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What! Landmark study shows surprising benefit to allowing babies to be exposed to germs

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Babies raised in clean homes are more likely to get leukemia.

A surprising study has suggested that babies who are raised in clean homes are more susceptible to leukemia. 

Babies may need to be exposed to more germs than parents would like to help prime their immune systems.

Babies may need to be exposed to more germs than parents would like to help prime their immune systems.

Highlights

By Marshall Connolly (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)
5/22/2018 (6 years ago)

Published in Health

Keywords: Leukemia, babies, germs, immune, study

LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - It's every parent's nightmare. Your baby begins to crawl, finds something 'interesting' on the floor, and in a moment of true wonder, puts it in their mouth, picking up untold germs. 

In response, a struggle ensues to get the baby to spit out the offending particle, and the doting parent guiltily rinses out baby's mouth. 



This is a standard nightmare for most parents, but there is one that's much worse: being told that your child has Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). 

The lucky children suffer through an extended series of painful treatments which that cannot understand, and the parents are left devastated, fearing the odds they will lose their child. In some countries, like the United States, such a diagnosis can also bring financial ruin that could last a lifetime, adding insult to injury, regardless of the outcome. The unlucky ones do not survive. More than 600 children are diagnosed with the disease in Britain each year. 

For this reason, childhood diseases, especially cancers are widely researched. This extensive research has paid a dividend in Britain where a landmark study into childhood ALL has revealed that the disease may be almost entirely preventable. And the prevention is nothing more than exposing baby to a few germs. 

Professor Mel Greaves, Director of the Centre for Evolution and Cancer at The Institute of Cancer Research in London performed the study. He wrote: "The research strongly suggests that ALL has a clear biological cause, and is triggered by a variety of infections in predisposed children whose immune systems have not been properly primed.

"The most important implication is that most cases of childhood leukemia are likely to be preventable.

"It might be done in the same way that is currently under consideration for autoimmune disease or allergies -- perhaps with simple and safe interventions to expose infants to a variety of common and harmless bugs."

In other words, letting your baby catch a cold from others might not be such a terrible thing. The benefit comes from allowing the baby's immune system to "prime" itself for fighting future infections, sort of a practice period. If babies are denied this priming experience, then their immune systems are more likely to over-react when they do get sick, and this results in the out-of-control production of white blood cells, the hallmark of ALL. 

Many parents seek to isolate their children, especially in their first year of life. They also spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning and ensuring that baby has the cleanest environment to grow in. Bleach or vinegar, all kinds of wipes and hand-washed dishes in scalding water are common. But according to the study, these precautions could make children more susceptible to ALL. 

The study emphasizes that there is still a strong genetic component to the disease. A child must have the genetic disposition for it. Even then, only one percent of the children raised in these ultra-clean homes are likely to develop the disease. 

The takeaway is simple. It's okay to keep the house clean. However, it is healthy for the baby to interact with other children and to possibly catch a cold or two in their first year of growth outside the womb. 

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