SMOKE: Beware The Bugs

Originally published: 27 March 2003

The ABC network in the States carries a channel called TechTV, who are always exploring the cool world of technology and the ramifications it has in our lives.

But they were dredging the barrel a little in a story they carried about the seething pit of germs passing itself off as your computer keyboard.

In their offices they have one computer in particular which is used by everybody in the office. They eat their lunch there, drink their coffee and visit the bathrooms which are close by.

Obviously running short of story ideas they packaged up the keyboard of the workstation, packaged it and shipped it off to the Berkeley School of Public Health in California, where microbiologist Fenyong Liu did a swab in a plain agar dish (agar is a gelatinous material used for bacteria cultures), and prepared a culture which he kept going for two weeks.

The results were breathtakingly pronounced, although I would have thought they were rather predictable: the agar dish was seething with all sorts of nasty bacteria.

Bits of food, drink, skin and the like had no doubt lodged under the keys, providing a breeding ground for the bacteria.

Although no life-threatening germs were found, the presence of old friend staphylococcus was discovered - the bastard responsible for strep throats and other irritations.

TechTV's writers had a field day, issuing warnings and advice on how to rid yourself of the Keyboard Killers. But it doesn't overly impress me.

We all know bacteria are all around us. They're as much a part of existence as we are, and much as they can irritate the stool out of you, they very rarely cause significant problems.

Yet The Press is constantly sensationalising their existence.

Now before anyone thinks I'm a lentil-muncher who never washes and is permanently caked in a layer of filth - revelling in it - think again. I'm as fond of being a perfumed ponce as the next queen and I like a clean kitchen, working conditions and bathroom like most would.

But I also know that I hardly ever get sick, despite coming into contact with more germs than you can shake a stick at.

Take the Protex ad on TV, for example. They show pictures of the golden little kiddies playing with the big 'ol fluffy hound, and show through dramatic effects work how the teeming bacteria transfer from the unclean animal to the beautiful child, leaving the rest unsaid.

A stern warning not to wash your hands without Protex, or face the consequences. All said with an air of darkness and mystery.

Now I don't know if this helps, but when I was a kid I used to pick up dry dog drols and hurl them at screaming girls, and I can't ever recall getting sick from it.

(In case you're wondering why I threw dry dog shit at girls, just accept that some things in this life are impossible to explain. Things like what God has for breakfast, how Eddie Eksteen ever got his first job in entertainment, or why some pudding-fringed kid in a shit-smacked Eastern Cape industrial town would run around throwing dry animal faeces at little girls. Leave it alone. Some things are best left unsaid.)

I like to get rough with my Jack Russell - we've pushed each other to the brink of death a number of times - and as such I am regularly lathered in gob and paw scratches, not to mention the battalion of bugs lurking - poised to kill - in her fur.

We don't go as far as to French kiss, but I am partial to the touching of nose to snoot, and have even been known to give her a good smacker on the lips (she once tried a bit of tongue, so I had to grab her by her lovely ear and swing her round in 40 complete circles by way of warning. She responded by pinning me to the wall while savaging my kneecaps, and we left it at that.)

Point is - I regularly eat, or scratch my face, or even just cram my whole hand down my throat after such a session, and I'm yet to get sick, let alone die.

Germs? Do me a favour. When a desperate young student with no cash but an addiction to nicotine I used to patrol the foyers of the various theatres on our drama campus, looking for half-smoked and hastily-stubbed out cigarettes in the overflowing ashtrays, and smoke them.

I'd haul 'em out, rub the previously slobbered-on filter on my pants once and stick the filthy thing between my lips, sucking a mixture of cigarette toxins and whatever germs the original smoker left on it deep, deep, deep into the depths of my lungs.

For all I know they'd previously stuck those self-same ciggies up their asses (you never know), and if they belonged to guys you can bet your bottom dollar I was puffing away on their urine - I don't see many blokes washing their hands after relieving themselves in public toilets. Tends to splash a bit, sometimes.

Not necessarily a description you want to read while eating your lunch (how is that tuna, by the way?), but since I'm sitting here writing this it obviously didn't have disastrous effects. I'm still alive and in my book that's all that counts.

The point? Germs and bugs are everywhere - even if you're obsessive-compulsive about cleanliness, you can never get rid of them totally.

So get over them and stop buying the continual germ hype that is being thrown and marketed our way. Many, many businesses have germs to thank for their livelihood, so naturally they're going to big up the danger of them. But as far as I can see it's all hype.

Let go. Rather concern yourself with preserving your mind - your body is tough and will look after itself. Has done since the first human appeared, a long time ago. The first humans didn't have Protex, yet they managed to spawn us however many thousands of years down the line.

They were OK. I'm OK. You're OK.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
Spending time online does bad things to a person, but I'm OK.

Look at me now - all the way from Uitenhage to the bright lights of the big internet.

Find out more using the handy links provided.

Copyright © Luke Tagg. All rights reserved. A few lefts as well.

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