Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Who is not scared of a viral or bacterial infection these days with many pathogenic vectors floating around unseen but still omnipotent? Whether it is Hong Kong Flu or Avian Flu or Swine Flu or Chickungunya, it is not easy to forget the trauma through which people all over the world have gone through, being constantly afraid of contracting the infection and undergoing the consequences. While it is easy to maintain a clean, hygienic and healthy environment within the four walls of the home, there is the inevitability for human beings to be in contact for social, professional and other activities and it is such a situation that brings people close to sources of infection leading to development of various infectious diseases. Infectious diseases can spread through air-borne vectors or through food and water or through contact with infected persons. Most feared mode of infection is through air-borne pathogenic organisms which has a potential to develop into an epidemic, difficult to contain in spite of all progress made by humanity in contagious disease front.

There are well laid down guidelines as to how one can avoid contracting a contagious disease but recommended practices are rarely followed unless there is a grave threat from an epidemic. Personal hygiene counts a lot in resisting infections and there are hundreds of sanitation products helping man to keep himself clean with minimum risk of falling sick. Frequent hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent infectious bugs reaching the oral or nasal area while during a pandemic, use of masks is often resorted to for reducing the chances of infection reaching the vulnerable points in the body. The sources of serious infecting agents can include the air one breathes, contributed by infected persons coughing or sneezing or norting in public places. The infecting vectors like Virus can stay alive for 24 hours and therefore their density can increase astronomically during day time and normal people exposed to such an environment can get easily infected. Similarly there are many contact sources in public places like door handles, walls, furniture, public transport, hospitals, offices etc where people can contract the infection through unconscious contact.

If the world we live in is so dangerous vis-a-vis infectious diseases which can be spread easily, what prevents frequent major catastrophe in the form of epidemics that can be fatal to many people? One of the factors that protect people from these diseases is their immunity system which can over power, up to a limit, any invasion by foreign bodies and stronger the immune system, lesser will be the chance of suffering from many infections. But expecting that all people will have strong immunity may be a bit too far fetched because human body needs many nutrients through the foods consumed to maintain strong health and according to hunger pundits there are at least a billion people in this planet spread across all the continents, going hungry every day due to lack of access to goof food! Imagine the condition of their immune system and obviously they will be the most vulnerable target for contagious diseases. Vaccination against more than 25 diseases is now being practiced during very early stages of life and putting emphasis and priority for such preventive programs will go a long way to protect people from known diseases. But it the unknown and surprisingly new variants of pathogens that cause occasional infectious epidemic against which pre-emptive action cannot be taken.

Has culture some thing to do with spread of infection? Obviously there appears to be a connection. There are several ways of greeting being practiced by different societies. These include the famous Indian Namaste with folded hands which does not call for contact between the person greeted and the one who greets and this may the safest way with no danger of infection getting transmitted. Then comes the Japanese "bowing" practice which is also safe. In some communities embracing and/ or cheek to cheek contact symbolize bon homie but chance of transfer of infection is greatest here. Hand shaking is, by far, the most accepted international norm of greeting and if the latest research is any indication it is time this practice is shunned if spread of infection is to be avoided because hands, especially the right hand palm used for the "shake hand" mode of greeting may be a major source of infection in all people who are active in public life and the vastly expanded communication and transportation infrastructure the world enjoys to day, it makes every person vulnerable to be infected through the "shake hand" process.

In to day's modern world it is difficult to avoid contact with hundreds of sources of infection, in spite of meticulous care taken to keep oneself clean and hygienic. Is it possible in any modern office to avoid touching files, using computers, telephones and other office gadgets, going to canteen, using the lifts and escalators, operating electric switches, shaking hand with fellow workers and visitors, going to toilets and many other activities that can pass on the infection from one to the other through these carriers? Of course sanitation pundits may say that frequent washing of hands can help minimizing the potential of spread of infection but not avoiding it altogether. A suggestion has been made recently that in stead of shake hand, international community should consider "touching the elbow" which after all does not come in contact with any contaminated surface. How far this suggestion will go down well with people remains to be seen. There is a possibility that such gestures may be misconstrued for "patronizing" of one person by a superior person! Considering all these factors why not settle for the Indian "Namaste" or Japanese "Bow" for international fraternization?


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