Monday, June 14, 2010

All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand ... but Dettol might

I saw an advert for this product (below) today. It was on between cartoons on a children's TV channel and was obviously aimed specifically at parents. Just in case it's not clear from the advert, it's an anti-bacterial handwash dispenser that you don't have to touch with your filthy, germ-laden hands. It's yet another step up the ladder of paranoia towards creating a nation of Obsessive Compulsives.
Now, I'll be the first to say that there's nothing wrong with a sensible hygiene regime. It can save lives. While researching my new book, I discovered that Hospital Acquired Infections (HAIs) account for a large number of deaths – 99,000 per year in the USA alone (making it the fourth most common cause of death nationally) – but, as many academic papers and research projects have shown, 30-50% of HAIs are entirely preventable and may be eliminated by applying tougher hygiene rules. The renowned Mayo Clinic recently published the results of a study in which they showed that ‘consistent daily cleaning of all high-touch surfaces with a spore-killing bleach disinfectant wipe’ substantially reduced the incidence of superbug Clostridium difficile infection at a hospital in Minnesota. ‘The goal was to reduce hospital-acquired C. difficile infection rates in two of our highest-incidence units by 30%,’ explains lead investigator Robert Orenstein. ‘Our data show we far exceeded that. When the study concluded near the end of last year, one unit had gone 137 days without a hospital-acquired C. difficile infection.’*

There's no denying that a possible 99,000 deaths per year in the USA could be prevented simply by using handwipes on 'high-touch surfaces' such as light switches, computer keyboards etc. However, we mustn't let these kinds of figures scare us too much. Remember that people in hospitals tend to be ill. They are often frail, recovering post-op and hugely prone to infection. From what I've read, C. difficile and other so-called 'superbugs' are rarely fatal or even terribly harmful to people in good health and with strong immune systems.

Which brings me to the point of this post really. There is already concern that our immune systems are not as effective as they once were. Some claim that the ease with which we can get prescription antibiotics is making our natural defences weaker. Other studies tend to indicate that because we don't always finish a full course of antibiotics (we stop when we feel better), the bugs are building up a resistance. Others claim that we don't give our systems a chance to build because we're always cleaning ourselves. When my generation, and those that came before, were kids we were not constantly followed by mums and dads with packets of handwipes. We got muddy, we ate sweets off the floor, drank from hosepipes and rivers and we handled stuff that was clearly nasty. Not one of my schoolfriends died from an infection despite endless grazes, cuts and bone breaks. People of my grandparents' generation pissed in a pot under the bed and bathed once a week. They survived a war on a restricted diet without topping up with 'friendly gut bacteria'. They wiped their arses and ate their fish and chips using newspapers (though, hopefully, not the same newspapers).

I brought my children up to understand the need to be clean. But I also let them enjoy their lives without the cloying restraints of constant germ-phobia. They're all happy, healthy adults now who are rarely ill. I realise that's hardly proof of my hypothesis but it's enough for me. My grandchildren are living with me temporarily and I've had them out rooting in the garden, planting vegetables and handling worms, snails, centipedes and woodlice. They love it. And that will be my gift to them; a future free of constant hand-washing, disinfecting and paranoia.

As a footnote, another TV advert has just informed me that there are more germs on my kitchen surfaces and cutting boards than on a toilet seat. Really? Even if it's true, I've not heard of many people getting ill from contact with toilet seats - something we all do several times a day - so maybe my kitchen isn't the death trap they claim it is?

Oh, and if Domestos kills 99% of all known germs dead ... how strong are the 1% of germs that survive? And what about the unknown germs?

Pass the handwipes when you've finished ...

*Mayo Research: Intervention drops hospital infection rate by a third. 19th March 2010.


Winifred said...

We've been laughing at this ad, it's so stupid. So what if the button of your handwash bottle is laden with germs? Once you've washed your hands they're clean. Well until you touch something.

You're right we're becoming totally obsessed with hygiene and the businesses supplying washing products are feeding on it. Mostly washing your hands properly after you've used the loo and keeping the benches and loos clean is adequate. As you said we survived many years without all this stuff and all we had was soap and Fairy Liquid!

Debby said...

Yep. You're right. 'Sensible' has been taken to the extreme, and has now become nonsense.

Ash @ Push Creativity said...

With you on this.

Really hate the scare tactics used by companies in persuit of profit, mostly aimed at women. Buy this or a) your kids will be sick b) you will get fat c) you'll have no friends - you know the sort of thing.

With men the gist seems to be a) buy this and a woman will want to have sex with you.

With eczema in the family, strong soaps are the cause of medical problems for us, not the prevention.

Did love a poster I saw recently (in a 3rd world location where washing was not so easy to achieve)


Persephone said...

I'm for anything that supports my style of housekeeping. Or lack thereof. ("See? See? I was preventing my kids from developing allergies all along!")