Rubbing Out Germs the Safe Way

I like germs. I’ll admit it. I’m a pediatrician and its goes with the territory. But, as a mom of three children, preventing the spread of germs among us is important, too. So what do I recommend for my kids as well as my patients?

Old fashioned hand washing - with soapy warm water - and especially now with the upcoming cold and flu season.

Antibacterial soap is just not at all necessary for daily use and these products can actually do harm to children. They contain the hormone-disrupting chemicals triclosan and triclocarban.  There’s not much evidence that they are more effective than plain old soap and water. Or that they make you healthier. Overusing antibacterial soap can actually lead to the development of superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics. These pesky superbugs are popping up all too often, even in my practice.  In fact, some exposure to bacteria can help strengthen the immune system, especially in kids.

If you and your family are on the run, it’s okay to use alcohol-based hand sanitizer, but make sure to be with your children when they use them because ingesting that stuff can be dangerous. Why would a child drink the stuff? Well, many of these sanitizers have scented fruit flavors and are appealing to kids.  I’ve seen reports of kids under the age of 12 actually becoming drunk on hand sanitizers, which contain between 45 and 95 percent alcohol. (Beer contains 5 percent alcohol; wine about 12 percent.)

I recommend limiting the use of disinfecting wipes. The chemicals in the wipes can bring on allergies and even asthma.  The wipes are not necessary for routine cleaning. If your child has the flu, it’s fine to use them for a clean-up, but make sure you use soap and water on any surface after using the wipes. While the wipes do kill germs, they are super strong. Ask yourself:  Can I clean or do I need to disinfect? Check out the Environmental Working Group and their list of top, safe cleaning products. Remember: frequent hand washing is the key to fighting germs. Kids should lather up with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds to be effective. That may seem like an eternity to kids, so teach them a song to sing, like “Happy Birthday” or the “ABC” song, to get the point across.

While I love new products that are easy and safe to use, sometimes the tried-and-true method wins out.


CNN Health, September 21, 2015, September 23, 2015

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