Columns Aug 3, 2011 at 4:00 am

Is the Hygiene Hypothesis True?


Thank you for addressing this No-Vaccination madness! Please get your kids vaccinated.

Enter snarky, neo-cynical-hippie, survivalistic comment from CTMCMULL...
Fuck dirt. I'm eating a hookworm.
You don't have to LET them.

If there's ONE unhygienic item in the room, turn your back for ONE second, and any child worth his salt is trying to put it in his mouth...


Some things never change.
Do not bait the troll.
I've heard a version of this theory, but it's entirely based around the early development of our immune systems and has nothing to do with our adult bodies getting, er... bored or whatever. Nothing to do with nationality, either.

The basic premise is that kids who grow up on farms or around filthy animals have a lot fewer allergies than kids who grow up in ultra-sanitized, air-purified, animal-free environments because their rapidly growing immune systems have been exposed to such a wide variety of germs at that important early stage of development. The theory says that there's an important evolutionary reason for why toddlers stick everything they possibly can into their mouths (to sample their surroundings and develop immunities) - and that kids who don't get exposed to certain biological agents until later on have missed out on their best shot at ever developing an effective immunity.

Are we talking about the same theory, here?

Oh, and parents: my non-expert, but reasonably sane advice is to vaccinate your kids and buy a (naturally filthy) pet for them to play with.
@5, I believe you're mostly right about this being a mostly developmental issue. (sorry about all the "mostlies"). But there is still quite a lot of development and remodelling of the immune system in adults. It's why we get autoimmune diseases in middle-age, probably, rather than because of something that happened in childhood. So, exercise those immune systems all you grownups. Eat rasperries and cherry tomatoes fresh out of the garden, without rinsing, and cuddle and kiss your pets, before you go for a winded jog in the woods (breathing in the dusty complex environment very deeply). By-the-by, the effective pet ratio is that cats are probably the most effective antigenic stimulants, and dogs are somewhat less so. Two cats should probably provide all the stimulus you need. They look clean, cats, but they are germy fluffy bags of antigens.
"So, for now, let your kids play in dirt."

And play in the dirt with them. If you have a yard, do some gardening and make the kids help. Getting a little dirt under your fingernails can be extremely therapeutic, whether or not it has anything to do with allergies.
I am an ob/gyn in buenos aires, argentina, working in a very large maternity hospital that mostly serves migrant population from Bolivia Perú and Paraguay. I am constantly exposed to virus and bacteria, and as far as tuberculosis goes, I have a positive dermic test to it, going to prove that I've been exposed, infected but never sick and probably won't ever be. (and that's mainly because I've been vaccinated against it at birth and again at six, a vaccine that hasn't been administered in the USA for years) An american doctor who comes in direct contact with TB acts like it's the plague.
Often international medical organizations such as doctors withouth borders and mediciens du monde pick up third world doctors for their missions, not only because they are used to adverse conditions and work better in low tech environments, but because they are inmune to most shit that goes around.

Please wait...

and remember to be decent to everyone
all of the time.

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