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Sat Nov 4 09:39:17 EST 2000

On Sat, 04 Nov 2000 13:32:07 GMT, Bjorn Karger <bkarger at>

>Is it safe to assume that when they say, "Wash with warm water and
>a mild detergent," that they don't have any idea what they're talking
People evolved with bacteria as a part of their life. From the moment
of birth our bodies establish relationships with bacteria - some
relationships beneficial, some harmful, and some neither. Naturally
occurring skin bacteria can fall into all three of these categories,
but most of the skin's bacterial fauna are not harmful if they remain
there (the same can be said of bacteria in the gastro-intestinal tract
as well). However, our hands (and skin covering all of our bodies)
pick up all kinds of bacteria through daily life, including those
which do not thrive there, and many which may be harmful if they enter
the body orally or through breaks in the skin. The goal of washing
with mild soap/detergent and warm water is to loosen these non-native
skin bacteria; mild washing does little to remove most the skin's
deeply entrenched natural fauna. Indeed, using harsh soaps/detergents
can damage the skin enough to allow bacteria to invade past the skin's
protective barriers into the bloodstream.

Our phobias about "germs", and methods to kill them often breed
resistance. Humans evolved and lived for thousands of years without
antibiotics, often dieing from them. Often deaths are/were preventable
without antibiotics, simply by maintaining clean water supplies and
efficient waste removal. Chemical weaponry to control harmful bacteria
is of only a valuable tool for short periods until bacteria evolve
resistance, and therefore should be used judiciously; the more any
given antibiotic is used, the sooner it becomes useless.

>(My whole germ-theory notion is that removal of 'dirt' by soap is
>only a primitive method for dealing with germs, of which we're only
>just beginning to know what they mean.)

Regular washing and bathing is a fairly effective means of removing
surface bacteria, viruses, and other organisms, as well as 'dirt' and
other chemicals which may be harmful if they enter your body through
your mouth or cuts. Indeed, these non-living components of 'dirt' may
provide greater dangers than the living ones.

Soaps, and especially detergents, are relatively new human inventions.
People have lived for thousands of years without them, using water,
sand, and other tools to maintain relatively healthy skin (although a
bit more smelly, perhaps). However, as human populations have grown,
societies evolved, increased contact with people, and more crowded
conditions, have all dictated that good personal hygiene is important.

You are right, however, in saying that we are only just beginning to
know about the complexities of our relationships with bacteria and
viruses. Personal hygiene is only a small part of these relationships,
but human society has put major emphasis on it, in some cases too

With good regular bathing, clean water and food, you have many much
more dangerous things to worry about that can hurt or kill you, such
as automobile accidents, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time
when a violent crime is being committed.

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