Swine flu scare
I’ve been working at UHS for over a year and a half now and have become accustomed to the building’s antibacterial soap stations, students wearing face masks into the building to avoid viruses and the colorful signs used to teach adults (yes, we’re students but we too often forget that we’re also grown adults) how to properly sneeze, cough and wash our hands. I’m waiting to close the stall door in the ladies room and see a sign labeled “How to properly use the toilet!”
The recent swine flu scare has brought our campus and its health policies to an all-new extreme. At the entrance to the dining commons, at both ends of the campus center, outside of classrooms and randomly placed all over campus, are antibacterial hand sanitizer stations. I’m starting to think that the Center for Health Promotion at UHS is simply going around duck taping them to any spot they can.
I see countless numbers of people use these sanitizing hot spots all day. But is anti-bacterial soap helping or hurting the student population? According to Everyday Health, “Residue-producing antibacterials are found in the majority of antibacterial soaps. These newer compounds break down more slowly, leaving a residue on the skin. They work more slowly to eliminate bacteria, and can allow for the development of resistant bacteria. One such residue-producing antibacterial, Triclosan, can be found in 76 percent of liquid antibacterial soaps used in the United States.”
Instead of using the bathrooms at the entrance of every dining commons to wash their hands with soap and hot water, students are taking the quick and easier option of simply putting their hands under the automatic sanitizer dispenser. The increase in the use of this antibacterial soap could very likely harm students by ridding their hands of healthy bacteria as well as unhealthy bacteria and allow resistant bacteria to take its place, which can later make antibiotics less effective.
I don’t think that antibacterial soaps are entirely useless. Antibacterial soap is easily portable, provides hygiene when water is not available and is effective at preventing the spread of infections in a health care setting – which is why it is most suited for this environment. However, in addition to creating resistant bacteria, antibacterial soap can cause dry cracking skin, increasing the risk of infection. More concerning for our students, who have the stations available at every turn, is the fact that it can (and does) give its users a false sense of security by creating a relaxed attitude towards proper hygiene.
With winter, colder temperatures and far more head colds quickly approaching, I can’t help but wonder how much the panic will increase on campus. Since the swine flu scare began back in April, the panic has been rapidly increasing. While panic isn’t necessary, proper hygiene and hand washing techniques are needed more than ever.
An August 7 report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology anticipates that the infection rate among the population for H1N1 (Swine flu) could possibly affect between 30 to 50 percent of the US population, causing between 30,000 and 90,000 deaths, primarily among children and young adults. This is a bit alarming when compared to influenza (the common flu) rates of infection, which are between 5 and 20 percent of the population each year, with approximately 36,000 deaths primarily in groups aged 65 and up.
In any college setting, especially one with a student body of over 20,000, it’s normal for students to come down with common colds and very often the flu. As Swine flu is significantly more concerning than the common flu, why are we turning to harmful antibacterial soaps to rid our hands of germs? It’s time for us to remember the simple hand washing techniques we learned back in grade school, and if we can’t do that, take the time to read the colorful signs placed around campus by UHS.
Ashley Lesperance is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.