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Germ Alert: Protecting Your Family

Antibacterial soaps; puppy kisses

Q  The supermarket is filled with soaps and household cleaning products labeled "antibacterial." Are they better than regular cleaning products?
A No. Antibacterial soaps and cleaning products aren't any more effective in preventing the spread of disease-causing germs. (Alcohol-based hand gels, on the other hand, have been shown to cut down on the spread of infections.) What's more, the chemicals in antibacterial products work like antibiotics  -- by interfering with bacterial growth  -- and you've no doubt heard there's concern (not yet proven) that these chemicals may promote the rise of drug-resistant bacteria. "If they don't provide any benefit, why take the risk?" says Tufts University microbiologist Stuart Levy, M.D. When you want to disinfect surfaces, he and other experts recommend cleaning products that contain bleach or alcohol.

Q  Our new puppy loves to give playful kisses. Is it okay to let him lick our child's face?
A "The odds are in your favor that the occasional face lick is okay," says Gerba. "Just ask yourself, what was the last thing your dog licked?" Dogs can pick up intestinal parasites from infected canine buddies or if they drink from streams and lakes frequented by wildlife  -- and these infections show up in stool. So if your dog has just licked himself down there, that may not be the best time for a kiss. But if your dog doesn't show signs of illness, you should generally feel safe letting him give your child friendly licks from time to time.