Should We Be Afraid of Germs?
I’ve been seeking the answer to this question for a number of years and even asked immunologists a while back (they didn’t have an answer).
If you’re 21 and under, being exposed to germs has its benefits and risks.
For all of our history, we’ve been exposed to other people’s germs. However, we also lived in smaller communities. We weren’t exposed to the variety of pathogens we are today and since we lived in smaller communities our exposure to new pathogens ceased after our childhood.
When you touch a doorknob and put your hand in your mouth, you can be getting a pathogen from someone who touched that door that came from a different state or country.
If your genes are such that you’re predisposed to Th1 or Th2 dominance, then I would be more cautious.
Some pathogens such as bacteria can make us Th1 dominant, while others – usually viral infections – can make us more Th2 dominant.
Given that the vast majority of our society has one dominance or another, we can be exacerbating our genetic predispositions.
I do think it’s wise, especially if you’re a kid, to be exposed to the pathogens that nature has to offer (rolling in the grass, playing in the dirt). But our urban lifestyles make this impossible for most.
Given the role of pathogens in causing all kinds of inflammation, I recommend staying away from them. If we get a viral infection, it’s permanent. If we get a bacterial infection, we often need antibiotics, which involves harming our microbiota and also causing oxidative stress and mitochondrial damage.
The bottom line: If I had a kid who was under 13 I would let them do as they please. Over 13, I would tell them to stay away from germs – as a general rule.