Are you Part of the Solution,
or Part of the Problem?
Global Handwashing Day is October 15th, a Saturday this year. Why is a day devoted to information about handwashing? Until quite recently in human-history terms, the nature of how infection traveled was not known, and in fact, microorganisms were not understood at all. As recently as the Civil War, common beliefs included that illness was caused by miasma, bad vapours in the air. General infection control was not practiced during the Civil War and two-thirds of the 620,000 soldiers that died during the conflict died of disease, not armaments.
Germ theory, begun by French physician Louis Pasteur in the 1860s, was widely disregarded in the United States. As late as 1881, people were still dying from poor hygiene procedures, not unnotably President Garfield, a former Civil War general himself. Garfield was shot by an assassin, and would almost certainly have survived the bullet wound itself, left alone. But probing with unclean hands by as many as a dozen physicians into the bullet hole infected Garfield almost immediately, who later died of sepsis, or blood poisoning. U.S. Physicians considered washing of hands and antisepsis techniques of little value and averse to their profession. Bloody aprons were often considered a physican's badge of authority. Many of their patients owed loss of life and limb to this unhygienic vanity.
So, we are much smarter than that in the 21st Century, right? Those mistakes were made over 130 years ago! Today, we know that germs travel on hands, through the air on particles such as sneeze aerosols, and via "fomites," or touchpoints where pathogens (those microscopic forms of life harmful to mankind) can live long enough to be passed along to persons who later come in contact with those surfaces. The problem is, that while we should all know about handwashing to keep those germs from infecting us, only 31% of men and 65% of women are washing their hands after visiting one of the most germ-oriented places we visit each day.
Global Handwashing Day is designed to bring attention to this important, yet simple, process of protecting health.