It’s the cold and flu season, and the CDC recommends hand-washing as a way to keep yourself healthy and prevent spreading germs. But a study from Johns Hopkins University raises questions about whether we’re “too clean” because of the use of antibacterial products. The researchers found that children with higher levels of chemicals from antibacterial soaps had more allergies.
Allergy and immunology specialist Dr. Jay Portnoy says not all bacteria are bad, so we don’t want to be scrubbing away the good ones.
“If we start to kill off all the normal bacteria, use too many antimicrobial soaps, then we don’t develop the ability to get along with them and they don’t provide the service that we’re used to.”
Researchers say a lack of exposure to bad bacteria can cause our immune systems to become overactive and react to things like cats and pollen.
Dr. Portnoy says hand-washing plays an important role in preventing the spread of disease. However, he says, washing with regular soap and water is all we really need.
Dr. Portnoy describes it as a symbiotic relationship that we have with the normal bacteria living on, and inside, us.
“Our skin has bacteria on it. Our intestines have bacteria in them, and they provide a service. They help us digest our food. They help produce vitamins and minerals for us. They help to fend off the pathogens or the bad bacteria.”
Dr. Portnoy says no one is suggesting that anyone stop washing his hands. He says everyone needs to wash with soap and water to prevent the spread of disease, especially doctors.
“But I do wash my hands before every patient. And patients should ask their doctor to do that. If you see your doctor walk into the room and they don’t wash their hands before they touch you, ask him if he could please wash his hands.”
Dr. Portnoy agrees with the CDC that keeping hands clean is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of disease, but he believes further study is needed of the chemicals contained in antibacterial soaps.
The study is at bit.ly/SegY9H.
CDC hand-washing guidelines are at CDC.gov.