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Wash Your Hands!

A history of hand-washing -- and good reason to continue the practice.

Viceroy:
How about washing the behind? I mean this seriously.

It's funny, we in the west are so typically agitated over our hand washing and equally emphatic about using toilet paper - as compared to other more hygenic measures. (The whole Sheryl Crow incident brought this to mind recently.) It's always bothered me that use of TP is held up as some sort of badge of modernity. In reality it's not.

Just sayin'.
11.27.2007 10:32am
Oren:
Utter rubbish. Eating, performing surgery or delivering a baby are the exceptional cases because you are potentially introducing pathogens into vulnerable areas. For the rest of your daily activity there is no reason to wash compulsively (unless you rub your eyes or pick your nose a lot).

Germophobia is only breeding resistant germs. If you must be a germophobe, at least eschew the 'disinfectant' crap and use isopropyl alcohol or bleach, both of which are 100% effective and cannot induce resistance.
11.27.2007 10:35am
Hoosier:
"The whole Sheryl Crow incident"?

Huh? What'd I miss?
11.27.2007 10:45am
Dave N (mail):
This reminded me of some TV show or another where two characters were "invisible" in a restroom as someone finishes his business at a urinal and immediately walks out.

Upon observing that, one says to the other, "That's why you don't eat peanuts at bars."
11.27.2007 11:00am
Annon6:
I'm surprised the article does not mention the Jewish practice of washing hands before eating bread and the accompanying blessing. I wonder if that is common in other religions?
11.27.2007 11:30am
Dave D. (mail):
....Though it may breed stronger , more germ resistant peanuts.
11.27.2007 11:31am
A. Zarkov (mail):
Does George Bush ever wash his hands?
11.27.2007 11:59am
anym_avey (mail):
Utter rubbish. Eating, performing surgery or delivering a baby are the exceptional cases because you are potentially introducing pathogens into vulnerable areas. For the rest of your daily activity there is no reason to wash compulsively (unless you rub your eyes or pick your nose a lot).

Given that most people use the can compulsively, washing after using the can would solve most problems by ensuring a periodic germ scrub. And yet many people don't even do that, even with the ideal opportunity, and cold/flu season at hand.

You don't have to be Monk (or a compulsive nose picker) to recognize that basic hand hygiene is not the same thing as phobia. How many things have you handled during a day that were probably handled by fifteen or twenty people before you that day? And probably not sanitized in weeks or months, if ever? And then a speck of dust gets in your eye and you rub your eye without thinking twice...
11.27.2007 11:59am
anym_avey (mail):
It's funny, we in the west are so typically agitated over our hand washing and equally emphatic about using toilet paper - as compared to other more hygenic measures.

If you really want to use a bidet in a public restroom, be my guest. I'll stick with toilet paper.
11.27.2007 12:01pm
Hmmm (mail):
This is an unusual discussion for this page. Brings to mind the following joke:

Two guy walk into the restroom to use the urinal. Afterwards, the first guy notices that the second does not wash his hands. The first guy says, "My parents taught me to wash my hands after using the bathroom." To which the second guy says, "That's nice. My parents taught me not to pee on my hands."
11.27.2007 12:06pm
Houston Lawyer:
We have automatic flush toilets and urinals, and the faucets and soap dispensers are also non-touch. However, to leave the restroom, I must grab the same door handle that is grabbed by those who don't wash before leaving. I notice this in about 90% of public restrooms.

My brother-in-law is a preacher, who meets and shakes hands with the congregation after every service. When he gets home, the first thing he does is wash his hands. I recommend it.
11.27.2007 12:16pm
Thales (mail) (www):
Oh come now, this is just the liberal MSM being an overbearing nanny to good red blooded Americans. Only terrorist appeasing pansies and communists wash their hands. We've already had our manly essences sapped by the flouridated water, how much more hygiene can we survive as a Great Power?
11.27.2007 12:18pm
Anonymouseducator (mail) (www):
To protect my penis from peanut germs, I wash my hands before I use the urinal.
11.27.2007 12:33pm
Dave D. (mail):
....Wise, very wise, but of absolutely no use in seeking to protect yourself against wheat germ.
11.27.2007 12:54pm
Gregory Conen (mail):
Oren: In theory, bacteria probably could evolve resistance to bleach or isopropyl alcohol. But your point stands; antibiotics are for medical use. The class of effective antibiotics is a public good, and should be protected as such.

Of course, washing with a simple detergeant (in the technical sense) or just running water is useful, too.
11.27.2007 12:57pm
Alaska Jack (mail):
Thales -

For a satire to be funny, doesn't it have to have some connection to reality?

- Alaska Jack
11.27.2007 12:59pm
Curt Fischer:

In theory, bacteria probably could evolve resistance to bleach or isopropyl alcohol.



Nitpick:

I study microbes for a living. In theory, microbes might evolve to tolerate ever-increasing concentrations of isopropyl alcohol (say from ~2% to 5 or 10%), but it is very unlikely that tolerance to 70% alcohol will ever evolve. Living things need water.

