If there is anything worse than policies and practices based on junk science, it is policies and practices based on no science at all. Even epidemiology at least has the pretense of science. But some of the widespread practices one sees today are really nothing more than superstition.
One of these is what I call hemophobia–literally “fear of blood”. This term used to denote an adverse reaction to the site of one’s own blood–typically faintness and/or loss of consciousness explained physiologically as a vasovagal reaction. But today’s hemophobia is the fear of other people’s blood.
Of course, this all began with the panic over AIDS. People heard that they could contract AIDS from contaminated blood used in transfusions and this apparently evolved into a fear that one could contract it from just about any contact with tainted blood. It is now almost impossible to watch any sporting event without seeing the team doctor or trainer whip out the disposable gloves in order to put a bandaid on a minor cut. Any athlete that bleeds a drop is immediately removed from the game and a spot of dried blood on a uniform requires that the player remove the dangerous garment and don a new one. I don’t know whether the offending piece of clothing is subsequently burned or not, but nothing would surprise me these days.
All of these precautions are patently absurd and suggest a way of thinking about the transmission of disease more characteristic of centuries past rather than the 21st. While it may make sense to be careful not to spill another’s blood on an open sore or wound, this is rarely, if ever, a legitimate fear in the typical situations where we see this practiced today. I doubt that there has ever been a single case of AIDS or any other disease spread in this fashion.
While we’re on the subject of irrationality about disease transmission, what’s the rationale behind the hand sanitizers that seem to be everywhere these days? I can hardly turn around without bumping into one. There seems to be one or more outside every bank of elevators lest one catch or transmit some disease by pressing the elevator buttons. They are on stands outside the supermarket next to the shopping carts so that one can wipe down the handles of the carts and remove potential pathogens. Maybe this is only a mental pathology limited to California. I don’t know whether the businesses and organizations that place these do so because it is mandated by the local government health department or simply because they are catering to the superstitions of an ignorant public.
Some people point out that these precautions are harmless and I wouldn’t argue otherwise, but it betrays and ignorance and herd mentality that I find disturbing in this day and age.