From the New York Times online today:
" The Excuse Me flag is a little yellow banner mounted on a lightweight pole, which is attached to one’s waist so it swings back and forth in front of the wearer during walking. Any other pedestrian who walks too close will be slapped in the face by the pole or the yellow flag, which reads “Excuse Me.”
“It generates a cubic yard of free walking space between you and a sneezer,” Ms Beck, a former New Yorker, said from her home in Delaware. “It makes it so you don’t have to touch anybody or talk to anybody in New York.” "
The article discusses the myriad ways people are attacking the "problem" of germs in their environment. ("Germs Never Sleep") From hand-sanitizers to special straps for the subway, companies are marketing all sorts of things to "protect you". In reality, it's not necessary. Proper handwashing technique does most of the job, and your immune system is designed to protect you from the microbial world around you.
"“I kind of doubt kids will stop giving each other high fives,” said Dr. Michael Bell, the associate director for infection control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While Dr. Bell recommends teaching children about hygiene, washing one’s hands after using the bathroom and making sure to clean kitchen surfaces carefully is as much as most people need do, he said."
Why are people so phobic about germs? We grow up in an environment shaped by germs, with germ DNA embedded in our genome, in an atmosphere created by germs. Perhaps it's the current climate of fear; after all, in the 1950s, everyone was afraid of the atomic bomb and look at all the devices that were marketed for the protection against radiation.
"Those in the hygiene brigade can reel off dozens of reasons all strangers are potential enemies: virulent flu seasons, packed airplanes with stale air, buses where no one covers a mouth when sneezing. But social critics detect an element of hysteria in the germaphobia of Americans and suggest that at its root is a fear of a dangerous, out-of-control world.
“Marketers of a variety of products are very adept at tapping into Americans’ sense that they are living in a very dangerous time and place, and selling them at relatively low cost a feeling of protection,” said Barry Glassner, the author of “The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things.”
Is it only a coincidence that the same places where Americans most fear terrorism — airplanes, schools, mass transit, water supplies and computers — they also fear germs? "
It could be a fear of the loss of control, or a generalized phobia about the world outside our homes. Whatever it is, I think people are focusing on the wrong things. Germs are quite useful little critters (said the former microbiology major) and as long as you have a healthy immune system, your body can handle them. If people are pressured to not miss work (as the article implied), then my suggestion is to get over it. Nobody on their death bed ever said "Gee, I wish I'd spent more time at the office."
That's my mantra. I figured it out while recovering from a very bad case of mono, about 11 years ago; I spent 18 hours in the hospital being treated for severe dehydration, and the next 6 weeks sleeping at home. I missed quite a lot of things that happened at work and in the world -- I vaguely recall Dunblane, but I was beginning to wake up that week. The world went on without me, and then I rejoined everyone. I nearly killed myself working too hard on a series of projects based on our research, and for papers/articles that are -- by now -- obsolete. I'll never allow that to happen again. Work is just not as important as myself or my family.
I do take basic precautions though; I wash my hands very thoroughly every time, but then again, I'm in a profession where I do have to be careful not to transmit stuff from one patient to another. I take off my shoes at the front door, to prevent tracking things through the house. I microwave stuff to prevent spoilage, and I exercise to keep myself healthy. I always get the flu vaccine, because there's nothing like a little planning ahead to reduce the potential for infection.
When germs actually do get beyond my defense, I'll be in bed with tea, medicine, and plenty of sleep. Since my son passed out of first grade, he's brought home fewer germs of the bad kind, and we've all been healthier. ;-) Some day he'll even wash his hands properly every time, and not have to be sent back 6 times.
OK, enough procrastinating. Stuff to do in preparation for the big dig.