Wednesday, December 31, 2003

A Matter of Hygiene

Having spent the last 48 hours laboring under the burden of a rhinovirus infection, I find myself echoing Glenn Reynolds' complaints about how others' poor hygiene can have a negative impact on one's health. The most frustrating thing about catching a cold is that in nearly all cases the spread of the virus could easily be contained if so many people weren't absolute pigs. To quote the NIH website:

Handwashing is the simplest and most effective way to keep from getting rhinovirus colds. Not touching the nose or eyes is another. Individuals with colds should always sneeze or cough into a facial tissue, and promptly throw it away. If possible, one should avoid close, prolonged exposure to persons who have colds.

I wash my hands carefully and regularly, and take care never to touch my face without having done so, but all the care in the world avails one little if one has to work alongside idiots who can't even refrain from sneezing in one's face! (Yes, that's right, I know the exact cretin to blame for my illness.)

There's nothing like having to deal with the piggishness of others to confirm one in the belief that lots of people just weren't raised right. It's bad enough that so many people seem to think that the streets are their personal trashcans, but watching others going about their business in public restrooms is enough to make one retch. It really is astounding the sheer number* of people there are who don't even bother with the pretence of washing their hands after using the toilet, much less taking the time to do it properly; a momentary dousing of the fingers under a briefly opened tap does not constitute good hygiene!

I'll survive this bout of sickness, but I can't help feeling resentment at the fact that someone else's thoughtlessness has ended up costing me several totally wasted days when I might have been doing something productive. I won't go as far as saying that sneezing without covering one's mouth and washing one's hands afterwards should be criminalized, but would it be such a bad idea if employers were to begin to insist that workers with highly contagious illnesses stay home until they are fully recovered? From an economic point of view, it makes no sense to allow such people to come in to work if it means several other employees will also be missing work down the line due to illness.

*Anecdotal evidence aside, the statistics indicate that more than 40 percent of men and 25 percent of women fail to wash their hands after using the toilet. Think about that the next time you consider eating out or shaking some stranger's hand.