TV: Take 2 Doses of Flu Hysteria and Don’t Touch ANYTHING

Readers — Next time you are at a restaurant, please remember that a lot of people have touched the menu before you, which means it is harboring germs. So wash your hands when you’re done with it, and make sure it never touches your plate or your utensils.

Also, do not touch the ketchup bottle with your bare hands. Others have done exactly that before you, which only means more germs. So what should you do? Just ask the waitress bring you a fresh bottle — a new one, from someplace else (I guess someplace germ-free, like a centrifuge). Or if you don’t want to make a fuss, just hold the germy bottle with a napkin. And now you can enjoy your meal!

Well…so long as you don’t order a drink with a slice of lemon in it – some 70% of lemons have germs on the rind. So make sure to avoid those dangerous garnishes.

And that’s just a little bit of what I learned earlier this week from The Today Show. Host Matt Lauer was interviewing Dr. Raj Roshini from Health Magazine on “What not to touch during flu season.” The segment went on for 4:44 minutes – a lifetime on morning TV – and their advice boiled down to this: Try not to touch anything anyone else has ever touched. If for some reason that can’t be avoided, immediately wash your hands.

Which, according to the two doctors and one virologist I spoke to, makes about as much sense as walking down the street in a gas mask so you don’t breathe in any harmful chemicals.

If a pre-touched menu can contaminate the utensils, reasons Dr. Marc Leavey, a primary care physician at Baltimore’s Mercy Hospital, “How did the utensils get to the table? Did the waiter touch them? Maybe you should bring your own utensils. Maybe the cook coughed on your food. Should you bring your own food? How crazy do you want to get?”

Pretty crazy — or at least pretty obsessive-compulsive. Granted, this flu season is a bad one. Granted, it makes sense to wash your hands before eating. Always has. But does it make sense to start treating the world like one big wad of Kleenex? Soggy Kleenex?

That seems to be exactly The Today Show’s perspective. “We are touching things all the time!” Dr. Roshini tells a shocked and horrified Matt, who, for his part, then screens a time-lapse video of the door at the Today Show studio. “Thirty-five people touch it in just ten minutes,” he reports. “Imagine over the course of the day.”

Imagine? I can’t! Do people REALLY touch the door and then other people do, too? Amazing!

Amazing, too, is the fact that this passes for decent health advice. “I would put my money on vaccines and urging people who are ill to stay away from work places,” says Dr. Kenneth Bromberg, director of the vaccine research center and chairman of pediatrics at Brooklyn Hospital.

To my surprise, I didn’t hear The Today Show mention flu shots at all. It did, however, tell people not to touch a soap dispenser. Even though – can we please think this through for one second? – what is the NEXT THING a person does after touching the dispenser to put soap in their hand?

“The more hysterical you get people, the more they listen to you,” says Dr. Bloom, a PhD in organic chemistry who spent 10 years in virology and now works at the American Council on Science and Health.  His advice? “Stay away from people trying to cough up your nose intentionally.”

That’s next week’s segment. – Lenore

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Don’t touch — you’ll get cooties!

85 Responses to TV: Take 2 Doses of Flu Hysteria and Don’t Touch ANYTHING

  1. Earth.W January 18, 2013 at 7:59 am #

    Best not to wear clothes at all…no matter where you go…always naked. Clothing holds germs.

  2. Warren January 18, 2013 at 8:01 am #

    Well that’s it, Lenore. I will say my goodbyes now, cause according to this I am due to die anytime.

  3. Jennifer January 18, 2013 at 8:07 am #

    The soap thing…. that always got me. They have these crazy “no-touch” soap dispensers, and they market them as important because of all the germs on the soap dispenser. Your argument is the one I’ve been making since I saw the first commercial for these crazy things.

  4. Kristen S January 18, 2013 at 8:18 am #

    I’ve wondered something similar about people who flush the toilet with their foot to avoid touching the handle of a public toilet. First, if you are going to then touch the lock to get out of the stall, what was the point? And second, if you plan on washing your hands, why not touch the flusher? Do these people lick their hands on the short walk between the stall and the sink?

  5. maria January 18, 2013 at 8:34 am #

    And the germ-a-phobes who do this crazy stuff are the ones getting sick all the time!
    I don’t use antibacterial anything, my kids often stick their mouths on shopping carts, I wash my hands after using the bathroom, but thats it….not a single time more. The result? we get 1-2 mild colds a year, so far we’ve been lucky to never have had the flu in our house (we also don’t get the flu shot, but I don’t want to be the one to start THAT can of worms), but if the flu did ever makes it’s way into our house, I’m confident that we all have immune systems strong enough to battle it.

  6. katie January 18, 2013 at 8:41 am #

    …maybe they should stop hiring OCD people to recommend this stuff. 😀 I mean, I’m a germaphobe, but I *know* I am and recognize that there are not actions of a sane person.

    But then, people think they can get rid of bacteria. Folk — they cover *everything* all the time. No matter how much soap and whatever you use, you are covered in them. In microbiology class, we had hands free anti-germ soap, hands free hot water, etc.. We swabbed our hands after scrubbing them until we couldn’t stand it…. and grew bacteria. Luckily, we have this crazy thing called an “immune system”. 😉

    XKCD said it best earlier this week:

  7. pentamom January 18, 2013 at 9:08 am #

    There’s a much simpler solution to all the restaurant stuff — EAT AT HOME.

    I mean, if you want to go out fine and aren’t germophobic, fine. But going somewhere where you fear anything being touched by anyone else, and then obsessing about it, when you could just stay where you know who’s handled everything, seems a bit ridiculous.

    Seriously, if there really were a pandemic and you really had to worry that much about it, then avoiding public places where you have the option would be logical step #1. Trying to live normally while trying to do everything abnormally while you’re doing it seems like a lot of wasted effort.

  8. Sarasoda January 18, 2013 at 9:09 am #

    This is so dumb. I tried to think of a more eloquent adjective but can’t, it’s just plain dumb.

