As far as I’m concerned, if a book doesn’t make you say, “huh”, “ohh” or “mmh” at least a few times during its reading, it was not time well spent (romance novels excluded of course…those are just for mindless guilty reading pleasures!). But I do know one such book that was peppered with such moments. If you didn’t know that a group of dead flamingos in the Bronx Zoo heralded the North American landfall of West Nile Virus, or that an emergency dog-sled relay across Alaska to bring diphtheria antitoxin to the stricken community of Nome was the birth of the annual Ididarod race, then you’ve not read Dr. Bonnie Henry’s book, “Soap, Water and Common Sense”.
The title of the book was unabashedly derived from a William Osler quote, “Soap and water and common sense are the best disinfectants”. From viruses to bacteria to parasites and fungi, Dr. Henry dispels some of the all-too-common myths and misinformation about good bugs and bad bugs, and offers an eye opening account of the history of disease as well as up-to-date and accurate information on everything from the bugs we breathe to the bugs we eat and drink to the bugs in our backyard and beyond.
Although much of the wisdom on display in this book will not come as a surprise to professionals in infection prevention and control, it is both an entertaining and educational read. Her list of the “top 10 ways to stay healthy” that predictably starts with hand hygiene, surprising ends with “Use condoms”. That addition gave me pause likely because it is not a preventative measure that is commonly discussed in the manufacture of surface disinfectants (where I spend most of my life) and is not much addressed elsewhere in the book. Nevertheless, it is an absolutely necessary addition! In fact, there are little side stories, quips and other surprises throughout the book that keep you moving forward.
In her “Top 10 myths and truths about bugs”, I found many ideas that all of us would be grateful to see disseminated in the wider community. For example:
“Myth: My immune system is healthy, so I don’t need immunization. Besides, vaccines are dangerous.
Truth: Vaccines work with your immune system to help you fight infection. A report of potential link between MMR vaccine and autism has been debunked by scientific evidence. Vaccines are safe and effective, and our best protection against many infections.”
You only have to follow the news about the increased cases of Whooping Cough (pertussis) in the US to know that vaccines work! According to the CDC, nearly 18,000 cases have been reported so far in 2012 — more than twice the number seen at this point last year with 9 pertussis-related deaths reported with the majority of deaths occurring among infants younger than 3 months of age.
“Soap and Water & Common Sense – The Definitive Guide to Viruses, Bacteria, Parasites and Disease” is well worth the time to read and while the title may infer that the book may be intended for those in healthcare related fields, the truth is the book is intended for the larger community. In fact, it lends itself nicely for a book club discussion. For someone not immersed daily in the prevention of infection, the “huh” moments will be plentiful indeed, and it may even be a life altering (or at least health-improving) experience!