Thursday, June 14, 2001

Nothing to sneeze at

Well, this is just dandy.

A recent study has found that exposure to cats, dogs and dirt reduce allergies and asthma in kids. Those who grow up sanitized and dander-free, the theory goes, have extreme reactions when they do come in contact with allergens. Start that exposure at age 1, and the immune system grows up rough, tough, and ready for anything.

Let's hope my daughter doesn't hear about this.

She, as anybody who's visited this site recently knows, is lobbying hard to get a dog and to stop taking showers. She's 11, and undoubtedly well past any possible respiratory benefit, but logic is not a fine point in her pleas. Anything good about dogs and bad about showers is fair play.

Yet I feel certain that, a year from now -- heck, the way research is going these days, maybe a week from now -- there will be another report saying, "Whoops, what we really meant is to have no pets, bathe hourly, and surround your home with a plastic bubble."

The current report suggests that exposing children from age 1 to "two or more cats and dogs" may reduce their likelihood of allergies and asthma. And increase their likelihood of scratches and clothing covered with animal hair, but that's another study. The animal-exposure theory fits in with a "hygeine hypothesis" that says that excessive cleanliness and a lack of contaminants in the environment screws up kids' immune systems.

Well, I don't know about the dog part. But I am certainly making my contribution to contaminants by pedaling back on the household hygeine. My house has always been a mess, this side of filthy but not by a whole lot, and I thought it was just irresponsibility and laziness on my part. But now I know the truth: I'm doing this for my kids' immune systems. And I refuse to use all those antibacterial soaps and hand rubs and moist towelettes for exactly the same reason. Hey, a little dirt isn't going to kill them!

But that doesn't mean certain 11-year-olds don't have to shower every day. There are limits.

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