Healthy Living – The Value Of Cleanliness

Clean Dirt and Dirty Dirt—Most of us think of anything that is soiled, stained, spotted, or in any way discolored, as dirty; and so of course it is, in a way. From a health stand-point, however, some kinds of dirt are much worse than others.

The worst kind of dirt is that which contains disease germs; and since such germs come from the human body, it is clear that anything which has been soiled with human excretions, or which has been in contact with the mouth or nose, is the kind of dirt that does most harm. A drinking glass that has just been used by another boy or girl may look bright and clean to the eye; but it is really dirtier than a boy’s trousers green with grass stains. The green stains may be bad for the trousers, but they will not hurt the boy. On the other hand, if you looked at the rim of the glass with a microscope, you would probably see scales or particles from the lips of those who have used the glass, and many bacteria as well. Most of these bacteria would be harmless, but if, by any chance, the child who drank last were a diphtheria carrier, there might be diphtheria germs there and any one who used the glass without thorough cleansing would be likely to get diphtheria from it.

We must remember that different kinds of dirt are likely to go together. The child whose clothing and hands are usually dirty is not only unpleasant to look at but he is likely to catch any communicable disease that breaks out in the school. There is a good chance that he may pick up disease germs along with the ordinary dirt he carries about with him.

Germs in Dust.-Some people are afraid of the dust that blows about in the air and always think that it contains disease germs. This danger is, however, not nearly so great as one might suppose at first.

It is true that dry dust contains a great many microbes, but most of them are harmless. The disease germs that are coughed, sneezed, or spit out into the street or on the floor, die out rather rapidly as they dry, particularly if they are exposed to air and sunlight. A few remain, of course; and if a wind stirs up a heavy cloud of dust in the street, a per-son may get a good deal of dust into the mouth and nose, taking in disease germs with it. This is particularly true in the case of the germs of tuberculosis, which are very wide-spread and are not so easily killed by drying as are other disease germs.

Care should therefore be taken, in sweeping, not to stir up any more dust than is necessary. For the same reason—and also because the moving of dust from one place to another is a foolish waste of time dusting should be done with a soft cloth, not with a feather duster. The vacuum cleaner is the ideal instrument for cleaning, from this standpoint.

The fine dust which floats in the air of a quiet room, and which you can see as tiny glittering motes in a sunbeam, contains very few germs of any kind. In general, there is little danger of catching any disease from the air unless one is close to a person who is coughing or sneezing, or unless heavy dust is being stirred up by the wind or by careless sweeping indoors.. Disease germs have no wings and cannot fly across the room. They are spread, for the most part, not by the wind but by careless people who carry them about.

How Germs Pass from Mouth to Mouth.—When a person with some disease coughs or sneezes, a spray of fine drops is thrown out from the mouth.. Each of these tiny drops may have thousands of microbes in it. If you wish to understand how diseases are spread, notice—the next time you have a cold in the head—how many chances the germs have of passing to some one else’s mouth.

Notice whether you put your handkerchief down and ask some one to hand it to you. Notice whether you cough in some one’s face or over his hands or food. Notice how often you cough in your hand and then touch the water faucet or the door handle. If you watch, you will soon see the fingers that touched your handkerchief or the faucet or the door handle go into their owner’s mouth, or touch something that goes into his mouth. There are thousands of such ways in which germs—and sometimes disease germs among them—pass from mouth to mouth.

The danger of spreading the germs of tuberculosis and other diseases is one of the principal reasons why well-mannered people never spit on the floor or on the street, and why health authorities make regulations prohibiting people from indulging in this filthy habit. The sputum of a consumptive may contain millions of tuberculosis germs; and if discharged on the sidewalk, they may not only dry and blow about, but—a much more serious danger—while fresh and virulent, they may be carried on shoes, and from the shoes or from things the shoes have touched may easily get to the fingers and then to the mouth.

Guarding against Intestinal Diseases.—There are some diseases, like typhoid fever, in which the germs are spread, not by way of the nose and mouth, but in the discharges of the alimentary canal and kidneys. The most common ways in which these microbes are spread is by polluted water or milk, or by flies. In the city, where there is a sewer system, the sewage is carried away at once in closed pipes, but in the country it is often hard to get rid of it in a sanitary manner. There is always danger that the drainage may pass through cracks in the ground and carry disease germs to the well, or that they may be distributed to food by flies.

