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Photo Shows How Much Bacteria Is on a Child's Hand

The Short of It

A microbiologist mom's photo of the bacteria from her son's hand is causing quite a stir. Is all that stuff living on his palm gross or beneficial?

The Lowdown

If you're like me, you're probably constantly reminding your kids to wash their hands (and sometimes maybe you, um, forget like I have!), but what exactly is on them anyhow? Well, mom Tasha Sturm set out to find out.

She had her 8-year-old son pet the family dog and play outside for a while. When he came back in, she had him put his hand in a Petri dish and then let it incubate for a day at body temperature and for the rest of the week at room temperature.

What resulted was a pretty cool photo of the dish, which some think is beautiful and others think is totally gross—it depends on how you view germs, I guess!

The orange and yellow spots are likely yeast that was on the boy's hand, says Tasha, while the big white circle on the bottom right is likely Bacillus, which is often found in dirt. The small white spots are probably staph (a.k.a. Staphylococcus).

Microbe World/Tasha Sturm/Cabrillo College/asm.org

The Upshot

Don't get too grossed out, though. Scientists say germs may be good for us in small quantities. According to "the hygiene hypothesis," exposure to allergens and bacteria may help our bodies develop immunity to them, resulting in fewer allergies and illnesses. Previous studies have linked having a dirty home or growing up on a farm with reduced allergies and asthma.

Yep, it's possible to take personal hygiene too far and to be "too clean," which means to take away too much of the bacteria our kids' bodies need to be exposed to in order to develop their immune systems. Still, it's important, doctors say, to have your child wash his hands with soap and water before meals. Like most other things, cleanliness is all about balance.

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