My, aren’t we a society that is just totally terrified of the mighty germ! Darn that Louis Pasteur with his germ theory of disease anyway! (We can thank him for preventing microbiological contamination of beer, but he’s also responsible for pasteurized milk.) And Joseph Lister who doused everything in carbolic acid and became known as the Father of Antiseptic Surgery.
Last week a news article caught my eye that suggested we replace shaking hands with “fist bumps” – where two people briefly press the top of their closed fists together – to reduce the spread of germs between two people. Apparently it gets a thumbs up from President Barak Obama and the Dalai Lama.
“Mysophobia” was a term was coined by Dr. William Alexander Hammond in 1879 when describing a case of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) exhibited in repeatedly washing one’s hands. (Hammond was a military physician during the Civil War and the eleventh Surgeon General of the United States Army, 1862-1864.)
Now, I realize that the world has seen some awful outbreaks of germ-related epidemics in the past. In those cases, however, widespread sanitation was an issue. It went far beyond hand to hand contact.
The appearance of antiseptic chemicals added to everything on the grocery store shelf, hand sanitizers everywhere, and air fresheners to saturate everything that doesn’t come in a box or a bag, is just another marketing strategy by companies like Proctor and Gamble (who, incidently, supplied the Union army with soap and candles during the Civil War and introduced Ivory soap in 1879). They make billions of dollars each year from our enthusiastic use of these products, and I’ll bet they still shake hands in the boardroom.
Fist bumps might seem funny at first, but a closed fist is usually the first sign that a fight is about to start. How about head bumps? Cats and dogs seem okay with it. Or maybe we can just bow to each other and eliminate touching altogether.
Or maybe we can just continue to share a few microbes and carry on our daily lives without worrying what the germs are up to.
Wendy Coomber is the editor of the Ashcroft-Cache Creek Journal