Why Keeping a Household Free from Germs Is Important for Young Children

Top activities for young children in San Diego include amusement parks, zoos, carnivals, beaches, stadiums, pools and arcades — endless opportunities for micro-organisms to invade vulnerable bodies. Add germs intrinsic to life’s daily household chores, and a home becomes a risky nexus for pathogens. San Diego County’s Health and Human Services Agency reported on 66 communicable diseases but focused on a select 16. All are highly transmittable and comprise four basic categories: protozoan, bacterial, viral and fungal. Two factors make them difficult to control and scary for small children: transmission modes and incubation periods.

Passing It On

Small children cannot recognize visible hazards, let alone identify invisible dangers within a tasty treat or quick swim. All protozoan and most bacterial and viral infections result from ingesting contaminated food or water and spread from person to person through fecal-oral contact. Contaminated water includes recreational water, as well as storage and drinking-water systems. Contaminated food includes undercooked meats and seafood, unpasteurized milk, and even insufficiently washed fruits and vegetables. Livestock, zoo animals and pets can also be sources, particularly for E. coli and salmonellosis. Mucus and phlegm are among culprits for meningococcal disease, and soil is an issue for fungal and some bacterial infections.

Incubation Period

All but one of the 16 communicable diseases have incubation periods lasting several days to weeks. Incubation periods are longer in small children than in adults because symptoms occur only once a body’s immune system reacts to the pathogen. Until then, germs are busy spreading. As time passes, a disease asymptomatic in adulthood can cause sepsis or coma in a small child. Meanwhile, contamination sources become increasingly difficult to identify.

A National Institutes of Health and Howard Hughes Medical Institute study published in Immunity in 2013 discovered CD4 cells, also known as T cells, necessary to immunity, had both a naive state and a mature state. In adults, cells maintain “memory of microbes

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