SARS, then bird flu, and now the first global pandemic in decades, H1N1. Finally, FINALLY, the germa-phobes of the world are cool. No longer do we need hide behind the turtlenecks we’ve pulled up over our noses, trying our best not to breathe in that giant mucous droplet-filled sneeze you just unleashed. When we glare in disgust at your uncovered, tubercular hack while waiting in line at the airport ticket counter, fervently praying to the gods that you will not be our seatmate for the next five hours, and that you will, in fact, be barred from boarding altogether and possibly walled into your own house, we are not alone. Everyday folks, people who will voluntarily eat from those unattended sample trays at the grocery store, heedless of the two snotty kids who just pawed through them, even they join us in our censorship now. Those of us too long relegated to the “weirdo” category simply because we can SEE the thick, writhing layer of viruses and bacteria that coat each and every object and person we come in contact with during the course of a day, can now squirt our Purell proudly. As a kid I had several bouts with strep throat, all before entering the third grade. The pediatrician, who would prescribe the orange flavored antibiotic liquid for the whole family as a preventative, and thus took his place among the fathers of drug resistant flesh eating bacteria, told my mother that I probably had picked it up from the drinking fountains at school. As a result, I successfully navigated my entire school career, and yes that includes college, without ever ONCE touching a drinking fountain. I consider it quite the accomplishment. Like most of the health conscious (we prefer this term to germ-phobic or nutter) I have several at-home, College of Google, degrees: medicine, biology, and of course epidemiology. That scratchy throat and runny nose you had three weeks ago? Your co-worker used your telephone, blatantly disregarding the tub of Clorox wipes prominently displayed on your desk. That intestinal distress you experienced two months ago? The barista at Starbucks pressed the lid on your triple chai soy latte with her fresh from the lavatory, yet unwashed fingers right over the mouth hole. The flu you were down for the count with for two whole weeks last winter? The unvaccinated waiter sneezed on the entire bin of mini-muffins before stocking your salad bar at T.G.I.McCrappy’s.
Finally, the word is out: disease is not due to going out in the cold without a hat, those mean thoughts you had about your grandmother or a misalignment of your chakras—it is germs, people. GERMS. Wash those hands, cover those coughs and don’t touch any of my stuff. We germaphobes are standing proud, not holding hands or anything because who knows where theirs have been, but standing together, as one.