September 14, 2017

Is the Germ Theory True?

Articles by Dr. Erdman are for informational purposes, and are not to be taken as specific medical advice.

Do you really catch a cold or get a communicable disease simply by coming in contact with a germ? If that was the case, wouldn’t we all be sick all the time?

Germs are everywhere, so simple contact with them obviously isn’t how we get sick. We get sick from these microbes because our body doesn’t fight them off, and succumbs to their effects. Therefore the germ theory is, in fact, not correct. Our bodies’ inherent inability to fight the disease is why we get sick, not that we simply came in contact with a germ.

Having said that, keeping germs from overwhelming the body is a multifaceted endeavor. Staying healthy requires eating right, keeping our vitamin D levels at optimal levels and proper hydration. It also entails keeping microbes from contacting our defenses in the first place.

I’m going to try to dispel a few bits of misinformation and give some recent recommendations on how to best keep your hands clean, thereby avoiding the most common cause of microbial contact.
One bit of misinformation says that you need to wash your hands for long enough to sing the “Happy Birthday” tune. That’s a long time and completely unnecessary, as current research shows. Actual testing reveals that 5 seconds is indeed too short, while scrubbing for 10 seconds is just as effective as any longer time. This is scrubbing time, not including turning the water on/off and applying soap. Are there times when more scrubbing is needed? Sure, especially after changing a diaper or handling raw meats, or after handling pets. If you see grime still on your hands, keep scrubbing.

The next myth is that you must use hot water. The US government mandates water in restaurants plumbing deliver water at a minimum of 100 to 108 degrees (F) for handwashing purposes. But is it necessary? The newest research says no. The study concluded that whether participants washed in 60, 79 or 100 degree (F) water, there was no difference in the amount of bacteria remaining. These people actually had E. Coli applied to their hands for this experiment, which made it possible to measure the outcomes by culturing their hand swipes.

Another myth is that you need to use antibacterial soap. This has definitely been debunked. Plain old soap is just as cleansing and carries less risk of causing drug resistant bacteria.

The primary ingredient in antibacterial soap is Triclosan. Triclosan has been shown to actually prolong healing time when applied to wounds, and increases your risk of scar formation. Actually, the EU is phasing this ingredient out of use because the risks outweigh the benefits.

Proper hand washing technique does matter when attempting to clean the hands. The steps are simply this: wet the hands and apply enough soap to cover them; rub the palms together with fingers interlaced; rub the back of each hand; rub between fingers by interlacing them; then rub the fingertips on each palm to clean the fingernail area. That’s it.

If you do those steps in 10 seconds with any temperate water, your hands will be as clean as needed to be safe. If you are in a public restroom, use paper towels to turn the water off and open the door on the way out.

One interesting point I found while researching this article was that people who use hand lotions to maintain well hydrated skin have hands that come clean much easier than those with dry hands.

Again, I don’t believe the germ theory that says that simple contact with germs is all it takes to get sick. But, I also don’t believe that our bodies are invincible, and simple measures, like handwashing, are proven ways to maintain health and fend off disease.