The Morning File: Competing at the London Olympics? Practice hand hygiene

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The staff of The Morning File has been placed under orders not to shake hands with anyone. We're on a Stage IV air-kiss-only alert.

The prohibition comes at the advice of the British Olympic Association's chief medical officer. Looking ahead to the games in London this summer, Dr. Ian McCurdie discouraged any of the traditional physical contact among competitors greeting and congratulating one another.

He said germs could be spread among hand-shakers, and the Olympic village environment could be a "pretty hostile one" for infections. He didn't say anything about the athletes wearing surgical masks during the competition, although that would be a logical next step -- especially for those Greco-Roman wrestlers who intertwine closer than is customary of porn stars.

"Essentially we are talking about minimizing risk of illness and optimizing resistance -- minimizing exposure and getting bugs into the system and being more robust to manage those, should that happen," Dr. McCurdie explained.

"Hand hygiene is it," he stressed. "It is all about hand hygiene."

And there you have the new catch phrase for The Morning File: "Hand hygiene is it."

It used to be "Pitt is it," but that was before recent misfortunes befalling the football and basketball teams, so now we more accurately say, "Pitt was it." Meanwhile, "Hand hygiene is it" simply rolls off the tongue, which is a good thing since everyone's tongue -- but especially Madonna's -- is infested with millions of bacteria.

Are pat-downs hygenic?

Dr. McCurdie's advice makes perfect sense in an age when it is becoming all the harder to avoid physical interaction with strangers. With an additional 200,000 or so people occupying the planet every 24 hours, it can be hard making it through a day without the kind of undesired contact an NBA player encounters while driving into the paint. .

Even without Port Authority schedules being scaled back any further -- which seems a certainty to occur in September -- getting on and off the bus at rush hour already resembles some of the hand-to-hand combat scenes in "Braveheart."

And at many sporting events these days, you're patted down at the entrance by some rent-a-frisker eager to catch his first sports-loving suicide bomber. (Actually, a little secret for terrorist wannabes and alcohol contrabanders: Most of the pat-downs at Heinz Field and Petersen Events Center are so light that anything smaller than a Fiat can easily be smuggled in.)

We're not saying all physical contact between two human beings is bad, mind you -- unless we decide to enter the Republican presidential primary campaign, in which case it would be a centerpiece of our platform. We just think people have a right to be selective, as it's so much more comforting to get the flu from a loved one than a stranger. (Because you then have the responsible person handy to lash out at while you're sick.)

The Aussies go bravely forward

Dr. McCurdie's brave stand against the plague of handshaking (a ritual dating as far back as the ancient Greeks, and look at where their country is now) was shot down quickly and thoroughly by others with the British Olympic Association and government. Officials had concerns that they, as host of the summer games, might appear to be less than welcoming to outsiders.

While the stir may create more emphasis on frequent hand-washing and ubiquitous sanitizers now than there otherwise would have been, the British Olympic Association's spokesman said the British athletes "will of course warmly welcome their fellow competitors from around the world. ... We are not advising our athletes to avoid shaking hands."

That's a good thing, so as not to get the Australian team all up in arms about it.

"For us, someone not shaking hands would be an embarrassment. It's the Australian way," explained Australian Olympic Committee spokesman Mike Tancred.

The athletes could always take after sumo wrestlers and address the issue by bowing to show mutual respect, instead of shaking hands. But in team competition, that's a lot more bowing than most people are eager to do.

We have no plans to be in London during the Olympics to see how this hand-shaking thing actually shakes out. We're sure somebody or other is bound to get sick there, however, and we're confident it won't be Dr. McCurdie.

Gary Rotstein: or 412-263-1255. First Published March 12, 2012 4:00 AM


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