Saturday, 5 December 2009

How clean is your child?

Harry is doing well and he should continue to do well because we won't be molly-coddling him to protect him from his natural environment, read this:

This is something I've been saying for about fifteen years and have had lots of discussions about with school staff around the country. Asthma, anaphylaxis, skin problems, etc. are all, more than likely (but not always), attributable to our lack of respect for dirt and the fact that we live in a dirty world, not a clean one, so trying to scrub the planet into sterility is killing mankind.

There are individuals out there who will justify their obsession with cleanliness by citing the various germs that are around and how dangerous they can be, especially to our children but the point they miss is that those germs have always existed in, around and on our bodies and not always to the detriment of our survival - maybe keeping your child away from them when they are developing an immune response from age zero is not the wisest way of dealing with the issue.

This scientific debate will probably not result in the total reversal of narrow-minded stupidity and unfounded fear but it may help those of us who have always seen the logic of this to understand that we can continue with a common sense approach to our 'dirty earth'.



Fee said...

Agree! Playing in the dirt never did me, or my kids, any harm. So long as they're cleaned up at bedtime, that's my motto.

We've always had pets, too, which I think helps kids in many ways.

Mark said...

We live in Hong Kong and honestly many people near faint when they see the little fella scrabbling around the floor (yes, the floor! In our home!) trying to eat the dog. There is a cleanliness culture here that after SARS, bird flu and swine flu, advertisers have jumped on and everything has to be triple washed with domestos. Not us - we save the bleach for his dad's teeth.

Mind you, as I am hoping he's not all that smart as school fees at the better places are shocking, so perhaps I'm not the best parent to ask on these things.

Good luck and keep up the great blog.

Ralph Chadkirk said...

Loving the T-Shirt! Do they come in big people sizes?

Seriously, dirt and mud and ditches and rivers never did me any harm, in fact, I learnt from them - most notablt - it isn't nice having wet, muddy clothers for the rest of the day!

Excellent blog, keep up the good work.

joan said...

Hi Stuart young Harry is a star! My son was never more happy than when he was dirty!! he was always the one covered in mud on the footy field, he was (and still is) a healthy chap and at 26 still manages 2 find the mud!
He always said he enjoyed his childhood because he was allowed to be a child
All the best 2 u and your family

Anonymous said...

I agree totally! How can you build a tolerance to germs if you kill them all off? But, on the other end of the argument, what do you think of people having "Swine Flue Parties" or "Chicken Pox Parties" to intentionally expose yourself or your children to the disease?

Xf said...


Well, to me that's the same end of the argument. These so-called 'parties' are age-old and proven. Remember that Chickenpox can be very dangerous in adulthood. Best to get it over with because it's viral and there's no cure or prevention. Tough love I guess.

Xf said...


Thank you. My eldest son is almost 28 now and he is healthy. I know its because of the way he was brought up. He was never wrapped in cotton wool but he was still loved and cared for (still is, obviously).

All my best to you and yours too.

paramedic said...

I couldn't agree more!

I'm sure that most of us commenting here have eaten "Mud Pies" as kids, and we even used to play outside, climb trees, play in the dirt etc. and I don't think that it did us any harm!

My little fella is allowed to play and get dirty, after all, he is a boy!! But as another comment said, as long as he washes his hands before he eats, thats about it really.

Fiz said...

Harry's smashing - like his Dad!

Anonymous said...

But don't be TOO sure - both my daughters have asthma, not too much of a problem during the time it's well controlled (obviously!) but as both are infection-triggered, it can mean a couple of weeks off work if they are unlucky. And it certainly is not because they grew up in antiseptic surroundings - I hate housework, we lived on a farm when they were small and they had loads of friends so all-in-all were exposed to enough bugs to allow a normal development of their immune systems. One is a nurse (on a chest ward, would you believe) and the other a paramedic - both have been nebulised at work!!!! So they have their own definition of DIB!
Good luck with Harry though.

prudence entwhistle said...

Harry looks stunning!

I agree about the dirt. When we were infants, my brother and I consumed garden soil, sand at the beach, even a worm on one occasion. We also spent a lot of time playing in the hen pen. Apart from our parents making sure that always washed our hands thoroughly in hot water before eating/doing anything with wood, and had an occasional bath, that was about as far as 'hygiene' went. We generally played in the garden with bare feet most of the year around. And today, at 27 and 20, we are pretty healthy people!

Nowadays, my concession to hygiene-mania is to carry a tiny bottle of hand-gel around with me, because I spend all day on the move, on public transport, and I like to have clean hands before I eat.

That's my rant of the day.


Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more - let kids be kids.

Just wanted to pick up on an earlier point - I can see the benefits of chicken pox / rubella etc parties, but swine flu I'm not so sure about....

Xf said...


