Well, it’s official: Shaking hands is bad for your health.
The British Olympic Association’s chief medical officer said so. Infections are spread by shaking hands, he said, adding that if we are Olympic athletes, we could lose out on a medal by catching even a mild disease.
It was all Saffy could do not to throw up as she read the article on her iPad. “It says here that dirty hands can transmit infections such as noroviruses and salmonella that cause diarrhoea and vomiting, rhinoviruses that can give you a cold, as well as viruses that cause flu and chickenpox!”
Saffy looked up, her eyes slightly crossed. “Oh my God, you can get chickenpox just by shaking someone’s hands? I feel sick.”
She immediately posted the article onto Facebook and for the rest of the day, would post extracts onto the walls of random friends.
“Diseases that spread rapidly and can be fatal, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Clostridium difficile, can also lurk on hands!” she said on Karen’s wall.
“The bugs can stay on them for hours and be transferred to surfaces and door handles for other people to share!” she posted on Sharyn’s wall.
Sharyn picked up her phone to call Saffy. “Ay, you don’t be so cheem on Facebook, can or not? I just wasted 15 minutes looking up the dictionary, you know.”
“I hope you’re not using someone else’s phone right now, Sharyn,” Saffy said darkly. “Did you read the rest of the article? It says that one in six handphones is contaminated by faecal bugs!”
Of course, reading stupid articles like this is a bit like listening to a Kylie Minogue song: You just can’t get it out of your head. For days afterwards, everywhere I looked was a festering hotbed of potentially fatal germs just waiting to explode and overwhelm my weakly defended immune system.
Door handles have become Public Enemy No. 1. As have lift buttons and toilet flushes.
Which reminds me of a friend I used to have in my old office. Wen-ling was a medically diagnosed hypochondriac. Which means that whilst the rest of us say we’re hypochondriacs, she was officially a hypochondriac. In a strange way, this made her normal. It’s like someone who’s been diagnosed with arthritis is considered more normal that someone, like my mother, who pretends to have it only when confronted with a mop or an iron.
Anyway, Wen-ling arrived at the office each morning and whilst the other lawyers sat down to check their emails or make coffee, she would take out her wallet, empty all the notes and coins onto a sheet of plastic and proceed to wipe everything down with a cloth and liberal spritzes of lavender and orange scented Dettol.
Every four hours, she would hose down her computer keyboard with antibacterial gel. “Keyboards are disgusting,” she once told me calmly as I sat in her office and watched her diligently scrub at the ‘A’ key.
Everyone thought Wen-ling was a few files short of a full cabinet, but I thought she was the most normal person I’d ever met.
“That woman is weird. I don’t know why you’re friends with her. You need germs to build up your immunity!” Amanda once snuffled as she snuggled deeper beneath her blankets and shivered from stomach flu.
Of course, she passed the bug to Saffy and me because a day later, all three of us were building up our communal immunity by throwing up into the same toilet bowl every thirty minutes. Saffy said that if she wasn’t so weak from a fever and dehydration, she’d kill Amanda. “I had a hot date with Bradley tonight!” she gasped.
And according to the article we just read, when researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine swabbed the hands of 308 public transport commuters in the UK, between four and 19% were contaminated with faecal bacteria.
“But why don’t people wash their hands?” Saffy cried. “What is wrong with this world?
“Apparently, you’ve got to wash for the length of time it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice before you’re really done,” I said.
It all makes me think that it’s just not safe to step out the front door at all. If the simple friendly act of shaking hands can make you sick, or lose out on an Olympic medal, what is the point?
Saffy says that the Japanese and the Thais have had it right all along. “They just bow and smile. That’s what I’m doing from now on. I’ll just bow and never have to touch anyone!”
“Poor Blad-ley!” Sharyn said.