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How to Eliminate/Prevent a Skin Infection and What It Means

Posted Oct 11 2009 10:00pm

Several years ago, during a routine checkup, my primary-care doctor pointed to some white lines on my right foot. (Curiously only one foot had them.) Fungus, he said. I had a fungus infection. What should I do? I asked. He suggested over-the-counter anti-foot-fungus medications, sold in every drugstore.

I tried a few of them. They didn’t work. The problem persisted.

A month ago I noticed the problem had gotten much worse. Yikes. What had gone wrong? I realized that in the previous few weeks I had changed two things:

  • Instead of putting my wash through an extra wash cycle without soap (to rinse it better), I had started doing my wash the way the rest of the world does it. I had stopped doing the extra cycle because I was no longer worried about becoming allergic to the soap.
  • I had bought 5 new pairs of socks and had been cycling though 4 of the new pairs again and again (washing them between wearings, of course), ignoring the rest of my socks.

This suggested a theory: My skin infection was due to my socks. The infectious agents get on my socks and are not completely removed by the washing machine. They survive a few days on the shelf. To wear socks with the infectious agent already present gives the infection a boost. Maybe my new socks supported the infectious agent better than the socks they replaced.

Based on this theory, I did three things:

  • Resumed putting my wash through an extra cycle without soap.
  • Took off my socks earlier in the evening.
  • Bought 12 new pairs of socks and made sure every sock went a long time (e.g., 3 weeks) between wearings.

I saw improvement right away. (The morning after I wore new socks.) A month later, the infection, present for at least several years, is entirely gone. It took about a month for it to clear up completely.

The essence of my discovery is that the infectious agent could survive my socks being washed conventionally (in a washing machine) and live for a few days without contact with my feet. Whereas a few weeks away from my skin killed it. I have been unable to find this info anywhere else. A very minor discovery, but unlike the work that won the most recent Nobel Prize in Medicine, useful right now. Cost: zero. I would have had to buy new socks anyway.

In Cities and the Wealth of Nations, Jane Jacobs tells about a reporter interviewing someone in an oil-rich Middle East country (Iran?). During the interview the interviewee tries to cut an apple with a knife. The knife breaks. We can’t even make knives, the interviewee says. That’s how backward our economy is. To develop economically, MIT professors had advised his country’s government to build a dam, at great expense. The MIT advisors thought that building a dam would be good for economic development. They were wrong, it turned out. Jacobs thought it was telling that after all that money invested, the local economy still couldn’t make something as basic as a good knife. Many industrial processes require cutting tools.

This is the same thing. Preventing and eliminating infection is at the core of medicine, just as cutting is at the core of manufacturing. My discovery reveals that my doctor — and by implication, the whole health care establishment — failed to know something basic and simple about this. If they understood what I figured out, there would be no need for anti-foot-fungus medicine. A gazillion dollars a year is spent on medical research, medical schools and research institutes around the world are full of faculty doing research — and they haven’t figured out something as basic and simple as this.
Gatekeeper Drugs. How to Avoid Infection: Something I Didn’t Know.

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