I was at a class yesterday on how to punch up my resume. The group was small and personable, and we spent some time off topic, usually for jokes. But one of the things we got off task for was a discussion of whether or not to shake hands at the end of an interview. The consensus was no, unless the interviewer extended his hand first, do not offer yours because of the fear of flu. One gentleman had to leave before we were finished, and the teacher extended his hand. The man, who I must add looked remarkably like John Ritter, with perfect comic timing shrunk back in horror that the hand was extended. We all laughed.
Secretly though, I was really bothered by the whole notion that we can never touch each other because of fear of disease. Now, this is not a scientific statistic I'm sharing, but in my experience, the people I have known in my life who feared germs the most have been sick more often than "regular folks." But I've read scientific articles that the fear of germs has led to people being sicker because their immune systems are not faced with disease, and therefore they have no defenses when diseases strike. Our immune systems must be challenged in order to work. That's why injecting a small amount of disease can give us immunity to certain microbes. In my life, I have never had a flu shot, and have had the actual flu only one time. One time. I know people who get flu shots every year, and still sometimes get sick because the inoculation was not for the correct strain. We evolved immune systems that help us fight disease. According to the most basic evolutionary principle, the ones who are not protected have some other weakness that makes them more vulnerable to illness, and they get sick and do not survive. But I am not an epidemiologist, so I won't spend anymore time on the science of germ warfare.
The thing that bothered me about the whole conversation yesterday was the idea that we as humans should not touch each other. Women of my age (early 50s) and had or ever hoped to have children were taught that babies can literally die if they are not touched enough. We not only evolved immune systems, we survived as a species because of our sense of community. We need each other-and the simple act of shaking hands is the minimum demonstration of our attachment as a species. If we touch someone who has been exposed to a virus but isn't sick we might actually get a bit of immunization. (That's just an unprovable theory of mine.) But we connect with each other by touching. I like the comfort of the touch of a hand on my shoulder, a firm handshake, or having someone pat me on the back. It makes me feel less alone, and during the last couple of months my need for that has been powerfully illuminated.
In conlusion, as I said in the beginning, in my tiny piece of the world, anecdotally, the people I've known who fear germs the most get sick more often. Therefore, I believe that fear is a dangerous disease that leads to our bodies not being able to fight disease. Statistically, people die from the flu every year. Every year, 34,000 people die of the flu. But people with a healthy immune response are the ones who will survive. The only thing we have to fear is fear. So lets all come together for a big group hug.