    Remember when we were kids and the only time we washed our hands was after stuffing a turkey, and after we went to the restroom. (And I fought the latter, not like I peed on my hands..) :) I was raised in a house with 5 kids and we very rarely ever got ill, and certainly never took antibiotics or had flu shots. Also, antibacterial gels were unheard of.

  9. Emily Guy Birken January 18, 2013 at 9:14 am #

    I HATE the fact that germaphobia is becoming mainstream. The first time I really encountered it was when I was about 23 years old. At a local mall, there was one of those huge marble spheres that floats in water so you can push it around. I was (and am) still a big kid, so I was having a grand old time pushing the marble sphere, when a little girl came to join me. Her mother scolded her very loudly. “Don’t TOUCH that!! There are germs there!”

    I not only felt bad about my immature antics getting a little girl in trouble (I’m sure she decided to play because a grownup was doing it), but I also wondered what else the little girl wasn’t allowed to touch. Because that marble sphere had been placed there specifically as a giant toy.

    I was reminded of this recently when I was nursing my son in the ladies’ lounge at our local Y. The lounge is the entry way for the ladies’ room, so I would see people passing in and out of the bathroom while I nursed him. One mother with two little girls yelled at her daughter for reaching for the door handle to open the door to get out. “You NEVER touch door handles!” she yelled. “NEVER EVER!”

    How was this poor child supposed to get out of rooms, I wondered? (I assume she wanted the kid to cover her hand with her sleeve, which, considering the snotty state of most children’s sleeves, seems to be a dubious improvement at best.)

    People, calm down! G-d created our immune system for a reason.

  10. Dave January 18, 2013 at 9:17 am #

    This is why I don’t watch morning TV. Good article Lenore,

  11. pentamom January 18, 2013 at 9:37 am #

    In line with what katie said, there’s a great story in the January or February (forget which) National Geographic about how microbes are EVERYWHERE and we don’t WANT them to go away.

    Hopefully someday this information will start being taught in schools so that garden variety germophobia (the kind not caused by an actual disorder) will become as rare as it was in our childhood. If people understand that microbes will not be eliminated and that trying to do so eliminates the beneficial ones as well as the potentially harmful ones, and know that as commonly as they know their ABCs, they will learn not to fear microbes any more than they fear grass.

  12. Lollipoplover January 18, 2013 at 9:38 am #

    If the Matt Laurer REALLY wanted to help the American public avoid the flu, why not tell people to spend more time outdoors?

    If you become that fearful of eating in public that you question touching the ketchup bottle, maybe eating that burger at home might be a better choice.

    And while were at it, if the Today show wants to talk prevention, try suggesting good eating habits (hold the salt,avoid adding sugar with ketchup), excercise (but don’t hold the handles on the exercise equipment), and quality sleep. Keeping a healthy body and rational mind do wonders for strong immune system.
    But that doesn’t attract viewers…

  13. Jennifer January 18, 2013 at 9:42 am #

    LOL. I remember once many years ago I was riding the subway and, as has been known to happen on the train, a small child was spinning around the pole in front of me. He was having a grand old time! At one point I guess he got curious as to what this subway pole might taste like and put his lips against it. Perhaps he was giving it a kiss? Ewwww. Putting your mouth on the subway pole-now that is inadvisable!

  14. Sarah January 18, 2013 at 10:14 am #

    I second everything everyone has already said! I was pregnant with my first during the 2009 swine flu hysteria, and the OB/Gyn filling in for my regular doc couldn’t believe I wasn’t going to get a flu shot. The horror!

    Now, I had my second in October, and (gasp) we took him on an airplane (double-gasp) without any flu shots. We’ve been back almost a week, and we’re all fine. We don’t use anything antibacterial just plain old soap and water, and although my oldest did get sick somewhat often during the first 18 months or so, he wasn’t very sick, and he usually got over it in a couple days. Thank you breast milk immunities! Trying to inoculate our children against every possible illness only weakens their immune systems.

  15. CrazyCatLady January 18, 2013 at 10:14 am #

    My kids get sick all the time. They get everything that comes along. Last night, I had one who was throwing up again, for the 3rd time in as many weeks. (Yup, different each time.)

    I used to try to keep them from getting stuff by all the hand washing and such. It didn’t work. My kids look at a sick kid half a football field away and they get it. It did help some to not take them shopping with me, but not enough to go through the hassle of going at 6 am when my husband was home to watch them.

  16. Abby January 18, 2013 at 10:41 am #

    Don’t you know that there’s nothing more dangerous in this world than other people? And good sportsmanship, apparently.

  17. Emily January 18, 2013 at 10:43 am #

    How do you wash your hands before going to the bathroom, when the hand-washing facilities are IN the bathroom?

  18. ifsogirl January 18, 2013 at 10:58 am #

    When my first child was born my ex-father-in-law lectured me on how bad germs are and that I had to be very careful with my child so she wouldn’t get sick. (this from a man that never actually took care of his own kids) The only time I said no to touching something in public was when her soother fell behind the exam table at the Dr’s office. I figured the rest of the time she was building immunities.

    On the other hand when she was about 3 years old, we were leaving a store and they had the door opening button that all children love to push. I sent her ahead of me to push the button as I was pushing the baby in the stroller. My darling child stood there staring at the nice shiny red button for a few seconds, then stuck her tongue out and pushed it like that. It was gross, I told her no that was icky then moved on with my day. She’s still alive and very active for an 8 y/o for those who may have been worried lol.

  19. AnotherAnon January 18, 2013 at 11:01 am #

    Sarah, my husband and I had a 3-year-old and a 7-month-old during the H1N1 outbreak. All four of us got that flu (we got it before the vaccine was available in our area), and we all survived. I’m not against protecting yourself from the flu, because the flu is a lot more likely to kill a child than say, a kidnapper, but lots of people get the flu and survive.

