I have a confession to make.
I do not use hand sanitizer unless the business I am entering specifically requests that I do so.
I wash my hands fairly often and I follow face mask and social distancing recommendations.
Some might consider my not embracing hand sanitizer as blasphemy in the age of COVID-19.
I’d argue that isn’t the case given there are inherit dangers to a degree in being too aggressive with germs on a routine basis.
Putting COVID-19 aside for a moment, there is scientific research that points to being exposed to viruses and germs — (there are actually a lot of good germs) — helps many people build a stronger immune system. I’m not suggesting those who elect to use hand sanitizer are wasting their time. The issue is the overall scheme of what is out there.
There are experts who fear the COVID-19 pandemic is a precursor to a “superbug pandemic” being created as antibacterial resistance to antibiotics that could leave mankind as vulnerable as we were before the advent of penicillin. Currently, antimicrobial resistance kills 35,000 Americans annually along with 700,000 worldwide. There are estimates the yearly global death rate could climb to 10 million by 2050 if new medications aren’t developed.
Many of us know people who have had antibiotics prescribed on a routine basis for various maladies including the common cold. There are often sound reasons for such frequent prescriptions. But in many cases as the years roll by the antibiotics start losing their effectiveness in some individuals.
A case can be made that we often go overboard on medicine and germ phobia when it really isn’t a pressing concern. This can do two things. It can make medicine less effective over the years or it doesn’t allow your body to develop a stronger immune system.
It goes without saying DNA plays a part as well as being exposed at the wrong time.
But given how vaccines work it is clear that going overboard in reacting to germs and such can be just as dangerous as not practicing basic hygiene and having access to treated water, wastewater treatment, and regular solid waste collection.
It is also true that you and I are not 100 percent unlike. There is a myriad of reasons why one person may get sick from exposure to a contagious person and another may not.
Most of us likely benefit from a middle road course where we don’t overdose on things such as hand sanitizer or throwing common sense to the wind.
COVID-19 right now is a different animal because there is no known vaccine and the protocols for treating it are in their infancy if that.
Given there’s been a full-court press to eradicate polio for more than 32 years and it is still not there though the numbers have gone from 350,000 cases worldwide in 1988 to 129 in 2019 it is clear vaccines aren’t going to stop people from dying from COVID-19 for generations to come if ever.
It is why we need to take a holistic approach to our well-being and not simply base it on the health crisis of the day.
In terms of protecting others face masks and social distancing makes sense.
But that said his how far we go disinfecting places is likely to have other consequences in the long run as some are likely not to build up as strong immunities as they possibly can against other illnesses.
I’m probably not a prime example of being a germ freak given I often pick up food I’ve dropped on hikes and eat it, drink water from garden hoses, do so-called thorough house cleaning on a seasonal basis if that, and never really worry about disinfecting surfaces save for what comes with routine cleaning or wipe downs.
But I’m also not an example of someone who wantonly disregards the health of others.
That said I could be a Typhoid Mary who unwittingly spreads a contagious and deadly disease for years without ever getting sick myself.
As such I have a moral obligation to take steps to protect others. With COVID-19 that means wearing face masks where appropriate and social distancing. The hand sanitizing is clearly for the person’s benefit that is doing it given within seconds after using it we start to collect germs and such again.
What is happening today in a way is a direct result of how we have become so reliant on “magical” medicines and doctors to counter not making our health a personal top tier priority. A lot of the underlying conditions known to increase our risk of succumbing to COVID-19 and a host of other diseases are often things we can avoid or reduce our exposure to such as obesity, heart problems, lung issues, and diabetes to name a few.
One would hope going forward we all would take a more active role in securing our health by working at it instead of assuming modern medicine will take care of all of our ills.
For now, and likely get next year or so until we become comfortable with an annual COVID-19 death rate, our lives have to be framed by efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus even if in the end we don’t become ill from it.
It is no different than with the 1917-1918 Great Flu Epidemic or the Black Plague. It may be 2020, but we still don’t control nature and likely never will despite our audacity to think we ever will. Nature gave most of us an effective way to build an immune system. In order for it to work as effectively as possible it has to be challenged.
Throwing all caution to the wind can be dangerous for you and others. But then again, the importance of how the natural process relies on herd immunity to ultimately keep viruses in check makes efforts to try to live in the proverbial bubble counterproductive.
It is why a middle of the road approach we are now being asked to take on a daily basis — wearing face masks and social distancing — is the best way to shorten how long of a time the pandemic will be upon us and keep the carnage as low as reasonable.
As for hand sanitizers, I’ll go with what the Centers for Disease Control recommended before the pandemic. Thoroughly washing your hands with soap is more effective and it doesn’t cost $6.99 a bottle.