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Grandmother and granddaughter washing hands in bathroom sink at home, Coronavirus hand washing for clean hands hygiene Covid19 spread prevention.

A fact of life.

We use the word "germs" to refer to bacteria and viruses.  Bacteria is the proverbial "both…and" if there ever was one: lifesaving and life-altering.  We live in a world of "normal" bacteria – invisible, everywhere, and even inside of us.  It's our friend and enemy all at the same time.  The deciding factor is whether the bacteria is naughty… or nice.  Unlike bacteria which serves valuable purposes when contained where it belongs, viruses are, for the most part, illness causing.

These days, we are suspect of touching anything without a full-on sanitization process.  Our diligent efforts to keep the COVID-19 virus at bay have been crucial, wise, and necessary.  We glove up, sanitize, mask, and otherwise live in the clean bubbles that have become our new way of being on the planet.  We protect ourselves from the invisible germ warfare that is around us and always has been. True that the "novel = new" coronavirus has not always been… but it's food for thought.

I just watched Inferno, the last of the three films based on Dan Brown's series of books, featuring Tom Hanks as Harvard Professor Robert Langdon.  Spoiler alert… Inferno refers to Dante's Inferno, part of the Divine Comedy.  As you can imagine by now, it deals with a deadly virus that might wipe out half of the world's population.  What was once considered thriller, sci-fi, and "out there" now seems more plausible and, therefore, more terrifying. Like COVID-19, this was a virus.  It's essential to make the distinction between viruses and bacteria.

We all know about probiotics.

These are the "normal flora," meaning that they belong to the family of bacteria typically found in our intestinal tract.  They have a job to do.  Without them, we don't have good "gut health," which now has the medical community's attention as an essential part of good overall wellness.  If you have ever suffered from Montezuma's Revenge, you know that when certain bacteria don't stay where they belong, chaos ensues.  The body is a brilliant compensatory mechanism to keep what's good and eliminate what isn't.

How are we coping with the notion of "germs" at this point in our mid-post COVID experience?

Like many, I have a new appreciation of the unseen.  What was on someone else's hand is now on the doorknob or keypad.  I don't know if it's bacteria (safe and normal) or virus (illness-causing).  Neither do you.  How do we manage this?  That's the final jeopardy question for sure.  Knowing a little about what goes on in the world of invasive bacteria and viruses might help.

Our skin is our very best defense.

It's the largest organ of our body.  Rest assured that when we care for our skin and keep our hands washed and clean, we reduce our exposure to the unknown.  What enters our body through our airway, eyes, nose, and mouth also needs consideration.  Before COVID-19, I was always shocked to see how many hands touched surfaces I considered dirty and dangerous, and then that same hand was all over the face.  Ick.  Hopefully, we now know better and will do better.

Germs, bacteria, and viruses are here to stay.

If we live in a bubble, our bodies do not get exposed, and we do not develop our protection against these enemies.  I am of an age where my mother sent me to the neighbors to visit when they had "chickenpox."  It seemed strange back then, but I get it now.  My grandparents, however, were quarantined during diphtheria outbreaks, much like now during COVID. No visiting there…

Germs are a part of our world.  Some perform a vital function, and some are to be avoided. For now, due to our "bubbles" and constant sanitization of everything, we're not sharing the common cold (also a coronavirus) or influenza (a virus).  Eventually, masks will come off, and handwashing will subside.  In the right setting, both are OK, but knowing when it's safe is the issue.  Whether you use soap and water or sanitizer, handwashing is an excellent life-long habit that should never go away.

It's good to consider our relationship to germs, to educate ourselves about what they are, what they do, where the bad ones come from, and how to both avoid them and protect ourselves from them.  Germs aren't all bad, and they aren't all good.  They are, however, part of our earthly experience and are here to stay.  It's us that need to figure out how to stay one step ahead of them.

Joanne MacInnis, RN, is the founder and president of Aberdeen Home Care, Inc., of Danvers, a concierge private duty home care agency in business since 2001. With 35 years of nursing practice, management and administration experience focused on home care and hospice, Joanne and her team specialize in advising and supporting families addressing the elders in their lives retain dignity and quality of life.

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