Food Safety Infectious Diseases

Beware of the Nose Pickers

By Kara MacKeil, BA, Senior Technician, Public Health Preparedness and Response, APHL

Let’s all stop and think for a moment about why you, personally, should wash your hands.  We all agree that washing your hands is a good thing; according to the US Agency for International Aid, good hand washing can reduce death from diarrheal disease by almost half.  But you may notice that “I know I should wash my hands” often does not equal “I DO wash my hands.” (Feel free to read this if you don’t believe me.)  So in the interests of public health, I’m going to do my best to scare you all into picking up the soap.

Nose Picker

Picture the handle on the front door of your workplace (if yours doesn’t have one, skip ahead to the elevator buttons).  Who might have used this handle before you arrived this morning?  What have they all been touching before they came to work? Many have small children at home; conceivably they changed a diaper or dealt with an accident before they left the house.  Almost certainly they used the bathroom themselves.  There are numerous pet-owners, perhaps they did the morning walk or scooped a litter box. It’s cold season, so quite a few have been coughing and sneezing, and just as many have spent the last hour sitting in traffic with their index fingers shoved firmly up their nostrils.  They might have hit the sink, they might have used hand sanitizer, but they all touched that handle before you did.

Go inside and walk to your desk.  Notice that the cleaning crew has thoughtfully dusted underneath your various pencil holders, convention toys, and other objects.  How nice!  I’m sure they washed their hands before they picked up the mouse you’re about to spend all day holding. The rest of the day passes as usual.  You touch buttons on the copy machine and objects on your desk.  You pick up a pen, and wonder idly how you came to own it, since you didn’t attend the convention it advertises.  Someone must have left it on your desk.  Wonder what they touched?

Lunchtime hits, and you eat with your co-workers.  Hopefully everyone washed their hands, especially the one passing out cookies.  After lunch it’s more buttons, more objects, more mystery pens.  Someone coughs in the background, jolting you from your post-lunch stupor, and you hit the candy jar for a boost.  Just be sure to get to it before the cougher does.

You use the bathroom.  Uh-oh, there’s another door handle.  Are you sure you heard the sink when the last person finished?

Work is done, so it’s time for errands, or maybe the gym. Whatever you do, you’ll be touching things. More door handles, more objects, more nose pickers. On the way home, you realize your EZ pass isn’t in the car, and you’ll have to use cash.  Amazing how long a coin lasts, I bet THOUSANDS of people have touched that!

Here’s your front door, safe at last!  It’s late, so crawl into bed, maybe read a few pages of that great book you snagged from the secondhand bookstore.  As you drift off, try not to think about how many things you have touched today, and all the hands that touched them first. Pay no mind to all those times you touched your face.

Wash your hands!


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