You might know importance of hygiene in healthcare – of how increasing resistance is forcing us to use less antibiotics, which starts with preventing the spread of infectious diseases. However, this prevention of spreading infectious diseases is not solely the responsibility of the healthcare industry. Healthcare may in fact be one of the relatively easy areas to achieve increasing levels of hygiene – changing (or actually starting to comply with) hygiene protocols and educating personnel will already have a huge impact. No, the toughest nut to crack in this infection-prevention-conundrum is the weakest link in the chain of infection, our wilful child with both ADHD and a learning disorder: the general public.
This comparison of the general public is of course a bit extreme, but a ‘hot topic’ of the past few years does show the difficulty of educating the masses: the so-called anti-vaxxer-movement. No matter the numerous peer-reviewed studies on the importance and benefits of vaccinations, there is still an alarmingly high number of conspiracy-theorist-parents who do not vaccinate their children. Parents with a paper in hand suggesting a link between the use of vaccines and autism – a debunked study from a doctor who lost his license because of it. A recent blog-post sums it up best: being ‘anti-vax’ is like choosing to swim across a crocodile-infested river instead of using the bridge, because you’re afraid the bridge might collapse. And even though the amount of ‘anti-vaxxers’ is still relatively low, a case in the U.S. in 2015 proves the dangers of such conflicting viewpoints. Starting from schools with unvaccinated children, a measles outbreak occurred – a disease eliminated in 2000 in the U.S. thanks to vaccines.
In this example, we only have to change the word ‘vaccines’ into ‘hygiene’ and ‘autism’ into ‘allergies’ to come to a similar problem: the hygiene hypothesis. A potentially very dangerous, conflicted view amongst the general public that we are ‘too clean’, and that this causes children to develop allergies. The dangers of this view are very similar to the already proven dangers of the anti-vaccination movement. The challenge we face now is to educate the general public on this issue and prevent extension of this comparison in having to change ‘measles-outbreak’ into ‘scarlet fever epidemic’ , the bacterial infection that killed thousands in the 19th century due to lack of good hygiene practices.