The word hygiene comes to us from Greek. Hygieia was the goddess of health, cleanliness and the moon. The lesser Greek gods had multiple responsibilities to maintain their importance in the hierarchy, like today's politicians.
If you have seen a commercial about a monk (looking possibly Buddhist) turning over an upturned turtle and moving a crawly thing from indoors to the outside by carrying it on a piece of paper, then sneezing into a tissue and screaming when told he has killed millions of germs, you may have seen something almost real. Monks of the Jain Dharma (an offshoot religion from Hindu, having several million followers in India) wash only their hands and feet. They do not bathe other parts of their bodies in order to do no harm to millions of microorganisms that live there symbiotically.
The human body harbours some one thousand species of bacteria, most of which are beneficial to us and live in a mutually beneficial relationship with us--we keep them alive and they keep us healthy. Killing all bacteria on and in you, despite what you may read in advertisements or see in commercials, will make you more vulnerable to disease.
There are far more bacteria on your body than there are people living in the United States. It's estimated now that we have more microorganisms living on our skin and inside of us than we have cells of our own bodies.
Antibacterial soap has been found to be no more effective at preventing infection than ordinary soap. The active ingredient in most antibacterial soaps, triclosan, can actually mess up your hormones and affect your libido.
A recent study involving over 11,000 children showed that an overly hygienic environment--especially in their first decade of life--increases the risk of their having eczema and asthma. Bodies of young children have relatively immature immune systems that need to work very hard to build immunities to many harmful pathogens in the environment. Other studies have examined how a sterile environment may affect allergies in children.
The word soap derives from the mythological Mount Sapo. Women washing their clothing in the river below found a "natural" cleaning agent in the water. It turned out that fat and wood ash from animal sacrifices on the mountain drained into the Tiber River. One of the first recorded cases of human waste products polluting a waterway turned out to be beneficial to humankind.
The Aztecs and the people of ancient Egypt were known to rub urine on their skin to treat cuts and burns. Urea, a key chemical in urine, kills bacteria and fungi, major causes of infection.
England's King Henry IV made a grand move toward cleanliness when he insisted that his knights bathe at least once in their lives, during the ritual of their knighthood ceremony. The rest of his people stuck with their belief that bathing was unhealthy.
The daily bath or shower has only become common during the past half century.
If you have seen women in movies tossing human urine and excrement out the second story windows of their homes in 18th century London you will understand how the city's water supply was constantly contaminated. It's said that the good citizens of Londontown got their daily supply of hydration from gin.
The "five second rule" or "ten second rule" about something dropped on the floor or ground not being able to pick up germs if it is picked up within that time frame is nonsense. An object (including skin) that touches something contaminated can become contaminated itself as soon as the touch occurs.
Most people get colds and flu from handling something with germs on it then putting their fingers in their mouths, touching food that then goes into their mouths or even from rubbing their eyes. The mouth has natural defences against germ attack in the saliva whereas the eyes have virtually no protection.
Those commercials that urge you to kill all the bacteria in your mouth with their mouthwash will also have you kill all the good bacteria that form the body's first line of defence against disease. If you wipe out your body's first defence (in your mouth) you must depend on your gastric juices (in your gut) to kill the bad microorganisms before they get into your bloodstream. The companies that make mouthwash don't usually make drugs, but the link would make you wonder.
A school science fair in Florida recently crowned a seventh grader with top prize for proving that ice machines in fast food restaurants harbour more bacteria than the water in your toilet bowl. The belief that fresh toilet bowl water is automatically contaminated is not necessarily true unless you clean the bowl rarely. Pets who drink from the toilet bowl may know more than their owners about clean water.
The toothbrush was likely invented in China somewhere around 1498. (Since the Chinese travelled the world as explorers--even to the Americas--a century before Columbus ever set sail, it's possible that the Chinese picked the idea up from somewhere else.) Someone wired Siberian pig hair to a carved cattle bone. Before that it was sticks and bones used as toothpicks and for rubbing the teeth.
Brushing of the teeth didn't become common in the United States until after World War II. Soldiers during the war were required to brush their teeth to prevent decay. (Not many dentists made it to the front.)
Brace yourself for this. In 1935, Northern Tissue introduced "splinter-free" toilet paper as a grand innovation. The Innuit (aka Eskimoes) of the far north used tundra moss. The ancient Romans used a sponge with salt water. In the American west--fondly known as the Old West--it was common to wipe the butt with corncobs (with the kernels removed, and "splinters" too).
In the 17th through 19th centuries in Europe and the Americas, one-quarter of all women died giving birth due to contracting puerperal fever. They picked up the pathogen from doctors and nurses who commonly didn't wash their hands. Death in childbirth wasn't just bad luck or insufficient knowledge as movies would have us believe.
Researchers at the University of Arizona found that television remotes in hospitals do the best job or spreading bacteria. Even better than toilet handles (maybe they had been licked by visiting dogs). TV remotes accounted for the majority of deaths from antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus in hospitals, which annually runs around 90,000 people (er...ex-people).
James Garfield, one of the few US presidents who died in office, did not likely die from a gunshot wound from Charles Guiteau after all. He more likely died (three months after the incident) from severe infection that originated from the hands of his medical team. Their hands were contaminated with manure stains.
Those latex gloves that doctors and nurses use today seem like a great idea now, don't they? The medical people think they're protecting themselves from picking up something from us. Do we really want to know how doctors attending the president of the USA had manure stains on their hands?[Primary resource: