I always love the first line of the song Auld Lang Syne:

Should all acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind…

It’s one way to think of the germs we’ve faced and fought over the year and how their impact on health can be hopefully forgotten.

However, over the last few decades, the germs of the world have developed a “Cousin Eddie” complex in which they seemingly come around at the worst possible time and then linger for much longer than they are tolerated.  They also have gained importance as threats to overall health.  Many of them have become so common, they have acronyms to make their public mention easier.  MRSA, CDAD, VRE, SARS, XDRTB, H1N1, MAP, EBV, HIV and AIDS.

These germs have become so problematic because they have an incredible ability to evade the immune system and stick around for weeks, months, years and for some, until you die. And while contracting HIV may require a rather specific set of circumstances, others are so embedded in the community that one may end up being infected without even knowing it.

So, the question is, as we head into 2011, how can we avoid bringing these germs into communities, homes and bodies?

The answer I propose is that along with the usual list of New Year’s Resolutions, people consider adding a list of New Year’s Germsolutions.

Before I get into them, I want to promise that these Germsolutions are not only easy to adopt, but also can be incorporated into daily life without much effort.  Not to mention, anyone who adopts them can then say that they actually adhered to them long after the time most give up on the usual Resolutions.

So, sit down, open a new document and get ready to cut and paste!

1. Keep hands clean…everywhere!
I’ve been a major proponent of handwashing over the years and I would like nothing more than to see everyone take to heart the necessity of clean hands to prevent infection acquisition and spread.  Of course, in many areas, access to warm water and soap is difficult, if not impossible.  Which is why I promote the use of hand sanitizers.  Just remember that if you don’t have access to water, make sure you use enough of the rub to last at least 30 seconds…if not 45.  Or, if you like, take the same rule that you’ve heard about handwashing (singing Happy Birthday twice or saying the alphabet backwards) when it comes to using hand sanitizers.

2. Keep those Cell Phones Clean!
In 2009, I helped on a story about the risk of cell phones for infection spread.  At the time, the risk was pretty low but that had more to do with the exposure of the phone to the environment.  But now, these small gadgets and their apps have become so useful that they may find more time in the hands than in the pockets.  As a result, they need to be cleaned on a regular basis.  Of course, one cannot use soap and water on these electronics but thankfully, there are a plethora of cloths embedded with alcohol or other antimicrobials that can be used safely on phones.

3. Think before you eat!
Foodborne illnesses are innumerable.  At best, I can offer that each person will have at least one foodborne illness over the course of a year.  There are several steps in preventing infection and they can be found easily on the web (although my favorite is still the Fight Bac! website).  Of course, one of the best ways to prevent foodborne illness is to cook at home.  Controlling how food is prepared, cooked and stored only improves the likelihood that an infection won’t happen.  While this isn’t a Gersmolution, it would be nice to hear that more people are choosing to eat at home as this choice may help the immune system stay stronger.  But that’s for another discussion.

4. Think antimicrobial, don’t just purchase it.
We’ve all heard of the term, antibacterial, but in many cases, products that claim to have these properties may not be as successful in real life as they are in the lab.  For example, clothing with silver usually only lasts a few washes unless they have been incorporated in a specific way to leave elemental silver on the fabric.  There are other issues with the use of antimicrobials such as triclosan, such as environmental sustainability and the development of resistance to not only triclosan but also antibiotics.  This debate is ongoing and this is no place to get into the arguments.  The real issue comes down to common sense.  Better understanding of hygiene and its maintenance will lessen the need for additional measures.  While I don’t expect anyone to stop using these products, at least thinking about the issue is good enough for this germsolution.  And don’t forget that some natural fabrics are naturally antimicrobial, such as bamboo.

5. Keep your kids healthy!
This is not only for parents but for anyone that comes into close contact with kids…teachers, health professionals, babysitters, and other family members.  Children are highly active most of the time and getting sick is part and parcel with growing up.  But these illnesses should be colds and earaches and other minor problems.  When children are infected with some of the acronyms listed above, there is a good chance for complications both during the infection and after.  Teaching the good hygiene is only one part of the equation…they should be encouraged as well.  Look at all the ‘fun’ soaps and toothpastes that are out there.  Many companies are doing their part to help make the hygiene process enjoyable.  Now it’s up to everyone to keep these kids thinking…and staying safe.

These are only 5 of perhaps countless Germsolutions that could be mentioned here.  But I think these ones are the easiest to adopt and also may have the most benefit to help one think more about how individual actions reflect health.  In many ways, these Germsolutions may seem like common sense but sometimes even the simplest actions need encouragement.  And above all, that’s what I hope this blog brings to you and to those with whom you share these posts.