Germs: Friend or Foe For Your Family?

It never fails. Your child picks up an object and tries to put it directly into their mouth! Or perhaps your toddler sneezes all over the toys and forgets to wash his hands. Germs are probably all over your home, but does it really matter? Do we really need to be lathering our kids up with antibacterial wipes and disinfectants? Can some of these germs actually be helpful?

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Episode Transcript

Parent Savers
Germs: Friend or Foe For Your Family?


Please be advised, this transcription was performed from a company independent of New Mommy Media, LLC. As such, translation was required which may alter the accuracy of the transcription.

[Theme Music]

ALICIA GONZALEZ: All parents have ways of keeping children healthy. Are you a parent with long list of healthy behaviours or do you have shortcuts to staying healthy? Today we are talking about germs and are they a friend or a foe for your family. This is Parent Savers.

[Intro/Theme Music]

ALICIA GONZALEZ: Welcome to Parent Savers! Parent Savers is your online on the go support group for parents with infants and toddlers. I am your host, Alicia Gonzalez. Thanks so much to our loyal listeners who join us every time a new episode is released and for those who continue these conversations with us on Facebook and Twitter. Make sure to check our Parent Savers app so that you can listen to all of the episodes wherever you go. Here is Sunny with details on how you can get involved with Parent Savers.

SUNNY GAULT: Alright! Hi everybody! So you guys probably already know Alicia, but I wanted to just kind of give you guys an overview of what’s happening over here on Parent Savers. So Alicia has been a guest on our show in the past. She’s participated in a bunch of episodes. We’ve had a lot of fun with her. And Johner and I wanted to invite her to be one of the new hosts on the show. So you are going to be hearing more and more from Alicia.

So you’ve heard her voice before, but just kind of wanted to make that distinction. Johner is still part of everything. And now we’ve added Alicia. And we are so excited to have her as a part of the show!

So, if you guys are regular listeners of the show and you’re thinking you know: I would really like to be a part of these shows too! We have made it, you know, more simple that ever for you to join our shows. And I say that because now instead of everybody that’s participating in the show needing to meet in a studio type of environment and recording that way, now we are all recording from our separate home computers.

So what does that mean? That’s mean you don’t have to hire a babysitter or you don’t have to live in the San Diego area in order to part of our show. So you can record straight from the convenience of your own home computer. You just need to have either desktop or laptop, the Google Chrome browser, that’s what works best with our equipment. And you know, just a good internet speed. And you are good to go!

So we are always looking for new parents to participate in the show. If you are interested in doing that, please go to our site at , click on the banner that says: hey, you are a parent, you want to participate? When you do that, you fill out a very quick online form that just gives more information about you. You can also join our closed Facebook group and that link is right there on the page. That’s where we post all of our times and our topics, and you can find out what we’re doing across all of the New Mommy Media shows, not just Parent Savers, but all of our shows.

And so we are so excited to get to know you a little bit more. So please click on that link for more information and we hope to see you online soon.

ALICIA GONZALEZ: Thanks, Sunny! Ok, let’s meet everyone joining our conversation today. My name is Alicia Gonzalez. As you know, I’ve been on the show before, I have four children. I have two girls, ages 8 and 10, and two boys, ages 3 and 6. And I feel like I know a lot about germs. This is a perfect topic today. And with us is Sunny.

SUNNY GAULT: Yeah, I am Sunny. I am in the two boys-two girls club two. Nice to even that way. So my oldest two, I have a five-year old and a three-year old, those are boys, and they I have twin girls that are about two and a half now. And yeah, germs! I am actually really excited for this conversation because I have a tendency of fall on the side of: there is just so many germs for me to consider that my brain just kind of internally explodes and then I just not to think about it at all.

So I’m not sure that’s the healthiest way to view it, so I’m hoping for some answers to kind of figure out: ok, with four kids how do you really do this? You know, how do you make sense of all this? So, excited to be a part of the conversation today!

BENJAMIN TANNER: And I’m Benjamin Tanner. I am a microbiologist who lives in Austin, Texas. I have a ten and a half month little boy. So at this point in my life I’m seeing the academic information I picked up trough out of school and my sort of job experience, blend with the real life experience of raising a ten and a half month old.

[Theme Music]

SUNNY GAULT: Alright! So before we kick off stuff today, we are going to do a segment that’s fairly new to Parent Savers, but I really like it and I make this segment, because sometimes I just look at my three year old, and even my two year old twins now, and I’m just like: "What up with that? What are you doing?" I do not understand the mind of a toddler most of the time and so I thought: why don’t we create a whole segment about that called “What up with that?”

So this is something that we actually partnered with the SmartMom app to do, so if you haven’t checked out SmartMom, it is a free download and it’s awesome, because this is… And it’s not just for moms, just wanted to make it very clear! But there are a lot moms on there and it’s basically a huge form that moms can participate in. And the nice thing is that moms, you know, post questions, and then other moms answer those questions. And when you do that, you can earn prizes and some things like that.

