An Eye-Opening Look at All the Bacteria on an 8-Year-Old’s Hands

Image Source: Tasha Sturm
Image Source: Tasha Sturm

Kids touch things. Kids touch all the things. We know this. Whether you’re the type of parent to Lysol everything they may touch or you take a more laid-back approach to germs, we’re at least all on the same page that kids? They’re dirty. What we didn’t know? Just how dirty. But thanks to Tasha Sturm, a microbiology lab tech at Cabrillo College in Aptos, California, we now do.

Last week, Sturm posted the photo above on Microbe World and it has since gone viral. Not sure what you’re looking at? It’s the handprint of Sturm’s 8-year-old son in a petri dish after he had a standard day of playing outside and petting the dog (before he washed his hands, of course). As you can see, it’s covered in bacteria. (But don’t worry, it’s all totally normal, healthy bacteria.)

It’s something Sturm and her family have been doing for years, as her husband is a fishery biologist and both their son and their 14-year-old daughter share their interest in science. Each year, her lab students swab an item in the classroom — everything from their cell phones to the bottom of their shoes. They incubate the samples and then examine the bacteria that grows. At home, she uses leftover plates to take handprints of her kids to show her students. It’s something her son thinks is really “cool” and is a good learning opportunity for both her students and her kids.

To her, it’s interesting but nothing out of the ordinary to see what is growing around us (or on us, as the case may be). And she didn’t expect the incredible reaction from the public that she has received. “In no way did I expect this type of response,” she told Babble. “I see this all the time so it’s pretty commonplace for me, although I did think the handprint was pretty.”

While the handprint is indeed pretty, it has made many a skin crawl to think of all the germs we have on us at any given moment. But rest assured, you should not take this as a warning to be more vigilante with your hand sanitizer. As Sturm explains, unless your kids have a health condition, “let them have fun and get dirty. It’s what they need to develop a healthy immune system. Use basic hygiene practices and wash your hands with soap and water after using the restroom and before eating.”

It’s a lesson to all of us that germs are a necessary and unavoidable part of life. And while most of us want to scrub them all away or pretend they don’t exist, it can actually be fascinating to learn about all that we can’t see in the world around us — a mission Sturm is passionate about.

“As microbiologists, our job — especially in education, is to make the invisible world visible so its easier to understand,” says Sturm. “I think the image of the handprint was a graphic way to show others what’s out there and the beauty of microbiology and that is what people [are] responding to.”

Beautiful, indeed.

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