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Kids vs. Germs

How to raise a survivor
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Anyone who has ever observed a little kid knows that just about anything that can fit in a kid's mouth ends up in the kid's mouth. Herein is an analysis of this "problem", from the evolutionary viewpoint.

Think about it: The above-described phenomenon seems to be ingrained in every little kid ever born, and grown old enough to grab something. If this was an inherently dangerous thing to do, how can such a behavior survive as part of the makeup of the human species? So, actually, the greater probability is that this behavior is actually in some way beneficial to the survival of the species!

Thus, the observed behavior cannot be the whole of the story; there must be other factors involved, that aren't usually recognized. And I believe I have identified them: (1) Little kids, especially babies, drool a lot; and (2) Saliva is in actual fact a pretty good germicide! (For more evidence of that, remember that just about every animal is known to lick its wounds.)

So, consider a freshly born human baby, with its immune system needing to be primed for proper functionality. How can the many pathogens of the world be gently introduced into that tiny body? Modern medicine found that one way is to take a pathogen, kill-it/partially-destroy-it, and then inject the debris, in the procedure called "immunization". But what about all those millenia before immunization was invented? 50% of all kids tended to die by the age of two, partly because they were exposed to pathogens that were stronger than their immune systems. Were they mostly just unlucky, or do that many people, just born, actually have partially defective immune systems? Or was a more sinister factor operating...(to be described shortly)?

And what of the 50% of babies who did survive past the age of two? Did they have a secret survival strategy? THEREFORE I suggest the following hypothesis: When kids put stuff into their mouths, they are both killing germs with saliva, AND exposing their immune systems to the pieces of those germs. Any attempt by parents to interfere will actually increase the chance that the kid will be unprepared for germs that enter the body by other means. Parents should ENCOURAGE their babies to drool a lot, and small bits of dirt should be mixed into that drool, and fed to the kids! LET the baby play in the mud!

Naturally, some discretion is advisable. Ordinary household dust and dirt is probably OK. Mud that has been sitting for a week is probably NOT OK. However, that formerly dry, dusty pathway that just got drenched by a passing rainstorm is possibly ideal. For a short time, of course. Too much of any good thing usually isn't so good, after all.

Oh, and that sinister factor? I already mentioned it! "Cleanliness may be next to Godliness" -- but in this case, also, there can be too much of a good thing!

(And as a pre-emptive repartee, I might mention that when kids pick their noses and eat the results, go easy on 'em! It may be healthier for them than you thought....)

Vernon, Jul 24 2002

Immunising Worktop http://www.halfbake...mmunising_20worktop
pretty thoroughly discussed here [FarmerJohn, Jul 24 2002]

The latest supporting evidence http://www.nature.c...ng-benefits-1.10294
"Too much of any Good Thing is usually a Bad Thing" --now too much cleanliness can be a bad thing... [Vernon, Mar 24 2012]

Even more supporting evidence http://www.scienced...h_medicine/allergy/
How much evidence that an Idea is actually valid, does it take to turn a fishbone into a croissant? Stay tuned! [Vernon, Jun 07 2014]

[link]






       FarmerJohn, thanks for the link; while I had suspected this idea had been thought up by others, I hadn't elsewhere seen the particular reasoning presented here. And there are some differences, because this focuses on the evolutionary rationale behind an ordinary human-child behavior. Also, having looked at the link, I tend to agree that the specified worktop is perhaps not quite as health-promoting as is indicated, because it allows for the buildup of germs AND their toxic byproducts. This is why I said, in my main idea here, that "Mud that has been sitting for a week is probably NOT OK." We want to expose people/kids to the germs, but not the byproducts!
Vernon, Jul 24 2002
  

       I think the point you are missing is that humans have evolved to have very long childhoods implying that there is a parent or two to look after their welfare: to make sure that they do not ingest much muck, do not get into warm relationships with predators and take over in the toy train set department.
po, Jul 24 2002
  

       Saying that you should let small children put stuff that parents would consider 'unclean' into their mouths is wholly baked, and has been suggested as an alternative to vaccination many a time.
kaz, Jul 24 2002
  

       Vernon, you have altogether too much time on your hands.   

       Putting stuff in mouths is likely an instinctive thing. We need to do this with food in order to survive. The problem is that young kids haven't yet developed the ability to accurately determine what is food and what is non-food.   

       I think a Darwinian argument could be made that, at one time in early homonid development, there was a much smaller quantity of dangerous things to put in your mouth, i.e. a higher proportion of things put in mouths would have been food. Aside from rocks and perhaps wood, everything else was more or less edible.   

