The disease caused by the novel coronavirus, covid-19, like many other diseases, poses serious threats to human health and life.
By adopting some simple and sensible behaviors it is possible to live healthier lives and protect ourselves and our families. Even as we flatten the curve and begin to emerge from strict quarantine and shut-down, it is vitally important to retain the lessons and continue the behaviors we have been taught, to extend best practices of good hygiene going forward, and to keep the coronavirus and future infections at bay.
I wrote “The Hand Book: Surviving in a Germ-Filled World” four years ago. The book opens with the following paragraphs:
“Germs know no borders. They cross continents and oceans, carried by infected individuals just a plane ride away. Outbreaks of disease happen all the time in various corners of the world. Many people fear that it is just a matter of time before an outbreak in one area becomes an epidemic, and then a pandemic, as travelers bring germs from place to place, from country to country. In my lifetime, worldwide epidemics of Asian flu, cholera, and mumps have occurred. Outbreaks of Ebola, measles, plague, SARS, malaria, polio, smallpox (yes, smallpox!), hepatitis B, meningitis, yellow fever, and other deadly diseases also have occurred among populations and in areas that seem far away, but are no longer isolated from us. ‘It’s a Small World After All’ is not just a jaunty Disney song; it’s a warning that infectious diseases in one region can threaten the world population.
“As scary as they seem, exotic diseases in remote places are not the ones that pose the biggest threats. Infectious diseases at home and in our healthcare settings are hazardous to our health on a day-to-day basis. How can we protect ourselves from dangerous infectious diseases that kill and maim millions in the United States and worldwide? One approach that reduces the risk of contracting many infectious diseases is the simple act of hand washing. Wherever you are, whether at home or abroad, washing your hands can lower your risk of infection. Hand hygiene can stem the tide of many diseases and slow their spread. Hand washing helps to keep travelers safe. Hand hygiene reduces the transmission of disease and the number of victims in homes, schools, workplaces, hospitals, clinics and other healthcare settings.”
Infections, outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics are part of nature. Our power to manage them has improved over the past hundred years, but we still have a long way to go. And while we have antibiotics, antivirals, and vaccines, we do not have magic bullets or shields to protect all of humanity from all disease-causing agents and the scourge of disease.
What we do have in our arsenal are some simple and straightforward behaviors and actions that can reduce the risk of exposure to, transmission of, and infection with pathogenic — disease-causing — germs.
In our new germ-aware world, hand washing has become the norm. It is more widely accepted and practiced that it was a few short months ago. But it is still by no means universally practiced in an appropriate way. Proper hand washing and other lessons from this pandemic and from scientific research and experience can guide us as we go forward through this crisis and re-emerge on the other side into a strange new world.
Along with the history, cultural, religious, and scientific roots of hand hygiene and health, “The Hand Book: Surviving in a Germ-Filled World” provides 11 handy lists to guide people toward better health. These tips are timely, and timeless, and they will be valuable beyond this pandemic, to encourage better health practices. For instance, one brief list that is helpful now, and will continue to keep your family healthier, is called “Keeping Kids Healthy: How to Reduce Risk of Infection in the Home:”
1. Provide separate designated hand and bath towels for each child — on a separate towel ring or rod — and launder them regularly.
2. Provide soap that is easy to reach and use.
3. Monitor hand washing in very young children.
4. Consistently insist that children wash their hands after various activities (such as bathroom, playground, pets, and yard activities) and before eating.
5. Minimize sharing of cups, utensils, and so on, among children.
6. Disinfect toys of sick children before sharing.
7. Teach children proper use and disposal of facial tissues for sneezes and blowing their noses.
8. Use clean bedding for each person; provide a bed with clean bedding for sleepovers.
9. Hold children’s hands on a regular basis to keep them safe and communicate your love.
By following these guidelines, it is possible to keep germs from spreading through your household.
There are other issues that are important for stopping the spread of germs. For example, in “The Hand Book” I discuss how healthcare settings can be hazardous to patients, and how to stay away from deadly germs in the hospital, the doctor’s office, and long-term care facilities. Additional topics include the safest approaches to hand drying, use of hand sanitizer and protective gloves, and cleansing your environment.
Jews practice many hand washing rituals, which have deep roots that go back thousands of years. The religious and cultural origins and history of hand washing and hygiene are explored, as well as the more recent history of the “microbe hunter” scientists who discovered the germs that make us sick. Tips to stay healthy when traveling are provided, which will come in handy when we are once again able to routinely board buses, trains and planes.
Wash your hands, and stay healthy, my friends.