Germs In Winter

Germ Warfare for Winter


He's sympathetically holding a snuffle-stricken toddler, bouncing gently to cheer up the poor little germ-bag. Then BLAM, a full-throated sneeze hits him straight in the face. (Why do bad things happen to good people?)


This happened to a friend of mine, and he reported the sensation of a blooming on his face. In his mind's eye, he watched the exponential explosion of bacteria on his skin. Two days later he is off work, blearily staring at his computer screen, surrounded by a mounting pile of crumpled tissues, sorrowfully playing his very favourite game.


You and I knew the ending of that story from the start; germs spread, it is their purpose. Every day, especially during winter, we are exposed to chances for infection. A battalion of people "soldiering on" pack on to the bus, into the supermarkets, ready to salute your fragile health with 21 sneezes. What can we do? Life must go on; we can't stay at home in a biohazard suit glaring at every visitor for signs of infection.


Here are a few things we can do:


TAKE YOUR VITAMINS:


If your diet was absolutely perfect, you wouldn't need vitamins, but nobody's perfect. The body of scientific knowledge surrounding vitamins - molecular biology, biochemistry, physiology - is vast and growing. The stupefying number of chemical interactions in our bodies and the specificity of their requirements are topics unfit for conversation, but you want your body in optimum working order, surely?


DRINK YOUR WATER:


The majority of your body's chemical interactions occur aqueously (in a water solution). Remember to drink your water so that these processes are uninhibited. Don't drown yourself or give yourself hyponatraemia (hypo - not enough; natr(~ium) - Sodium; ~aemia - in the blood); if you've had eight litres of water already today, it's probably time to slow down there, Tiddalik.


TRY GREEN TEA:


People who take a 450mg supplement of green tea powder (in a pill or as a drink) twice a day for three months have a third fewer days of cold symptoms. So... there you go, I guess. A toast to your own good health!


BE REASONABLE:


You may get sick. It's boring and unpleasant, but it passes. While your body is fighting off the cold, keep taking your vitamins, drinking your water and sipping your green tea, and you can rest assured you're doing a good job. You can also remind yourself with hard scientific backing: what doesn't kill you (usually) makes you stronger.


It's important not to become an antisocial germaphobe: if you're spraying and wiping and disinfecting every sniffling toddler in reach, you'll not only find yourself more anxious and irritable (and more vulnerable to infection), but you'll be contributing to the evolution of bacteria! Consider the fact that if you blitz a population of bacteria with some chemical wipe or other, the ones that don't die are the ones that multiply. The strongest, most resistant bacteria are the ones left over; so the immunity becomes a popular trait!


There are more microbes on and in your body than your body has cells, and that's healthy, so pick your battles wisely: your body is your business, your habitat is your own, but if you're waiting for the world to be empty of airborne bacteria... don't hold your breath.


(ABOUT THE PICTURE: Around 1656 when this engraving was made, "plague doctors" wore beaked masks stuffed with cloves and spices. Meet Doktor Schnabel von Rom ("Dr Beak from Rome") thanks to wikimedia commons and Imagery from the History of Medicine. Whether it was the first bio hazard suit or not, it's certainly memorable!)