  20. jb January 18, 2013 at 11:08 am #

    The best part comes at the end, when she’s talking about doctors’ offices and says that her kids know not to play with the toys there, and instead to just sit on their hands.

    How sad. I feel so bad for those kids.

  21. jb January 18, 2013 at 11:09 am #

    ” they will learn not to fear microbes any more than they fear grass.”

    Oh, many of the people who fear microbes also fear grass just as much.

  22. Taradlion January 18, 2013 at 11:15 am #

    I am not a germophobe…in fact, the one time I did kind of freak was when my daughter (then 2) licked the NYC subway pole…she was fine.

    Now, I may have been more flippant, but I do have my 8 year old home with what may be the flu (104 and all over feeling gross). I cant claim we are ALWAYS healthy…but given that my sixth grader reported that a first grader started coughing and then threw up on the floor in front of her locker yesterday (and ” that was like the third kid to throw up or be sent home”), my guess it this has nothing to do with touching a ketchup bottle.

  23. Cathy January 18, 2013 at 11:24 am #

    Anyone who advocates not having people intentionally cough directly into your nose obviously has never had children. My 22 month old sees this as her #1 priority every morning, under the guise of giving “hugs and kisses.” Do I wish they were not snot covered kisses directly on my mouth and nose? Yes. Do I want to teach her that affection is bad and gross? I think you know the answer here.

  24. dancing on thin ice January 18, 2013 at 11:24 am #

    The TV show Mythbusters had an experiment on the spreading of germs at a dinner party. The host used glow in the dark ink to show who got infected.
    The only person not to get contaminated in the first test was an admitted germaphobe. She didn’t have to go this far, just not touch the parts of items the person handled. The other technique was simply wipe items such as a pen with a napkin.
    What worked even better was in the second test when the host with the fake cold avoided touching including “elbow bumping” instead of handshakes. (That may have been the idea behind a previous tweet.)

  25. Bridget January 18, 2013 at 11:29 am #

    Not touching the soap dispenser IS ridiculous. However, this is a horrible flu season. Extra precautions ARE warranted. In a flu season this bad I won’t go to restaurants or malls. In 2009 I got H1N1 and I had the rebound pneumonia and almost died. I was so sick that I wanted to die but it would have taken to much effort to do so. I was generally cautious that year but not meticulously cautious. Right now, you could not pay me to go into a crowded restaurant. When I go to the grocery story, I wipe off the handle of the cart. I don’t do that regularly, but I am sure doing it right now. In general, American’s are far too cautious about everyday germs. During this horrible flue season, caution IS the word of the day. So, I can’t agree with you on this one.

  26. Cindy January 18, 2013 at 11:44 am #

    I am required for work to get the flu vaccine (I do hospice and work with very high risk populations so that is a no brained) but have never been paranoid about germs. My kids ate dirt and occasionally forgot to wash their hands before dinner ( we won’t mention the driving to church and finding out one hasn’t brushed his teeth) That being said, we never did water fountains. Touched doors and shook hands but no water fountains during flu seasons. And we rarely had flu in our house. Two awful times in nine years.

  27. pentamom January 18, 2013 at 11:49 am #

    Bridget — but that’s the point. The precautions in the interview were not sensible. Staying OUT OF public places if germs are that much to be feared IS sensible.

    If the danger of infection is bad enough for you take precautions, then take the ones that work, like NOT eating out and handling objects that have been handled by a lot of people. And that’s what you’re doing. But that’s not what the advice on the TV show said to do.

    If this advice had been directed toward the workplace or necessary activities like grocery shopping, it would have made more sense. But advice on how to protect yourself from infection by using ridiculous measures to avoid being contaminated while doing activities that you could just skip, is just silly.

  28. Liz January 18, 2013 at 11:57 am #

    Our daughter had somewhere around 10-15 different people holding her the day she was born (none of whom sanitized their hands, to the best of my knowledge), she was at a rock concert at ten days old (outside most of the time), and was generally exposed to about as much as we were exposed to when we were kids. No, we didn’t rub her on people who looked like they might have the plague, but we didn’t shelter her or keep her away from everything that could possibly have germs until after she had her vaccinations. As a result, she’s now 3 years old and I can still count the number of times she’s been really sick on one hand. She’s had a mild fever or a case of the sniffles a few times, especially right after she started preschool, but for the most part she is a very healthy child.

    On the other hand, we have some friends who sanitized EVERYTHING, and kept both their daughters under quarantine (her word, not mine) until after their first vaccinations, and the whole family has been sick twice this year already.

    I’m not a medical professional, but I think I’ll stick with my regular routine of washing after I use the bathroom and while I’m cooking. And staying away from people who might have plague.

  29. pentamom January 18, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

    Anecdotes are worth what they’re worth, but Liz sounds like me. Our oldest was born on December 12, and at her first peds visit (scheduled early because of the holidays) the pediatrician suggested I “avoid family gatherings.” At Christmastime. Yeah, right. Nobody gets to see the new baby at Christmas. Sure.

    #2 was born at the same time of year and in the middle of a relocation. I was taking him into highway rest stops at five days old. Not my first choice in newborn care, but you do what you have to do.

    And my kids have been about the healthiest of any family I know, and the lady I know who whips out the cleaning wipes every time someone sneezes and calls me to ask whether I want to put off a piano lesson at her home because one of her kids *has been* (but is not currently) sick, has the sickest.

    I’m sure there are other causes besides my habits and hers, and I’m certainly not against caution and cleanliness especially in a bad flu year, but germophobia is overrated.

