DR HOOK- Wash up: Clean hands keep swine germs at bay

the handsome doctor John Hong of Charlottesville

Asians have it right when it comes to greetings. They simply bow– no huggy huggy, kissy kissy, shaky shaky. Okay, I admit I'm a touchy-feely person, so I'm glad I'm not Asian! Psyche!

On the other hand (literally), I don't like shaking hands. I used to shake hands freely without thought– until one day, when I was a medical resident, and I walked into the exam room to greet a new patient—

"Hi, my name's Dr. Hong," Shaky Shaky– oh, dear! My hand was drenched with fluid. I first thought he had sweaty hands, but then I saw the herpetic lesions on the side of his face. He had shingles. Hand me some soap and water, stat!

Should shaking hands and kissing on the cheeks/lips go the way of the dodo?

With H1N1 virus (swine flu) snuffling around, we're hearing more about infection control. For example, don't cough or sneeze on anyone. Germs are spread through aerosolized particles. Plus it's a snotty thing to do. 

Coughing and sneezing into the antecubital fossa of the elbow (the inside of your elbow where you can give yourself a raspberry) is overall better than into your hand.

"Cough, hack, achoo– how do you do? My name is T.B. Illness. Can we shake hands?"

I don't want to sound like a Howard Hughes germaphobe, but hand sanitizers rock.

I don't carry them with me (although if I had a man bag, I would). However, I use them all the time at work, and as a result I haven't been sick in a looong time. I used to get sick more often, but the alcohol in the hand sanitizers has kept me healthier than Mr. Clean.

Remember that Divinyls song, "I touch myself"? Well, you shouldn't touch your face because that's the best way to catch a virus or bacteria.

The fingers are a great way to introduce germs into the nose and eyes, where the germs are absorbed into the body, like when Jerry Seinfeld picked– oh I mean scratched– his nose.

Have you noticed the every restaurant bathroom is a sign that says all employees must wash hands? That reduces the risk of spreading viral hepatitis. However, most people don't wash their hands effectively. Some people feel if more than a drop of water hits their hands, they'll melt like the Wicked Witch of the West. Rinsing your hands without any soap probably is worse than not washing your hands at all because you end up touching the faucet that might be contaminated. Then you end up touching the paper towel dispenser or the button on the hand dryer. 

If you want to be a cootie-free as possible, you have to lather up the soap in your hands for a good 15 seconds and get all the fingers and hands sudsy. If the restroom doesn't have a hands-free dryer, then it's best to crank out the paper towel before you begin washing, so you can turn off the faucet with it. For hand sanitizers, the hands and fingers have to be all wet with it, and when it dries the germs are killed.

Another thing I've always worried about is getting a cold sore (oral herpes) on my mouth from kissing others during a greeting or farewell. Some folks just plant one on you, and you are rendered defenseless with saliva and who knows what else.

Once, someone had a huge honking cold sore on his lip, and when he went to do the Russian cheek kisses, I said, "Hold on there, Rachmaninoff!"

When I receive communion, I don't drink out of that cup. Jesus is not going to protect me from getting oral herpes. I dip my bread in the wine and bless all my fellow church-goers— from a safe distance.


Dr. Hook cracks a joke or two, but he's a renowned physician with a local practice. Email him with your questions.