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How Much Bacteria Are Really on Your Kids’ Hands?

posted: 06/09/15
by: Courtney Reimer
a handprint of bacteria on a petri dish
Microbe World

Germaphobes, take note: You might want to reach for the hand sanitizer before reading this article.

A pretty stunning new photo is making the rounds on the internet and chat shows, and it details a handprint in a petri dish with a shocking amount of bacteria on it. The hand in question belongs to an 8-year-old kid who had been playing outside, and the collector of said bacteria on a Petri dish is his microbiolgist mother, Tasha Sturm. There are multiple "blooms" of bacteria on the image, which almost looks like it's an abstract painting of a hand with circular splatters on it. (One commenter on Microbe World, where it originally appeared, calls it "gorgeous.")

From a scientific analysis standpoint, it's a little less than pretty: Strurm says that the photo depicts the bacteria that's developed after a week of room temperature exposure, and the various splotches represent Bacillus (which can cause food poisoning), Staphylococcus (which you've probably heard referred to in the context of a "Staph infection") and yeast. If you want to see closeups of the developed bacteria -- and have a strong stomach -- head over to Today.com.

But Sturm cautions against freaking out too much about the bacteria found on your kids' -- or her kid's -- hands.

"It's normal stuff that we're exposed to every day. The skin protects us from a lot of the bad stuff out there," she told Today.com "The take home message is that to have a healthy immune system, you've got to be exposed to stuff."

The "stuff" she is referring to are the various germs and bacteria that, yes, can lead to illness, but can also help strengthen our immune systems. (This is also known as the "hygiene hypothesis," and scientists have suggested that the uptick in allergies and asthma is correlated with the increased focus on things like antibacterial soaps and cleaning agents.)

She says it's still a good idea to have your kids wash their hands regularly in order to protect against the spread of the flu, colds and stomach bugs. That is unless you want to create Petri-dish art like Sturm's, in which case, you'll want to get an agar plate -- that's what she used in the dish to show the bacterial bloom.