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A natural history of hygiene.

Can J Infect Dis Med Microbiol, 2007; 18(1):11-4
In unpacking the Pandora's box of hygiene, the author looks into its ancient evolutionary history and its more recent human history. Within the box, she finds animal behaviour, dirt, disgust and many diseases, as well as illumination concerning how hygiene can be improved. It is suggested that hygiene is the set of behaviours that animals, including humans, use to avoid harmful agents. The author argues that hygiene has an ancient evolutionary history, and that most animals exhibit such behaviours because they are adaptive. In humans, responses to most infectious threats are accompanied by sensations of disgust. In historical times, religions, social codes and the sciences have all provided rationales for hygiene behaviour. However, the author argues that disgust and hygiene behaviour came first, and that the rationales came later. The implications for the modern-day practice of hygiene are profound. The natural history of hygiene needs to be better understood if we are to promote safe hygiene and, hence, win our evolutionary war against the agents of infectious disease.