So, it’s not just the intent of: hey, I want to help another mom, that is part of it of course, but the other side of it is: hey I could win some swag here, and you get points and stuff like that. So please check it out! Again, free download I believe on iOS and Android. And so through this app we have this response for “What up with that?” segment and this comes from a mom, her name is Evelyn. And I think we can all relate to this, but this is what Evelyn says. She says:

“My daughter puts everything in her mouth! She licks it first and then in her mouth it goes!"

And we don’t know, because she didn’t post how old her daughter is, but this kind of continues… Ben, you can probably understand, you know, you have a ten and a half month boy-he’s probably putting stuff in his mouth all the time! Am I right?

BENJAMIN TANNER: Oh, yeah, he is! Everything goes in there! I think even relative to other kids, he seems to put more stuff in his mouth.

SUNNY GALUT: I wonder what it is about that? Because, you know us like adults, we are like: awww! But obviously, you know, this was a good comment about our whole conversation today: germs! Obviously, they are not thinking about little germs, you know, crawling all over everything before they put it in their mouth. Do you think that’s part of it, Ben?

BENJAMIN TANNER: You know, it’s funny, because I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that. Because I’ll sit there and watch him pick things up. They could be contaminated with germs. As a microbiologist I can have this germ-vision of things and I can tell what things are more risky to touch and handle and which ones are less. And I see him handling something is little bit more risky and I think to myself: why do kids put everything in their mouth? I think there are a lot of aspects to it.

So there is obviously the tactile bit of it, you know, feeling things with your tongue. There is a learning how to eat component, which I think is huge. And so I think there is some practice involved in it, just manipulating the mouth. But I there may be from an evolutionary perspective an element of germs to this. Where your digestive tract is filled with literally trillions of microorganisms. And the more diverse the population of microorganisms you have in your gastrointestinal tract, generally the more healthy it is.

So I kind of wonder if it’s kind of programmed into children to essentially seed their gastrointestinal tracts by putting everything in their mouth. And you can actually see some real life examples where it’s protective to them. Specifically everybody on this call probably knows that children are not supposed to be eating honey, right?


BENJAMIN TANNER: Well, the reason is because there is a bacterium, a spore that you can find in raw honey that can cause botulism. And it’s an issue with children up until they are an year old. And it’s only an issue until they are an year old, because that’s the period in their life when they don’t have this healthy balanced gut flora. And so my thought is: maybe it’s really important, maybe the risks of not having all those germs introduced into the gut actually outweigh the risks of the occasional pathogen or illness that will come along with putting something in their mouth.

So yeah, I’ve thought about this a lot! It gives me a little bit of concern every time he put something into his mouth that I wouldn’t put in my mouth, you know…

SUNNY GAULT: Right! And Alicia with four kids I know you’ve seen a lot of stuff going to the mouths of your kids that probably shouldn’t right?

ALICIA GONZALEZ: Yes, I am very grateful that I don’t have the microbiologist view!

SUNNY GAULT: I know, right? Me too!

BENJAMIN TANNER: After this discussion, I hope to give you guys a little bit of the microbiologist view.

ALICIA GONZALEZ: Awareness, I don’t know! For some reason I remember… When I was growing up my mom had a daycare in our house and so I know… I had a lot of experience with little kids and what they did and never really thought of it of course, because I was young. And before I had my first I learned, I read somewhere that kids putting things in their mouth is kind of how they explore it.

They don’t have the advance to touch or sense, or anything, but their taste sense is pretty advanced compared to the others. And so I never really worried about it. And of course I didn’t let them go outside, but it kind of was entertaining to me to watch them find different ways to get it in their mouth. Even if I took it out then they’d touch it with their finger and put the finger in their mouth. They will get it in there somehow. So I just kind of let them do it, because to me they were exploring their World, so I just let them keep what they were licking.

SUNNY GAULT: What they were licking. Yeah, right, of course! So yeah, I mean sometimes you just kind of got to throw your hands up in the air and let go. You will drive yourself crazy, honestly, if you try to keep everything out of your kids’ mouths. And I'm sure we are going to dive into that a little bit later in the episode, but thanks to Evelyn for submitting this and I again, check out the SmartMom app.

[Theme Music]

ALICIA GONZALEZ: Today we are talking about kids and germs with the germ expert Doctor Benjamin Tanner. He runs a disinfectant testing lab near Austin, Texas. Welcome, Doctor Ben!

BENJAMIN TANNER: Hi, thanks for having me!

ALICIA GONZALEZ: So what do you thing: are today’s parents germ-phobic?

BENJAMIN TANNER: Well, it ranges. If you just observe parents, especially on public, you’ll see a range of behaviour in term of how scared of germs they are and how attuned even to the concept of infection they are. So you have on the one end of the spectrum parents who have the hand sanitizer almost like on a holster on their hip, you know, ready to go on a moment’s notice. And then on the other end of the spectrum, you’ll have parents who really don’t care what their kids did and they just kind of let them do what kids do.

I think the parents the former end have a lot more anxiety. But that being said I suspect they probably have slightly fewer illnesses at home. We’ll talk about some details there. Generally speaking I don’t think parents are germ-phobic in the US. I think they are a bit misinformed. I like to see parents expanding a little bit of energy thinking about infection, thinking about preventing infection.