Hookworm Disease and Its Control.—In the warmer parts of the United States a large number of people suffer from hookworm disease, chiefly as a result of the careless disposal of bodily excretions. The hookworm is a tiny whitish worm, a little less than half an inch long, which lives in the intestines and sucks blood from the wall of the alimentary canal. People affected with this disease grow pale, weak, and listless, often without knowing what is the matter with them.

The eggs of the hookworm pass out with the discharges from the intestines; and the young worms which hatch from them usually get into the body of a new victim by boring in through the skin of the foot, since in these warm regions many people go barefoot. The worm may also be taken in with dirty drinking water or dirty food.

People who have hookworm disease can be cured by special drugs which kill the worms in the alimentary canal. The most important step in preventing this disease, however, is to provide good toilet facilities, so that the soil will not be polluted with discharges containing hookworm eggs.

Guarding the Gateway of the Mouth.—Most of the common disease germs enter by way of the mouth. This is true not only of colds, influenza (or grippe), tuberculosis, tonsillitis, whooping cough, diphtheria, and the like, in which the throat and nose and lungs are the parts first affected, but also of such diseases as scarlet fever, measles, cerebrospinal meningitis, and probably infant paralysis. The first essential in avoiding communicable disease is to keep a guard over this gateway of the mouth and to see that the enemy does not enter there. You have perhaps read about the Trojan War and remember that when the Greeks wanted to get into the city of Troy they built a great wooden horse, and hid some men in it, and left it on the plain outside the city walls. The Trojans were so curious that they brought the wooden horse into the city. At night the Greeks jumped out and opened the city gates to their comrades. That is the way with the disease germs. They hide on pencils, drinking glasses, and fingers, and we put them right into our own mouths.

I. Nothing should ever go into the mouth except things to eat and drink—and the toothbrush. Nothing should ever go to the nose except a clean hand-kerchief.

Since at mealtimes we must handle many things that are to go into the mouth, there is another rule of sanitation almost as important as the first one. The second rule is this:

II. The hands should be thoroughly washed be-fore meals and before eating any food handled with the fingers.

Soap and hot water will destroy many germs, and a hard scrubbing will rub away any disease germs that are likely to come off on bread or cake. It should be pointed out here that the use of a common towel—a roller towel, for instance, that has been used by other people—may more than undo all the good accomplished by washing, and may pollute the hands with fresh and dangerous germs deposited there by the last user.

If the boys and girls who study this book really learn these two simple rules of sanitation, and follow them, the time they spend upon this study will be well worth while.

The Care of Cuts and Wounds.—As a rule, it does not matter much if we get dirt on the outer skin, provided it does not reach the mouth. The skin is too thick and firm for germs to find their way through it.

If there is a cut or a scratch, however, it is very different. The kinds of germs that cause diseases of wounds may get in through any break in the skin. They are very common in dirt and earth of all kinds and do not have to come fresh from sick people or carriers, as in the case of the communicable diseases.

A wound that has dirt in it is likely to get red and sore from the action of these germs, and sometimes the disease that follows is painful and dangerous. Any scratch or wound on the surface should be allowed to bleed freely and then washed out thoroughly with clean warm water. All wounds should be watched to be sure they are healing well. If they grow red and “angry,” a physician should be consulted. In the case of a deep wound, a physician should always be called at once, for deep wounds are dangerous and cannot be safely dressed by any one else.


1. From a health standpoint, is a boy who has been digging in the garden or hoeing potatoes dirty?

2. People sometimes say in fun, “What’s the use of washing? You get dirty again.” Answer that question in earnest.

3. Do we get many disease germs from dust? Under what circumstances? What other danger is there from dust?

4. What is one great advantage of vacuum cleaners? If one does not possess a vacuum cleaner, what advantages may be gained by moistening the floor before sweeping?

5. Name some Of the ways in which germs may be passed from mouth to mouth. What is meant by contact, in a sanitary sense?

6. Why is expectoration on the street or in other public places prohibited by law?

7. How is the hookworm disease passed from one person to another? Why is it more likely to be found in the poorer rural districts of the South than in cities?

8. Why is picking the nose a dangerous as well as an unpleasant habit? Criticize the habit of biting finger nails; sucking lead pencils; using a public drinking cup.

9. Why should one always wash the hands before eating? 10. Do you have your own towel in school? Do you have your own towel, washcloth, and toothbrush at home?

11. Why is it dangerous to allow dirt to get into a wound or a cut?