Sunday, March 20, 2011

Get Those Germs

As I write this, I’m in an RV park in Covington, Georgia. Getting here was a long day’s drive with lots of time for mental meandering which lead to the strange topic of Germ-X and similar products, those alcohol based hand sanitizers.

It seems that these products didn’t even exist a few years ago. Now they are everywhere. At Wal-Mart, soccer moms are wiping down their shopping carts with sanitizer wet wipes. In stores, restaurants, and offices there are large bottles of the stuff with dispensers for public use. It is stocked in bathrooms and can be found in ladies’ purses and on teacher’s desks everywhere.

When did the war on germs become so ferocious? How did those of us who grew up without Germ-X survive? I’ve never seen a germ, but apparently they exist and are dangerous. There are other things I’ve never seen that disturb me more, such as chiggers. I wish someone would declare war on those critters so I could collect a purple heart for the dozen wounds I’m now nursing from their itchy little bites.

But about germs, what caused this new onslaught against them? I think of all the times, as a kid, I spent my mornings shoveling cow manure or chicken droppings before sitting down to eat my lunch without the use of Germ-X or even water at times. Or my boss who would stop his work, take out his dirty farmer’s pocket knife, take out his dentures that were irritating him, scrape way the spot that was causing the discomfort and put them back.

How about all those camping trips, hunting outings, and picnics when you took care of your personal issues, or came to the table, without facilities to wash your hands? I grew up in a home with seven boys, one girl, one bathroom and one mom to monitor hand washing. Without the use of some algebraic formula and a capable mathematician, I could not even begin to account for the times little hands didn’t get washed. Yet we survived healthily without hand sanitizers.

Granted germs can be a problem, but our bodies are equipped to handle them in the normal course of things. It’s when we are sick and our immune systems are weak that germs become a problem. I’m no scientist, but it seems to me the way our bodies work is that when the various systems get exercised, they stay strong and when they don’t, they atrophy. When we have to fight against germs, our immune system stays strong.

Here is what I predict will be the unintended consequences of this incessant warfare on germs: We will wind up with weak immune systems that won’t be able to handle a serious attack when it comes. Secondly, the strong germs will survive our warfare, reproduce yet stronger germs and we will have created a super strain that will do a lot more damage than their weaker predecessors. In fact, I believe reports of such are already coming in.

I wonder if this hand sanitizer is another bottled water type scam. Someone convinced us that tap water was full of things that would make us sick. To be safe, we should all drink bottled water, and so bottled water became the craze. Unfortunately, the only legal definition of bottled water was water in a bottle. It turns out most bottlers got the water for their bottles out of municipal taps somewhere. But, the bottlers made lots of money and continue to do so. I suspect the same is true of the many germ killings products. The only ones to truly benefit are the manufacturers.

I’m addicted to a strong morning cup of coffee and the Jonesboro Sun. But, when I’m on the road, I have to get a morning paper via my Kindle. This trip, I’m reading “The Oklahoman” and discovered my mental wanderings about hand sanitizers might have been a little prescient. Here’s a lead sentence: “If the presence of all those alcohol based sanitizers makes you feel safe from disease, read no further.” The article explained that studies show the use of Germ-X, Purell and other such products has no effect on preventing flu or common colds. This was the findings of research done at the University of Virginia. “The researchers surmise that hand transmission is less important for these viruses than previously thought.”

I’d say, though, such usage has already reached the tipping point in public awareness, which means continued strong sales. Invest in Germ-X or Purell and hope my predictions are wrong. Also, keep on washing those hands, though regular soap will probably do, and if you miss a germ or two, it will probably be alright.

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