But there is a lot of information that is not as grounded science as it could be. I’ve spent the last ten years of my professional life learning about germs. And the last year of my life raising a youngster and seeing it firsthand. So I’d like to think I have fairly dialed in system of infection prevention. So no, I don’t think they are germ-phobic. I would like to see them focusing their energies on maybe some more selective areas of life where infections are really likely to come about. And maybe let some things go where infections are less likely.

ALICIA GONZALEZ: And you know, when you say relative I also think it depends on how many children: first time parents tend to be a little bit more anxious about it, as you mentioned, having the hand sanitizer more within reach. And then as more kids come, they get a little bit more relaxed. What do you think, Sunny? I know I would like that.

SUNNY GAULT: I can’t even say! Ok, so I have something that I have to admit here that I’m not really proud of. I think even as an adult, like I should be washing my hands more. I have never… I never picked up on that even as an adult. I mean like obviously I… I don’t want to give the impression that I’m like this dirty, dirty person! But like I just know that even before I had kids I didn’t really think about germs that much and even when my kids were born, with baby number 1 like… I mean, I was a little concerned when my son you know, started putting stuff into his mouth, but I don’t know.

I don’t think I really went through that: oh my Gosh, my kids are touching stuff! Like even when they were something really gross, I don’t know… Like even now like four kids later, just last… I think it was yesterday, we were outside in the backyard and my kids were playing with a bug and I was kind of like: should I go out there? As long as they, you know… when they start putting in their mouth, I might be a little concerned, but… I wasn’t even concerned they were playing with a bug! I was just like: did I make them wash their hands afterward? No! So yeah, I don’t think I started out as being a germaphobe, but whatever I started out with, I’m definitely even less than that. Whatever that is!

ALICIA GONZALEZ: It is like the analogy that for your first child, when they drop their pacifier on the ground, you put it through the dishwasher, you sanities it somehow; for the second: you run it into water; for the third one you pop it in your mouth; and for the last one: you just kind of wipe it into their clothes and stick it back in.

SUNNY GAULT: Yes, and we went through that!

ALICIA GONZALEZ: So do you think, Doctor Tanner: are any germs good for kids?

BENJAMIN TANNER: That’s a good question! And with this, we can maybe kind of dive deeper into the germ-phobia thing and all. I’ll share with you guys my tactics that I use. Though like I said, it’s kind of a blend of my academic schooling and my real life practicality as a parent.

So first thing you need to understand about germs is that the germs you hear about on the news represent this tiny fraction of the microorganisms that are alive around your body, on services around you, in your body, etc. It is like 0.001% of germs that you hear about.

The rest of the germs just go live their life and they are not interested in causing diseases in humans. So any moist part of your body like an armpit between your toes, your mouth, your digestive track, is just loaded with microorganisms. And most of them aren’t there to hurt you and they don’t even have the genetic machinery to hurt you. They are just there to live and breathe if they can. And those germs just aren’t a concern.

But like I said, there are billions of them. The germs that are a concern are really the ones that have the tools to cause diseases and that are kind of how they evolved and succeeded like, specifically by causing diseases. So the question "Are there any germs that are good for kids?" kind of… Like some microorganism help break down food in the digestive track, you can say that’s good. But really it’s just that they are not harmful. You can think of them as being neutral. Don’t hurt, don’t really help.

There are specific group of germs that we call pathogens and those cause diseases. That’s like salmonella, the flu, rhinovirus that causes colds, and all of the microbes that children get vaccinated against. That would be like poliovirus, rotavirus kids get nowadays. All those germs: they are the nasty ones to watch out for. So like I wouldn’t give children probiotics for example. I just don’t think they need them. They get plenty on exposure. It’s not so much you trying to introduce them to good germs, you just try to keep them away from those really bad actors.

ALICIA GONZALEZ: Interesting! So it’s more like just not worrying about it too much, because most of them aren’t going to affect you anyway?

BENJAMIN TANNER: Exactly! So let’s talk specifically about avoiding bad germs. As a microbiologist I have an idea of where the populations of germs are to avoid and let me share that with you.

Let’s say you are changing an ordinary diaper, right? This is kind of gross fact, but there’s something everyone should know, which is that tinkle matter is 50% bacteria by weight. So when you get a little poop on your hands, you have a lot of bacteria on your hands. If the child is healthy and you can tell as a parent if your child is having some intestinal problems or if they are normal and healthy. If the child is healthy you can think of all those germs as pretty much neutral germs. Nothing really to be too concerned about. So you don’t have to go overboard with the hygiene in that regard.

But when the child is sick, so when they have diarrhea, what you are seeing is their intestinal response to one of those bad germs, that pathogens, multiplying like crazy in the intestines. And the intestines are really trying to flush the pathogen out. And when that’s happening the population of those bad germs is really high. And it only takes for a lot of these microbes one to make you sick, so let’s say 1 to a 1000 germs. And so when you perceive your child is sick, that’s sort of when you want to kick in into the hygiene mode.

For example, and I really do this, if I change a diaper and my son has diarrhea, then as soon as I’m done changing, I make sure his hands are clean, you know, if he didn’t change anything bad, and then I go and wash my hands as well. And that’s an example of you can kind of step up the hygiene to avoid bad germs.

