Monday, July 14, 2008

Ghoulish Germs

WARNING: There may be fecal matter on your computer keyboard right now. Back away from the computer — hell, throw out your keyboard, or entire computer just to be safe, and quickly order that life size plastic bubble and lifetime supply of anti-bacterial wipes, gels, hand soaps, etc. by phone, but keep a stack of Kleenex between your mouth and the phone piece.

I found this article through G-Mail's handy little headline news links — a group of students at the University of Washington in Seattle found traces of fecal bacteria on 30 of the campus' library computer keyboards. The article goes on to say that the presence of fecal bacteria on the keyboards could mean that there's other bacteria, such as E Coli, at our fingertips when we use public keyboards. 

My initial reaction to this: people are surprised by this? We wipe our asses using our hands (and tissue paper — most of us) and also use keyboards with our hands. I would like to think that most of us wash our hands (that's probably wishful thinking), but even for those of us who make a conscious effort to get poo off our fingers, there's not always soap or enough time to give a good, thorough scrub to our digits, hence fecal matter shows up on our keyboards. And I imagine it doesn't end there — if they tested our phones, food, toothbrushes, doorknobs, office supplies, or even beds, they'd probably find fecal germs there, too. So what?

I'm all for hygiene — I shower at least once a day, wash my hands with soap after I use the toilet, brush my teeth at least once, if not twice a day, and I floss … every now and then. But you can't protect yourself from all germs, and we're spending too much money, creating way too much garbage in our battle to fight germs, and even, ironically, affecting our own health in the process. 

In a study originally posted in the journal Respirology, researchers found that kids raised on a farm were less likely to develop asthma than kids in more urban settings — during a two year study of kids less than 12 years old,  2.3 per cent of kids on farms developed asthma as compared to 5.3 per cent of kids in other rural areas and 5.7 per cent in urban centres. Scientists determined it was because kids living on farms were more likely to be exposed to endotoxins from animal viruses and manure, which kept their immune system active working against bacteria and therefore enabling itself to fight off other bacteria and viruses that could lead to asthma. 

I'm not saying human feces might have these endotoxins, or that we should start taking the active approach in exposing ourselves to them. But what I am saying is our fear of germs and dirty things can disrupt the natural health defenses we were born with — our immune systems. We now know to cook our meat thoroughly, keep certain products refrigerated, wash our hands, don't play with needles, sterilize surgical equipment, and cover our mouths when you sneeze (though how well that works is also up for debate), all important advances that help us live longer. But sprays that kill 99.9 per cent of all bacteria, including the good kind or bacteria your body can easily defeat on its own, is not necessary and may even be harmful. 

It pretty much goes without saying that all the spray cans, disposable wipes, Swiffer wet and dry clothes, cleaning chemicals, and plastic bottles is not good for the environment, either, so I'll spare you an environmentalist tirade for today.

Truth be told, you may end up consuming fecal bacteria in the future. But you can rest easy knowing you've probably consumed a lot already (especially as a child), and you're still alive if you're reading this blog (though a zombie, vampire or ghost readership wouldn't go astray...).

1 comment:

E. Kill said...

THANK YOU! I match your hygiene habits almost exactly, and while I don't feel the greatest all of the time, I catch much fewer viruses than the people I know who obsessively use hand sanitizer and all that jazz. People have become far too paranoid and it's going to screw them.