  30. Lisa January 18, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

    Reasonable precautions are one thing; avoiding day-to-day LIFE because of fear is quite a different thing altogether. I have been washing my hands more often with all the illness going around, and have told my daughter to do the same. In particular, we are both washing our hands upon returning home, and we’re trying to avoid touching our faces throughout the day (a major cause of spreading infection). But I will not avoid going to places where we either need or want to be out of fear of contamination. When that fear has a negative impact on a person’s life, it begins to closely resemble OCD… something I don’t take lightly as someone I am close to suffers from it. No, I don’t encourage her to lick shopping carts (at 10, I’d have serious problems if she did! But even younger, I would have told her that was gross). I have taught her not to get up in people’s faces, not even affectionately – not because of germs, but because I tried to teach her about “personal space” and that she shouldn’t hug or kiss anyone without their permission (and that *she* has the right to allow people not to do so to her). I do, however, encourage her to shake hands, and high five after her soccer games, etc. IMO, those social skills are more important than avoiding every virus that goes around anyhow. Neither of us gets sick often – she has a bit of a cough right now, and I did for a couple of weeks, but nothing major. Nothing that would make us miss school/work. Oh, and we don’t get flu shots.
    I brought her to a restaurant at 2 days old – I wanted lunch and a drink on my way home from the hospital. It doesn’t appear to have hurt her any.

  31. Allison January 18, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

    I find it strange that many people who are against “antibacterial everything” are also against vaccines. Both work under the theory that our immune systems are most effective when we exercise them. A vaccine is like a training course for your immune system.

  32. Donna January 18, 2013 at 12:36 pm #

    As a small child, my mother says I picked chewed (not by me) gum off the sidewalk and put it in my mouth and chewed it for awhile. I don’t recommend this practice but I am alive and well many years later. I don’t use hand sanitizers, touch everything that needs touching and wash my hands when they are dirty. And I spend a considerable amount of time in jail and dealing with some pretty gnarly people. I’ve never had the flu and can count on one hand the times I’ve had stomach viruses.

    My chid has been sick less than any other kid I know. She has been in daycare/school since 14 mo and has missed less than 10 days due to illness. And several of those days have been in the last year while we have been living in a different hemisphere than our usual location and being exposed to new germs.

    So much of this is genetic. My mother has an iron immune system. I have an iron immune system. My child has an iron immune system. My friends who are frequently ill have children who are frequently ill.

  33. Uly January 18, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

    Fun fact: your cellphone and computer keyboard are both much dirtier than public toilet seats, as is your kitchen sink and the equipment at the playground by your house. And let’s not discuss your toothbrush, especially if you neglect to close the lid while flushing.

    Since the whole world is evidentally out to kill you, best to just live your life, I always think.

  34. Warren January 18, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

    Vaccines are artificial training, let’s get that straight. And when it comes to some things, artificial is just not the same.

    Even in this horror of horror flu season, my family doctor sticks to his criteria, of whether one needs the shot or not.

    At 45, white, male in good health and physical condition, I do not need it. Neither does my wife, or our kids.

    We could be seeing flu seasons getting worse, because we have vaccined and medicated ourselves into weakness.

    No flu shots for this family, and no chicken pox vaccines either.

  35. Captain America January 18, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

    I don’t really have any cool pregnancy stories to tell, or childbirth stories. Just a friendly bystander to it all. On my son’s birth, I gave him a drop of red wine in his mouth; first thing to eat or drink on the planet.

  36. Donna January 18, 2013 at 2:55 pm #

    Flu vaccines are not like other vaccines. They provide no overall flu immunity. They simply address certain flu strains contained in them. They may or may not be effective depending on how good the guess for the common flu strains was that year.

    Getting the flu also is no insurance that you won’t get it again. Since the virus changes every year, immunity against one does not get you immunity against any of the other thousands of variety. Some people get the flu every year; some even more than once a year. There is no reason for them to continue to suffer year after year if a vaccine will stop it.

    I, who has never had the flu, see no reason to get a flu vaccine. Why mess with perfection? But the flu is no fun so someone who gets everything that comes down the pike, may make a different choice. Someone with a surpressed immune system for whom the flu could be deadly should make a different choice. If I got the flu every year, I would no more listen to a doctor who told me not to get the flu vaccine because I’m otherwise healthy so getting the flu won’t kill me than I now listen to any doctor who tells me to get the flu vaccine.

  37. Rob January 18, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

    I work with several germophobes. These people sanitize everything several times a day. They still get sick once or twice a year. I sanitize nothing and do crazy things like touch shopping cart handles and bathroom doorknobs. I get sick once or twice a year. What I find fascinating is that when one of these sanitation-obsessed goobers gets sick, they always take on the attitude of “just imagine how bad/frequent this would be if I wasn’t so vigilant about sanitizing.” Yet when I get sick, they always inform me that it wouldn’t have happened if I’d just sanitize everything constantly. They completely ignore the fact that I don’t get sick any more than they do.

    Ever try to convince one of these people that always killing all the germs (or however many you can) makes it so that you can’t build up an immunity to them? Yeah, doesn’t work.

  38. chris parker January 18, 2013 at 3:55 pm #

    Actually, I really do carry wipes wherever I go, I do not touch magazines or arm rests or communal pens in doctors’ offices or at the pharmacy. I use disinfectant on my hands immediately upon exiting a store where I’ve touched the merchandise.
    I use a napkin to touch chair handles, utensils and the menu in restaurants. I also wipe down the table and chair arms with an antibacterial wipe.
    Now, here’s the bottom line: I am a diagnosed Obsessive-Compulsive. What does this say about the mental health of “experts?”

  39. Havva January 18, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

    My dad is a doctor and I follow his advice on this. The only special advice for flu season was to get the annual flu vaccine. Otherwise basic advice to avoid rubbing your eyes or nose, especialy if your hands aren’t clean. Use your silverware, especially if you haven’t washed hands recently. And wash hands after using the bathroom and before handling food. Use regular non-antibacterial soap if possible. If that’s not possible scrub for at least 30 seconds with the antibacterial soap.

    And no he didn’t think our kitchen needed to be sterile, aside from how we handled poultry we had the most laid back kitchen cleaning in the neighborhood.

