What would happen if you didn’t wash your hands for 10 years?
Most of us don't have to ponder that question, but it got the internet in a twist recently, when Fox News host Peter Hegseth proudly announced on TV that he had not washed his hands in over a decade.
“I don’t think I’ve washed my hands for ten years,” Hegseth said on Fox & Friends to the apparent horror of his co-hosts. “I don’t really wash my hands ever.”
Hegseth went on to say, bizarrely, that germs aren’t real. “I inoculate myself,” he said in defence of never using soap and water before eating or cooking or after using the toilet. “It’s just not – germs are not a real thing. I can’t see them, therefore they’re not real.”
Inoculating himself by keeping his hands dirty is one thing, and he’s likely alluding to the hygiene hypothesis – the concept that exposure to bacteria early in our lives builds a healthy immune system. But his admission begs the question: What would be on your hands if you hadn’t washed them in 10 years?
“Chemicals like petrol from when you filled up your tank, cleaning fluids like bleach, the flu virus which lives quite happily for two days but possibly longer and the norovirus which causes gastro, coughs, colds,” says GP Dr Ginni Mansberg. Salmonella can also be spread from one person to another by contaminated hands.
While it sounds like Hegseth has a good immune system, says Dr Ginni and there is an element of truth in what he says about the hygiene hypothesis “which is like putting training wheels on your immune system when you’re young” none of us are impenetrable to viruses. “The best way to stop colds spreading is to wash your hands, particularly before preparing food and eating, to prevent the transfer of microbes from your hands from when you’ve been touching train seats or traffic light buttons or supermarket trolleys.”
“The fact that this man doesn’t get sick often, means he probably has a pretty decent immune system from when he was a kid, though I’m sure his mother made him wash his hands! But bags not sitting next to him on an airplane.”