       But since the development of homo sapiens intelligence and the ultimate ability of humans to create and produce 'stuff', there's a lot more non-food around than there used to be, so this is a bigger issue.
waugsqueke, Jul 24 2002
  

       Its very different from the links ideas. I say hat off to you boy, because I have been saying for a while now, I am a "closet dirty person" or "closet not afraid of germs person". Its logic that although we all say is not original etc. mention it to the person behind you on the bus and they'll call the police on you. My dad brought me up to be relaxed about a subject that is twisted and contorted to make people feel scared and really quite obsessed - to the point where they will go out and buy the smartest looking liquid to make them feel safe and relaxed. Consumerism. That's what you're up against when you try to promote new ideas on the subject of germs.
isla, Jul 24 2002
  

       The whole putting-stuff-in-mouth thing is due to the fact that at the early stages of life,the most sensitive part of or body is the tongue, and so it is used to explore objects. If you watch a baby exploring the unknown, they do it in a similar that a scientist investigates the result of an experiment. First, he looks at it, then he smells it, then he tastes it. Baby's tend to miss out the smell part, and replace it with 'shaking it'.
[ sctld ], Jul 24 2002
  

       waugsqueke, you said a mouthful. There sure is a lot more dogshit around than in paeolithic times, for sure.
pfperry, Jul 24 2002
  

       Yeah, but they were dodging elephant dung back then.
DrCurry, Jul 24 2002
  

       The link between exposure or non-exposure to dirt / germs / dust and robust or weak immune systems is fairly old news (I believe there are studies linking asthma and suchlike to overly-clean childhoods). But the putting-stuff-in-mouth-thing may just be a throwback to our primate origins. Watch a chimp investigate any new object given to it and it's first response will often be to, yes, you guessed it, put it in its mouth. With apes, I understand, this is because their lips have more sensitive touch receptors than their fingertips, better at distinguishing texture, detailed form, etc.. This makes sense; fingers have to be tough for holding on to trees, rocks, tools, and so on. Lips don't. The fact that apes do this all through their lives, rather than only in an 'immunisation stage' of childhood (after which the hazards would outweigh the benefit) would indicate to me that any evolutionary pressure comes from the sensory benefits rather than potential health benefits. I strongly suspect kids are just being the bald apes that they are.
Guy Fox, Jul 24 2002
  

       hippo, I'm not surprised that this overall idea may have been thought of elsewhere/before, but I do want to know whether or not those earlier editions made any mention of all that baby drool, and the germicidal properties thereof. Remember that this idea is more about the explanation for the evolution of the behavior, than it is about the behaviour.   

       waugsqueke, yes, the modern world is indeed somewhat more toxic than the Good Old Days. That is partly why I tried to specify that a certain amount of care be used, in deciding what sorts of dirt in which to let kids indulge themselves.   

       sctld, yes, every animal has to learn what is edible and what isn't. It remains true, though, that bacteria are everywhere, and that tasting a variety of substances automatically means exposure to a variety of bacteria. It also remains true that human babies drool and put things in thier mouths even when they are not hungry. I shall maintain that Evolution has a double purpose for that act!
Vernon, Jul 25 2002
  

       DrCurry, I would rather eat a kilo of elephant dung than a gram of dogshit. On grounds both of taste and health.
pfperry, Jul 25 2002
  

       I know a dietician who recommends a healthy, safe way to prepare and eat dirt for her patients who have pica (an eating disorder: compulsive eating of substances normally considered inedible). You bake the dirt in a pan.
earl, Jul 25 2002
  

       UnaBubba, the key word I saw in those Web articles about melioidosis is: "contaminated". They weren't very specific about what sort of contamination, but I'll assume that biowaste is the likeliest candidate. From there, one should ask about the degree to which most little kids actually eat everything they put in their mouths. They DO have a sense of taste, and probably it is functional enough for the kids to often spit out whatever-it-was. I am not advocating forcing kids to eat dirt -- I'm just saying, "let them do their thing, with an eye toward safety". Again, that's why I said that week-old mud is probably NOT OK. But do remember that Life of all sorts on this planet depends on water, so dry-as-dust dirt is going to be pretty minimally occupied by bacteria of any sort -- including the one that causes melioidosis.   

       As for prolix, no.
Vernon, Jul 25 2002
  

       Go germs, go!!!
not_morrison_rm, Mar 25 2012
  

       Anthrax can remain viable and infectious in dry-as-dust dirt for decades. Just saying.
spidermother, Mar 25 2012
  

       ...All the more reason to build up a resistance to it then, shirley?
Custardguts, Mar 26 2012
  

       Quite. And while you're at it, why not build up a resistance to anvils dropped on your head from a great height?
spidermother, Mar 26 2012
  

       Some of us are naturally anvil-resistant.
Alterother, Mar 26 2012
  

       //How much evidence that an Idea is actually valid, does it take to turn a fishbone into a croissant?//   

       I didn't bone it because It don't agree or think it's invalid, I boned it because it's unoriginal and doesn't include something that can be made.
Voice, Jun 07 2014
  

       [Voice], did you not notice the date on this Idea? I'm quite sure it was at least somewhat original at the time it was posted, and as explained in an early annotation. And as for "making" something, what about making kids more healthy, as in "they don't suffer from asthma or allergies"?
Vernon, Jun 07 2014
  
      
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