Northwest Indiana doctor dishes on germs - April 19, 2017

Courtesy of

Written by Julia Huisman

Are germs good or bad for you? Is some exposure to germs ultimately beneficial to your body? We posed these questions and more to Dr. Thomas Sleweon, an infectious disease specialist from Methodist Hospitals.

Do you think our society is more concerned about germs in recent years than previously?

Over the last 20 years or so, due to changes in communication including easy access to info on social and conventional media, information on problems occurring with infections is more readily available. There have always been problems with infections, but people have more easy access to information about them now. Over the last 20 years, we’ve have had some changes. The media reports super bugs, referring to bacteria resistant to antibiotics, and that info is easily accessible now. Hopefully people can make more informed decisions.

What are the pros and cons of this increased awareness?

The good thing about having this info is a person can go online, Google it and get to know exactly what these infections are, and approach a physician and ask questions about infections. The cons: People may also use the internet to get info, and they may not be able to properly interpret what they read and reach conclusions that are false.

Is some exposure to germs OK?

We do not live on this planet in a bubble. We are exposed to germs all the time from the day we are born. Some of these bacteria and other organisms are useful for us. Bacteria help with the digestion of our food or production of vitamins or to stimulate systems so we can resist infections in a robust manner. Of course there are times when we can be exposed to pathogenic bacteria that can make us sick. We also have to be prepared for the ones that make us sick.

What are your thoughts on hand-washing with soap and water versus using hand sanitizer?

One of the common ways to transmit infection is through contact with a person or an inanimate object that an infected person has touched. The primary way to prevent infection is hand-washing. Washing hands with soap and water is useful. It’s what we’re taught as children. Over the last several years we’ve had a proliferation of substances that can be used in place of hand-washing: antiseptic agents, alcohol wipes and gels. These are useful in situations where your hands are not overtly dirty and in the absence of water and soap. Most of these products have alcohol that can eradicate organisms that cause infection. In the summer of last year, the Food and Drug Administration took a number of these agents off the market because they were no better than soap and water, but usual alcoholic agents are useful and should be used.

What do you recommend to people who are germophobic?

People need proper education and information from experts. Don’t rely on info from other people or the internet. Once people get proper information about the benefits of most bacteria, attitudes are going to change.

How can people protect themselves from the flu, the season for which can last as late as May?

It’s a virus that causes a lot of significant disease and death. The primary way to prevent getting it is through the vaccine, but it’s also important to practice proper hygiene. Cover your mouth when you cough. Wash your hands after you cough and after you’re exposed to excrement. Take necessary precautions, but try not to be overly concerned or protective.