Bacteriology 101

“Don’t touch your face!” I constantly warned my children during cold and flu season. Children’s fingers tend to gravitate toward the nearest nostrils.  “Bad germs that can make you sick like to live in your nose,” I would instruct, “and sometimes in your eyes.” Then I would direct them, “Scrub your hands and don’t stop until you’ve sung the entire ABC song!” But somehow those little buggers made it to the gateway needed to set up camp in a nostril, or two, and then wreak havoc in our household. Out came the thermometer, Tylenol, cough syrup and case of Kleenex, along with a new set of rules. “Cover your mouth when you sneeze and cough!”

Today I sit with a box of Kleenex at my side, blowing and sniffling, while sucking on a Zicam tablet. While I don’t allow any of my fingers to nostril hang, apparently, at some point I broke my own proverbial rule and “touched my face,” or I was privy to someone’s uncovered cough, or sneeze. I’d like to believe that it was the latter of the two. Either way, an undetected viral organism made it’s stealth transfer into my body and has made itself at home.

When I was in college, one of my required science classes was Bacteriology. I learned more about bacteria than I ever wanted to know. The more I viewed the squirmy, crawly organisms under the microscope, the more I was aware of their encroachment of my surrounding environment. They became my invisible enemy. I envisioned them on my countertops, doorknobs and sink faucets. When I got into my car, they were on the door handles, steering wheel and stick-shift. I battled against them as I scrubbed and disinfected all surfaces of possible contamination. But when my husband took me out to dinner, they were at the restaurant too. I grabbed my little cleaning cloth from my purse and wiped down my fork, knife and spoon prior to use. The first time I did this, my husband took a quick glance around the room, then leaned toward me and whispered, “What are you doing?” I blinked. Didn’t he know the dangers that may lay on the surface of the utensils that he was about to put into his mouth? It was apparent by the look on his face that he did not, so I informed him. “You have no idea who has touched those, and whether or not they washed their hands first – they could be infected with E.Coli for all you know!” He rolled his eyes and retorted, “You are beginning to sound paranoid!” To which I replied, “I’d rather be paranoid than dead!” I’m afraid that it didn’t end there.

One day while working on my home decontamination plan, my husband said, “You know, you can’t avoid germs, they are in the air you breathe.” I promptly went to the closet and grabbed the Lysol spray and fumigated every room in the house with it. When I realized we were beginning to run out of oxygen, I relented to opening up all the windows.

I’m not sure when my germ paranoia began to fade. Perhaps it was my mother reminding me that I had made it through the first two decades of my life in good health. She informed me that in my first few years of toddling around on this planet, that I had eaten with dirty hands on more than one occasion and once had bitten a live snail in half. That totally grossed me out and I told her that she could have kept that information to herself. Perhaps it was reading health related articles about the overuse of antibacterials, that we were killing the good bacteria that protects us while trying to kill the bad stuff. Or coming to realization that mom was right (as well as my all-natural friend who refuses to use hand sanitizers), that we are made with an immune system that works, short of a serious condition, and some exposure to germs may actually be good for us. Eventually, my germ phobia dissolved. But I do have to admit that I still occasionally wipe down my steering wheel and stick shift in my car with an antibacterial wipe.

Yesterday my husband came home and promptly placed his work bag on top of the freshly cleaned kitchen counter. I asked him if he would put it on the floor instead since it wasn’t clean enough to be on the countertop. He said that it wasn’t dirty, that it had only been on his truck floor – and that was clean. I wanted to give him the entire run down on how bacteria is invisible to the naked eye, and how life threatening bacteria can be transferred to kitchen countertops and into the food we eat. But instead I replied, “Would you lick your truck floor?” Point made.

Old habits die hard.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. kristyn
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 05:39:39

    Seth told me I would like this one…he was right:)

    Reply

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