    My boss came down with an awful strain of flu that wasn’t in the vaccine, this year. His last stop was my office, mid day on his way out. I didn’t do anything special, just the usual dad advice. I’m happy to say I made it through the incubation period with no symptoms.

    As for the soap advice… one very interesting middle school science fair project was responsible for that. My classmate was comparing soaps by sticking hands in dirt, washing, and pressing hands into petri dishes. Well the anti-bacterial soaps preformed little better than unwashed hands. Her dad is a doctor and her mom is a hospital lab tech, combine that with my dad at the science fair and this led to a hospital conference. Unable to find any flaw in the science project they reported this to the medical journals. One of them published this as a note from the doctors of our hospital. Some researchers took up the study and determined that the ‘flaw’ was that my classmate used ordinary hand washing methods (about 5 seconds of scrubbing) rather than a 60 second surgical scrub as would be used in a hospital. And that the anti-bacterial soap is less effective than ordinary soap until there is prolonged exposure of around 20-30 seconds.

  40. Bridget January 18, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

    @pentamom that’s a good point. I guess in my head I was thinking I would not handle the menu etc without cleaning my hands, but in my reality I solve it by avoiding the place.

    @Rob…..I work with a germophobe. I told him that when the aliens attack and there are not enough germs to kill them….I am blaming HIM. He uses hand sanitizer before ht goes to the bathroom, then he washes his hands after, THEN he hand sanitizes before he leaves the bathroom….THEN he sanitizes when he is back at his desk. (He told me this TMI story). I said wait, you wash your hands and then walk to the hand sanitizer BEFORE you leave the room??? YUP! That is NUTS! He also still gets sick several times a year. In reality he is open to get a super bug the way he kills off the germs.

  41. Warren January 18, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

    I wonder…when Mother Nature decides it’s time to thin the herd a little, who will be on the loosing end?

  42. Yan Seiner January 18, 2013 at 6:01 pm #

    As someone who works in water quality (both wastewarer and drinking water) I can share 2 tidbits:

    People who work in wastewater plants are generally far healthier than the norm when it comes to common infections. Make of that what you will.

    All this biocide we sling around *does not* degrade in our normal wastewater treatment processes, and it goes straight into the rivers. It then goes right back into the drinking water as the drinking water treatment typically does not remove it either.

    Food for thought, that.

    Oh, and bottled water is usually someone else’s tap water, just nicely packaged and sold at 1000+++% profit.

  43. Gina January 18, 2013 at 6:16 pm #

    Been waiting to share this story. This seems to be the time!
    Last week we were in Disneyland. A mother told (screamed at) her child not to touch a walk rail because of germs.
    In Disneyland?
    She thought she’d avoid germs if he didn’t touch a rail?
    Nevermind that she took her kid to a place with thousands of people carrying billions of germs from all over the world.
    AND can you imagine this poor child out in the world, worrying about germs?
    We are killing our kids’ immune systems by overprotecting them. We are making our sane kids into nutcases by giving them ridiculous things to worry about.

  44. Jenna K. January 18, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

    I am convinced that the very reason this flu season is so bad is BECAUSE of all the germophobia out there. People have lower resistance to diseases because they are such clean freaks and their bodies haven’t developed immunities.

  45. Mary January 18, 2013 at 6:35 pm #

    I do take commonsense approach to avoid the flu – this includes washing my hands often and if I am about to eat – yes I will keep a paper towel in my hand and use it to open the bathroom door. I do touch menus but often will wash up after ordering and befor eating. And I’ll use the ketchup bottle but I might just grab it with a napkin. Hand washing is one of the most important things you can do to avoid getting sick – but timing that hand washing (such as in between when you touch a surface that is likely to have germs and eating) isn’t germ phobic it’s rational. I don’t use antibacterial soaps and I don’t fear germs everywhere. I ferment my own yogurt and vegetables to be sure I have enough good bacteria in my gut to ward off infection. I’ll encourage my daughter to play in the dirt. I get an annual flu shot but not necessarily every year (I did this year as I have a 3 month old who’s too young to get the shot)
    I don’t think I’m extreme but nor do I think some of the examples you object to are.

  46. Stephanie January 18, 2013 at 7:14 pm #

    I’m pretty relaxed about germs. I have to be – there’s only so much you can do with a preschooler, especially when we’re at her class together. A crowd of preschoolers is not likely to be a very germ-free place, and the only time they pull out the hand sanitizer is at snack time. Kids can wash their hands with soap and water at need, but everyone does it fast – cold water only, there’s no hot water tap.

  47. AW13 January 18, 2013 at 7:36 pm #

    Someone above mentioned flushing public toilets with their foot, and I have to laugh, because I totally do that! And I know it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but at this point, it’s habit. I don’t bother using a paper towel to open the door, though, so I suppose that negates the after use hand washing.

    As a side note, has anyone ever paid attention to the bathroom cleaner commercials? The ones that promise to kill 99.99% of germs in your toilet? I mean, that’s fine, I guess, but as long as my toilet is clean-looking and not smelly, I’m not going to worry too much about the percentage of germs in the bowl. It’s not like I’m performing surgery in there or something.

    I go back and forth on the flu shot. The year I was pregnant, I kept getting sick, so I got one and it worked wonders as far as my constant respiratory illnesses went. I got one this year – we’ll see how it goes.

  48. Taradlion January 18, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

    Not going to pretend that everyone washes their hands after using the toilet before touching the door handle, but I am pretty sure NOBODY washes their hands after using the toilet before they flush…so I too will use my foot on the toilet handle (I also will avoid the public bathroom door handle etc)….I agree it’s a habit.

    (I was with my daughter and her friend when her friend lost her ballance and wind up with her sneaker IN the toilet from a misflush).

  49. Warren January 18, 2013 at 9:13 pm #

    All these habits people now think of as normal, foot flushing, napkin to hold the ketchup and so on, would have had you branded as a whackadoodle just 5 to 10 years ago.

