On hygiene, have a cow

There will be questions. (“Why is there a cow here?”)

There will be confusion. (“Seriously, why is there a cow here?”)

There will be tears and recriminations and re-recriminations and wailings and gnashings of teeth. (“I can’t bring ANYONE home,” your child will lament. “I hate you, Mom or Dad!”)

But if you want to save your family, you must ignore all that.

Some people read all the coverage about how antibiotics and our war on bacteria seem to be hindering rather than enhancing our overall health, and they respond by enhancing their bubbles of protection. They Lysol the sink. “We are in antibiotics steeped so far,” they intone, “that should we wade no more, returning were as easy as go o’er.” They shoot the microbes on sight.

You can enhance your vigilance at the germ borders, whip out the Purell, and run random spot-checks on relatively innocent bacteria that have dwelt in your guts for decades, have vital, pulsating ties to the community, and have never before been asked to produce any evidence that they belong there.

But will it help?

Or should we be following the man in this uncomfortably vivid anecdote from the New Yorker — and do things like transport the earwax from our good ears into our bad ears, effecting miraculous healings?

This seems a little courageous.

But we need to to something.

We have, an increasing number of scientists begin to suspect, been doing a real number on all the microbes that view us not as Stan or Helen but as an ecosystem in which to settle, decorate and do whatever passes for reproduction among microbes these days. (“Alex seems pretty all right if you’re young and single,” they point out, “but what about the school systems?”) For years, they dwelt within us in harmony, occasionally vacationing to strangers and returning with oddly detailed snapshots and new resistant strains. But then we figured out they were there and started trying to get rid of them. Hunting for a few bad ones, the culprits that have been waking up in the middle of the night with stabbing earaches, we have waged all-out war, on everybody. We have executed Order 66 with regard to microbes, and now, when they do attack, we have very few left on our side, able to fight fire with fire. (“You killed Uncle Bilious,” they mutter. “You think I’m going to stand with you after that five-day course of Zithromax?”)

So what do we do now?

Well, there may be hope… if you buy a cow.

Better yet, if your own childhood is past, find some friends who have just had a child and offer them a cow. It’s the solution to any baby shower woes. Don’t bother with Little Einstein’s Building Blocks or Little Mozart’s Baby Baby Grand. Get a bovine companion. They are unlikely to understand the gesture, over the sound of fierce bellowings and mooings and the cow breaking most of the Intricate Baby Items that were on the registry. But years later, when their children have lots and lots of vigorous microbial activity inside them compared with their peers, and they are not wiped away in the Vast Antibacteria Resistant Plague of ’23, they will thank you.


This isn’t a cow but might also work.

If you have children, buy a cow.

Bring a cow into the kitchen and leave it there for the duration of your children’s youth. Sure, there are some downsides. If those commercials are to be believed, cows in the home lead to an increased number of game nights, and they sometimes undercut your parenting decisions. But on the bright side you will be able to evade any and all questions about skim milk marriage. It’s whole milk or nothing in this house!

I know there’s not as much room in your apartment as a cow requires. But if the cow dies, just think of it as an opportunity to expose your child to even more exciting, potentially life-saving bacteria!

I am not just suggesting this at random. An article in The Post noted that children raised around livestock had better internal armies of microbes than their citified cousins. Maybe it was the untreated milk. Maybe it was the cow microbes. Maybe it was just the benign bovine influence. But whatever it was, it seemed to work.
And look, do you want to save your family, or don’t you?

 

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.
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Alexandra Petri | March 27, 2013