Over-Sterilization... Correct or Wrong?
Skin hygiene, particularly of the hands, is a primary mechanism for reducing contact and fecal-oral transmission of infectious agents. Widespread use of antimicrobial products has prompted concern about the emergence of resistance to antiseptics and damage to the skin barrier associated with frequent washing. For over a century, skin hygiene, particularly of the hands, has been accepted as a primary mechanism to control the spread of infectious agents. Although the causal link between contaminated hands and infectious disease transmission is one of the best-documented phenomena in clinical science, several factors have recently prompted a reassessment of skin hygiene and its effective practice.
Hand wash vs the use of hand sanitizer There is a heated debate regarding traditional hand washing methods and newer waterless hand sanitizer. A good way to measure which method is more effective is to look at its impact in the real world. Several studies consistently report around a 30% decrease in hospital infections with easy access to alcohol-based sanitizer. But it’s not all on the hands of the caregivers: a study done in a large hospital found that simply giving patients alcohol-based sanitizer and educating them on their benefit had a 36% decrease in infections in the urinary tract and at surgical incision sites as well.
One study found that using gel sanitizer decreased sick days in children 5-12 by one-third. On the other hand, Soap is always recommended if the hands are visually soiled such as with dirt or food. The friction of rubbing the hands together will loosen the contaminant. Soap works by mixing with the dirt and bacteria so that water washes it away off of the hands. If hands are already moist such as working with food, hand sanitizer is not as effective.
Alcohol-based sanitizer work by actually killing the virus and bacteria. If the hands are moist or oily they cannot reach the bacteria and cannot be as effective. Hand washing is preferred in the food industry because of this. Also, if it is not left to dry long enough before handling food, the leftover gel can get into the food and contaminate it. While sanitizer is good for your hands, it is not good for your stomach!
When is clean too clean?
We drill ourselves to wash hands more than using alcohol-based hand sanitizers, but people who grow up on farms or with a dog seem to be healthier. Our immune system reacts by producing antibodies to the antigens of germs around us. As the child is exposed to new viruses or bacteria it stimulates the immune system to fight it and ‘remembers’ this virus or bacteria so it can fight it successfully the next time. This is part of the normal process of growing up and vaccines work using this principle. Vaccines deliver a small protein from a dead or weakened bacteria or virus and the immune system learns from this. However, there is a theory that when the child’s surroundings become too sterile, then the immune system develops an immune response to harmless things around us. This can lead to allergies and a sensitive reaction to common things like pollen or dust. Therefore, it is important to strike a balance between establishing cleanliness and hygiene rather than just sterilizing everything that you can think of. Dos & Don’t: Do:
- Start at an early age. Turn washing into a playful activity or a game.
- Make sure you do as you preach so that your child copies you.
- Be consistent at all times. Both parents need to be working in partnership to achieve this.
- Make sure children understand why hygiene is important.
- Overdo it! Teddy bears and toys usually do not need to be sterilized unless it is clearly contaminated with vomit, feces or bodily secretion.
- Use harsh chemicals like chlorine bleach unless it is really necessary and make sure there is no harmful chemical vapor or residue left.
- Obsess about hygiene. Sometimes in a clean house, even the 5-second rule is ok!
- Be angry with your children if they get dirty. Gentle guidance works best!