While it seems like preventing as much infectious disease as possible in ECE is a good thing, new research shows that many of our chronic health conditions may be caused by growing up in overly clean environments. Science is telling us that exposure to germs and the infectious diseases they cause may contribute to a better functioning immune system. For example, children who grow up on a farm are less likely to have asthma because they are exposed to a wide range of germs when they are young. There has been a sharp rise in allergies, asthma, and asthma-related deaths in developed countries in the last 30 years. Many scientists argue that part of the cause is that the immune system of young children is not stimulated enough by exposure to germs. Research also indicates that exposure to common infections early in life may be protective against childhood leukaemia. We still don’t know the whole story of how exposure to germs affects our immune system, but there is a connection.
Remember, too, that when young children get sick from exposure to germs in ECE, they will not get as sick when they enter elementary school. This is because they have already developed antibodies to many of the germs they come into contact with in school.
It is important to keep this new science in mind when we weigh the risks of using hazardous chemicals to keep ECE environments as germ-free as possible. Exposure to these chemicals may cause illness, and not get sick from common infections in childhood may also have risks.