The Hygiene Conundrum-obsession for health or utter disregard?

Ankur Srivastava

2020-06-27 05:31:09



Blind folded race to ensure the highest standards of hygiene may not be something without any flip sides. Do we actually need these levels of hygiene? Where lies the fine line?

The world is in a chaos that none of us had even imagined. The list of unprecedented events is getting longer with every passing day. Countrywide lockdowns, tearful eyes of national leaders, crashing markets, workers trudging hundreds of kilometres in search of safety are just a few instances from that list that can give shivers to anyone. The danger posed by Covid-19 is real and so is the fear caused by it. In such desperate times, social distancing and hygiene are the new mantras of life. The entire mankind seems to be revolving around them. The resulting paranoia of this pandemic has caused us to chase ultimate standards of cleanliness in every possible way.

Scrutiny before Buying

Once this tide of Covid-19 recedes, life will be very different from what we knew it to be and what we have lived. Some new habits developed during this crisis will stay forever and some which we had until today will fade. Forget the warm hugs with our near and dear ones, even formal gesture of shaking hands too may vanish from our daily lives. Masks, gloves, and sanitizers, which we used only occasionally may stay in our daily lives permanently. Evenings, planned to be lived with friends devouring every single roadside delicacy are already getting spent in browsing for floor cleaners and sanitizers on mobile apps. The industry has also seen it as a golden opportunity and entire supply chain, from TV commercials to the neighbourhood grocery stores, all are teeming with a plethora of cleaning solutions. In this hunt for perfect hygiene to protect our families from the Pandemic, informed by TV ads, WhatsApp forwards, and our own conscience, we are doing whatever we can. Subscribing to an entire gamut of novel sanitary products is one such endeavour. Most of such products stand by the tall claims that they make and help in keeping ourselves safe from harmful microbes. But these novel products have one more dimension that needs to be analysed carefully before giving them space in our lives. Almost each one of such products available in the market can cause some side effects. Due to intense competition and the race to connect with the target consumers, these products need to have supplementary features (like fragrance, colour, packaging etc) that differentiate them from their competitors. Manysuch products have succeeded to form this covetedconnect with our daily routine, which appears to remain untampered in foreseeable future. But the research available on the side effects of their ingredients gives a clear sign of warning. We have already lost many lives to cancer by the time we could set in place the emission standards for telecom equipments (The Guardian, 2018). To ensure that this episode is not repeated with these chemicals, a strong vigil is required before introducing these new products in our lives.

The Chemistry Inside

Undoubtedly, these easy to use products bring comfort to our lives, and thanks to the market competition, they are readily available at very reasonable prices. Convenient alternatives such as mosquito repellent coils, mats, creams, and electronic vapourizers have already kicked cumbersome mosquito nets out of many households, but we rarely care about the carcinogens and other poisonous chemicals they contain(Kohli et al, 2014). These chemicals such as Prallethrin, Cypermethrin, Diethylbenzamide etc when used in concentrated forms act as poisonous insecticides, requiringutmost precautions. But as a part of our daily lives, even in small quantities, prolonged exposure to these chemicals may cause adverse effects on the body. We generally tend to remain ignorant of these effects owing to our hectic lifestyle. Similarly,many of us have a bias to see packaged dairy products and fruit juices as healthy alternatives, but rarely we are concerned about the flavours, preservatives, and sugars which may affect the digestive system adversely (Anand and Sati, 2017). Most of these chemicals have been introduced in our lives for merely a few decadesbut the rift between the scientific world and industry over theirside effects is overtly evident.

Fashion or Need

At times, our shopping list contains some sanitary products just because of peer pressure, recent trends, or the TV commercialsclaim it to be indispensable for maintaining hygiene. But if we delve deeper into their chemical composition and their actual requirement, it won’t take us a moment to strike them off the list. The ozone generatorsarein fad these days. It may be the Ozone layer depletion effect, because of which many among us see Ozone as a gas beneficial to health. But thereality is entirely different. A high concentration of Ozone may cause serious damage to our respiratory system (USEPA Report). Tall claims of fragrant floor cleaners, glass cleaners, sanitizers, vegetable washes are irrelevant, if their constituent compoundshave serious repercussionswhenused over long terms. Few minutes of introspection is sufficient to realize that a healthy and hygienic life can be lived even without them. On the contrary, we would save our toddlers playing on the floor from harmful effects of Benzalkonium Chloride, iso Propyl Alcohol, and innumerable other volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The intensity with which cancer is prevalent these days, exposure to such novel harmful chemicals might be a dominant cause. Probably we don’t even need many such chemical-based products, but under the influence of effective marketing campaigns of national-transnational giants, many harmful chemicals manage to encroach into our life systems.

Hygiene Hypothesis

Experts in the world of medicine have hypothesized that taking precautions over a certain limit may make us more vulnerable to microbial attacks (Stiemsma et al, 2015). But there is no simple formula to determine this limit. It has to be determined with absolute dexterity, since the balance between protection from microbes and ensuring a robust immunity is a delicate one. The obsession to sanitize each and everything in the surrounding is bound to erode the immunity of any normal person, particularly for growing children (Bloomefield et al. 2006). The frequency with which we are facing one infection after another and pandemics rocking some part of the globe almost on regular basis, it is important that we don’t end up compromising our immunity in the search of absolute hygiene. WHO has already declared antibiotic resistance crisis and an impending danger on global health, food security, and development? Given a world where new microbes are evolving at an unexpected pace, maintaining our innate immunity cannot be deemed less significant than maintaining hygiene.

What can we do?

In this erafull of novel challenges, it is imperative to steer one’s vision and decisions unperturbed by impressive advertisements, fashion trends, peer pressure, and mindless consumerism. It is important to examine those chemicals which have already pilfered into our lifestyle and evaluate the extent of their possible side effects. For the families with kids, elderlies, and pregnant ladies, being vigilant about every new product is the only choice and fully examining the information given on the packaging and brochure is indispensable. The internet is a good source of certified information about many such industrial chemicals and their side effects. Consulting an expert and using these products in the right amount and inthe right way is need at the moment. An eye on this other side of the coin will prepare us for the upcoming times.



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