Once again, Florida is making national headlines, this time because of the mysterious outbreak of serious kidney disease, hemolytic uremic syndrome. Most, although not all, of the sufferers had attended either the Plant City Strawberry Festival or Orlando's Central Florida Fair. What else did they have in common? High on the list of suspects is the petting zoos, and the e. coli bacteria often found in animal feces. This is by no means the only source being considered, but it has been jumped on by the media and parents seeking answers. Panicked parents and teachers have cancelled planned zoo trips, and it's not hard to understand why.

What I can't help wondering, however, is why these children, and why now? For millenia children have been growing up on farms, having far more contact with animals, far less concern for hygiene, and no antibacterial soaps. Have we bred a super strain of bacteria that our human bodies cannot handle? Or have we bred a weakened strain of humans, unable to respond effectively when exposed to normal germs? Are we too clean to be healthy?

When I consider this problem, ever present in my mind is a picture of a farm family I visited recently in Pennsylvania, a handful of boisterous, happy children tumbling in from outside, covered in farm dirt, drinking unpasteurized milk, and incorrigibly healthy.

Cleanliness is important, certainly, and simple hygiene goes further than anything else in the fight against disease. Nonetheless, I wonder if modern, "complex hygiene" is more of a problem than a solution. Could it be that our hospital birthed, antiseptically washed, indoor raised, well protected children are more vulnerable than their country cousins?
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, March 29, 2005 at 1:27 pm | Edit
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