Last week, thanks to the inspired work of Scott Taylor of the Ottawa SUN, germs were given headline status here in my hometown as well as national coverage.  The article seemed innocuous: do shopping carts hold a threat for infection due to germs.  We spent a few hours going back and forth and eventually, a story came to life that encompassed grocery carts, the immune response, hospital infections and the Rolling Stones.

The article was so liked at the editorial level that the story, a video and a fantastic photo (thanks to Tony Caldwell) went national and gave readers across Canada the opportunity to gain a perspective on germs that perhaps is not always available.

The response was fantastic and I am truly grateful for the efforts of the SUN and especially to Scott and Tony.

What was even more impressive were the personal comments and feedback that I received from the article.  Many of them were suggestions and ideas on germ-related topics.  I’ve decided to mention a few here and offer some commentary on them.

Suggestion 1: Just say no to cellular phones in the washroom
When I got this, my first impression was that this should be common knowledge.  But I have to admit that even I have found myself Emailing or texting while I head towards the washroom and find myself in an awkward moment right outside the bathroom door as I try to finish before I get started, so to speak.  Yet over the last few days, I’ve noticed that indeed, there are people who decide to conduct business while doing their business.

The ‘ick’ factor is probably a good indication that this is not a smart practice.  After all, even if one washes their hands afterwards, the phone may still harbour something.  So, perhaps this would make an interesting story over the next little while.

Suggestion 2: Air is more than just nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide
There is no doubt that air contains more than just the elemental gases that allow us to live. Just take a look at the air in a ray of sunlight and one can see just how many dust particles exist in the air.  Just as with grocery carts, however, most of these particles contain environmental germs and are for the most part harmless.  However, if the air happens to be contaminated with more than just dust, such as pet dander, droplets from infected individuals or spores from rotting plants, then there’s a good likelihood that there may be something in the air that we just don’t want to breathe in.

As we’ve seen over the past years, masks are a good suggestion but in reality, the inconvenience of a mask sometimes overtakes its usefulness.  And, to be honest, there are very few places where masks are truly necessary.  Then there are the number of air cleaners that exist including the mini-air purifiers that can be held close by.  While these offer some protection (and more often than not, peace of mind), their necessity is dependent on just how germy a place may be. Often enough, a good cleaning every two weeks is enough to keep the bad germs at bay. But if there’s a high turnover of individuals, then perhaps air treatment may be a great idea.

Suggestion 3: A campaign against Germs…
In this day of ‘regimes’ and ‘coalitions’ it was suggested that these terms be translated to convey the war on germs.  While there is good reason to discuss the regime of germs and the coalition of researchers, organizations and individuals to fight the spread of germs, I feel that the tone is too harsh and negative.  Besides, germs are not really an ‘enemy’ in the same way that ‘cancer’ and ‘atherosclerotic plaques’ have been described (and used as a basis for incredible amounts of fundraising dollars!).  Given that there are tens of thousands of different kinds of germs and only about 1,400 of them are truly pathogenic, it would be a disservice to the good germs to group them all into one evil category.

I believe that the campaign should focus on hygiene and better understanding of how to be healthy in a way that speaks to people without trying to sell something.  At the same time, I understand that even germ research costs money and I am trying to find ways to develop fundraising strategies that are positive.  It’s not going so well (and if you are a fundraiser and know of any ways to help, please let me know!)

Suggestion 4: A TV show or book on Germs…
I received more than a few of these suggestions and believe me, I would be the first to jump on board and host a “Germ Guy” show or pen a book without question!  Of course, while I think it’s a great idea, there seems to be little interest at the production level.  I am working with some great people to develop PSAs and other social media material but to focus significant dollars for these platforms seems fruitless.  If anyone out there thinks that we could change that, please let me know.  I’d even be happy with a TED seminar if anyone could pull that off! But in all seriousness, the goal is to ensure that the hygiene message is not only shared but sustained.  I would be open to any suggestions.

Suggestion 5: Go international!
This one came from several of my closer colleagues who understand my passion to bring hygiene and better health to all people of the world.  I’ve tried numerous times with varied amounts of success and in the coming months, I am working on grant applications for research projects intended to help bring an even greater understanding of some of the world’s toughest problems, such as tuberculosis (Gates Grand Challenges), birth survival (Grand Challenges Canada), vaccine candidates (government) and passive disinfection (through corporate consultation). Each of these offers one more chance (and I hope research dollars) to bring us one step closer to a safer and healthier society.  And if that isn’t enough, then I hope to bring in other partners to develop models by which we can bring economic benefit to prove that health equals economic development.

I want to thank everyone who reached out to me after the story and I hope that each person who reads this appreciates that I am looking forward to hearing all ideas, options and suggestions.  I can’t guarantee that each one will be successful but what I can say is that as long as we’re talking and sharing, then we’re all working towards the same goal.

Looking forward to your comments.