The photo below made its rounds on Instagram a couple weeks ago after the Today Show posted a story about it. The picture shows a petri dish after an 8-year old boy who had been playing outside pressed his hand into it. His mom originally posted the picture to Microbe World.
The boy's mother, Tasha Sturm, works at a microbiology lab in California. Her two children liked replicating some of her experiences, and her son in particular wanted to see what was living on his hands.
One day after her son had been playing in the yard and petting their family dog, she had him place his hand in a sterile petri dish that she had prepared. Sturm then incubated the petri dish at body temperature for about a day, and then let it sit out at room temperature. The goal was to replicate real life conditions.
Some of the bacteria she found included staph, Bacillus, and yeast. She says that this is normal stuff that we are exposed to every day, but that the skin generally protects us from. As long as we wash our hands before eating, we are generally protected from this bacteria.
The general lesson to be learned from this story is that bacteria is everywhere. While we may not be playing in the dirt like an 8-year-old on a regular basis, we probably all pet our animals and touch door knobs and shopping carts and stair rails every day.
On unbroken skin, this obviously isn't a problem - and even helps us build up a healthy immune system. However, when you have an open wound that bacteria can get into your blood stream and cause an infection.
This is where ear piercings come in. When you first got your ears pierced you were probably very careful about making sure that you washed your hands before touching your ear piercings or touching your earrings. However, as time went on, you were most likely less careful about that.
Here's the thing, piercings will always be more sensitive than the rest of your skin. In the beginning, they are open wounds. But even after they have initially healed, every time you put in earrings or take them out you could be damaging the sensitive tissue in and around your piercings. This little damages to the skin can let in bacteria more easily than the rest of your skin. This is why it's important to wash your hands, and disinfect your earrings before touching your piercings - not just in the beginning but every time.
Next time you go to play with your piercings or switch out you earrings quickly, take a look at the photo above and remember that that is what is living on your hands.