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When it comes to germs, women win the battle of the ick

Submitted by on Thursday, 6 November 2008 No Comment

Turns out the boys were right in grade school: Girls do have cooties. University of Colorado at Boulder scientists made it official this week.

Isn’t that just swell? We earn less than men, we put in longer hours at home and now we’re ickier, too.

Don’t hold gender against the study’s lead author, though. He has science to back the findings. And he’s fairly, er, even-handed about it, admitting to finding more bacteria on all palms regardless of gender than researchers had expected.

“The sheer number of bacteria species detected on the hands of the study participants was a big surprise, and so was the greater diversity of bacteria we found on the hands of women,” Assistant Professor Noah Fierer said.

He has theories as to why . Fierer speculated that skin pH may play a role, since men generally have more acidic skin, and other research has shown microbes are less diverse in more acidic environments.

The findings also could be due to differences in sweat and oil gland production between men and women, the frequency of moisturizer or cosmetics applications, skin thickness or hormone production, he said in a UC-B news release.

I have theories, too. Strictly anecdotal, of course, and based on a very limited sample of one household. Mine. Me thinks the germ gap here might be even wider than the one among the 51 college students UC-B studied.

Who wipes the snotty noses around here? Who follows the trail of abandoned tissues through the house, carrying them to the garbage on the rare occasion the possessor of the snotty nose happens to blow it himself?

Who wipes the stinky butts? Who cleans up the late-night puke? Who clips the grungy fingernails?

It’s not the one with the more-acidic hands, though I’m going to argue that it should be. I have scientific proof now that he’s better able to handle the load. And I’m not above playing the “weaker sex” card on this one, especially if it will get me out of some dirty work.

The worst part: We can wash out hands until our thin skin thins even more and that might or might not help. Some types of bacteria were more abundant after hand-washing, though others were less prolific, the study found. Regular hand-washing with bacterial soap does help, though, Fierer added.

And, of course, after our hands dry out from all that washing, we’ll need more lotion to moisturize, which puts us back in the situation that might be cooking up the germy stew to begin with. We just can’t win.

The good news: Most of the bacteria aren’t harmful, and some can actually help.

I don’t plan on spreading the word on that part. I need to use the scare tactics to catch a break from snotty noses.

Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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