Social media is agog with warnings about germs.

A beak or plague doctor, circa 1720. The mask was designed to “protect” the doctor from the putrid air

Nothing new. Movies from Nosferatu (1922) to Contagion (2011) prey on human loathing and disgust of microbes. OK, there are important nasty strains, pandemic flu, resistant Staph, but here we are talking about a surge in paranoia about everyday exposure to germs. Witness the fetish for using germicidal soaps and sprays in the home.

Remote controls came under scrutiny after a study in a hospital found more germs on the TV remote that the toilet. Yipes! The news spread quicker than a virus in a pre-school, and was immediately extrapolated to remotes in hotel rooms. Dirty, dirty remote controls. Don’t touch them. You could use the controls on the actual set…hang on, the last 50 guests in your room knew this trick. Yuk!  Or you could press the buttons with the end of the ubiquitous pen in the room. Then, whatever you do, don’t touch the end of the pen.

The next headline involved Malls. Yep, there are eight places that are dirty, really dirty, in malls. They are: makeup samples, gadget shops, clothes in fitting rooms (quote “that’s why it’s important to wear underwear” – I knew there must be a reason), toy stores, ATMs, handrails, tables in food courts (I’ll let you in to a secret – you’re more likely to get sick from the food), taps in the bathroom.

No-one has mentioned the buttons in elevators. I reckon they must be filthy! So if you work on the 21st level, do not use the elevator. Go up the stairs. Do not touch the handrail. Warning: you may die of a heart-attack.

It’s not the number of germs, folks, it’s the type. There are 10 times as many germs in the human body as cells. These are normal. The collection is now referred to as the human microbiome, and important for good health and good immunity. When you touch, kiss, or even talk with someone, there is a pleasant exchange of germs. Live with it. Relax.

If you touch people, or food, for a living, there are strict precautions. And the severely immunosuppressed need care. Vaccinations work where available. There are sensible tips when you travel. But for everyday life, just follow these three rules:

  • wash your hands after going to the toilet
  • wash your hands before a meal
  • don’t suck your thumb
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