Too clean and too dirty

Dunedin Hopsital is closed to visitors and all but emergency, mental health and maternity patients because of an outbreak of norovirus.

It’s only a couple of months since the gastric illness swept through Gore Hospital and other hopsitals, resthomes and schools have also had outbreaks.

Southland principals say one of the reasons the infection spreads is that people don’t stay at home when they are ill. I wonder if another cause is lowering standards of basic hygiene and an increase in practices which reduce immunity.

My mother was a nurse and when I was a child we weren’t allowed to come to the meal table until we had washed our hands – and washed them properly. Now people tend to graze rather than eat meals and from my observations few bother to wash their hands before eating.

But it’s not just pre-dining hygiene that’s lacking. A New Zealand Food Safety Authority  survey showed that only 7.8% of people followed the 20/20 rule for hand washing after going to the loo – 20 seconds washing with soap and hot water and 20 seconds drying with a clean towel. But worse nearly 10% of women and 20% of men didn’t bother washing their hands at all.

Then we have the other extreme where life is too clean.  We use antibacterial cleaning products which may lead to the development of superbugs from the .1% that aren’t zapped by the cleaner; children aren’t allowed to play in the mud or with animals; and we become so fastidious we’re not exposed to germs which help build our immunity.

Maybe we’d be healthier if we  stopped worrying about clean dirt and became more particular about the dirty dirt.

If  Mum was here she’d recommend we get back to the basics of housekeeping with hot, soapy water and elbow grease; wash our hands more thoroughly and more often; and stay at home when we’re ill so we keep our bugs to ourselves.

3 Responses to Too clean and too dirty

  1. stef says:

    I remember reading somewhere that part of the reason for the huge increase in allergies and asthma in the developed world was due in part to over-zealous cleaning and not letting kids play in the muck.


  2. Ed Snack says:

    I think we want to be a little careful of what is after all anecdotal evidence. I know it was always the ideal that we washed hands before every meal and snack, but I am also aware that in practice this was not always so. Unless closely supervised I know that myself and siblings would skip what we could. And snacks, we certainly did when we could, and wash for every one, only sometimes.

    So, is there a real difference. I think it likely that at least in part there is an observation bias, these outbreaks existed but were not reported. Maybe these viruses are far more prevalent because of the fact that people travel so much more than they used to. In my youth a trip to Australia was a huge event, and while not commonplace, such a trip is far more common today. People stayed put far more, moved less, so perhaps distributed such diseases/viruses less. I’m not sure it is all related to cleanliness. But the increased prevalence of Asthma at least does appear very real, and does need some explanation.


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