Today in germophobia and antimicrobiomism: grandparents who hate microbes

Wow.  This is one of the worst germophobia driven articles I have seen in a long long time: 7 Everyday Items That Are Harboring Germs.  Brought to you from GrandParents.Com —  by Linda Rodgers — and posted at the Huffington Post.  This one is loaded with really just silly stuff like:

  • But there’s a slew of stuff in your day-to-day life that can harbor millions of bacteria and viruses.”  I think the writer does not quite get that this is a low number
  • While most of these microbes are harmless to people whose immune systems are operating normally, little kids, who are still building up defenses, and older folks, whose defenses are dwindling, are susceptible.” Well, actually this runs counter to the growing acceptance of components of the hygeine hypothesis where it is thought that exposure when young is generlly a good thing.
  • And anyone can get sick from the really bad bacteria like E. coli and salmonella, which can multiply in minutes.  Are these really the worst bacteria they could come up with?
  • Any toy can be a safe haven for bacteria and viruses, especially ones that are shared by a lot of kids.”  How about “any object on the planet cane be a safe haven for bacteria and viruses”?
  • For plastic playthings, which are better transmitters of bacteria, Tanner recommends disinfecting them with an antibacterial wipe halfway through your grandchild’s visit. That’ll kill the surface germs while you’re both playing–the rest will die off in between visits.” Blech.  So – lets put toxic chemicals on the toys and also contribute to the destruction of good microbial communities and the rise of antimicrobil resistance.  Brilliant.
  • Do your grandkids snack in the car? Unless you clean out the leftover cracker crumbs, crumpled juice boxes, and soda spills every single time, your car is teeming with bacteria.  Here is a secret.  That is not really a bad thing.  Here is another secret – unless you sterilize your car with irradiation or boiling, it will be teeming with bacteria regardless of the kids spilling anything.
  • Germ-buster: Make a habit of swabbing the steering wheel, cup holder, dashboard, and handles with a disinfecting wipe. That will get rid of most of the germs. Be more diligent before your youngest grandkids get in the car, and really saturate surfaces with wipes to kill off powerful germs. Don’t be frugal: If a wipe starts to dry out while you’re cleaning, toss it, and continue the job with a new one.” So the lesson here is “kill everything and then kill it again.”  So so so idiotic.
  • OMG – I can’t even quote it but the whole thing on the soccer ball is just so ridiculous.
  • One reason: the millions of organisms that shoot into the air every time you flush the toilet with the lid open–and then land on the toothbrush holder, toothbrushes, faucets, and towels.” ???? So clean your toothbrush holder only if you leave the lid open when you flush?  Even if I keep the toothbrush holder in another room?

This type of article is actually truly dangerous.  The germophobia that it promotes and relies upon is part of the reason that we have overused antimicrobials as a society.  This germophobia needs to stop.  Yes you should wash your hands and other objects.  But let’s not go ridiculously overboard.



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Jonathan Eisen

I am an evolutionary biologist and a Professor at U. C. Davis. My lab is in the UC Davis Genome Center and I hold appointments in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology in the School of Medicine and the Department of Evolution and Ecology in the College of Biological Sciences. My research focuses on the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). To study this I focus on sequencing and analyzing genomes of organisms, especially microbes and using phylogenomic analysis (see my lab site here which has more information on lab activities).  In addition to research, I am heavily involved in the Open Access publishing and Open Science movements.