The other big one to keep in mind… Well, there’s actually two more. One great big one is vaccination. So the microorganisms that we’ve developed vaccines for, they make for some really nasty infections. The vaccines are very safe. It’s a really simple and easy thing the parents can do to prevent their children getting infected from some really nasty pathogens, so I’m a big proponent of vaccines. That being said, with my own child I space them out and broke them from the big groups.

Typically they get vaccines in groups of three or four nowadays. That’s mainly just to increase compliance from parents and actually make sure the kids get all their vaccines. But if you are a responsible parent who is committed to get your kid all the vaccines, you can just stagger them a little bit. And the advantage of that is that it’s not such a big shock for the immune system when you get them all at once. It doesn’t matter if they do, there is really no data saying that it’s harmful, but it’s sort of something you can do to make the vaccines maybe a little bit more tolerable for the child.

So when your kid is sick, that’s sort of a hot zone for germs. Get your vaccines, because those germs are really nasty and you want to avoid those. And then the last one that should be of concern for parents is preparation of meat products. So specifically chicken and certain fresh products, and beef, like ground beef for hamburger. Those food products routinely contain germs that make an adult pretty sick, meaning diarrhea for four to seven days, fever, all that stuff.

But when children get them, it could be really bad. It can rapidly dehydrate them. And then the big one is… There is a particular strain of E. coli you find in the hamburger, and sometimes in raw spinach, that is called E. coli O157:H7 and when that infects children it nails their kidneys. And it can really cause problems for life. So when you are preparing food use ordinary you know good food handling practices, but certainly if you are ever cooking a hamburger for a child, you know, like a child who is going to eat a little nibble of the hamburger let’s say, make sure that’s cooked well done. You know, if you avoid those hot spots of germs, you are off to a really good start.

ALICIA GONZALEZ: Thank you! That is such great information! I’ve never thought about the idea of when my kids are sick that their system is trying to flash those pathogens out and so to just kind of kick it up. As far as keeping all hands washed, I know that during the 6th season, that’s what they tell all the kids: make sure you wash your hands a lot. But I never really put that together. So thank you for that.

And then the vaccine information, I can see where you’re going with why they kind of give them in book because it’s the last time the parents have to bring their kids to the doctor and so they have less chance of skipping that. But breaking them down and making sure they get them on time, that’s just a great advice. So thank you for that!

SUNNY GAULT: I have a follow up question, just about germs themselves. And maybe it defers on what kind of a germ it is, but when you are using the example of like I’m thinking about diaper changes, because my twins are still in diapers, so I’m like, you know… My house is covered in diapers. But when I’m changing a diaper, if you get something on you, do germs just stay wherever they are planted? I have this image of germs jumping and hopping, and it may start on my hand and you know, climb-up my arm, or somewhere else. Like, does it depend on the germ, or how do they move around? How do they get to other places on your body?

BENJAMIN TANNER: Yeah, great question! So first thing to know about germs is that for the most part your average germ, when it’s dry, it’s dead. It's not entirely true, there are always a few survivors, but for the most part, the population will rapidly decrease just from drying. So mostly the germs live in wet environments and you them in a dry environment they broke. It's kind of like tadpoles. Like tadpoles live in water. If you take them out of the water and it dries out, they are not going to do too well, you know.

You may have that one tough tadpole who lives a little longer than the rest, but… There is a natural attenuation of microbial populations on services over time, which is great: otherwise the entire World would be contaminated. So let’s say someone who has a cold, they sneeze on the surface and they deposit some rhinovirus on the surface. Typically within a day you'll have 90% less, the next day you'll have 90% less than that and so on. And generally speaking within a week those germs are dead and gone.

But you asked about transport. That's been studied. So my former adviser, his name is Chuck Gerba, he’s a great microbiologist, he did an interesting study where he quantified the transmission rate from touch. And it turn out if you touch a hard surface with your hand, about 10% of the germ on the hard surface will transmit to your fingers. And then if you put your fingers in your mouth, that's another 10%.

If you touch a soft surface, like fabric, or carpet, or something poorest, the transfer efficiency is much less. So as a rule of thumb I tell people 10% surface to hand, 10% hand to mouth. But with germs it's all numbers game. And a lot of these only take 1 to make you sick. So you kind of cannot ever be too careful. But that’s how they spread. They don't jump.

Microbes do swim, but they are these tiny things, they are not like dolphins, they don’t cover a lot of ground, they are tiny things. And they can only do that if they are in free-floating water. So for the most part, if germs are moving, it’s because something is physically moving them. So they are moving around your house on a toy for example. And we call those fomites in our industry which just means that in animate surface they can be contaminated with microbes.

SUNNY GAULT: So watch out for the community pools, because they could swim, literally swimming with germ, but other than that, if you get something on your hand, it's not going to like… I just… I don’t know. I think it flies or something, it’s just like jumping all over me.

BENJAMIN TANNER: Oh, that's so true! So as a general rule, when you are around water, like… Like recreational water exposure is huge for outbreaks. And the outbreaks we see from surfaces tend to be kind of sporadic. The outbreaks we see from food and from recreational water are like textbook. I mean it will be like hundred people visited the community pool, and then 70 of those 100 people three days later have cryptosporidium infection let's say. From a contaminated surface it's like maybe the higher attack-rate would be maybe 10%. In a hospital you can get up to 50%, but that's where people are staying in the same room for weeks at the time.