    Do not forget to not step on the cracks in the sidewalk, because we all know the results of that.

  50. Jenn January 18, 2013 at 9:15 pm #

    I am laughing so much from the comments! Thanks everyone for a dose of sanity!

  51. Emily January 18, 2013 at 9:26 pm #

    @Warren–I agree. I’ve never bothered with a flu shot either, xcept for the homeopathic oral vaccines, which do the same thing, without the necessity of injecting a cocktail of unpronounceable chemicals into my body. As for the chicken pox vaccine, I don’t need it, because I had chicken pox when I was nine, and I don’t remember the chicken pox vaccine being wildly available here in Ontario until I was maybe twelve or so. In any case, I didn’t really see chicken pox as a huge tragedy–it was more of a rite of passage, wrapped up in a rather itchy week off school. My point is, when we start running out and getting vaccinated against EVERY illness, no matter how trivial, don’t those vaccines eventually stop working? Also, who wants to turn their kid into a pincushion? I got all the important vaccines; just not flu or chicken pox……or whooping cough either, but that’s because my parents tell me I’m allergic to it. Apparently, it was a two-or-three-dose vaccine, and the first dose made me sick, so they just stopped after that one. In any case, I know that on some rare occasions, people can die from the flu, or from chicken pox/shingles, but people can die from any number of mundane activities, or even just suddenly, in their sleep. It’s the same “bubble wrap” line of thinking–if we were to remove every possible danger from life, there’d be no “life” left.

  52. Emily January 18, 2013 at 9:27 pm #

    I meant, “except for the homeopathic oral vaccines.” I swear, I can spell. Also, this blog needs an edit function.

  53. Rachel January 18, 2013 at 9:50 pm #

    I’ve seen studies showing that being too clean can lead to immune disorders, like allergies. We have some chronic illnesses in our family, so we all get flu shots to play it safe. But, otherwise we don’t worry about touching stuff–the lack of germs might make us sick.

  54. Erica January 18, 2013 at 10:04 pm #

    “Stay away from people trying to cough up your nose intentionally.” Awesome! Permission to abandon my two young kids during flu season. LOL 😉

  55. AW13 January 18, 2013 at 10:46 pm #

    @Warren: If I freely admit that I don’t think that foot flushing is necessary and yet, I do it anyway, would that make me more or less of a whackadoodle? :)

  56. Warren January 18, 2013 at 11:42 pm #

    All I am saying is for people to look at it this way.

    Here in an effort to encourage a more free range life for our kids, we admit the rarity of stranger abductions, and allow our kids to go out and play. Yet, the chances of getting sick from actually flushing the toilet, with your hand, are probably about the same, and yet you use your foot.

    Now I find that hilarious.

  57. hineata January 19, 2013 at 1:30 am #

    We were in Singapore during the SARs epidemic, and the Government there ran campaigns to try to get people to stop sharing food in restaurants (Chinese thing, you all use your chopsticks to get food out of big bowls, as all courses are shared) and to get old men to stop spitting in public, which seemed relatively sensible at the time (oh, and they closed the schools, maybe a bit of an overreaction) . After the ‘epidemic’ was over, they were happy for things to return to normal. Doesn’t hurt to have things stricter for a short time.

    But to worry about germs on a regular basis seems foolish. Even our P.I.D kiddo doesn’t use hand sanitiser much, except while in hospital – if there’s anything really nasty going around, you just give the immuno-suppressed preventative antibiotics, and my understanding is that they can then carry on pretty much as normal. So why those of us with normal immune systems have to worry about germs is beyond me.

    @CrazyCatLady – only heard of PID (Primary Immune Deficiency) this last year when Midge got diagnosed with it, but it is genetic. If your kids get sick lots, have they ever been looked at for that? Basically a lack of immunoglobulins of some variety or other. Supposedly very rare, but might be underdiagnosed. It’s just that Midge has been so much better since she started getting treated, so maybe if your doctor hasn’t ever checked for that, it might be an idea to ask him/her about it, only involves blood tests – and the change in the kid can be remarkable.

    Of course, I could always just mind my own business – don’t you hate it when people who have never laid eyes on you, who don’t even live in the same hemisphere (!) offer unsolicited advice, LOL!

  58. Krista January 19, 2013 at 2:44 am #

    Hmm, see, when I wash my hands a lot they start to crack. Wouldn’t that make it easier for me to get any type of infection? I’ll stick to my usual protocol. 29 and have never had the flu.

  59. bmommyx2 January 19, 2013 at 3:45 am #

    the two times I was sick the worst was while comforting my sick child I was sneezed in the face. no amount of hand washing will prevent that. Also before I was a SAHM I got sick from sick co-workers coming in to work. Sometimes my hubby gets sick more than the kids for the same reason. Some companies either don’t have sick pay & people can’t afford to take off or they are made to feel as though they can’t call in sick unless they are at deaths door. I once read that one of the caused of food poisoning is sick food service workers coming into work.

  60. Taradlion January 19, 2013 at 10:30 am #

    @ Warren- it IS weird that I flush gross public toilets with my foot (I do not always do this). Its a quirk. I have a weird thing with some public bathrooms (probably because my grandmother covered every square inch with toilet paper when I was a kid). It is weird because I ride the NYC subway every day, holding the pole without a napkin, never even thought of using a napkin for a ketchup bottle…you are right, it is hilarious.

  61. Jennifer Cox January 19, 2013 at 10:49 am #

    All this reminds me of the Louis C.K. stand up where he says he got sick most recently because his daughter coughed in his mouth! If I was a normal non-free range mom I would go crazy watching the Today show, thank goodness it just makes me giggle

  62. Taradlion January 19, 2013 at 11:25 am #

    Oh, and I almost forgot…My grandmother was wallpapering public restrooms with toilet paper 40+ years ago…and I’ve been foot flushing since I’ve been a kid, probably because of it (so 35+ years – guess, I would have the wackadoo certification)…

    My grandma is 95 she doesn’t wipe down surfaces, or use purell, and she goes out to eat and touches the menu, etc. Other than the public restroom thing, the only other germ quirk she has is wiping off soda cans before she opens them (made her crazy when I didn’t do this). Made her more crazy when I pointed out that she didn’t wipe the oj or milk cartons (not that I thought she should) and asked if she wiped the bottles the milk man delivered when my mom was a kid. Oh and she was sure going out with a wet head (I was on swim team) caused pneumonia.

