At the moment I'm getting over a weeklong bout of what I can only assume was the pneumonic plague. I seem to be recovering quite nicely, though, so maybe I'm related to those folks in Eyam, England. Eyam was a village that, during an outbreak in the 1600's quarantined itself for over a year. When people first ventured into the village, expecting a ghost town, they found over half of the population alive. This was during a time when the plague killed up to 95% of all infected. Scientist's have determined a genetic mutation(dubbed Delta 32) was responsible for the immunity, and that roughly 14% of the descendants of that village also have the mutation. In a lucky side effect, those people also seem to be immune to HIV, as multiple lab tests on various blood samples were never able to cause infection.
Earlier this week the Today show had a story about a new danger coming from your cell phone. I watched it, expecting new clinical studies proving a link between cell phones and brain tumors, and instead we were shown a probably redundant story dealing with how the technological gadgets you use everyday are just COVERED in germs, and apparently that's a HUGE problem.
Except it really isn't. Germs are everywhere, we all know this, but we keep getting sensationalistic news stories about the unseen threat around us. First off, germs really aren't the problem, viruses are, and viruses need an organic host to survive. The chances of catching anything REALLY bad from something like a cell phone, keyboard, or even hotel bed are pretty slim.
Consider this: 12 years ago on the Mir space station a Russian astronaut discovered a growth of mold that had been brought from earth. It was growing on one of the windows, and due to the confines and conditions of living in space, the mold had adapted to not eat organic materials, but inorganics such as glass, plastic and silicone. It was also nearly impossible to kill. That was one fo the reasons the aging space station was always falling apart. Can you imagine the repercussions of something like that reaching earth? An unkillable mold that eats plastics and silicone? Our entire society would be in jeopardy, and I don't think that's just hyperbole.
All told, I still think we all need to be a little less germophobic. Everytime I see one of those lysol ads claiming to kill 99.9% of germs, all I can think of is how dangerous that .1% is. Imagine it, thats .1% that remains on your toilet seat, immune to disinfectants. Every future generation stemming from that .1% will also be largely immune to disinfectant. Keep this up and it's gonna come back to bite us in the ass.
That's why so many diseases we once had under control are becoming threats again, that's why antibiotics are failing us, because we rely on them over our own immune systems. We've tried to circumvent the whole 'what does not kill us' idea only to find out it was pretty damn true.
Don't get me wrong, I wash my hands my hands nearly a dozen times a day, but that's because I work retail and am constantly handling money, which is the dirtiest stuff on the planet. But when I get a cold? I don't replace my toothbrush, nor do I take great pains to sanitize the environment around me. I keep clean, make sure I keep my phlegm to myself, but other than that I let nature take it's course. Besides, once your body recovers from any particular virus, your more or less immune to that particular strain. We only get colds and flus so often because they mutate from person to person.
It's like that old star trek episode, where the Enterprise picks up some space hippies on their way to some planetary Eden in the hopes of leaving behind the cold sterile federation(one of the characters actually has an incurable disease caused by the sterile conditions of a germ free life), only to find, once they get there, that paradise is poison to them.