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In good health? You can thank refuse, sewer, water workers
dennis Wyatt web
Dennis Wyatt

I had dropped part of my granola bar the size of a dime on the ground.

I reached down, picked it up, brushed off some grains of debris, and was moving it toward my mouth when my nephew spoke.

"You're not going to eat that, are you?" he asked.
I held the granola in front of my mouth for a second. I glanced around at where we were at. We had been hiking for 11 hours and were resting at High Camp at 12,000 feet after reaching the summit of Mt. Whitney at 14,505 feet. We had a good four hours of hiking left before reaching the Escape.

Then I looked back at Garrison.

"Ten-second rule," I said. "No, make that the 10-minute rule."

With that I popped the granola bar chunk in my mouth and chewed a few times and swallowed.

He looked at me as if I was crazy.

Some people do the same thing when they find out I eat the skin of an apple, drink water from a garden hose let alone from a tap, or eat yogurt several days past the expiration date.

It's safe to say I'm not someone who sprays and wipes down a health club's exercise mat before using it or account for what the experts say is my "fair share" of the $9.7 billion Americans spend on disinfection cleaning supplies each year.

That's not to say I don't clean. It's not an obsession and I certainly don't clean out of fear of germs.

If you listen to the "experts" we are one bite of food, one drink of tap water or one failed swipe of a Formula 409-soaked towel of the kitchen counter away from a cold, serious illness, or meeting our maker.

Such assertions fly in the face of reality. Americans enjoy the safest tap water in the history of the planet and benefit from modern health care, a sanitation system for wastewater and garbage that is second to none, and other advances that make living healthier today than ever before.

You could make a strong case that the people most responsible for us avoiding diseases aren't those hawking new ways to kill germs but the men and women who don municipal blue collar uniforms for cities like Ceres, Turlock, Manteca, Ripon and Lathrop perform underappreciated jobs such as collecting our garbage, overseeing the treatment of our wastewater, and making sure that clean water always flows through the tap.

No one dreams of becoming a wastewater treatment plant technician as some dream of becoming a physician or a nurse. But given the impact they have on reducing the odds of us getting sick they are arguably the most effective part of the American healthcare system.

Garbage, not disposed of properly, becomes a breeding ground for rodents and an endless list of insects such as flies, maggots, and even mosquitoes. Human waste by its very nature is a haven for diseases. Unclean water is perhaps the most effective way for most illnesses to spread.

In our personal quests to fight sickness and disease we not only give little credit to mundane yet critical 20th century developments that gave us sanitation and water systems second to none but we also overshoot the runway by forgetting how our bodies work.

Nature did an impressive job with giving us the ability to combat diseases. Consuming food that works in concert with our bodies and striving to "use it or loss it" when it comes to using our muscles, lungs, and heart are just part of it. The fact that our bodies - unless you are the boy in the bubble - have immune systems that can only be effective if they are "tested" is the other half of the puzzle.

There is growing research that shows the over use of antibiotics to treat relatively mild infections eventually renders them ineffective. At the same time those antibiotics are setting our bodies up to be more susceptible to attack.

The premise behind flu shots is using killed viruses interjected into your body to trigger your immune system to repel the invaders. By essentially queuing up your immune system to battle a specific strain of flu - albeit one that isn't potent enough most of the time make you sick - your body is put on a heightened state to repel the real deal when those germs try to make their way into your system.

The obsession with striving for an environment rivaling a clean room in the silicon chip manufacturing process when it comes to our homes and immediate environments can backfire by not giving our bodies the chance to prime themselves to fight an all-out attack by specific germs.

It's much like our legs. If we are perfectly healthy but opted instead to move around using a motorized wheelchair they will eventually atrophy. Then, if after years of using a wheelchair for no valid reason we stood up and tried to walk, we'd collapse. Our legs are meant for walking just like our immune system is designed to fight diseases. If we don't use them, they won't work. If we limit their use, we get only limited effectiveness.

I'm sure there are things on the food I drop while hiking in the middle of nowhere that are hostile in nature when it comes to my body. The same is true of apple skins or water that flowed through a rubber garden hose.

That said they are also making my body work to stay as healthy as possible.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.