  63. CrazyCatLady January 19, 2013 at 11:39 am #

    Hinieta, knowing about things certainly does help! My kids have not been checked for this, but I think if we get another vomiting illness next week I am going to have them checked! I know my worst year was 3rd grade. I was sick so much that they were going to fail me, just because of the days I had missed, not because I couldn’t do the work.

    We homeschool, so that helps a little bit, mostly in the area that I don’t have to worry about my kids failing if they get sick! And yes, my mom was sick a lot as a kid too.

    I think that now I am going to go look that up and see what the treatment is!

  64. CrazyCatLady January 19, 2013 at 11:58 am #

    At the park were we used to live, the water fountain, instead of a regular drain, had a v shaped slope, that then ran down the side of the fountain, to a drain at the bottom.

    My son, when he was about 4, decided to “drink” the leftover water as another kid was drinking. I told him not to – he did it 3 times. People often let their dogs drink the same way.

    The next day he came down with a bad case of hives. The doctor was SURE it was the shrimp we had for dinner (that he had had many times before.) I was sure it was something from that fountain. The next week a parent told me of a family who swam in a lagoon in Mexico and got hives, the doctor there said it came from the birds. Since we were not far from Mexico, and it was time for migration, I think that was it. Never had hives again. And, he learned a valuable lesson.

    That said, I remember a kid on the school bus eating chewed gum from the bottom of the seat, and a red crayon from the floor. No one dared him – he did it for attention. He was at school regularly, so I don’t think it hurt him. Just was gross…especially that crayon stuck to his teeth!

  65. mollie January 19, 2013 at 2:12 pm #

    What does this story have in common with the story about a kindergartener having bus transport confusion?

    Wretched excess. When safe is not safe enough, when perfect is not perfect enough, when convenient is not convenient enough, and when easy is not easy enough, you get this.

    We are at the apex of life expectancy, abundance, health, comfort, and ease as a species here in North America. What a shock it will be when we have some actual adversity to face.

  66. hineata January 19, 2013 at 2:36 pm #

    @CrazyCatLady – Glad I wasn’t being too nosy!

    The bad news might be that in Midge’s case, anyway, (and others with her form of it) the treatment is lifetime doses of intravenous Immunoglobulin G, three weekly at the moment but stretching to four weekly as se gets older. Treatment is not a hassle, just involves a day off school, but we get free medical care…I know it is done in the States (that’s where we get sent this cool magazine about the condition from) – the cost might be the issue. Hope insurance covers lots. The estimated cost of Midge’s treatment, by the time you factor in the doctors and nurses, is probably upwards of $40,000 a year.

    My brother says, though, that insurance covers most stuff (he lives in Seattle and has ongoing medical issues), so hopefully you would be okay (if it was needed, of course! :-) ).

  67. AW13 January 19, 2013 at 3:30 pm #

    @Taradlion: Wow, I’d totally forgotten about the toilet paper on the seat thing, too! My grandma did that – and like you, this is also where I was told to flush the toilet with my foot. And like your grandma, mine wasn’t particularly worried about anything but the toilets. And my grandpa always yelled at me not to touch my lips to the drinking fountain, but other than that, no one in my family worried much about germs at all. (Funnily, several family members are in the health care profession, and I’m fairly certain that they don’t wash their hands every time after going to the bathroom – at least, not at home!)

  68. Robin Jingjit January 19, 2013 at 6:32 pm #

    I blame hand sanitizer. For this whole wave of irrational thinking. The kids in my third grade class wear little hand sanitizers bottles on a lanyard around their necks!

  69. wholesome kids January 19, 2013 at 10:51 pm #

    Hilarious! Love this post, Lenore. Especially the “coughing up the nose” bit.

  70. Taradlion January 19, 2013 at 10:57 pm #

    @AW13- I laughed when I read that….for Gram it was just public toilet seats and cans…at least for germs….now she watches the weather channel in Florida and worries about the weather for me in NYC!

  71. Warren January 20, 2013 at 12:21 am #

    I get questioned all the time, by family members, of the older generation, about why I do not watch the weather channel. Like it is required information, for life.
    1. Live in Ontario, Canada.
    2. I know in the summer it is hot or raining, one or the other.
    3. In the winter it gets cold, and snows.
    4. Spring and Fall it is either nice or raining.
    5. No matter what the weather, I still have to go to work, buy groceries, get the kids off to school, walk the dogs, cook meals and so on.
    6. Short of a major natural disaster, which I point out would be on the radio, and every tv channel going, the weather will not change one aspect of my life. Rain, snow, freezing rain, cold, hot, mild or whatever I still have things I must get done.

    For some reason they still believe I am not being responsible by not keeping up to date on the weather.

    I get up in the morning, put coffee on, take the dogs out. While out with the dogs, I get a pretty good idea of the weather, since I am outside.

  72. Donna January 20, 2013 at 1:12 am #

    It is very bizarre the way that the older generation tends to obsess about the weather. Does something click on at about 60 that makes you suddenly concerned with weather everywhere? Before she got dementia, my grandmother checked the weather for every place in the world where someone she knew lived or was visiting every day. I lived in San Diego for a few years and I used to get regular emails from my grandmother, also in San Diego, updating me about the weather in Georgia where my mother and brother lived.

  73. hineata January 20, 2013 at 1:25 am #

    @Warren, you need to come and live on an island, LOL! Not that the weather channel is something I bother about, but Catspaw is always updating me, as it can be sunny when you wake up here and a howling southerly two hours later. Not sure why the met service persists in trying to predict 10 days in advance, when sometimes it can’t get ten hours in advance right!

