The first time I had a notion that this country had an obsession with hygiene and asepsis (the absence of bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms) came when, many years ago, I heard of a girl who visited my country of origin, contracted hepatitis A and died from it.
I’d seen many of my friends becoming a little yellowish, nauseous and feverish for a few days and then getting better after just resting, following a low-fat diet that consisted mostly of sweets (“melado”) and fat-free cheese. How could it be then, I asked myself, that somebody would die of that kind of very benign hepatitis? My mother said that it was because the “Americans” were so much into disinfecting everything, that they didn’t have a very strong immune system. And maybe she was right.
After living in the U.S. for about 15 years, I have seen people wiping their hands with sanitizer (washing hands is better!) after and before they walk into the supermarket, after somebody sneezes or after they have visited a friend at the hospital. New moms won’t allow anybody to touch their babies. There are warning signs everywhere recommending not to sneeze into your hands but on your arm instead, etc. People in the U.S. have grown fond of chlorine and disinfectants. Just visit any supermarket and see all the different brands that offer sanitation, disinfection and germ-free options. Hand-sanitizer breaks have become a routing in schools, and children are taught to cough or sneeze into their elbow, God forbid! not into their hands. It’s illegal to serve uncooked meats at a restaurant or to sell raw milk.
Another consequence of the germophobia is excessive vaccination (which has turned out as a wonderful business for Big Pharma). The U.S. children are among the most vaccinated children in the world. While in 1953, the CDC recommended 16 doses of 4 vaccines (smallpox, DPT) between two months and age six, presently it recommends 49 doses of 14 vaccines between day of birth and age six and 69 doses of 16 vaccines between birth and age 18.
And other businesses also profit from the germophobia: disposable hospital stuff, napkins, forks, plates and cups… We’re turning the whole planet into a dump because of this disposing mania.
I am not of course discussing the benefits of cleanliness or prevention of infectious diseases. Hygiene is very important. I am aware of stories such as that of Typhoid Mary, who in the 19th century was identified as an asymptomatic carrier of Salmonella (bacteria that causes the potentially lethal Thyphoid fever) and presumably infected 50 people during her many years as a cook. Thus, yes, I want at least the cooks and other people to manipulate my food to wash their hands after they go to the bathroom.
However, it puzzles me that while a person might wipe her hands once and again with sanitizer – to the point of absorbing enough alcohol that I bet you they would get a “legally intoxicated” reading in the breathalizer – this person might not be inclined to keep a neat living space… I’ve seen their undone laundry piling up and their kitchens brooding roaches, ants and rodents.
Now, people have extended their obsession with asepsia to their mental and spiritual dimensions of their beings, but that would be the subject of another piece.