Start building your bubble now!

Run for the hills, America!  The rapture may not have happened quite on schedule, but you’re not out of the woods yet.  Your homes may be rife with a heretofore unacknowledged menace, exposing all of us to the potential for plague and pestilence.

I’m talking, of course, about hand towels.  Yes, those slightly damp bits of cloth hanging in your bathrooms may be just what ebola has been waiting for.  Even I, medicine man extraordinaire, was unaware of the danger that loomed until I caught a commercial last night for this life-saving product.  Thank God for the good people at Kleenex:

People in the U.S. dry their hands on cloth bathroom towels approximately 200 billion times a year. The CDC guidelines for hand washing recommends hand drying with a single-use towel. Families have not had a practical alternative to traditional cloth hand towels in their home bathrooms… until now.

Kleenex® Hand Towels are an innovative solution that delivers one clean, fresh, dry towel every time you wash your hands. Each and every box is specifically designed with you in mind.

“Woe is me,” you might lament.  “If only our bodies were covered with some sort of barrier to prevent entry of infectious agents.  Alas and alack!  If only there were a system of some kind, with circulating cells and proteins that would fight infections that somehow managed to penetrate said barrier.  Then perhaps I would not have needed yet one more disposable item to clutter up my home and planet.  But lo, I have caught some kind of hand-towel-related wasting disease!”  *cough, death rattle*

True, one might wonder how it is that humanity has survived lo these many years using reusable hand towels in their homes.  And true, I don’t recall a single patient whose illness could plausibly have been attributed to a cloth hand towel in the two decades since I first entered medical school, but I was probably not paying enough attention!  And yes, one might search the CDC website for recommendations about hand towels and note that they seem mainly concerned with things like the safe handling of animals in schools, or proper hygiene in closed environments like cruise ships.  But recommendations for dental offices must be exactly the same as the ones for people’s homes, right!  An outbreak of leprosy is probably lurking in your bathroom right now!

Boy, those morons at Brawny must be kicking themselves for focusing on things like spill absorption when they should have been hawking their wares as a disease-prevention measure.  Everyone knows Americans fear exposure to even one single germ more than they fear a lifetime of spills.  Although, apparently there’s something about paper towels on a roll that renders them an “[im]practical alternative to traditional cloth towels.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to run out and buy a closetful  of disposable Kleenex hand towels.  Each and every one is, after all, specifically designed with me in mind.  It would be downright churlish of me not to buy them!  Then I’m going to get myself a Hazmat suit and burn all of my cloth hand towels in the backyard.  I’m sure the people at Kleenex would advise you to do likewise.

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. Obviously you don’t have a sufficiently insane mother. Every time she comes to my house, she begs for some form of single-use drying method, absolutely repulsed that we let germ-infused rags anywhere near our person.

  2. Great post.

    There’s some merit to the assertion dirty hand towels are a factor in the spread of communicable disease. Most of the cleaning effect of a shower is the towel debriding the outermost layer of epithelial cells which are constantly flaking off you anyway: that’s what a bloodhound tracks. It’s surprising how few people know how to effectively wash and dry their hands.

    That said, everyone’s skin is a microbial zoo: you do have to worry about the gram-negative part of that zoo getting into an open cut. And FWIW, your mouth is the nastiest part of that zoo. Your immune system copes with it all just fine, unless it’s compromised, which is why late-stage AIDS patients go down so quickly: they’re literally dying of everything. We don’t know as much as we’d like to about the immune system, but it’s amazingly resilient, even keeping certain cancers in check such as the AIDS-related Kaposi’s sarcoma.

    What makes my eyes roll to heaven in outrage is the increasing prevalence of these antimicrobial hand sanitizers and the imprudent use of antibiotics.

    Folks, bacteria are like shifty little jailbirds, sitting there with nothing to do but evolve new strategies for surviving the next crop of antibiotics. For several generations, we’ve been handing out antibiotics for the dumbest things, even putting them into animal feed. Things have gotten so bad the staph germ is now immune to even the strongest antibiotics in the form of MRSA. The term for this evolution is Nosocomial Infection.

    Simple soap and water does a fine job of cleaning and there’s no point to turning into a Howard Hughes. A hand towel does more than merely dry you off, it’s part of the cleaning process. Hang it up to dry, though. If you really want to avoid life-threatening infections, go to the dentist regularly and for godsakes, if you’ve been prescribed a course of antibiotics, take all your medicine and don’t stop when you “feel better”.

  3. I remember those “disposable cutting boards”, that were basically a rebranded sheet of plastic sold for the low low price of $2.00 each.

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