A family of viruses – known as the noroviruses – thrive in crowded conditions and are especially fond of schools, where pupils then take bugs home. An unpleasant scenario my young daughter and I played out a few days ago.
Avoiding it is partly down to luck. But one major defence is the good old public health maxim – ‘wash your hands after you’ve been’. While such basic hygiene seems obvious, there was a time we barely used to bother.
A Hungarian doctor, Ignaz Semmelweis, first highlighted the life-saving potential of hand-washing in 1847. Like other champions of medical hygiene, such as Joseph Lister, he was initially ridiculed. Only after the acceptance of germ theory were such good practices really followed.
Hygienic habits amongst the public were also slow to catch on. Access to clean water was limited in 19th century Britain and many homes didn’t have sinks, let alone bathrooms.
Lavatories, like the one above, were reserved for wealthier backsides. Public toilets, when they arrived, cost money. Most people relied on unhygienic communal toilets which had to service many households. And not without reason were the Victorian masses called ‘the great unwashed’. Effective soap was a luxury until well into the 20th century.
We have examples of such products in one our smellier store cupboards. Cakes of soap still queasily fragrant nearly a century after they were made.
In time, good hygiene was seen as a public duty, especially in regard to washing hands. But people do need reminding.
These stickers are from the mid 20th century and were to be placed in staff toilets, especially those used by people preparing food. Because then, as now, you didn’t really want any little ‘hidden extras’ with your pie and chips.