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Purging Germs: Health Booster or Bad Idea? continued...

When we overly sanitize infants' environments to protect them from illness, we may instead be depriving them the opportunity to build a strong immune system.

In addition to overzealous hygiene campaigns that may prevent kids from exposure to natural microorganisms that are good for them, there are other practices -- like the overuse of antibiotics -- that threaten to make us less healthy, not more. 

Still, there is the possibility of going too far in the other direction. Many proponents of the hygiene hypothesis say that the germs in the dirt are good for you.

"It's an interesting idea," Blaser says, "but my view is those germs are irrelevant to us. Those microbes in dirt are adapted to dirt; they are not adapted to the human body." 

So What's a Parent to Do?

As with most things in life, keeping your kids healthy is a matter of finding balance.

Blaser highly recommends that parents and physicians carefully consider whether antibiotics should be used for all episodes of fever. Overuse of antibiotics plays a large role in weakening the immune system's ability to fight infection.

And when it comes to keeping your kids' environment germ free, McDade says, "I'd like to see a recalibration toward common sense. You don't have to wash or sanitize everything."

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