My father infamously tells the story of a day when he was in the Army, that an officer came up to him and asked if they taught him to wash his hands in basic training. To which my father replied, “No sir. They taught us how to not pee on our hands.”
If you knew my father, you would know that this story is certainly true. He has a point. The fact is that assuming nothing goes awry, your journey to the bathroom is really no different than the rest of the rooms you walk in and out of each day. I read somewhere once that in office buildings, the bathrooms are usually the cleanest space in the office. The reason is that most cleaning contracts specific that the bathrooms be cleaned completely each day while the break room may be specified to have the floor mopped every other day, the counters cleaned weekly, and the refrigerator handle…well, never. (If I were you, I’d take an anti-bacterial wet wipe to the fridge handle, microwave handle, and the door knob every once and a while.)
The Bathroom Isn’t Important
I told the famous army story in the presence of a research scientist who informed me that the universally known wash your hands when you use the bathroom rule has nothing to do with the bathroom (or your bathroom body parts) being any more contaminated that others. Rather, frequent hand washing is the number one way to prevent the spread of germs including colds. He said that numerous studies have shown that the people who wash their hands most often get the least colds. The reason is that while the cold virus is airborne, it isn’t very long lived in that way. If someone sneezes on you, then yes, you can count on getting sick. But, if they sneeze in the hallway and you walk through the area even three minutes later, any virus left in the air is probably so weak your body’s immune system will take it out before it infects you.
The way you usually get sick is that someone who is already sick somehow transfers the virus onto their hands. (I won’t go into details.) Then, they touch something like a door knob. Then, you touch the door knob. Now, at this point there is still a chance for you to not get sick. The virus can’t enter your body through the skin. It has to make contact with some opening like your eyes, ears, nose, or mouth. So, if you wash your hands before you touch your face, you may never get sick. Also, since you will be touching other stuff (the copier, for example) you would be spreading the virus to others who use the copier after you. But, if you wash your hands before you get to the copier, then you not only won’t get sick, but neither will the other people.
So what is the deal?
Well, the bathroom is where the water is, and the soap, and the towels. If they told you to wash your hands every hour, that wouldn’t work so well. Depending on where you were, there might not be a way to wash your hands at that time. If they told you to wash your hands every time you used the drinking fountain, there would be lots of people who never use the drinking fountain. But, everyone uses the bathroom multiple times per day, and there is always soap and water there even if you are out in the world. So, if everyone washes their hands every time they use the bathroom, then everyone is washing their hands at least a few times each day. Bingo, a rule to pass down to our youngest children to help keep them healthier.
Wash Them All The Time
Until your baby is mobile enough to touch public surfaces on their own, the only way they can be exposed to colds and other infections is from you. Their immune system is way weaker than yours so that “weak” cold virus that never makes you sick can make your baby sick. If it’s on your hands when you come home from work and you touch your baby — Bam! Sick baby.
So, make it a rule to wash your hands every time you use the bathroom (whether you pee on your hands or not — I don’t think that kind of training is exclusive to the military.) Also, wash you hands every time you transition environments. That is, wash your hands right before you leave work. We’re talking computer already off, phone on voice mail, bag on your shoulder, straight from the bathroom to the car, no stops. Then, wash your hands right when you come into the house BEFORE you pick up little Timmy or tousle his hair. That way, you won’t spread those germs into your house. It might be going too far, but I’d change clothes too.
Start washing your hands more often right now. Your baby will be sick less often than they would otherwise, and you’ll probably find that you get sick less often too. It’s a winning two-fer.