    Gosh, can’t believe I’m talking about the weather to non-Kiwis ( we spend half our lives discussing it, much more changeable and exciting than the economy) must be sliding downhill toward 60 faster than I thought….!

  74. Warren January 20, 2013 at 1:49 am #

    I know, between the emergency scanner and the weather channel, they drive me nuts. Alot of my work is on Hwy 401, and anytime they here about an accident on it, they call. Doesn’t matter that their scanner only picks up calls in their area, almost 200 miles from me.

    They will see a freezing rain warning for Sudbury, 6 hours from me, and they almost plead with me, not to let the kids go to school, and to not take any service calls.

    If I ever get to that stage in life, give me a bottle of Jack to drink, then shoot me please.

  75. Donna January 20, 2013 at 3:33 am #

    @hineata – At least you’re still at the point of talking about your own weather. It is when you start obsessing over everybody’s weather that you have to worry.

    Some years ago, there was a bad heat wave in Texas. It was all over the weather news. I passed through there during it and it was miserable. During it, my grandmother got a call from a TELEMARKETER from Texas. She somehow managed to talk to this telemarketer for 10-15 minutes about the heat wave in Texas. It is truly an obsession.

  76. Taradlion January 20, 2013 at 9:42 am #

    I’m glad to know its not just my Grandmother. She kept calling during Huricain Sandy and I could not make her believe that we were fine (as she was seeing images from other parts of the city that were bad).

    In my (other) favorite book on kids, The Blessings of a Skinned Knee, the author describes her grandmother as a “prophylactic worrier”…”the idea that you can prevent a bad event by worrying about it.” (Subtitle: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children).

    I think the older generation (particularly grandparents who by definition were parents) sometimes need to fill the time when they are no longer managing kids or work….

  77. Warren January 20, 2013 at 10:13 am #

    Just in case anyone is thinking of travelling in the area in and around Kingston, Ontario today………….please think twice as we are experiencing high winds with severe gusts.

  78. Taradlion January 20, 2013 at 10:16 am #

    Oh, and though I am sure people have moved on to other threads, I will say, using a very unscientific N of 2 (me and AW13) you can see how worries (neurotic behavior) is passed on to kids. We foot flushers come from toilet papered covered public bathrooms, while not worrying too much about other germs!

  79. Nursey January 20, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

    The hospital where I am employed REQUIRES flu shots for all employees. if you opt out, you must wear a mask at work, even if you’re not sick. I think this is passive aggressive and makes us look sick (to patients) when we are not. I get the flu shot because I don’t have a problem with it. But many do. If I had to wear a mask for 12 hours I would pass out.

  80. Priscilla January 21, 2013 at 8:51 pm #

    This is how Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is born.

  81. BMS January 22, 2013 at 11:01 am #

    I teach college students, who are like a huge group of Typhoid Marys, and I have two grade school kids, and I work with cub scouts. When they give out the free flu vaccines at my work, I am first in line. Hell, give me one in each arm. Since I started getting them, I have gotten a few bad colds, but never the flu. The last time I had the flu was the year we decided to take the Amtrak to Chicago and none of us had the shot. Three of the four of us came down with it, as did my niece, my dad, and my brother in law. That was the holiday from beyond hell, with two of the sick kids having asthma issues along with it. Never again. Maybe I’ve just been lucky and the fact that I’ve had the vaccine and no flu is coincidence. Don’t care. Better living through chemistry. Of course, I was a chemistry major, so I tend to be biased, but no one in our house has come down with a bad case of the flu since we all started getting the shot.

  82. Stephanie January 23, 2013 at 9:36 am #

    At a family waterpark my dear (germaphobe) friend offered to take my 4yo to the bathroom while I watched our other kids. Apparantly the friend spent a good amount of time arranging a “safe” layer of toilet paper on the seat while my daughter did the potty dance. Once finished, my friend told my daughter that she could sit down but the little sweetie looked right up at her and said, ” I can’t sit on THAT!” Love my immunity-building kids!

  83. Ronni January 26, 2013 at 4:59 am #

    One afternoon last summer, I set my then 9 month old daughter in the gated off “baby proofed” area of our living room with her toys while I ran into the bedroom to change into a swimsuit for our upcoming swim lesson. When I returned a minute later, I discovered that not only had our misbehaving dog had POOPED in the living room but that my daughter had picked it up and stuck it in her mouth and was EATING it!

    I was of couse ABSOLUTELY HORRIFIED and quickly swooped her up and washed her mouth out with water as best I could. I immediately called my mom for guidance. When I told my mom what had happened, she just laughed and told me it’d be ok and that I and my sisters had all eaten horrible stuff and survived just fine.

    Sure enough, my daughter survived and is now 16 months old. I’m still super embarrassed that my daughter ate dog poop, but if anything that day taught me and my husband a valuable lesson about germs and immune systems. Now, anytime we catch my daughter trying to eat dirt or sticking her hands in her mouth after touching something gross, we just joke that hey, it cant be as bad as dog poop!

  84. Pauline April 16, 2013 at 4:00 pm #

    I spent the first 3 years of my life on a small farm. The thing I loved the most for a while, according to my mum, was scooping and eating dirt out of plant pots and catching and eating ladybugs. Don’t ask me why. Also, my parents allowed me to pick our desert during the summer out of our backyard fruit patch, and I’d come back in with a face smeared with mud and a half-eaten freshly pulled up carrot in my mouth. Or a freshly squeezed ladybug. But I lived, allergy-free and all. Kids eat and lick all kinds of crazy stuff. Thats why they have immune systems.


  1. Articles for Sunday » Scott Lazarowitz's Blog - January 20, 2013

    […] Lenore Skenazy: TV: Take 2 Doses of Flu Hysteria and Don’t Touch Anything […]