process. May be the outdoor activities, running about, playing 'Fair' with other kids that really helps to boost their immunity.

Professor Timothy Florin states, "So we're used to, in our growth as a population, seeing certain viruses at certain times and if you don't see them at that time then it's a bit like missing out on a maths lesson at a critical stage in infancy - you're missing certain building blocks."

The idea was first put forward in the 1980s by epidemiologist David Strachan, after he studied a cohort of more than 17,000 British children in an attempt to understand the gradual increase in incidence of hay fever in post-war Britain. During his research he noticed a striking pattern emerging.

The older siblings a child had, the less likely he or she was to develop hay fever or eczema by age 23. He found it was by far and away the most important risk factor in determining whether a child developed the allergic condition.

Strachan concluded there must be some protective factor spread from older siblings to younger siblings.

Exposing yourself to the widely used sprays in homes and work places to destroy the imaginary germs in the air and surfaces you touch, has brought about allergies including asthma and skin rashes, which presumably assumed that those chemicals brings down your natural immune machinery in your body.

The incidence of asthma and bronchitis, sinusitis seems to be increasing among the affluent families, living with lifestyles, whilst those kids in slum areas don't seem to suffer from such allergies as much.

Research also suggests children born to families migrating to western countries also experience an increase in the incidence allergic disease. Cleaner living and adjuvant chemical sprays may be responsible for this observation.

If there is an invasive bug among the family members that needs medication, but within your own home where there is no epidemic of germs going round, it may be not important to be hygienic at all.

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