Fatherly Stuff: What do Autumn, Handwashing and Petri Dishes Have in Common?

Sep 24, 2013

What do Autumn, Handwashing and Petri Dishes Have in Common?



Even though I was born a summer baby, I will be the first to admit that fall is my favorite season. Comfortable weather, beautiful scenery, apple/pumpkin picking and deep fried junk food from state fairs are all hallmarks of autumn that I look forward to sharing with my family every year. 

However, with all of the good things that come with it, there are also some negatives that we all have to deal with.  Along with golden leaves and hot apple cider, also comes the stuffy, runny noses, sore throats and fevers. 

Indeed, cold and flu season is among us.

The combination of people in close quarters and the low humidity indoors is the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive and infect the unsuspecting population. This goes double if you or even someone you work closely with has kids that go to school or daycare. Between the exchanging of toys, books and who knows what else, our precious little children suddenly become walking, giggling chemical weapons of mass destruction strong enough to force even the most stubborn of parents into a fetal position, surrounded by used tissues and empty packets of cold medicine wrappers.

With this in mind, I'd like to share a story with you:

A Tale of Two Petris

Prior to the birth of our 2nd child, my wife worked as a kindergarten teacher at a private school. In her classroom one of the biggest rules was both the student and parents had to wash their hands each time they walked in the door. Despite this rule being in place for the good of the greater population a lot of the children and surprisingly, the parents would complain that them having to do this on a daily basis was annoying. 

However, the objections soon came to a screeching halt after the class was introduced to the petri dish experiment. One of the student’s parents was scientist who studied infectious diseases. In order to help my wife teach the class about the importance of washing their hands they conducted an experiment;
Each student in the class was asked to wash their hands and after drying them, their hands were wiped with a cotton swab and placed in petri dishes with each of their names on it. The class then went outside for recess and samples were once again taken from their hands before they got a chance to wash them. The “clean” and “dirty” cultures were put on a shelf in the classroom and less than 24 hours, they were pulled out and observed by the class.

While the "clean hands" sample has only a minimal amount of bacteria culture, the "dirty hands" culture contained a host of harmful germs such a streptococcus and even E. Coli. The students, the teachers and especially the parents were pretty surprised at the results and how quickly the cultures grew.  You can check out the pictures below:


"Clean Hands" culture

"Dirty Hands" culture

So what is the moral of this story? One of the best things you can do to protect you and your family from contracting any kind of sickness is to make sure that everyone is thoroughly washing their hands with soap and hot water for the length of time that it takes to recite the alphabet, or 20 seconds. This should be especially done prior to eating a meal and when coming from indoors. Why is the length of time important? Take a look at the "clean hands" picture again. Notice the two on the bottom left? Well according to my wife, these were two kids who did not follow the 20 second rule and washed their hands too quickly.While there isn't a much bacteria on those two petris compared to that of the "dirty hands", it is still a considerable amount and has the potential to get you sick.

There is a lot of very helpful information about the importance of hand washing on the Center for Disease Control's Website

So if you have anyone in you life that is resistant to the idea of washing their hands properly, just show them these pictures and I'm sure they will reconsider


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