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Holiday Germs - Best Battled with Soap and Water

PHOTO: The CDC says keeping hands clean is the best way to prevent the spread of illness. Photo courtesy CDC.
PHOTO: The CDC says keeping hands clean is the best way to prevent the spread of illness. Photo courtesy CDC.
December 11, 2012

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The CDC reports that Arkansas is seeing "elevated" flu activity this month, while also recommending that hand-washing is a way to keep yourself healthy and prevent spreading germs. But a study from Johns Hopkins University raises questions about whether we're "too clean" because of the use of antibacterial products for hand-scrubbing, instead of soap and water. Colds and flu are viruses, not bacteria. The researchers found that children with higher levels of chemicals from antibacterial soaps had more allergies.

Allergy and immunology specialist Dr. Jay Portnoy says not all bacteria are bad.

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

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.

He describes it as a symbiotic relationship that we have with the normal bacteria living on, and inside, 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."

Researchers say lack of exposure to bad bacteria can cause our immune systems to become overactive and react to things like cats and pollen.

CDC hand-washing guidelines are available here.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - AR