ALICIA GONZALEZ: So they will stay on hard surfaces like hard toys? Like if your child has a toy that they play with one day and then they you know leave germs the next day, there’s still germs on that? Or only if it's wet?

BENJAMIN TANNER: Yes, let's say your kid has like a diaper blow-out and then grabs a toy. So they are going to surely deposit some germs on the hard surface. Those germs will be very potentially dangerous for the first day, much less potentially dangerous the second day, and then by a week become kind of negligibly dangerous. Just because the inoculum is drying out, and that's really hard on a microorganisms.

For the most of the germs you find in poop, they tend to be really susceptible to drying, because their home is in the intestines. Some of the germs that cause colds can live for a long time on surfaces. And that’s why we get into disinfection. So what I do, and what I recommend other people to do, with regard to toys, is: let the kids play with the toys, don't freak out about washing them so regularly, but if your child is sick and certainly they have a playmate who is sick, or a sibling, then I prefer the loop bleach solution. We are talking about like a half of cup full in a quarter of water. And then just dump the toys in that if they can be dumped. If not, just wipe them down.

If it's a fabric toy and you can wash it in the washing machine, great. That tends to knock your microbes right down. So when there's someone sick, it's kind of: increase the hygiene awareness and then start to use disinfectants and things to kill those germs that might just not die out of time.

ALICIA GONZALEZ: Well, thank you: I learned I’m doing something right! I’ve never really worried about toys too much, unless someone sick is over, or unless some of them goes home and then is sick that evening, or the next day: then I will wash everything that was played with, but oh… Yey!

BENJAMIN TANNER: That's perfect! That's a great approach! And really, what’s you are doing when you do that, is your getting the best of both worlds. So you are getting the benefit of the disinfectant with regard to reducing microbial populations that can make your kid sick. But when there is no real risk present, you are not potentially exposing children to the risks of disinfectant, which honestly, I mean there are not that big. They are like eye irritation, potentially a little bit of stomach irritation if they are to ingest like some residual on the toy. I mean that being said, definitely keep disinfectants out or your kids reach. The liquid disinfectant itself if they were to ingest that would be terrible.

ALICIA GONZALES: Oh, absolutely!

BENJAMIN TANNER: But yeah, other than that, you are great! That's just a perfect approach! That’s just what I do at home to.

ALICIA GONZALES: Oh, thanks! So you’ve talked about parents being misinformed. You've talked a lot about different vies, and vaccines, all those different things that people believe. What do you think is the biggest germ myth?

BENJAMIN TANNER: Yeah, that one is easy! The biggest germ myth is this thing called the hygiene hypothesis. So it came out maybe ten-fifteen years ago. There was some research done on how exposure to microorganisms in youth relates to allergies and asthma later in life. And they found something pretty interesting which is that children who are raised in more sort of germy environments, like they are talking about children who grew-up on farms and so on, tend to have less allergies and asthma later in life than children who are raised in more sterile environments. And I think they typically use urban environments as an example of that.

Unfortunately that original research is not replication out as well as it should, so it’s an interesting phenomenon. There are certainly some truths to it. It’s not a one-for-one relationship though. So if are raised in the country, does that mean you are not going to get allergies and asthma later in your life? No, it’s not that quite of a perfect relationship.

So that being said what happened unfortunately about I don’t know, 8-10 years ago, was the media really confused the message. And they interpreted that to say: if you are raised with more germs when you are young, you are going to get sick less when you are older. Allergies and asthma are not the same thing as getting sick! And the way I say it to people is like you know getting a hepatitis infection doesn’t prevent you of getting HIV later in life you know. And that just one kind of an extreme example, but it really is the case with other infections.

Let’s say you expose your kid to smallpox when they are little, does that prevent them of getting rhinovirus, you know, a common cold the next year? Not at all! Each of these different germs has to be fought off by the immune system specifically. And there is a little benefit immunologically speaking to someone who’s sick all the time in terms of fighting off infections later, but that’s outweighed by all the damages those sicknesses can do when the kids are little.

So I do my best to keep my youngster from getting sick, if I can avoid it, because there is not a lot of benefit to it. And even to get a little bit of benefit, you’d have to make the poor kid sick all the time which is likely to hurt him, you know, interfere with developments along. So that’s by far the biggest myth, and it’s really just sort of misappropriation of the hygiene hypothesis. So yes, it’s true if kids get more germ exposure when they are young, they tend to have less allergies and asthma later in life. It’s not true that if they get sick more when they are young, they get sick less when they are older.

ALICIA GONZALEZ: Interesting! So when we come back we’ll talk even more about germs and you kids.

[Theme Music]

ALICIA GONZALEZ: Welcome back! Today we are talking about germs: friend or foe for your family? So usually what I do I don’t stress to much about trying to keep my kids fighting those off, and so I’ve never been one to take my kids around someone who’s sick, or if something is going around school to try and get them in early, you know. I usually just kind of go the normal route. If they come down with something, we talk about hand-washing and you know, not holding hands if something is running through school, not exchanging things at school, holding hands, those kind of things, and to wash more often.

