Back to Hygiene Origins

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Is humanity hypocritical?

Do we truly understand advancement of human kind? Or, is our so-called ‘advancement’ leading us to be more ignorant in ‘out-dated’ concerns, creating weaknesses in our cultural structure? Basically, the question is: are humans advancing in certain aspects and deteriorating in others?

The COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting some of the weaknesses in our advancement times. We have been so concerned, and proud of our technological advancements. Artificial intelligence is a popular topic in science and innovation ‘s fields, 5G networks are being installed, electrical transport and advanced batteries are exponentially improving, smartphones with high quality cameras, and we are already exploring other planets. Let us not forget to mention the advancement in medical health, especially in the past 100 years.

How, then, in this highly modern world did we get into this state of global pandemics? What have we forgotten, what have we diminished in skills and knowledge?

Many people are questioning Globalisation, that is, international trade and international production. Millions of people fly each day nationally and internationally. In contrary, we have been travelling internationally for millennia. The great Egyptian and Roman empires were in trade. There was the Silk Road connecting Asia and Europe. There is evidence of ancient Chinese sailing far distances before Europeans were able. Globalisation is not as new a concept as many believe.

Lazaretti Buildings:

What is interesting is that global spread of diseases is well documents. Look at the lazaretto buildings in Venice, Ancona, Dubrovnik, and Malta. Buildings which were constructing, starting from 1627. These were quarantine buildings for anybody arriving into these ports, where it was compulsory to be quarantined there for 40 days. Diseases which were feared were cholera and plague. Before that, in 1377, anybody entering ports were sent to an island or specified ships for quarantine. Get this: before the discovery of microorganisms, the people of the time even new that diseases could be transmitted through surfaces! This is something that, as a microbiologist, I feel to tell adults of today.

In terms of human development of health, we have reverted back to before the invention of quarantine. As international trade increased, we reduced quarantines, we have been too complacent on sterility of parcels. Additionally, it is almost as if our governments are re-learning and re-developing the quarantine procedures.

Yes, medical advancements have led to their hardly being a need for quarantine situations. We now have medicines to combat cholera, and living hygiene conditions are definitely more improved to prevent the plague.

The Flu Season:

But, maybe, there is something which is an alarm bell for human development. Something that is demonstrating our losing some basic health concepts. That is, the ‘Flu Season’. The flu has become as normal as there was cholera on ships. We take it for granted that we could get the flu, and shrug it off our shoulders. We trust our annual flu vaccines and vitamin C tablets. Yet we still get sick. We don’t even think of where we caught the virus – “It was in the air”, “I got caught in the rain” and many other excuses are used. But let’s hope that many now understand that the flu virus is not ubiquitous in air.

The flu virus is transmitted from person to person; through coughing and sneezing; from talking and spitting; leaving the virus on cash machines and public door handles; on their hands as we shake hands. It is common that we have a cold or the flu and still go to work and shopping. We have all become walking biological weapons, infecting our work colleagues, friends, family. Tourists daily enter our home towns bringing versions of their flu virus, which we have no immunity against. And, yet, some of us still wonder why we get several episodes of colds and influenza in one season. If humans continued in understanding how viruses spread, like our mediaeval ancestors did, we won’t be having a ‘flu’ season anymore.

The Pandemic Culture:

Today, with the pandemic still running rampant globally, many are not wearing masks, others are counting days when we are allowed to not obligatorily wear them. With the invention of the flight industry, millions of people travelling each year, prolonged obligatory quarantine seems impossible.

Instead of just giving up of global viral transmission, let us use this COVID-19 pandemic to advance humanity. We need to look at alternatives to quarantine for ‘regular’ viral transmission. Wearing a mask is one method, hand sterilising and sterilising shopping baskets are other tools, but the most important is a cultural belief that everybody has a virus. A cultural belief that should cross each border, entering every society like a virus itself. Everybody coming into our home country, even our own citizens which are returning home, is at a higher risk of having the virus.

We are deteriorating in our basic hygiene principles as we have become too complacent in our medical advancement. We think of ourselves as being above our ancestors – even though our ancestors logically figured out the spread of disease, hundreds of years before the invention of the microscope. Humanity has become a hypocrite.

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