Except maybe on a planet that has isopropyl alcohol instead of water for oceans. But on that planet water would likely be a deadly, toxic solvent.
11.27.2007 1:32pm
Thales (mail) (www):
Alaska Jack:

I would say yes. For a satire to be satire, doesn't it need to rub some people the wrong way and invoke the absurd or hypertrophic? I'm not putting myself in the same building with the masters Swift, Wilde and Twain, of course. But I laughed at my own joke, at any rate.
11.27.2007 2:57pm
Libertarian1 (mail):
Two guy walk into the restroom to use the urinal. Afterwards, the first guy notices that the second does not wash his hands. The first guy says, "My parents taught me to wash my hands after using the bathroom." To which the second guy says, "That's nice. My parents taught me not to pee on my hands."



In the vast majority of cases urine is sterile.

In an alternative ending the second guy says I wash before I pee, I know where my penis has been
11.27.2007 5:09pm
nelziq:
People, you do realize that the hands are the part of the body (excluding the mouth and the rectum) that harbor the most bacteria? In a public restroom, the doorknob is dirtier than the toilet seat. Regular hand washing is the easiest way to spread common infectious diseases. There is a good reason that, in a hospital, the rules are 1)cover your mouth when you cough, 2) don't touch your face, and 3) wash your hands. It's not germophobia. It is a simple and prudent health measure. The More You Know...
11.27.2007 6:17pm
bittern (mail):
I noticed in the Kali Gandaki that the Nepalis considered it gross to serve food in a dusty plate, so they would rinse the plate before serving food. If you consider their inadequate sewage treatment, this is an alarming practice. In the US, many folks consider not washing hands frequently gross. Are we similarly blighted by cultural beliefs? What do the data show? Are politicians, cashiers, and square dancers more frequently ill than other people? Just curious.
11.27.2007 6:57pm
Randy R. (mail):
I saw a show where this guy had a detector for germs. He went to an average American house and went to all the usual suspect places. You know where the biggest concentration of germs and bacteria typically are?

Nope, not the toilet.
Nope, not the kitchen

It's the washing machine. He recommends that you use bleach or other disinfectant regularly in your wash. It's because we wash our underwear there....
11.27.2007 7:31pm
Marco:
nelziq writes:

People, you do realize that the hands are the part of the body (excluding the mouth and the rectum) that harbor the most bacteria? In a public restroom, the doorknob is dirtier than the toilet seat. Regular hand washing is the easiest way to spread common infectious diseases. There is a good reason that, in a hospital, the rules are 1)cover your mouth when you cough, 2) don't touch your face, and 3) wash your hands. It's not germophobia. It is a simple and prudent health measure. The More You Know...

I don't know if your sequence is in priority order, but perhaps aerosol transmission is pretty effective for influenza.

This was an outbreak involving a commercial airline with 5 crew members and 49 passengers delayed in Homer, Alaska for 4.5 hours, including 2-3 hours when the ventilation system was turned off. An acutely ill patient with a new influenza A strain stayed on the airplane, and 72% of the crew and passengers subsequently became ill.

Source: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/465917_2
11.27.2007 8:13pm
Oren:

You don't have to be Monk (or a compulsive nose picker) to recognize that basic hand hygiene is not the same thing as phobia. How many things have you handled during a day that were probably handled by fifteen or twenty people before you that day? And probably not sanitized in weeks or months, if ever? And then a speck of dust gets in your eye and you rub your eye without thinking twice...


You are exceedingly unlikely to get infected from touching your eye (most of the blood is way back near the retina), plus there are tears to contend with (you blink every 6 seconds) and salt water tends to neutralize germs.

Finally, your reference to "handled" things is ridiculous - there are, quite literally, bacteria on EVERY SURFACE ON EARTH - every square micrometer of surface has bacteria landing on it every second. It doesn't matter if it's been "handled" or is just lying there - a rock has germs, the sand on the beach has germs. EVERYTHING HAS GERMS.

Even if you just disinfected with alcohol, as soon as it evaporates, germs will recolonize. Even in our own bodies germ cells outnumber us 10:1 (1% of our bodies by mass). In fact, you would die without them.

Furthermore, the more you disinfect, the weaker your immune system becomes. I personally prefer to keep my germ intake high and my immune system in good shape. It's been 10+ winters in Chicago / Boston and I've only gotten sick a handful of times.

Did you ever notice how kids instinctively put everything in their mouths? This is an evolutionary development designed to expose the immune system to the widest range of foreign invaders possible.
11.27.2007 9:06pm
Oren:
PS. The above does not apply to hospitals (DUH) because they are magnets for the kind of germs that do harm humans (the vast minority). Considering the sad state of resistance in US hospitals (the Europeans are way ahead of us there), those precautions are well worth the trouble.

Everyday life, OTOH, is not self-selected for harmful bacteria and should be treated differently.
11.27.2007 9:09pm
Hoosier:
"Did you ever notice how kids instinctively put everything in their mouths? This is an evolutionary development designed to expose the immune system to the widest range of foreign invaders possible."

That's why I lick doorknobs.
11.28.2007 3:32am
Oren:

That's why I lick doorknobs.


Actually, after the age of about 3, the immune system "switches gears" from inquiry into defense, as it were. Try as you will be to sarcastic about it but it's the truth.
11.28.2007 10:02am
Hoosier:
I'm 2 1/2.

Can't you tell?
11.29.2007 6:10am
neurodoc:
Hmmm, I'm surprised that in the course of this law blog thread about hand-washing, no one has mentioned that those with unclean hands will be denied equitable relief.
12.1.2007 1:39am