Column: When and how to fight germs

Commentary by Lisa Youngblood, MD, IU Health Physicians Northside Adult & Pediatrics

Can there be too much of a good thing when it comes to fighting germs? Antibacterial products like soaps, hand gels, wipes and cleansers may not always be beneficial. In fact, studies show that exposing ourselves to germs keeps us from developing illnesses like asthma, allergies and other diseases. This is especially true for children early in life. Our bodies need exposure to germs to build up our immune systems. It’s also worth noting that the majority of bacteria and viruses we come in contact with daily won’t make us sick.

So, what steps should we take to fight germs? There’s discussion about antibacterial soap and its effectiveness compared to regular soap. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has asked antibacterial soap manufacturers to prove their products are more effective than regular soaps. There’s also concern the ingredients in some antibacterial soaps may be unsafe.

Until the issue is resolved, it’s fair to say that frequency of hand washing and thoroughness are more important than the products used. Proper hand washing consists of lathering up with soap and warm water and rubbing hands, including wrists and between fingers, for 15 to 20 seconds. Encourage young children to wash hands thoroughly until they’ve finished singing “Happy Birthday.” It’s most important to wash hands before and after eating or food preparation, after using the bathroom, and after handling pets or diapers. During cold and flu season, wash hands more frequently or use an alcohol-based hand gel if soap and water aren’t available.

Other good germ-fighting practices include:

In the kitchen, use separate cutting boards for raw meat and produce. After preparing food, wash countertops, cutting boards and utensils with hot, soapy water.

Before food preparation, clean counters with disinfecting spray and paper towels or sanitizing wipes.

Don’t leave food out for more than two hours. In warm weather, cover and refrigerate food after one hour.

In the bathroom, clean and disinfect surfaces often–especially if a family member is ill.

Cover coughs and sneezes with a clean tissue or the inside of your arm to help prevent the spread of germs.

Lisa Youngblood, MD, specializes in family medicine. She is a guest columnist located at IU Health Physicians Northside Adult & Pediatrics, 11725 Illinois St., Suite 250, in Carmel.  She can be reached by calling the office at 688.5300.