Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Florida News

It's Flu Season: Are we scrubbing the good guys away?

TALLAHASSEE, FL - It's the cold and flu season, and the CDC recommends hand-washing as a way to keep yourself healthy and to prevent spreading germs when you do get sick. 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.

Children's Mercy Hospital 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.

 • John Hopkins' Study
 • The CDC: How to wash your hands
  Posters and information on hand washing

"If we start to kill off all the normal bacteria, use too many antimicrobial soaps, then they don't develop the ability to get along with them and they don't provide the service that we're used to."

The service they provide is help in fighting off the bad bacteria. Researchers say lack of exposure to bad bacteria can cause our immune systems to become overactive and react to things such as 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 in, 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 their hands. He says everyone needs to wash with soap and water to prevent the spread of disease. That especially applies to 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 says he agrees with the CDC guidelines that says keeping hands clean is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of disease. He says further studies are needed on the chemicals contained in antibacterial soaps.

Photo credit: washinghands.net

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