Answering parents' questions about kids and germs

Dirt is Good

My toddler ate something off the floor. Should I worry?

Should I wash dishes in the dishwasher or by hand?

Should I take my kids to a farm?

As a leading microbiome reseacher, UChicago Medicine's Jack Gilbert, PhD, hears a lot questions like these from parents.

So Gilbert, Faculty Director of the Microbiome Center, and Rob Knight, PhD, Director of the Center for Microbiome Innovation at the University of California, San Diego, teamed up to provide some answers in their new book, "Dirt is Good: The Advantage of Germs for Your Child's Developing Immune System" (St. Martin's Press, $25.99). The book is an accessible guide to the role of the microbiome - the tiny organisms in, on and around our bodies - in health and well-being.

In the introduction, the authors write that their goal is "to present you, too, with the best scientific advice available about the microbiome and your children's health and development."

The authors share stories from raising their own children. Their explanations combine common sense with scientific insight. Here are short answers to the questions above - for more detail, you'll have to read the book.

  1. Unfortunately, the five-second rule is a myth. But, "much depends on what they pick up from the floor and the nature of that floor."
  2. Hand-washing beats dishwashers. "Hand-washed dishes have more microbes, which may help to train and stimulate your child's immune system."
  3. Yes, as early and frequently as possible. "Let them stroke as many animals as they want and even rub their faces up against the ones that will let them." Children who grow up on farms, the authors note, have a lower likelihood of developing asthma and allergies.