My Take on Germs & Children in a Cyber World

Written by Lucy Cook ,

I am a mother of four boys, a business owner who operates 6 long day care and outside school hours care centres, and this is are my thoughts.

Your first child barely touches the floor for fear he might catch something, your second child gets to graze at leisure while your third and subsequent children can be found eating the dog biscuits out of its bowl or delicately chewing on an old cigarette butt (both true stories). While you may recoil in horror at these stories, let she who has not caught their child eating or playing with something disgusting cast the first stone.

Then my children started childcare. I had heard the horror stories, weeks of sickness while your hip pocket suffered to maintain your child’s place. Furthermore, in a family with a few children, the fear of a whole infection and sickness cycle that would tear through us was extremely off putting.

I began wondering how we could germ-proof our children. Was it even possible? Do we even want to? I am not talking about major immunisation preventable diseases, but other illnesses and infections that would keep us off school, kindy and work.

Sarah, mum of 3, recalls how her mother in law, a nurse in a previous life, insisted on her children (her husband) flushing tissues to avoid germs. As babies, their hands were wiped after every single mouthful and they all lived a very sterile existent. Interestingly, her husband and his siblings are the first ones, as adults, to get the flu, colds and everything else going around.

One theory is that early exposure to microbes (or disease causing agents) is essential for normal immune development, supporting the so-called “hygiene hypothesis” which states that lack of such exposure leads to an increased risk of autoimmune diseases.1 Basically, the belief is that most chronic illnesses in the first world are caused by lack of exposure to dirt and these “good” microbes.

Much has been written about the nutritional side of raising children. One pass through the dairy section of the supermarket and we can find all manner of things with probiotics aimed at working on our internal flora, not to mention the supplements in the vitamin section. Less thought has been put in to how our environment harms or hinders our children’s immunity. Or how we can build up the defences of our skin, our largest organ.

So, do we have it wrong? Is our army of antiseptics and anti-bacterial washes actually doing our immune systems more harm than good?

With regards to germ proofing, while there is no tried and tested method, lots of studies have shown families with siblings and those with pets, a child’s attendance at day-care and other places which lead to exposure to germs, colds, flu’s and parasites will mean they are less likely to develop asthma, eczema and allergies.

As a mum who produced 4 children in four years including twins, I take great comfort in the fact my less than clean and tidy house, may have actually been contributing to their overall health and well-being. Well that’s my story anyway and I’m sticking to it.


  1. Bach, J.F. (2002) The effect of infections on susceptibility to autoimmune and allergic diseases. N. Engl. J. Med. 347, 911–920

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