TODAY

TODAY   |  March 28, 2013

The truth about germs: Can we be too clean?

How much is too much hand sanitizer? Dr. Keri Peterson, a contributor to Women’s Health Magazine, talks about a new report that suggests the anti-bacterial and anti-microbial products we use could be blocking germs the body actually needs.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> the truth about germs. an article in the washington post this week explores the idea that our obsession with being clean may actually be making us sick. so is it possible to be too clean? dr. carrie peterson is an internist at "women's health." it seems we're saying it's good to be clean, good to use some of the products out there on the market, but it's possible to take it too far.

>> it is possible to take it too far because you can create super bugs. these are bugs that develop the resistance to the active ingredient and they become not only resistant to that but antibiotics.

>> when i hear about super bugs, i think it's because we take too many antibiotics. does this also apply talking about antibacterial hand sanitizers and things like this?

>> yes, you are correct, that the overuse of antibiotics create super bugs but antibacterials do, as well. and we have no way to treat them.

>> so this is about moderation. and i think it's well known i'm someone -- i'm a little bit of a germaphobe, not as much as people say. i don't use purell or other products like it more than once a day. is that within the safe zone?

>> of course proper hygiene is necessary to prevent the spread of germs, but washing your hands with soap and water is sufficient as long as you do it properly, 20 seconds with soap and water, which is the amount of time to sing happy birthday twice. using purell once a day is fine, but you don't have to do that if you have access to soap and water.

>> but the people you see carrying it around in their pocket and they're putting it on their hands. those are the people that this isn't a new study, by the way, this information affects.

>> that's correct. the hyper vigilance is where the problem is. not only are people using it on their hands all the time, but there are so many new products available on the market. there are slippers, socks, mattresses, even toys and chop sticks . we're getting a little carried away. we're going too overboard and it's not necessary and it's costly.

>> let's make that point again. more and more these days at the drop of a hat, people don't feel well. they go to their doctors. and unfortunately, a lot of doctors give them antibiotics.

>> yes.

>> how far over the line are we with the prescription of antibiotics.

>> it's a big problem in my opinion.

>> in my practice, i try to teach my patients the difference between a virus and bacteria. often times patients will resist that. they really want to walk out of your office with a prescription. so physicians really need to be armed with educating patients about this and patients need to be aware that it's not always necessary.

>> the other thing that came to my mind, doctor, when i read this information last night is how many times are you on the street and you see a new mother with a young baby and they constantly have those wipes out, those antibacterial wipes and using them on the baby or the child's hands and everything around that child. is that a good idea or bad idea?

>> that's a bad idea. the issue with children which is more important than adults. our immune systems develop in childhood. if we are not exposed to germs on a regular basis, we're not able to properly build up our immune systems and that takes us into our adulthood, more likely prone to illness and allergies and asthma. so kids do need to be exposed to germs.

>> to me the headline of this is just, again, good old fashioned washing your hands, best way to go.

>> everything in moderation.

>> thanks so much.