More than a Simple Case of Contact Dermatitis


Most of us live in a sterilized world where intrusions from parasites are rare. But this was not the case with our predecessors: colonists, natives, settlers, and explorers who routinely harbored nits, lice, ticks, mites, fungi, ova, or insects of all sorts. And that was just what roamed around on their outsides.

I find including the occasional detail about these human pests adds a touch of reality to my writing. After years of evaluating clinical laboratory specimens for parasites, I recall that whenever a specimen would arrive in my Microbiology section in the form of a glass slide transported in a petri dish which was securely taped shut, all my staff would immediately begin scratching. Just a mere suggestion of head lice, scabies, or pinworms was sufficient stimulus to start the eternal itch cycle revolving.

Living in our global village where apparel fibers are grown on one continent, shipped to another for refining and dyeing, and then loaded on a container ship to be stitched together in yet another location offers ample opportunities for parasites to hitchhike along.

Once the latest runway fashions are ready for sale, hanging on a rack in your local mall, imagine the number of strange hands who have searched a rack, unzipped a garment, or wiggled into it in the fitting rooms which are stacked with discarded garments soon to be returned to yet another rack for yet another shopper’s evaluation.

And you know those mysterious little packets that appear in apparel pockets? They are put there specifically to stifle growth of fungi which thrive in dark, moist shipping containers. Add to that the dyes generously applied to attract your attention which can produce red, scaly, itchy, flaky, blistery rashes especially in stressed areas where friction occurs and sweat collects.

So what to do? Use your noggin. Who knows what bacteria and parasite might be lurking in the seams of those trendy new togs? Wash those precious, newly-purchased items before you wear them, even if it means the starch and formaldehyde (the chemical associated with embalming or frog dissections) put there to discourage wrinkles, is washed away. You may have to resort to that antiquated ritual of ironing that clothing.

Imagine how happy our ancestors would have been to have had easy solutions to their daily infestations. They had to resort to “nit-picking” and one of the kindest things one could do for one’s neighbor was to “groom” them looking for vermin lurking in the folds, among the flaps, or hidden in the scalps of almost everyone in town.

4 thoughts on “More than a Simple Case of Contact Dermatitis

  1. So, that’s where the term nitpicky comes from? I am always torn between being obsessive with cleanliness or following the advice of my frighteningly smart mother-in-law, who said, “Everyone has to eat their pound of dirt.”

  2. Dirt is everywhere and is good for the healthy immune system – but a caution for those who are compromised. I think it’s amazing how these ugly little creatures can cause so much irritation and panic. Just ask any mom whose dealt with an elementary school outbreak of head lice.

  3. Great post Judy! All too often we forget what previous generations had to battle. I find some of the younger generations lack the education you have so eloquently presented. Keep up the great posts!

    Sent from my iPhone


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