I can’t exactly recall how old I was when I realized that boys had cooties. It was likely somewhere between 2nd grade when playing “Tag” was the favorite game at recess and 6th grade when “Kiss Tag” became popular. Without being told, I just KNEW the opposite sex would give me "cooties" if they touched me or my friends so we did our best to keep out of reach of the boys in our class. While cooties may be fictitious and playing Hot Potato in gym is simply an exercise to improve hand-eye coordination, perhaps there is something to consider in how children innately know if a member of the opposite sex touches you, you now are contaminated with really gross germs and even your closest friends will not want to play with you until you’ve been properly decontaminated.
There are numerous ways in which germs spread; however Contact Transmission is probably THE most important and most common mode of transmission of infections. There are two primary ways the germs spread with contact transmission; direct and indirect. Like getting the cooties, direct transmission occurs when there is a transfer of microorganisms from direct physical contact between an infected or colonized individual and a susceptible host. Unbeknownst to me, the boys in my class could have given me Pink Eye, Chickenpox, Herpes, Leprosy and even PIN WORMS!
Similarly, like when playing hot potato, indirect contact involves passive transfer of microorganisms to a susceptible host via an intermediate object, such as contaminated hands that are not washed between patients, contaminated patient care equipment or medical instruments and also from other inanimate objects such as toys, door handles, and even light switches. I’m not certain if the bean bags used to play Hot Potato ever got cleaned, who knows how many colds, flus, diarrheal attacks I was given from playing with infrequently cleaned toys and gym equipment....
To help minimize the spread of germs, infection prevention and control have devised a number of different types of precautions for healthcare workers to implement. For organisms spread by Contract Transmission, patients are placed on Contact Precautions which informs staff of a need for extra vigilance, so they can prevent the spread of these germs to other vulnerable patients by wearing a gown and gloves. The housekeeping staff may also increase the frequency of cleaning and some equipment such as a blood pressure cuff or stethoscope may be dedicated for use on you only as a way to minimize spread to another susceptible patient.
Because transmission of germs is not limited to healthcare facilities - anywhere people congregate such as schools, work, and even while on vacation (think of the Norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships) you have the potential to pick up a bug. To be truthful, most of the time these bugs won’t make you sick, however children or people with weak immune systems are at greater risk. If you’re sick at home or caring for a sick loved one the following are few tips to help keep everyone healthy and happy:
1. Ensure that everyone who assists with your personal hygiene washes his or her hands after contact with you and if you’re caring for a sick loved one, be sure to wash your hands frequently.
2. Wash your hands before you make any food and before you eat.
3. Wash your hands well after using the toilet. Make sure others that use the bathroom or sneeze, cough or blow their nose wash their hands well afterward too!
4. Use adisinfectant for cleaning high touch surfaces such as doorknobs as well as the bathroom and kitchen area.
5. Always tell your doctor, paramedics, nurses or other care providers that you have a germ requiring contact precautions, to help prevent its spread to other patients or clients that they provide care for.
I hope the next time you hear a child yell “EWWW! You’ve got cooties!” you’ll think of how germs are spread and realize that young, innocent child may know something you’ve long forgotten – we should avoid the opposite sex at all costs!