June 28, 2021 4 min read

“We’re too clean for our own good” – you’ve heard the statement before.

When Covid-19 first hit, there was widespread misinformation about the dangers of measures like social distancing and hand sanitising. Thankfully, through hygiene education and reporting, we know more about the importance of good hygiene than ever before.­

However, we still have more to learn. With the introduction of vaccines, Covid-19 still prevalent, and flu season in Australia around the corner – hygiene continues to be a hot topic. One common misconception that remains, is that being ‘too clean’ is harmful for our immunity.  

With insufficient evidence to support this notion, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Practicing good hygiene won’t weaken your immunity. In fact, it’s better for it.

Where does this idea come from?

Hygiene hypothesis is a theory that was developed by David Strachan in 1989 to explain rising trends in allergies and atopic disorders (e.g., hay fever, asthma). Strachan studied hay fever in over 17,000 children; he found that there were fewer incidences in children from larger households. Why? Assumingly, they were more likely to face germs, thanks to their unhygienic siblings1.

Allergies are our immune system’s reaction to commonly harmless environmental substances2. Strachan argued this reaction was preventable through infection in early childhood. More contact with infectious pathogens (organisms that cause disease), meant more opportunity to strengthen immunity, and less chance of reacting to harmless dust or grass.

He proposed that rises in allergies and atopic disorders could be explained by decreasing household sizes, and higher standards of hygiene. As these new factors were decreasing exposure to pathogens, and thus, the ability to build immunity1.

The hygiene hypothesis has since been broadly interpreted into the idea that being ‘too clean’ is harmful, because we need infection to build our immunity3. It has been perpetuated by the media and has the power to alter perceptions of good hygiene. This is concerning because the hypothesis isn’t true!

Hygiene hypothesis has been rejected by modern researchers and infectious disease specialists. It has been found that:

  1. Increases in allergies and atopic disorders DON’T correlate with a decrease in infection with pathogens, or changes in hygiene3.
  2. For our immune system to function properly, we need exposure to good bacteria NOT infectious pathogens4.

In other words – taking hygiene precautions to protect against infectious germs isn’t weakening your immunity. Many researchers have suggested the hypothesis needs to be renamed to minimise misleading ideas about hygiene3.

How does the immune system work?

The immune system is a network of cells and proteins in our body that defend us against infection. It is comprised of two parts; 1. the innate system which provides general defence, 2. the adaptive system which produces antibodies able to fight off germs our body has previously encountered.

The idea of ‘building immunity’ stems from our immune system’s ability to remember all the germs we meet. It develops ‘memory cells’, which know how to jump into action and protect us if we face them again5.

So yes, we need exposure to germs for our immune system to function properly BUT there’s a fine line between good and bad. 

Pathogens are harmful micro-organisms known to cause disease and illness. Think MRSA, pneumonia, meningitis and more. Contrary to hygiene hypothesis, these are definitely harmful to us!

For a healthy immune system, we need exposure to a diverse range of good bacteria, such as probiotics. The tricky part is that “the diversity and abundance of each habitat's signature microbes [varies] widely even among healthy subjects, with strong niche specialisation both within and among individuals.6” Simply put, everyone is different. Good bacteria for one can be bad for another. That’s why maintaining good hygiene is so important – it safeguards us and others from the risk of harmful and even fatal infection.

Want to learn more about bacteria and infectious microbes? Read the research here.

Practicing good hygiene

The risk of infection is real in therapy settings and should not be underestimated. Healthcare Associated Infections (HAIs) affect about 165,000 patients per year, primarily due to lack of hygiene practice - that is, bacterial transfer onto shared surfaces and hands of healthcare workers7.

Purifas® conducted random swab testing of five therapy bed face holes from five clinics, further revealing the exposure to harmful pathogens during face down treatments. The beds in question used terry towelling and paper-based covers for protection. The results showed that one out of five tested positive for rhinovirus and two out of five tested positive for the incredibly dangerous golden staph – one variant resistant to antibiotics.

For massage and allied health therapy settings, Purifas® has developed essential steps for hygiene best practice based on the latest news and research. We’ve also developed the only range of fit-for-purpose hygiene products for the sector.

Introducing the ultimate hygiene system from Purifas®:

1. Purifas® Faceshield™

Give your clients every assurance of safety during face down treatments with the Purifas™ FaceShield™. It is the only product worldwide that provides 100% face hole coverage and is scientifically proven to reduce the transmission of bacteria.

2. FaceShield™ Wall Mount

Exercise your duty of care quickly and easily. The Wall Mount keeps your FaceShield™ box in a high, dry, and convenient place for optimum hygiene and ultimate access. 

3. Purifas® FacePad® and covers

Made from high density memory foam, the Purifas® FacePad® provides therapists with easy access to hard-to-reach places and clients with superior support. The FacePad® is also easy to clean with removable cotton covers for regular laundering.

And that’s only the start. Purifas® is continuously developing and testing new hygiene solutions. We can’t wait to show you what’s next in store.

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1838109
  2. https://www.allergy.org.au/patients/about-allergy/what-is-allergy
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1448690/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5320962/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279364/
  6. https://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.1001377
  7. https://www.idhjournal.com.au/article/S2468-0451(17)30043-3/fulltext


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