I did parenthesise 'but not always' to demonstrate that I am aware of these things as singular diseases but they are also opportunistic where a weak immune system exists.... you can never be sure that this weakness has not been passed along genetically. Having said that, how many people did you know at school who had asthma?

I knew none. None at all.

Matt said...

Totally Agree,
I like that fact that even Persil put on their adverts "Dirt is good!"
Keep up the amazing blogs!

Anonymous said...

I believe the theory is called the "hygeine hpothesis", which in th case of asthma suggests that insufficient early exposure to viruses and allergens could induce asthma by causing T helper cells to stimulate B cells to secrete IgE antibodies.

Surley that backs up what you just said!

Isla said...

Love the t shirt and the pose

tom.gane said...

Harry looks great.

My wife and I subscribed to the 'party' theory of exposure to childhood ailments as it was tried and tested. My sugestion that it might be interesting to introduce yellow fever and leprosy was met with a thunderous look from my wife. A clear sign to leave before blunt force trauma ensued.

I think the danger for humanity is that we sterilise our species out of existance, before pollute ourselves to extinction.

Sewmouse said...

Grandma always said "They have to eat a bushel of dirt before they die" when Mom would obsess on getting us clean.

I washed my daughters baby bottles and gear in hot sudzy water - but didn't sterilize. My mother-in-law was aghast! However, my 27 yr old daughter is healthy as a horse.

I, on the other hand, getting "up there", am getting a bit more obsessive, because I'm not sure exactly how close to the "Bushel" limit I am!!

Lesley said...

I agree about the exposeure to dirt & grime. One of the earliest pictures of me at the age of about 9 months shows me in the coalshed eating coal. As I have already passed my three score and ten, it clearly did me no harm ! Harry is gorgeous!

merinz said...

I too knew no one at school with asthma but now every second child seems to have/need and inhaler.

prudence entwhistle said...

What is interesting though is the number of people I know who, having made it through to their mid-twenties or beyond without any significant health problems/asthma/allergies, suddenly develop very severe allergies.
Among a group of friends, one has become dangerously allergic to chilli peppers, and another to capsicum peppers, and another to bee stings. Another friend (very keen sportswoman - demon rower, runner, cyclist) has also became lactose intolerant and developed asthma at the age of 26.

This is seems peculiar to me. Not one of these people suffered from any such allergy as children, and those whom I've known since childhood all had pretty sporty, outdoorsy, grubby childhoods.

Any suggestions???

Xf said...


Apart from a Government conspiracy, it has been argued that as we get older and our immune systems begin to wane, these problems begin to kick in, so to speak.

Alternatively, some people who are anaphylactic have always been so, they just haven't been exposed to the same protein twice (which is how this works)until years or even decades have gone by.

Some genetic propensities occur later on in life and so this could also be a factor.

prudence entwhistle said...

Thank you! That's interesting. I find these things very curious.

Lynne said...

I know I'm over a month late to this party, but sorry, I just had to stick my oar in.

I have no problem with exposing kids to environmental dirt, animals, etc. and think the "hygeine hypothesis" has some support. However, this is categorically different from deliberately exposing kids to contagious diseases like chicken pox & swine flu. Children were one of the highest risk groups for serious complications -- and the fatality curve for swine flu was completely atypical for flu, with about 10-11% of fatalities occurring in under-17s. For further discussion of why deliberately exposing a child to this was a really stupid idea, I refer to an epidemiologist who makes the point more clearly than I could:

With chicken know that there is a chicken pox vaccine available, and although it isn't routine you can ask for it, and it is both safe and effective? The reason it isn't routinely given in the UK is not for the benefit of the kids -- far from it! -- it's for the benefit of adults who have the resident virus, because occasional exposure to outbreaks of chicken pox helps prevent recurrant shingles (see the NHS statement). However, it is having chicken pox in the first place which sets you up for shingles in later life, and both chicken pox and shingles *can* lead to serious complications -- like postherpetic neuralgia or in the case of chicken pox, even death (about 50 people a year in the UK die of chicken pox).

It's certainly better to catch chicken pox as a child than as an adult, but despite exposure, abouit 10% of adults remain vulnerable to new infection, and then it becomes very serious. And, interestingly, there is also a varichella vaccine available for older (>65) adults who are most vulnerable to shingles. My own feeling is that at some point it would really be worth getting over the "hump" of risk of shingles in adults for one generation in order to knock down future cases of chicken pox and shingles both, as the US is doing.

I guess what I'm getting at is that these are not "normal mild childhood diseases" in anywhere near 100% of the cases, and really, you are gambling that your kid isn't going to be one of the several hundred who end up in hospital on a ventilator. It really isn't the same at all as the normal exposure to dirt and animals which isn't expected to lead to serious acute illnesses.