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No. 2

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Doc’s Digest
Medical Advice from Dr. Sayre
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‘Now, Go Wash Your Hands’

Want a good idea for a homeschool co-op activity? My wife, Mary, came up with a brilliant one several years ago.

Mary is a registered nurse and was asked to address a group of youngsters about the prevention of commonly acquired illnesses. She had all the children in the group sit in a circle, and then proceeded to pass around a variety of household items: a portable phone, kitchen utensils, an old doorknob, etc. When she pulled a tin can out of the bag, the children expected her to pass this item as well. But to their amazement (to the delight of some, and the utter disgust of others) she reached her hand into the can and pulled out several wriggly and compost-encrusted “night crawlers.” (Some of you who are not familiar with the sport of fishing may never have heard of night crawlers. In our part of the country, we have thousands of them crawling across the road in the spring after a rainfall. A night crawler is a very large and juicy worm, excellent for bass fishing, and for tormenting the weak of stomach.)


Mary had the children pass the worms, barehanded, around the circle. Then she announced, “Okay, it’s snack time. Who wants to wash their hands?” Almost everyone raised their hand, and off to the sink they went to wash off the “worm germs.”

While the majority of those worm-handling students wouldn’t think of digging into a bag of potato chips without first washing their hands, many had absent-mindedly picked their noses or rubbed their eyes prior to handling the worms, unwittingly inoculating themselves with a variety of microbes. As the children took their seats after washing their hands, Mary proceeded to teach them about different types of germs. They learned about tiny viruses that can be passed from one person to another via common objects, and the miseries those viruses can inflict on the human race.

Many viral infections (such as the common cold) are contracted as we transmit viruses from our hands to either our eyes or our nose. While out in public, we pick up untold scores of different types of viral particles on our hands. In a sense, our hands act as mini distribution centers for the infectious diseases associated with those viruses. A virus may go from the grocery cart handle to the car door, to the hand of the next person who opens the car door, to that person's eyes or nose, and bingo . . . Kleenex, here we come.

Prevention of viral illnesses, then, can be as simple as keeping our hands clean. But it can also be helpful to avoid those who are sick. When our children were all young (at one point, we had six, ages 6 and under), Mary and I would often put the youngest three in the nursery during the Sunday morning church service, just so we could get a break! Unfortunately, we often paid dearly for this hour of rest, since by Tuesday or Wednesday of that week, we nearly always had at least one sick child. This is no reflection on the efforts of the nursery staff to keep the toys clean. It’s just that when a bunch of little ones are rolling on the floor together, there will invariably be a swapping of germs.

If you’re sitting at home reading this article and trying to hold back a sneeze, or wiping the nose of your child for the 20th time today, you may be wondering if it is worthwhile to use those commonly recommended over-the-counter preparations, echinacea or zinc, for treatment of colds. Both have been purported to alleviate the symptoms of the common cold. But in a well-controlled study of 142 college students, echinacea was not helpful in easing symptoms (Barrett, Bruce P., et al., “Treatment of the Common Cold with Unrefined Echinacea,” Annals of Internal Medicine, Dec. 17, 2002, 137:939-946). In a separate study involving adults, zinc was found to be helpful in decreasing the duration of the symptoms at a dose of 80 milligrams per day (Prasad, Ananda S., et al., “Duration of Symptoms and Plasma Cytokine Levels in Patients with the Common Cold . . .” Annals of Internal Medicine, Aug. 15, 2000, 133:302-303), but some have questioned the design of this study, making the conclusion suspect.

Traditional standbys include eating the right food and getting enough rest. Chicken soup (especially if your mother makes it!) and increased fluids seem to help. By all means, one sick with a cold should stay home and rest, not only to speed his or her own recovery, but to prevent the illness from being spread to others.

Now, go wash your hands!

About the author

An HSLDA board member since 1997, Dr. Rodger Sayre is a family physician, and his wife Mary is a registered nurse. They live in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania, and teach their 11 children at home. Dr. Sayre received his medical degree from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and maintains board certification in family practice. A Geisinger Medical Group associate with a busy practice in Nicholson, Pennsylvania, he is a member of the Christian Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American College of Sports Medicine.

Please Note

The views of guest columnists may not reflect the views of Home School Legal Defense Association.