Field of Science

Are you a germaphobe? Let me help.

Apparently advertising for sanitizers, cleansers, and the like, especially here in the USA, has resulted in a much enhanced paranoia about encountering "germs", yet another manifestation of biological ignorance and fear mongering (which also seems popular in politics these days). In public places do you worry about touching faucet and door handles, countertops, table tops, hand railings, and any of the other countless things we handle each day for fear of contracting some "germ"? Do you carry disinfectant wipes with you all the time, and especially when traveling? Do you use germ killing cleansers all over your house? OK, if so, let me ease your mind with a bit of basic biology. Please understand this.
Life on this planety is mostly unicellular and mostly microscopic, so small you really, really don't understand the size of vast majority of organisms. We big organisms, and yes, humans are way, way up on the large end of the scale, live in an environment teeming with countless tiny organisms. Your own body, consisting as it does of some 100 million cells, is host at least a trillion organisms. A cubic centimeter of soil, a volume about the size of a sugar cube, will have somewhere between 8 and 20 million organisms in it. One commercial disinfectant cleanser ad suggests that your clean looking kitchen counter top cold have 40,000 or more germs per square inch! Is your reaction YIKES, and you start spraying the cleanser? A reasonable biological response is "Wow, so few, that's a really clean counter you got there lady." So my dear germaphobes, get over it. You have a naive and inaccurate view of the biological world, and fortunately for us all, our bodies have evolved to deal with all these tiny organisms. Yes, some germs, bacteria, can cause serious diseases, but on a day to day basis, you just aren't going to be exposed to any real risk of infection. This means the 5-second rule on dropped food is complete crap; the instant it touched the floor, it picked up bacteria, but so what? You've been living with all these guys day in and day out anyways, so brush off the cat hair, and eat it anyways. What's a few million more among friends? We close hoping this public service announcement has made you feel better.

1 comment:

Larissa said...

Yeah! Maybe if we stopped over-sanitizing we wouldn't get sick all the time!