Instapundit touches, literally, on a most annoying problem shared by most people who interact with the public: touching and the common cold. I have long hated people who are so rude as to show up for work or school — or, God forbid an airline flight (yeah, I know it’s not their fault….) — sniffling, sneezing and leaching the latest rhinovirus strain all over the place. Yet unless you are a billionaire recluse like Howard Hughes, what can be done as a practical matter?
There is one thing actually. At the risk of developing OCD, you can WASH YOUR HANDS after handshakes. Rhinoviruses, being an Upper Respiratory Infection (URI), have to get into you oral, nasal, or bronchial passages, so the mere act of touching an infected person’s hands by means of a handshake will not normally give you a cold. Unless, that is, you forget, and inadvertently place your fingers in your mouth or nose, or on your food which then goes into your mouth. The formula is simple: Nose > Hand > Hand > Nose:

Cold viruses are nearly always spread from nose to hand of infected person and from hand to nose of potential victim. Colds are easily spread for this reason when people are together in groups in enclosed areas.

Washing the hands will work as a preventative. Why do you suppose doctors and dentists wash up? Frankly, this time of year, with all the latest childhood-engineered rhinoviruses spewed by the snot-nosed kids, I think anyone who has to engage in repeated handshaking should simply run to the bathroom, wash his hands AND FACE, then blow his nose or take a leak whatever the hell else he does, with CLEAN HANDS.
The ridiculous prejudice we have against our own genitalia stands in stark contrast with the routine pollution we endure at the “hands” of other people.
Hey, I am not kidding here, my sarcastic tone notwithstanding. You are not going to get diseases from yourself by taking a leak! Nor, gross as it may sound, is it very likely you will “catch” anything from wiping your own ass. You already have the bacteria which are in your body. Not that it is a good idea to spread it around, but new diseases like URIs are not going to be found on your genitalia. Amazingly, doorknobs and public telephones are more dangerous than toilet seats!
I am not advocating being unwashed, nor am I suggesting that people stop washing their hands after going to the bathroom, but if you think about this logically, what is it about us that makes us worry more about whether you give diseases to others than whether others give diseases to you? The Golden Rule ought to work both ways. From the purely selfish standpoint of the hand washer, it is far more unsanitary to fail to wash up after shaking hands with a stranger than it is to fail to wash up after taking a leak. Your urine is pure, and your genitalia is yours. Other people’s hands are not. (Frankly, you’d do better to wash your hands before handling your genitalia than after!)
Would the Objectivists call this another form of altruism run amok?
I don’t know, but I think it is unfair to expect people to wash off their germs for the benefit of others while treating them like Howard Hughes for washing off other’s germs.
Protection of others is polite, even important, but protection of oneself is primary.
DISCLAIMER: None of this constitutes medical advice, of course, as I am not licensed to practice medicine.
However, I do so love to look at medical books, and if any of you are:

  • in a really morbid mood; and
  • would benefit from knowing that some people have worse things than a URI….
  • Then you might get a kick out of this item — especially if you scroll down to the kid with major nasal/pharyngeal/sinus problems.
    Downright creepy!
    Even makes me wanna wash my hands right now….