I've caught some bug. But don't worry—I washed my hands before typing this. Hand washing seems to be an important strategy for reducing illness all over the world. A kindergarten teacher at my daughter's school noted that after implementing more rigorous hand washing in response to the H1N1 possibility, they had far less sickness of all kinds. So maybe I need to look at my technique more closely.
The Unwashed Messes
In the 1840s, an obstetrician in Vienna named Ignaz Semmelweis noticed that mothers who gave birth with midwives had lower death rates than those attended by doctors. When he made the doctors wash their hands, deaths decreased dramatically. Still, the rest of the medical community at the time thought his approach was just hogwash. This was before Louis Pasteur spread the word about germs (and men started to listen to women, a bit). Hand washing in hospitals is still a problem. It's hard to believe those teeny tiny things you can't see could cause so much trouble. If you need help visualizing them, you could get a Giant Microbe plush toy.
The molecules in soap are good at grabbing oily particles and allowing them to be washed away. Detergents work similarly but are made from petrochemicals. The antibacterial craze may be counterproductive. To work, you'd have to leave the stuff on your hands longer than people usually do. And even if you did that, it might not be a good idea to get rid of all the bacteria on your hands. Plus, the viruses are still a problem. I used to sing the ABCs with my daughter while washing out hands. Here's a Canadian version of the ABCs incorporating the proper pronunciation of z.
To Wipe or Blow
Wet hands are more likely to foster bacteria. Health Canada's description of proper hand washing technique doesn't seem to be picky about air or paper, though presumably, it does not advocate pants. I like the high tech dryers at TELUS World of Science, but you still have to put your hands in them and you can't blow your nose in them.
Second that Motion Detector
One of the tricky things about keeping your hands clean is all the stuff you might have to touch — the faucets, the soap dispensers, the paper dispensers or the air dryers. Seems that more places have devices that operate using infrared sensors, although some of them are more effective than others. And then you often still have to open the door.
So when does a reasonable concern about hygiene become an obsessive compulsive disorder? And how do you decipher marketing ploys from legitimate concerns about the use of natural resources? All I can do is sing my ABCs and wash my hands of this.
What's your hand washing advice?