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Guests bring many germs to our homes – unexpected holiday gifts

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Posted January 1, 2016

Holidays means that we get visited by a lot of guests. Some of them are friends, some of them are family members and some of them are tiny living creatures that these people bring.

Scientists think that we developed many of our social behaviour elements, such as hand shaking, hugging and kissing, in order to exchange a healthy dose of germs. However, people will bring germs directly to our homes whether we want it or not. Image credit: Rufino via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientists think that we developed many of our social behaviour elements, such as hand shaking, hugging and kissing, in order to exchange a healthy dose of germs. However, people will bring germs directly to our homes whether we want it or not. Image credit: Rufino via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 2.0

It is estimated that every person visiting our home emits 38 million bacterial cells an hour. Although this idea seems to be a little scary, scientists from The University of Chicago say that germs are actually beneficial holiday presents.

Jack A. Gilbert, leader of the group for microbial ecology in the Biosciences Division at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, is researching how microbial communities assemble themselves in natural and unnatural environments. He says that many of these germs that our family and friends bring to our homes are actually beneficial for us and not disgusting at all. People should not seek for over-sanitized environments, because they may leave us weaker than our ancestors, who were constantly surrounded by elements because of their lifestyle. Bodies of our ancestors adapted to a huge variety of germs, so our bodies are expecting them too.

Professor Gilbert said: “Our ancestors experienced many different types of bacteria on a regular basis. When you live with such rich biodiversity, the body expects to see it and when it doesn’t, it freaks out, which is why we are seeing an explosion in allergies, asthma and hay fever. Our bodies are overreacting to the absence of these organisms”. People developed somewhat of a fear of germs – although our habit to wash our hands constantly may prevent nasty flu, it also does not allow developing of immunity.

Therefore, inviting a lot of guests (together with their germs) over holidays is a very good idea for our health. Furthermore, people should allow children to interact with a wide variety of animals, because benefits outweigh potential harm.

In fact, scientists think that many of our social behaviour elements, such as hand shaking, hugging and kissing, might have evolved as a way to chare the germs as they are beneficial for us. People should not go overboard scrubbing the house after gatherings, unless someone is actually sick.

So here you go – germs are one of the presents you did not ask for, but got and should be happy about.

Source: uchicago.edu

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