Our grandson, who is 5 years old, recently suffered his first episode of seriously high fever a few days ago, having caught a bug of some sort at school. It’s an unfortunate truth that when the kids go back to school, they share more than tales of what they did on their summer break–they also share their germs. An article by AP medical writer, Lauren Neergaard, points up a part of the reason for this annual increase in back-to-school illnesses–handwashing, or rather, the lack of enough of it. Ms. Neergaard’s article centers on the results of a study conducted recently by the American Society of Microbiology that showed, among other things, that after using the restroom, women are better handwashers than men. It seems that in the washroom, we are not alone; the study’s research team apparently spied on people in the Men’s Room (or Women’s Room, as the case may be) and counted the numbers of people who washed up after their visit. The score: women 90%, men 75%. Sorry guys. The thrust of her commentary about the study seemed to imply that it’s simply because men are dirtier than women or as one paper’s headline put it, “men are pigs”. While I’m not here to debate the truth or lack thereof in that statement, I do think that there might be a couple of other confounding explanations for the disparity besides relative reverence for hygeine.

In the first place, guys don’t have to do as much touching of germ laden surfaces to use the facilities at least half the time. But beyond that, women, because they are more likely to be involved throughout the day in cooking and cleaning find themselves washing their hands repeatedly. I know that this holds true at our house–I find myself washing my hands dozens and dozens of times a day, simply because in the process of cooking or cleaning I get stuff on them that I need to get off. Mike doesn’t involve himself as much in activities that gunk up his hands. As a result, I now seem less likely to get colds and sore throats than he (although even frequent hand washing and excellent nutrition with immune enhancing foods won’t always be 100% effective prevention.)

Back when we were in general medical practice, we almost never got colds, despite treating one sick patient after another. In a busy flu season, we sometimes saw 80 or 90 patients in a single 12 hour clinic day; that necessitated washing our hands as many as 100 times a day. Not so great for your poor dried out hands, maybe, but a fantastic way to prevent picking up a bug.

Since we left a daily clinical practice several years ago and began to devote all our time to writing and research (and now to our PBS tv show as well) that heavy hand-washing schedule no longer applies and we have become mildly more susceptible to picking up colds. (We also have three grandchildren who love to share, which contributes to the exposure.)

Ms. Neergaard’s article provides a wealth of good tips about limiting the spread of these easily-shared illnesses, with frequent handwashing heading the list. What she doesn’t address–at least in this piece–is the benefit of feeding your immune system properly to make you less likely to succumb to these invaders when they come calling. On that score, we’d recommend having a daily serving or two of good quality whey protein. We enjoy ours mixed into plain yogurt (sometimes with a few fresh berries or nuts stirred in) or made into a shake. For the very best immune boost, we like the non-denatured whey product called ImmunoPro, available on the net from the company Well Wisdom. At present, the company doesn’t take credit cards and this makes ordering a little cumbersome. We’re working with them to be able to make their products available through our website,when it gets back up and running; that will enable credit card orders and make things easier.

In the meantime, to best prevent the spread of back-to-school bugs, don’t forget to wash your hands before you eat your whey!

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