Is Clorox responsible for the Common Cold?

No, not intentionally. But in practice, yes.

Mysophobia, or what is also known as fear of germs, is so wide-spread that it is in many ways paralyzing the country, while encouraging the spread of the common cold.

A similar argument got me banned from Daily Kos. No great loss, but still quite annoying. What happened was this:

Tom Tillis, the rather regrettable junior Senator from North Carolina, raised a firestorm when he said that he thought restaurants should be able to opt out of the law requiring employees to wash their hands after using the toilet. As it happens, I agree that this is government overreach.

I wrote: “I never thought that I would agree with the likes of Thom Tillis, but i do on this issue. Please note that he did not say restaurant workers should not wash their hands, he said it should not be mandated by law.
To start with it is an unenforceable law.  Who (other than the restaurant owner) knows if the employees wash their hands?
Secondly, a dirty restaurant is unlikely to stay in business long. The first rule for a food provider is “Do not make your customers sick”.  Oversight by the restaurant owner is far more likely to ensure cleanliness than some regulatory poster in the bathroom.
This is not something that should be mandated by government; it is something that should be a common sense business practice.  And if you think the employees don’t wash their hands enough, don’t eat there.”

I added: “I have two things to say – first that rules can go too far, and second, that toilets are not necessarily sources of scourges, plagues and death.

Number one (mostly sterile, not a source of infection, and a very good fertilizer):  I can think of few areas in which I would ever agree with a Republican, especially one as radical as Tom Tillis, but I am with him on this one.  It is not necessary for government at any level to mandate an activity that very likely happens anyway.  He did not say that restaurant employees should not wash their hands; he said that it should not be a treasonable offense.
Most restaurant owners would like to keep their customers coming back for more.  A sure fire way to guarantee that they do not is to give them food poisoning.  To reduce that possibility, the restaurant owner will probably encourage the employees to exercise minimum levels of hygiene.  Government mandates are not really necessary.

Number two (the stuff that you once willingly put in your mouth, chewed and swallowed), there is this thing called toilet paper.  Not every visit to the bathroom involves feces, and even those that do seldom result in a transfer to hands – that toilet paper thing.  In order for a restaurant worker to transmit a disease to the diners, you need three elements to be present:
1. Some disease needs to be present
2. Said employee is inept at wiping his butt
3. He does not wash his hands (ditto for she)
Legislation will not take care of 1 or 2.  Three happens anyway.  If you go to the toilet and you get shit on your hands, you are going to wash them, that I guarantee.

And what, you may be asking yourself, has this to do with the common cold?


Don’t get me wrong, washing your hands if they are dirty or if you are about to operate on someone is a good idea. (That said, I would rather the surgeons washed their gloves)

BUT. Sanitizing kitchen and bathroom surfaces, using anti-bacterial soap and other germ-killing practices is counter-productive (there’s a pun there somewhere).

Bacteria are not our enemies, they are our friends. We know very little about them – how many there are, what they all do and so on – but it is estimated that only 1 in 10 is dangerous. We call bacteria, viruses and other microbes which can make us ill “pathogens”. They are like the weeds of the plant kingdom. They replicate freely, they live anywhere and they are quite resistant to “cides”, that is those concoctions which are supposed to kill them off. In the natural world, numbers keep them in check – the 90% good, or neutral microbes offer stiff competition to the 10% bad guys. The bad guy population stays at around 10% – not enough to make you sick.

So what happens when you wipe down your countertop with Clorox? You kill nearly all the microbes that are lurking there. But which ones come back first? You guessed it. The weeds. Only now you do not have an opposing army 9-1 strong to fend them off. The same thing happens in your gut.

In short, the more bacteria you have in your life, the more resistant you are to disease.

“After all, perhaps dirt isn’t really so unhealthy as one is brought up to believe.”
Agatha Christie, Murder in Mesopotamia

But that is another story.


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One Response to Is Clorox responsible for the Common Cold?

  1. Freyda Black says:

    Right you are, Elizabeth. Studies have shown that children raised in more relaxed homes with the “5 second rule” (if you pick the dropped food up off the floor withing 5 seconds you can still eat it) have the most robust immune systems. Worked in my home!!

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