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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Hygiene Hypothesis Disproved

Vindication for my dear friend, Jo.

As you know by now, we've been sick since preschool started. We're on day 13 of "oh, so I guess we're all still sick." We're at the point where we're sure every night before we go to bed, that this is it. This was the last day of lingering sickness.

Then the cough starts up. The cough that keeps everyone awake at different intervals throughout the night. We do steamed bathrooms, honey, vapor rub, water, head elevation. We read stories and chat quietly. We hug and love. We do not sleep.

The morning breaks, and here we all are, still sick, but surely today will be the last day of it, am I right?

Last week, I checked Dulce's throat and saw that her tonsils were swollen. Red alert. Emergency doctor visit time.

Of course, I was sure these were the biggest any tonsils had ever been ever in the history of mankind. The doctor laughed at that. "Slightly swollen," she said. "A virus that we can't do anything about," she said.

At least it's not strep, right?

But then she said something that showed me just how much I actually did buy into the Hygiene Hypothesis, and just how wrong I was.

"Is it normal for viruses to last this long?" I asked.

"Anywhere from one to three weeks," she said, offhandedly. "But since you've got twins, they're probably passing it back and forth between them, and who knows how long it will be around."

Wait, what?

You mean to tell me that my kids are not building immunities to this specific virus as we speak? You mean they're still susceptible to the exact same germs they've been fighting and winning against for a week?


And if the babies can ping pong the same virus back and forth to each other while they are sick already, there goes the "they're already past the contagious stage," right? I mean, how are we to know when they are contagious or not? Clearly, they can infect each other or anyone else at any time. That annoying, persistent cough must still be transmitting the germs I thought were not transferable after a certain number of days.

So, really, the Hygiene Hypothesis seems to be a bunch of hype parents tell themselves to make themselves feel better. No one is getting immune, and diseases aren't becoming non-contagious after a few days. With the understandably slack rules about ill children in preschool, no wonder we're all sick all the time.

So, Jo, my hat's off to you. You win this bout. Now, how about you come over for some tea and lunch? I hear the babies are past the contagious stage. It should be just fine, right? What's a little runny nose?

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  1. OSHITZ I love this post so hard.

    Except that I'm so sad your little ones are still sick.

    But OMG I love this post so hard.

  2. PS:



  3. I appreciate that it sucks that your kids and family are still sick but the hypothesis has some scientifically sound background. A cold virus will usually mutate once an immunity is built up allowing it to pass back and forth and viral infections are very. very. very different to bacterial immunities. We DO NOT understand everything or how it all works so I dont care whether you want to keep your kids in a bubble or let them eat dirt but anyone talking that loudly about a HYPOTHESIS is generating nothing but hype. Doesnt make it automatically all wrong. Common sense in all things.

  4. Actually, I was just schooled on this whole thing whole thing earlier today by someone who's opinion means the world to me. I am kidding back and forth with Jo, about something real, but something that actually has nothing to do with the hygiene hypothesis which states something more along the lines of lack of germ exposure causes more allergies in children, having nothing to do with mutations or immunities with regards to colds.

    I misnamed my posts, but it's not a huge deal to me, since the blog to which I'm linking p much spells it all out as far as she wanted to. These were just responses.

  5. I'm p. much baffled by anon's statement, "anyone talking that loudly about a HYPOTHESIS is generating nothing but hype. Doesnt make it automatically all wrong." At first I thought they were saying there's not that much truth in a mere "hypothesis" but then I thought they were saying we're all dumb for not believing in it. I'm sore confused!

    Oh well, Dar, it's all just fun plus games. :)

    Also, I wanted to let you know that I have bestowed upon you an INTERNET AWARD!!!!

    Plz to be going here:

  6. I'm sorry I didn't mean to be baffling. My point was that every time science has a 'hypothesis' of any sort and when it's this widely discussed and publicised without the proper emphasis on discussion and thought it is fundamentally hype. However just because there is a lot of hype surrounding a hypothesis doesn't automatically mean there is no truth to it. For example there are tribes in africa who believe you can cure fever by having a virgin boy chew a piece of meat and leave it in leather tied to a tree for three days before eating it. Actually what they're making is an antibiotic and it doesn't need to be a virgin boy who chews it nor does it need to be tied to a tree, nor will it work for all causes of fever, but that doesn't mean it doesn't ever actually work. No one knows how much truth there is in a hypothesis until it's proven, and even then I'd always encourage people to continue to challenge facts. Otherwise we'd still think the world is flat.

    My post was not designed to be confrontational, merely provocative of discussion. Which I guess I succeeded at but not as intended. Apologies.

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