Here is the latest warning about dangerous bacteria, straight from AARP: “Only 5 percent of Americans now regularly wash their underwear and towels in water that’s hot enough-at least 160F-to kill bacteria, according to University of Arizona environmental microbiologist Charles Gerba, Ph.D. That means live bacteria can spread from one garment to another: when you remove your wet laundry, those live germs can get on your hands. Touch your mouth or rub your eyes and you might get a cold, an infection, or even E.coli.” Their recommendation is to “head to the sink for a soapy hand wash immediately after putting laundry into the dryer”.
Wait just a minute! That means that I should have washed my hands after I put the clothes into the washer. I mean, if they are dangerous after washing, think how dangerous they are before they were washed. I think I may start keeping rubber gloves near the hamper! (Oh, and ladies, AARP also recommends using sanitizer to wipe the bottom of your handbag. You might not remember all the places it’s been sitting around.)
Okay, add these two warnings to the list, and believe me, there is a LIST. My students recently came back from one of their health resource classes with this information for me: “You have to wash your hands after you touch the cat or the dog or your shoes. You have to wash after you go to the bathroom. You have to wash before you touch food. And you have to wash until you finish singing Happy Birthday.” I can add that I don’t feel completely safe touching shopping carts, door knobs, waiting room magazines, or library books. And let’s not even talk about public restrooms! Do you think this is how Howard Hughes got his start as the “masked man”?
Of course the school and most parents now buy antibacterial soap, hand sanitizers, antibacterial wipes, and antibacterial sprays. I admit to having a couple of products myself. Now comes this report: antibacterial products may actually make us sicker!
(From KidSource, OnLine) “In a paper published in the April 16 Journal of Biological Chemistry, Charles O. Rock, Ph.D., and Richard J. Heath, Ph.D., researchers in the biochemistry department at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, find that the use of antibacterial products may actually make drug-resistant strains of bacteria more prevalent.
Here's the problem: the use of popular antibacterial products such as soaps and body washes introduces an antibacterial compound called triclosan into the environment. Triclosan interacts with bacteria -- and, as is their nature, the bacteria develop resistance to the compound. The accumulation of triclosan in the environment could lead to the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria, Rock said. As a result, the very antibacterial products designed to kill the bacteria would become ineffective.
‘We consider this to be a serious public health concern,’ Rock said.”
What’s a normal person to do? Wear a mask and gloves? Refrain from touching anyone or anything?
I’m doomed of course. I’m not normal. I teach kindergarten. Do you think my students do all the things they told me about? Of course not. They touch their shoes and the floor and dirt and anything else their little hands can reach. They seldom use a tissue for their runny noses unless I remind them. They wash for three seconds, if they remember to wash at all. They hold hands with anyone and everyone, including me. I’ve seen students lick their shoe laces, eat crackers off the floor, share lip gloss, and tear open packages with their teeth. In fact, some of my grungy, grimy children have perfect attendance while their “antiseptic” classmates are always sick! And by the way, I’m very seldom sick!
There is a lesson here. I’m not a biology student and I don’t do research, but I seem to remember from my classroom days that there are “good bacteria” (think yogurt) and “bad bacteria” and for some reason we are trying to wipe them all out with one fell spray. I’m of the opinion that everything on earth serves a purpose or it wouldn’t be here. Maybe what we need to do is lighten up: be reasonably clean and cautious, use a little moderation in our crusade against bacteria.
As usual, I don’t have any definitive answers. If you really want to dwell on germs and the possibilities of contamination you can drive yourself crazy. We live in a world that is mostly out of our control. Sure you can wash your hands twenty or thirty times a day. But what about eating? Opening a package of prepared food is an exercise in faith. Who prepared it, and how? Dining out requires trust in our fellow man. What are they doing back there in the kitchen? Did they wash? Are they sick? I think that really is how Howard Hughes got started on his weird odyssey- too many questions.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the time or energy to worry too much about germs. I’ve been taking my clothes out of the dryer, without washing my hands, for about thirty years. (I hung them on the line for ten years before that!) I figure I’ll risk it for another thirty years before I move that particular worry to a higher place on my priority list.