In light of the Swine Flu matter taking place, I thought I would repost this piece on the importance of one washing his or her hands; you would think adults (16 and older) would have accumulated enough eduction to know and understand why this simple task is so important; yet, I am reminded that people just do not get it. Trust me, I just walked out of the restroom where I witnessed various members fail to keep the rest of us from getting sick.
Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel devote an entire chapter to the topic of diseases as a transformative shaper of the human condition. I found myself explaining to my World History class why certain states have been able to advance versus those that have not due to health, sanitation, and water treatment. In chapter 11 Diamond addresses the gift of animals to the human condition vis-à-vis diseases. He states:
Some of us adults, and even more of our children, pick up infectious diseases from our pets. Usually they remain no more than a nuisance, but a few have evolved into something far more serious. The major killers of humanity throughout our recent history smallpox, flu, tuberculosis, malaria, plague, measles, and cholera – are infectious diseases that evolved from diseases of animals, even though most of the microbes responsible for our own epidemic illnesses are paradoxically now almost confined to humans.
Although our contact with animals are still problematic as noted by our concerns of Bird Flu, some scientist contend that we should worry more about why such viruses are possible. Bird Flu, like that of other “animal viruses” emerged from our constant contact with animals; I recently read that simple things such as hand washing can go a long way as a preventive measure. I used to contend that only uneducated people failed to wash their hands multiple times per day, but that premise is clearly false as I have witnessed fellow colleagues of substantial intellect use the rest room but fail to wash their hands before exiting. I am really bothered by this when I witness fellow historians engaging in this behavior; I am sure they are aware of the impact the flu or the common cold have had on states throughout history. I think back to Cholera, which spread via contaminated food and water supplies, was the great killer of city dwellers; it arrived in the early 1830s in Europe and returned (I think) multiple times pre 20th century.
Funny, but a couple of years ago I seriously considered not shaking hands with people, especially men. A recent statistic illustrated that only 56 percent of men wash their hands after attending the restroom in comparison to 91 percent of women. Honestly, I think the 56 percent is high. Have you noticed that most restaurants post signs in their restrooms informing employees to wash before returning to work; I am convinced such signs are designed to make me feel better about eating their food, though I have been informed that it is a mandate by the state.