Saturday, March 10, 2007

Germ Factory

One of my students came to his lesson this evening with a cold. I'm not talking about a little sniffle or two. His voice was so hoarse it wasn't recognizable. His eyes were very red and his nose was running. It was a cold in its prime and he clearly wasn't in any condition to be speaking English for an hour.

Considering this cold developed two days ago, I don't understand why this student didn't contact the referral agency or me and ask to have his lesson rescheduled yesterday so that he could have attended when he was in better shape.

Even when he's in good health, this student can't keep his fingers off his nostrils and is a veritable fountain of projectile spit when he speaks. Today was rather worse as the impulse to touch his nose or wipe it with his hand then rub his hand on my sofa cover was something he couldn't resist doing with great frequency. Coughing with an open mouth was also the order of the evening. I pretty much wished I could have conducted the lesson from behind one of those white surgical masks that the Japanese are famous for wearing when they're sick.

Unfortunately, that wouldn't be polite so I positioned my chair about a foot further away than usual in case any excited spittle flew my way, moved my coffee cup as far away as possible, and resolved to wash my sofa cover the minute he left.

Since I always serve coffee at this man's lessons, I also had to deal with the cup. One thing I learned awhile back is that dish sponges carry and spread germs far more than people realize. This is because the sponges are used frequently enough that they rarely dry out entirely. I once read that office dish sponges are transporters of teaming swarms of germs because, not only are they used frequently but no one ever makes an effort to squeeze them out to help them dry overnight. However, I read that one way around this is to squeeze the sponge out and toss it in the microwave for a minute (update: in one of the comments, I've been told this takes 2-10 minutes - please read the comment by tito). This will cook the bacteria out and help the sponge to dry quickly.

What this student did reminded me of employees who go to work sick only to infect their coworkers. I realize that people often do this sort of thing with the best of intentions but it's very frustrating to be trapped in a closed room with someone who is sick and indifferent to protecting the other people in the room with him from his illness.


milton said...

Hi Shari,
Your comment about people who insist on going to work when they are sick is to the point. The problem never seems to be with coworkers, they never seem to mind when you call in sick. The problem is that managers never seem to care when people come to work sick.

Shari said...

Hi, Milton, and thanks very much for your comment.

I think managers are only interested in avoiding extra hassle for themselves (like finding coverage for sick workers).

At my former company, the president held the notion that it was a failure on the part of the employee if he or she got sick. He expected people to work overtime which caused them not to be able to eat well or get enough sleep but felt they were irresponsible for not taking care of themselves. :-p

I wish companies would take a more realistic approach to illness and just accept that it's going to happen to everyone sometimes.

tito said...

Hi Shari,

The article about microwaving your sponges and washcloths that I read said 2 minutes on high for most bacteria, but 10 minutes to kill bacterial spores.

I have no idea what bacterial spores are but they sound deadly.

Shari said...

Thanks for the information, Tito. You can bet I'll be taking it to heart!

miilton said...

Hi Shari, Hi Tito,
Some bacteria form spores when conditions change from good to bad, for example, when the sponge begins to dry out. The baceria respond by making a thicker outer wall to slow water loss and slowing down their respiration rate. Bacterial spores can be very hard to kill, so it is probably better to microwave your sponge while it is still wet than to allow it to dry. Also, detergents are great at killing bacteria so you might want to leave the detergent in the sponge rather than rinsing it out.

Tito said...

By the way, I just thought of another important point about the microwave disinfecting issue. We heard that some people didn't understand that the material being disinfected should be wet when microwaved.

Apparently doing it dry can cause the material to ignite.


Shari said...

Microwaving the sponge seems to be more dangerous than I thought. ;-)

In the past, I've cooked it just after washing dishes. It's wrung out but not dry and the soap is still in it. The main problem I have with the soap you can get in Japan is that it's pretty anemic. That may or may not be enough to kill bacteria but I refuse to go on the "anti-bacterial" soap craze since I think that it's likely to breed stronger bacteria.

Thanks to both of you for all the advice!