Learning to love germs

To all the Purel-toting moms and dads out there: it seems the germs kids pick up at daycare might actually make them healthier. A new study from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley suggests that kids who attend day care or play groups have roughly a 30 per cent reduced risk of developing leukemia.

Most types of childhood leukemia are apparently thought to originate in the womb—but it seems that only about one percent of kids with this mutation actually go on to develop full-blown leukemia by age 15, suggesting a second “hit” is needed during childhood. “We don’t know what all the stressors are after birth,” lead author Patricia Buffler told The Edmonton Journal, but one could be an infection. So, when a kid’s immune system is stimulated at a young age, he or she is “much better able to deal with contact with infectious agents later in life.”

The Edmonton Journal continues: “The finding fits with the ‘hygiene hypothesis,’ which suggests that children exposed to common infections early in life have stronger immune systems, as do children who have family pets and older siblings.”

Germs are good for all sorts of stuff. Earlier this year, scientists suggested they could help teach our bodies how to fight off cancerous tumours, and there’s also evidence to suggest they can help prevent allergies.

Yet it seems like people are more germaphobic than ever before. It’s funny because, while hand sanitizers are flying off pharmacy shelves, the popularity of so-called “probiotic” products (from juices to yoghurt) is booming. I guess some people would rather eat their germs, than have them on their hands.

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