Walking into lego camp, the first thing the counselors did was ask my son to spritz his hands with a hand sanitizer because there are campers with food allergies and we have to be careful. No doubt – I don’t want to risk any child’s health. That said, I asked that my son be told to wash his hands in the bathroom to prevent contamination because santizers are bad for you. Obviously – if there is no running water, by all means, use an anti-bacterial gel or foam (but if their hands dry within 10-15 seconds...you need to use more).
But for allergies – that’s not going to help – anti-bacterial hand santizers apparently do not effectively remove peanut butter residue from hands (from the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology - search the link for anti-bacterial to see the excerpt). So – if you want to protect nut-allergic kids from reactions – take children to a sink and teach them to really wash their hands with liquid or bar soap. As a last resort, use an anti-bacterial wipe – but only, in my opinion, if there is no sink and soap available.
Hospitals use alcohol-based anti-bacterial foams because the alcohol kills very nasty bacteria that lurk in hospitals – but not in the classrooms or homes (unless you are caring for someone who was recently hospitalized). And even the medical professionals who are recommended to use these anti-bacterial products are recommended to wash hands if there is any visible contaminant.
Germophobia can be worse than a cold. Obviously, anyone with suppressed immune systems or severe allergies must take significant preventative action. The rest of us are creating more problems than we solve with overuse of these products. The single biggest contributor to radical improvements in public health is not penicillin – its sanitation, hygiene and cheap soap – aka, plumbing and washing hands. Cool history of hygiene here.
We don’t buy anti-bacterial anything except when it’s a prescription from a doctor. We don’t want to contribute to the development of super-bugs – anti-biotic resistant bacteria that the CDC warned about in 2001 - and we don’t have anyone with severe immune suppression in our home. Super-bugs really scare me – a lot more than a cold. And we don’t want to give our kids allergy sensitivies (so far, luckily for me, they have none) by eliminating allergens from their environment. In 2004, the Journal of the American Medical Association “found that the 184 children in the group exposed to two or more dogs or cats in infancy were half as likely to develop common allergies than the 220 children who had no pets in the home.”
Another justification for our dog.
Today at camp, they asked the kids if they’d like to go wash their hands or be spritzed. That’s an improvement. My son knows that washing hands is what he’s supposed to do and did it. Please don’t sanitize my kids with anything other than basic soap and water!