The Boy vs the Beetle Virus: An Ode to the Great Outdoors

“No, no, don’t pull it out yet!” my son yelled.  He had a sliver of glass in his foot.  But his fear surprised me.  He is a barefooted nature lover who has encountered worse splinters, cuts and scrapes than this, and with less distress.  “It’s hard to even feel sorry for you,” I told my son.  “You knew you weren’t supposed to smash glass in the backyard.”  I didn’t say it harshly, but my son grimaced.  His eyes started to well up with tears.

I softened my approach.  “Is there something wrong besides your foot?” I asked, giving him a hug.  He was reluctant to tell me.  After some reassurance, he revealed the underlying source of his distress.  At a science museum day camp earlier in the day, his class took a walk outside.  My son found a large black dead beetle with pincers and a fuzzy yellow underside.  Excited, he picked it up.  He expected his teacher to respond with amazement and encouragement, as his parents and grandparents usually do when he makes a discovery in nature.  His collection of insects, rocks, shells and bones is a source of pride for him.

The beetle wasn’t quite this big.
By Harry Furniss (en:Harry Furniss, 1854-1925) (Lewis Carroll: Sylvie and Bruno. (1889)) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

To his shock, his teacher scolded him with an angry tone.  “Don’t pick that up!” she reprimanded.  “You can get a virus that will make you sick.  Your eyes will water and you will sneeze,” she warned.  Her anger and disapproval were so opposite of what my son expected, that he started doubting whether he could even expect me to respond in a positive way.  When some of the boys said, “Eewww!” his doubt was reinforced.

What?!  A virus from a beetle specimen?  When did our society become so afraid of the natural world?  When did adults stop expecting kids to play outside all day, encountering dirt and other natural substances?  When was it forgotten that humans used to live, work and eat outside?  Are we so far removed from the generation that urged its kids to “go play outside and come home when the street lights come on”?

I posed the question of a beetle virus to the pathologist in my family, a specialist with about 50 years of experience in the field of human disease.  He replied,

Well, apparently those teachers never had brothers!

…Very unlikely that an insect virus could cause disease in a human.  However, what she may be thinking is bacteria, not virus, in which case she may have a point, but still unlikely.  People even eat bugs with no problem (except for esthetics).

…My advice is don’t get bit/pinched/stung by the bug, and always wash the hands after handling.   How can you make a collection if you don’t pick them up?

Dirt is not bad for kids.  In fact, it is beneficial.  Recent research shows that childhood exposure to microbes in dirt strengthens the immune system.  It also reduces the chance of having allergies, asthma and other autoimmune diseases during adulthood.  And bacteria in soil can even cause an increase in mood-boosting serotonin.

The sun: good medicine
By Johann Sternhals [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Kids playing outside are also exposed to sunlight, our best source of vitamin D.  Vitamin D is important in the prevention of colon cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. (I know you’re smart enough not to get a sunburn).

If my kids are any indication, the backyard is a good place to stay strong and healthy.  At first, my son complained to me that he was the only child in his science camp who didn’t bring an electronic device to play with at lunchtime.  “I need a smartphone, Mom!”  But even though he is short and slim for his age, and at the lower end of the three-year age range of the science class, he turned out to be the strongest child in the class.  I like to think that there is a connection.  After some reflection, my son changed his mind about the smartphone.

Kids are not meant to be cooped up inside all day, staying clean.  This New York Times article points out that “Early humans evolved near the equator, where sun exposure is intense year round, and minimally clothed people spent most of the day outdoors.”

So mothers, send your kids outside, to fearlessly go where millions have gone before!  Let them get dirty, suntanned, and excited about the nature around them.  Let them stay connected to the real world.  It’s good for the mind, body and soul.

A note about splinters and tweezers: I think the very best tweezers for splinters are the ones in my Victorinox Swiss Army Classic knife.  They are tiny and thin for reaching into the cut to get the object.  You don’t even have to buy the knife.  You can buy just the replacement tweezers in a six-pack on Amazon.

What are your thoughts? I like feedback!

Sources: WebMD, Medical News Today


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