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

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Don’t touch — you’ll get cooties!

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