But I don’t try and get them sick, or I don’t try and not sterilize everything so they don’t get sick. So do you think that’s an okay balance, just to not stress over that, or should I be more adamant on the other side where is keeping them from getting sick?

BENJAMIN TANNER: You can use sort of like selfish metric for this one. It’s like if you can avoid your children getting sick, then that saves you a lot of work as a parent. And so that’s one of my main motivation: it’s like I know there is no real benefit if they get sick, I know my life gets way harder if they get sick, so I generally try to avoid it. That’s a concept maybe not everyone understands too. There’s like a leg-time with infections, so it takes a little while for the germ to make its home in the body and start replicating, and it takes a while.

So with most infection you see leg-time of about three days from the time of the expose till the time they should show symptoms. So with food-born diseases everyone, if they get a tummy-ace, they are like: oh, it was thing I ate right before the tummy-ace. Typically it’s actually the thing you ate like 3 days before hand. One tip I can share would be: if you know children or adults are sick, try to quarantine your children from them. You know, the adults can be around them, they are not very likely to get sick, because they have very well developed immune system, and they just don’t touch everything. And they are also typically not at the center of attention, you know, where everyone wants to grab them and put them right in their face. But yeah, if someone is sick, I’d definitely keep my kid away from them, because I just don’t want my kid to get sick.

ALICIA GONZALEZ: Okay, I will have to be better about that. I was a lot better when they were babies but once they are a year, I am much more relaxed on that so I will try to be better.

BENJAMIN TANNER: Like when children go in day care, for example, they really do get exposed to a lot more pathogens and that is just a fact of life. So my wife and I are probably about to transition our child into day care pretty soon and that is a big consideration. We anticipate a dramatic uptick in the number of illnesses when he goes to day care just because he will be exposed to other kids who are sick. So that is kind of part of life and you have to balance that against, you know, work and all those other things.

ALICIA GONZALEZ: That sickness usually comes immediately, I know. We didn’t have day care situations when my children were little but all of them went to preschool and within a week of starting preschool, every single one of them had come down with something.

SUNNY GAULT: Yeah and that is exactly what happened to my family this last weekend; so we put my twins in day care and I didn’t even think about the whole germ thing, I mean, I’ve been through this with my first child, my second child and now three and four but it didn’t even click and within the first two days, they had this kind of eye infection and it looked like kind of gross little boogers in their eyes or something – it was horrible. And so I was “what is going on here” and they had it for about a week, I mean they are fine now, but I was like “oh, that’s right. We started day care, all the germs”.

BENJAMIN TANNER: Yeah, that’s called conjunctivitis when they get inflammations in the eyes and those viruses that caused that are exactly the ones where it takes one to make you sick and they tend to live on surfaces for real long time. So on the subject of day care, if you are looking at day care providers, you really want have an eye for hygiene when you look around.

So if you can see dirt on the toys - that tells you they are not cleaning them enough. A day care environment is a place where you should have elevated hygiene for sure. There is actually Federal and State rules for it. But that is something … if you are thinking of day care, really ask some questions – do you use disinfectants, how do you use disinfectants, when do you use disinfectants, how frequently do you clean and how frequently do you clean fomites or those shared objects that can be touched by one child and then the next.

ALICIA GONZALEZ: I can’t wait to ask preschool how often they clean fomites.

SUNNY GAULT: And they are like “what?” That is my favourite thing this week.

ALICIA GONZALEZ: So on that, you’ve mentioned disinfectant a lot. What are your feelings about antibacterial soaps in general? We keep getting different information, sometimes it is necessary, other times you are killing good germs; we already had that conversation about how germs are either bad or neutral so what are your feelings about antibacterial soaps?

BENJAMIN TANNER: Yeah, that’s a topic I know a lot about. I was just starting in the industry, I just had my PhD when scientists first started to do the big studies to really answer that question. And the question is … first question is do antibacterial soaps work, I will get to that in just a moment. The second question is; are antibacterial things in general bad or good and the main concern is that you will make super bugs if you use antibacterial consumer products.

So I got to see a lot of that research done from start to finish. It turns out the super bug thing is not such a risk so the mechanisms that make super bugs aren’t really going to come about from antibacterial consumer products like soaps. But then recently, it is not so much a new research, just as people put together a lot of old research and realised that antibacterial hand soaps are really no better solving the germ problem than regular soap.

The way soap works is that it removes microorganisms; a lot of these antibacterial soaps don’t really have enough time to act when they are just briefly on the hands. So FDA came out a couple of years ago, they are actually in the process of removing antibacterial claims from soaps because there is no benefit and it gives a little bit of extra chemical exposure for no reason.

So plain soap is all you need; it is as good as antibacterial soap for removing microorganisms from your hands when you wash them. And good hand washing, that is something you should teach your kids, after they use the restroom, wash your hands. And then on the other side that you have antibacterial products like disinfectants and hand sanitizers. So like I said, antibacterial soaps – don’t pay extra for antibacterial in a soap – it is not going to get you anything.

