One of the drawbacks to studying influenza and H5N1 has been the development of an acute awareness of infectious diseases in general. I say "drawback" because with that awareness mysophobia (a fear of dirt or germs) has crept into my life. Slowly at first, and still not especially overtly noticeable, but my behavior(s) in public and around "strangers" has changed and become "uncomfortable".
Oh, I can still turn a door handle or shake someone's hand, but they, and many other "public interaction behaviors", produce jerking hesitations and pained internal groans, followed as soon as socially acceptable by a surreptitious deployment of my alcohol gel hand sanitizer, in a convenient travel size of course. I have become what I term "non-tactile" in public, or at least as non-tactile as I can manage and still be in public. It's not easy, as that hideous Lysol commercial with those disgusting animated green germs crawling all over hands graphically illustrates: Germs are everywhere, deposited and passed along to unsuspecting – and more normal folk.
I have greatly reduced the amount I eat out because of my infectious disease awareness. I used to eat out at every opportunity, because, honestly, I hate to cook. Now even my own cooking has taken on an entirely new dimension, as more and more e-coli and salmonella contaminated food products have been in the news. So, the "general germiness" of food is something that has developed into its own little offspring phobia. Then I read this…
Hold the Ice
Updated: Feb 15, 2008 06:08 AM
Bob Segall/13 Investigates [NBC affiliate WTHR]
Scientists say improper hand washing, food handling and equipment maintenance are to blame for high bacteria levels found in local restaurant ice.
What 13 Investigates discovered in the ice at many Indianapolis-area bars and restaurants is not supposed to be there. In fact, at one of every three restaurants checked, the ice contained more bacteria than toilet water, and health officials say it shows improper practices at local eateries that could make you sick.
This month, WTHR collected ice samples from 25 popular bars and restaurants and took it to a state-certified laboratory for analysis. The results showed at 13 of the 25 bars and restaurants tested, at least one ice sample tested positive for the presence of coliform bacteria.
Not that I drink many iced beverages, except that is, when I do eat out. Since I'm only an occasional imbiber of adult beverages, generally my drinks are either ice water or tea, or diet Coke. Now, well, yet another behavior will be modified because those out and about can't be counted on to have actually washed their hands.
Such a simple thing hand washing is. Water, soap, lather, rinse, dry. Making sure top and bottom of hands and between fingers are soaped and lathered, the lather forming a foaming "glove". Even done properly it doesn't take long at all, hardly many more seconds than doing it improperly.
Should an influenza pandemic befall us we will have to be doing quite a lot of hand washing. It is the first and last line of defense against fomite transfer (the surface of an object that can harbor and transfer pathogens), a line of defense against others who don't wash their hands as well as those who cough and sneeze near the objects that we, in our turn, touch.
We may not be able to quantify with exactitude the role fomites play in disease transmissions but as the investigation of restaurant ice demonstrates, we know it's a problem. The fact that it's a problem that shouldn't be doesn't make it less of a problem.
In the name of thoroughness….
Proper hand washing with soap and water
Follow these instructions for washing with soap and water:
- Wet your hands with warm, running water and apply liquid soap or use clean bar soap. Lather well.
- Rub your hands vigorously together for at least 15 to 20 seconds.
- Scrub all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers and under your fingernails.
- Rinse well.
- Dry your hands with a clean or disposable towel.
- Use a towel to turn off the faucet.
As they say: It ain't rocket science.