November 27, 2007


Our enemy hands (Katherine Ashenburg, November 27, 2007, IHT)

It's hard to see Americans as under-washed. Sales of antibacterial soap, tooth whiteners and "intimate hygiene" products are skyrocketing. Scientists actually connect the rising rates of asthma and allergies in the West to our overzealous cleanliness. And yet, in a compulsively sanitized culture, cleaning one part of the body - the hands - seems to be more honored in the breach than the observance. Studies show that hospital doctors resist washing their hands, and researchers report that only about 15 percent of people in public restrooms wash their hands properly.

Our ancestors would have been bewildered by this discrepancy between relentlessly scrubbed bodies and neglected hands. Depending on their era and culture, they defined "clean" in a wide variety of ways. A first-century Roman spent a few hours each day in the bathhouse, steaming, parboiling and chilling himself, exfoliating with a miniature rake - and avoiding soap. Elizabeth I boasted that she bathed once a month, "whether I need it or not." Louis XIV is reported to have bathed twice in his long, athletic life, but was considered fastidious because he changed his shirt three times a day.

But through all these swings of the hygiene pendulum, one practice never went out of style - ordinary hand-washing. Which was fortunate, because hand-washing is the one cleansing practice canonized by modern science, a low-tech but effective way to prevent getting and passing on the common cold and infections from Clostridium difficile to MRSA, SARS and bird flu.

...hygiene and nutrition. The rest is gimmickry.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 27, 2007 11:38 AM

Artificial hearts and replacement hips?

Bah humbug! Gimmicks and illusion and trickery!!

Posted by: Benny at November 27, 2007 12:20 PM

I'm sorry, but the article is daffy if it thinks folks are neglectful in washing their hands. Just look at all the liquid soaps for sale in the stores and tell me they're not being used. Not to mention the latest in sports bar restroom technology: the electronic soap dispenser.

I'm quite convinced that body wash is the greatest invention toward furthering a "Cleanliness is next to Godliness" society.

Posted by: Brad S at November 27, 2007 1:18 PM

Er, vaccinations kinda helped, too, oj.

Posted by: ras at November 27, 2007 1:43 PM

I notice how well we are doing on the nutrition side, what with the walking whales and skyrocketing diabetes.

There are 20.8 million children and adults in the United States, or 7% of the population, who have diabetes. While an estimated 14.6 million have been diagnosed with diabetes, unfortunately, 6.2 million people (or nearly one-third) are unaware that they have the disease.

As with your war on Smoking, which I support, I now look forward to your support in outlawing Coke, sugar, anything with corn syrup, fritos, cookies, bread and pasta, and most rice.

Pretty much anything in the aisles of any supermarket. If you shop the outer ring of your market (meat, produce, dairy) you should be OK.

Posted by: Bruno at November 27, 2007 3:22 PM

Yes, vaccinations are useful too, just not modern.

Posted by: oj at November 27, 2007 5:16 PM

The comparative risk of being hefty to being malnourished is so lopsided it barely warrants consideration.

Posted by: oj at November 27, 2007 5:40 PM

Just because we don't make a separate act of washing our hands doesn't mean they don't get washed. Who doesn't shower once a day (at least)? During the process of showering the hands get washed.

Posted by: Bryan at November 27, 2007 6:28 PM

Remind me never to shake your hand.

Posted by: oj at November 27, 2007 8:57 PM

People go to the gym to work out their muscles. What's the point of having an immune system if you don't exercise and use it once in a while?

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at November 28, 2007 9:43 AM