However disinfectants actually kill germs chemically; those are a good tool to have in your toolboxes as a parent. And then hand sanitizers are pretty effective against bacteria so these will be the germs you will find in chicken and so on. So let’s say you are in the grocery store, for example and you grab some raw chicken and you get raw chicken juice on your hands – that is not uncommon – and they have hand sanitizer next to the poultry isle – definitely go use the hand sanitizer, it is going to be really effective in killing whatever germs are potentially in that raw chicken juice. When it comes to colds, hand sanitizer is not so good.

Colds really spread by aerosols; it is like airborne sneeze particles and things and the types of colds that spread by surfaces tend to not be so susceptible to hand sanitizers. So hand sanitizers for me aren’t as attractive as hand washing but they do work and they are especially handy when you are thinking about food and handling food.

ALICIA GONZALEZ: You just busted a myth for me. The one time that I am adamant about using hand sanitizer is after I get gas, after I pump gas. For some reason the handle and everything just seems so germ-filled so I keep it in my car so as soon as I get done pumping gas, put the thing back on the pump and get in, the first thing I do is to sanities my hands like crazy because just to me, it is so full of everything. But what I am hearing is that I probably need to be more worried about the chicken juice in the grocery store, which I never even think about.

BENJAMIN TANNER: Go crazy with the hand sanitizer after the raw meats. You know, the gas pump is an interesting example because the bottom of it is metal and for whatever reason when we swab surfaces in the lab, we just don’t find germs on metal surfaces like we do in other surfaces. Like, the metal ions literally interfere with the ability of the germs to live. So generally that’s why bathroom handles aren’t as much of a risk as you think they are because they are typically metal and they just don’t support that much viable microbe – microbial population.

Then the top side of the gas handle is exposed to sunlight typically and drying forces as well. Sunlight is a great disinfectant and then if the breezes blow over it, whatever is on it is going to dry out right away. So good news for you which is the gas handle – not such a concern.

SUNNY GAULT: That is fascinating. I am so fascinated and you know, what you guys were talking about – grocery stores and stuff like that – and I don’t know if you guys have this where you live but the grocery store that we always go to has one of those hand sanitizers where you can kind of pump some stuff on your hands. I think they have wipes too so you can wipe out the handle because you know, Alicia’s concern about the gas pump is my concern when I go grocery shopping and I go to grab the handle, I am like “oh my gosh, who has been touching this”.

BENJAMIN TANNER: I have the same concern, my grocery store has the same wipes, I have never used them. Instead, what I do is I try to pick the shopping cart that looks like it has been just sitting there for a long time because …

SUNNY GAULT: In the sun …

BENJAMIN TANNER: Exactly. Especially before I put my kid in it because he chews on the straps, I don’t buckle him in like I should. He just puts them in his mouth but if it has been sitting in the sun for any amount of time, it is effectively sterile. So yeah, if you can get the shopping cart in the sun, that is the most sterile one out there.

ALICIA GONZALEZ: We are learning so much today.

BENJAMIN TANNER: Yeah and if you can’t, they just use the wipes on the handle and call it a day.

ALICIA GONZALEZ: This means I am going to be pushing carts from the parking lot into the store for the first time ever. Get them out of the sun …

SUNNY GAULT: Right. All the stores are going to love you, Alicia.

ALICIA GONZALEZ: Exactly. They are going to wait for me to come. I will bring everyone. And next I want to talk about bathing. I know in my personal area of desire for my kids, when I had babies I tend to extend out the length of days between bathing and to me as they get older then it becomes more important to do it closer together, by the time my ten year old … I absolutely encourage her to bathe every day. But my younger ones, it is … depends on what they are doing that day, if they are really busy, get really sweaty, especially boys, then I definitely want them but if it has been kind of a calm day, then I don’t push it too much and I let them go a day in between without a bath. What do you think on the idea of how often to bathe your children?

BENJAMIN TANNER: I wouldn’t say I have the biggest scientific background in bathing, I mean I understand some microbiological phenomenon associated with it. Most of my experience here just comes from being a parent too and I am actually pretty aligned with you on that.

So when my son was very young, we probably bathed him every four days, something like that. We will increase the bathing when there is any kind of evidence of skin inflammation, you know, babies they get diaper rash, they can get this thing called cradle cap which is sort of like crustiness on the scalp. And in my personal experience, if you start increasing the bathing frequency when you are having problems with that, it tends to help the rash.

I do think you can overdo it with bathing especially when children are young, I mean that is one of the amazing things about babies is their skin is perfect and it is so delicate. I think that makes it more sensitive to some minor infections like diaper rash but also makes it more sensitive to the cleaning chemicals in soap, we call those surfactants. And the same way those strip away dirt, they can strip protective oils in the skin and what that can do is roughen the skin and then kind of set the stage for infections.

So it is really a balancing act between protecting the skin oils and keeping the skin in its normal, healthy, intact state but then also cleaning it when you start having problems with rashes and irritations. So I am exactly the same … as my son gets older and older, I find myself bathing him more and more and sort of by the time he is 10, taking a bath or shower every day, that would be great.

ALICIA GONZALEZ: We have talked a lot about hand washing so I know we tell our kids to sing Happy Birthday twice or sing the ABCs while they are washing their hands and once they have done that, that’s long enough. What do you think? Is there a certain timeframe that they need to wash their hands in order to be safe?

