Are you an adherent to the three-second rule or the three-minute rule when you drop food on the floor? Do you continuously wash your hands throughout the day or use hand sanitizer regularly? At the first sign of a sniffle, do you make a beeline for the doctor to get some antibiotics prescribed?
Running contrary to most government and some healthcare professional’s advice, it has been hypothesised for some time that modern humans’ excessive obsession with cleanliness has resulted in increased cases of hay fever, allergies and autoimmune disorders, and less and less immunity to diseases resulting from viruses and bacteria in the near surroundings.
How can that be? For a start, think about how many diseases that nurses and doctors are exposed to on a daily basis, and yet observational studies have found them to be much less likely to catch colds and flus compared with the general population. This is due to their increased exposure to them, not less contact with them.
This may be something that seems counterintuitive at first blush, because you would think - based on years of health education, and especially effective marketing campaigns from companies selling chemical and cleaning products no doubt - that the cleaner your environment, the healthier you are likely to be.
This is true to some extent, because there are definitely bacteria and viruses that you never want to be exposed to, like Ebola and Polio, and people whose immune systems are already compromised or vulnerable, such as patients already afflicted with disease to whom contact with any extra bacteria or viruses could be fatal.
On the whole, however, if you were raised in or live in a very sterile environment, your body does not develop the antibodies to deal with the most common diseases. The very same principle is also why vaccination is absolutely essential for everyone – a topic that we will look at in a coming post. But first, why not let your child pick their nose and eat dirt?