Week of:
Dec 09, 2011

Soap and water: Proper handwashing fodder

Dear Alice,

I live on a college campus and have noticed many people do not wash their hands after going to the bathroom! I was so shocked, I confronted one of my friends. She replied: "If I don't get anything icky on my hands, I just rinse them withOUT soap. If my hands do get 'dirty,' I wash them with soap." Is her handwashing philosophy correct? Does rinsing your hands withOUT soap do any good?

Does soap kill germs?

Dear Alice,

I remember reading somewhere a couple years ago that hand or bath soap does not KILL germs or sterilize our hands. Rather, it helps loosen dirt and grime, and it makes the skin more slippery so that dirt and germs rinse off more easily with water. It makes sense to me, but my daughter who is studying for a medical career said I was off my rocker. I am getting older, but I'm sure I didn't fall out of my chair onto my head — but instead read that in a health newsletter somewhere. What's the skinny? Can my daughter trust me and what I read (in this case, at least), or should I throw in the towel (for 100 percent memory recall)?

— Slippery Soap

Are washcloths and other body scrubbers bacteria factories?


My question is about the cleanliness of loofahs and other body scrubbers. Since they usually hang out in the shower where there is constant warmth and moisture, wouldn't they grow bacteria? How often should they (scrubbers) be changed or how do you clean them? The reason I ask is that I am experiencing some hives, and the only thing I can think that is causing it might be the scrubber gloves in my shower.

Nail health

Dear Alice:

I am curious as to whether the nail bed regenerates or not. I used to bite my nails, and slowly I've bitten off some of the nail bed as well, on all ten fingers. It has been two years, and the nail bed does not seem to grow back, and my nails grow according to the new shape of the nail bed. It makes my hands look somewhat ugly, to be honest.

Any suggestions would be appreciated.

When are colds contagious?

Dear Alice,

When is a person with a cold contagious? A couple of friends, who are put off when I keep my distance from their sneezing and coughing, insist one is only contagious a week or so before symptoms appear. In the back of my memory is the idea that one remains contagious until a few days *after* primary symptoms disappear. I'm not usually so concerned about this, but I'm coping with a couple of other annoying health problems and want to try to avoid adding a cold or flu, to boot. I do the usual things news shows recommend — eat well, wash hands frequently. But when should one avoid others who have colds, or when should one stay isolated at home when one has a cold (or flu)?

Healthy and wanting to stay that way