BENJAMIN TANNER: Yeah, the ABCs is a pretty good rule. One thing I see … mainly adults get in the bad habit of not using soap. Soap is this chemical that is designed to grab onto water on the one side and dirt on the other and that is how it literally grabs the dirt molecules and strips them off the hands. It grabs germs just exactly the same way so washing your hands just like a quick rinse with water under the sink, I mean, honestly, you may not do anything at all and so you might be as well off.

So using soap is important. I think the duration of hand washing has to do more with just making sure you scrub all the different places on the hands. When surgeons prep for surgery, they focus on the nail beds and the fingernail areas because studies show they are where most of the germs will hang out and hide. As far as children go, I think that if you teach them how to hand wash and how to at least make sure they are sort of a habitual hand wash scrubs all the parts of their hands like the top, the bottom, the finger, the fingernail etc. that usually will take about as long as the ABCs take to do and just make sure they are using soap and I think that’s a great hand washing technique.

SUNNY GAULT: Does it matter if it is liquid soap or regular soap because I sometimes get freaked out by hand soap that’s like sitting there in a bar. I feel like it has been collecting germs because my hands were dirty when I picked it up last time and whatever but do you notice anything from more of a science standpoint on liquid soap versus bar soap?

BENJAMIN TANNER: Yeah, I don’t know how much I should tell you guys as this might freak you out a little bit. So we have actually studied this quite a bit and I have kept upon a literature for liquid soaps. So about three years ago, some people started taking samples of refillable liquid soaps in public restrooms. Do you remember they are kind of like clear rectangles you fill up like that … I don’t know what colour – amber coloured soap. Those used to be a lot more popular; those are really bad.

Germs actually can find a way to grow in those because you get water in there; you get these little micro environments where the germs can grow so in some cases you are just putting more germs on your hands than you are taking off. That has pretty much been addressed now because the companies were quick to make self-contained, non-refillable soap dispensers. So that is not so much of an issue anymore. But bulk soap, if you ever see some gross looking bulk soap in a restroom, use it with caution.

As far as bar soap goes the components of the soap in a bar is really concentrated, that is a pretty harsh environment for germs. We have studied that in the lab, there is no reason to be concerned about germs on bar soap even if it is sort of a wet squishy part of the soap underneath. So that’s a wet environment typically that would harbour microorganisms but because the soap molecules are so tough on germs, they are not disinfectants, but they are just not conducive to germ growth, you really don’t see a lot of growth on a bar soap.

SUNNY GAULT: Even if the bar soap is dirty, you know how sometimes you pick up a bar and it like already looks dirty from somebody else. That grosses me out too.

BENJAMIN TANNER: It is probably fine.

ALICIA GONZALEZ: Thanks so much for this great conversation and for everyone listening for joining us today. For more information or if you want to learn more about expert, visit our website at This conversation continues for members of our Parent Savers Club. For more information about the Parent Savers Club visit the Members portion of our website.

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SUNNY GAULT: Okay so before we wrap up our show today, we have a comment from one of our listeners and I love getting email from listeners, this is so fantastic, it goes straight to my inbox in my phone and I am able to get it right away. Just warms my heart. Obviously, we want to help as many parents out there as possible so comment whether if it is leaving us a review on iTunes or you send us an email or you post something to our Facebook page, we just really appreciate it. So this one comes from Veronica and Veronica was commenting on a recent episode we released about instilling self-confidence in your kids and so she commented about this episode. She said:

This was the first podcast that I heard from Parent Savers and I really enjoyed it. I look forward to listening the future podcasts. Love the garden analogy …

So if you have listened to this episode, it was like a common theme throughout the whole episode we were talking about a garden analogy so that’s what she is referring to. She says:

I love the garden analogy and useful tips on how to help my 19-month-old and my 3 and a half-year-old to be more confident. It was validating to hear that even though I don’t tend to the garden “regularly”, I can definitely take opportunities when they arrive to encourage and to build their self-confidence.

So, again, that was a really fun episode that we did, great expert on the show. Be sure to check that out if you haven’t already so if you are on iTunes, it is available on iTunes, you can go to our website and check it out. And Veronica, once again, thank you so much for sending this in. If you guys have a comment for us, we would love to hear it. You can go to and send us an email through the Contact portion of our website or you can also leave us a voicemail straight through our website as well. So just click on that grey banner that says “Send voicemail” and you can just use the microphone on your computer and send it that way.

ALICIA GONZALEZ: Ok, that wraps up our show for today. We appreciate you listening to Parent Savers.

Don’t forget to check out our sister shows:
∞ Preggie Pals for expecting parents
∞ The Boob Group for moms who breastfeed
∞ Twin Talks for parents of multiples and
∞ Newbies for those going through it for the first time.
This is Parent Savers-empowering new parents!

This has been a New Mommy Media production. Information and material contained in this episode are presented for educational purposes only. Statements and opinions expressed in this episode are not necessarily those of New Mommy Media and should not be considered facts. Though information in which areas are related to be accurate, it is not intended to replace or substitute for professional, medical or advisor care and should not be used for diagnosing or treating health care problem or disease or prescribing any medications. If you have questions or concerns regarding your physical or mental health or the health of your baby, please seek assistance from a qualified health care provider.

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