You’re probably wondering how on earth I could make an issue out of personal hygiene amongst Filipinos, right? This is a country full of sweet-smelling and clean people, no question about it. Despite the tropical heat, you very rarely smell a stinky armpit! No one wears dirty clothes with stains. No one has dirty shoes. Schoolkids go to school with toothbrushes and toothpaste for after lunch. And ladies generally take care of their “lady-areas” very well, and that’s all I’ll say on that subject.
Yes, the level of personal hygiene has long impressed me here. When you would see girls walking out of slum areas on the way to work looking immaculate, and kids school uniforms crisp and white. I think of my years as a single dad, and never working out how someone could get sweat stains out of collars. My boys school shirts always had stains, but then as a parent in Australia I wasn’t alone. Wouldn’t cut it here in the Philippines at all!
But the issue for this article is not with body-cleanliness matters, but more about avoiding sharing disease and infection from one person to another, and it’s something that Australian Filipina couples should be aware of.
Sharing diseases in the Philippines
Blunt heading, but this is the issue! Filipinos are a bit too relaxed when it comes to controlling the spread of bacteria and diseases amongst each other.
The Philippines has a high incidence of Hepatitis. Hepatitis B, 1 in 7 adults in the Philippines have it! This compares with about 1 in 100 in Australia. There’s also Hepatitis A and Hepatitis C, Tuberculosis and rising rates of HIV. This is accentuated by poverty, of course.
Filipinos have a habit of sharing food and drink with each other, and this is a great way to spread disease! Hep B and TB can be spread by saliva! Drink out of the same bottle or dip your saliva-covered utensils or eating-fingers into the same plate or “banana leaf” of food, and you most definitely WILL share saliva with others. And people do this all the time.
Filipinos are a sociable people, and sharing food is as natural as breathing. Arrive anywhere when food is being eaten, and you will be invited to share it. Comment on what a Filipino is eating, and they will offer you some and expect you to dig right in. And the same thing when you are eating something, don’t be too surprised if someone wants to taste it.
And small children, ie. those under 10, are often fed very informally by whoever is there. If a child is in reach, it’s normal practice to get a bit of food off your plate (by utensils or eating-fingers) and stick it in the child’s mouth. And if the child wants something you are eating, don’t be too surprised to find that small child with mouth open in front of you. I’m not comfortable with this for a number of reasons, and spread of disease is one of them.
For any of you with kids here in Philippines, you absolutely must train them not to share food or drink with their friends at school. Taking a bite of what someone else is eating, or drinking from someone else’s cup or bottle is very common. My girls will tend to just give the bottle to the other kid and say “keep it”, because fortunately they listened to me. And no one is allowed to feed our kids from their plates.
The kitchen sink
This is another area that tends to trouble me, and is why I’ve insisted that everyone in our household washes hands in the bathroom and not in the kitchen sink. And let me explain why this can lead to disease.
Has everyone heard of E. coli? I think most know that this is a bacteria which is quite capable of causing you to be very ill, and in some cases even kill you.
It comes from fecal matter, ie. it comes from poo. And that means you wash your hands after using the toilet and you may have poo under your nails.
It’s known as a thermotolerant coliform. A “coliform” is a type of bacteria, and thermotolerant means it tolerates hotter-than-normal heat.
In fact you need to subject it to 70 degrees Celcius for a couple of minutes to kill it. And that’s pretty hot! And before you think that washing in hot water will control E. coli, you can’t wash up in 70 degree water! You can tolerate 42 – 44 degree water, and that’s about it!
The issue is therefore that washing your toilet-hands in the kitchen sink, realize you or someone in the household could end up sick as a result. And it’s not just E. coli. There are plenty of ordinary bacteria from dirty hands from ordinary daily activity that you would be better off not on the drinking glasses.
I hope this article prompts a bit of awareness of this issue, and that it leads to a few positive changes.