Monday, November 29, 2010

INFECTIOUS FEARS

My friend Chanin Nuntavong alerted me to an article written recently by podiatric surgeon Dr. Marybeth Crane. Although the article is titled “Barefoot Passengers in Disgusting Airports,” the article is not about traveling barefoot, it’s about people walking barefoot through security checkpoints, which, by the way, is required at most airports these days.

I’m discovering that the biggest hurdle most people have to going barefoot is the fear of infections. Most people believe there are armies of germs just waiting to attack naked feet and then render the barefooter lame or blind… or dead (Dr. Crane: “You may actually be saving your life with a pair of socks!”). Nothing could be further from the truth.

The fear of getting infections by going barefoot is irrational though understandable given the cultural ‘brainwashing’ we receive throughout childhood – doctors, camp counselors, teachers and parents constantly tell kids that going barefoot is dangerous. It’s an irrational fear however because it’s not based in fact or human experience, and I’m starting to get perturbed at chronically-shod people (like Dr. Crane) infecting the populace with erroneous ideas about barefooting. If you really want to know the hazards of going barefoot, wouldn’t it be best to ask a barefooter?

I recently asked several of my full-time barefooter friends if they’ve ever suffered an infection from going habitually barefoot. The answer was universally “No.” Several of them, in fact, became barefooters to rid themselves of continuing fungal infections (e.g., athlete’s foot or toenail fungus). I stress that these people have been living barefoot for years. I have been barefoot 95% of my life for the past three years, spending as much as 6 months continually barefoot, and like my barefooting friends I’ve suffered no ill-effects from doing so; I’ve in fact benefitted from the experience.

Dr. Crane confesses to believing that airports are disgusting. I can only assume she also thinks fast food restaurants are disgusting, hotels are disgusting, malls are disgusting… heck the whole world must be disgusting. I can’t imagine going through life feeling this way. The irony is that one of the most disgusting places you can put your foot is inside a shoe (if by disgusting she means “germy”). Most people are beginning to realize that shoes are incubators for bacteria and fungi, hence the horrible smell of shoes and the plague of fungal infections in the feet.

Let me address some of the specific threats mentioned by Dr. Crane at disgusting airports:

Plantar warts. This virus infection is caused by walking in wet environments, such as public locker rooms and swimming pools. This is another good example of how most of our shoe behavior is backwards. Normally, we go barefoot in the locker room, then strap on shoes and socks for the rest of the day. As I advise in The Barefoot Book, this is the worst thing we can do. Instead, wear shoes in the public shower and go barefoot the rest of the day. Any fungus you perhaps pick up in the wet environment will likely wear off in the following minutes and hours, saving you from infection. By contrast, putting your foot into a shoe only provides a warm, moist, stale environment for the fungus to grow and infect.

Herpes. I’ve never heard of anyone having herpes on the feet except for congenital cases. I’m not aware of any adult picking up herpes by going barefoot. Can anyone provide case studies or examples?

Fungus. It is well-established that wearing shoes leads to foot fungus, going barefoot eradicates it. See The Barefoot Book for more on this.

Staph. Dr. Crane says that staph bacteria are “growing stronger and infecting more people every day” (are those shod people?) and that MRSA is “more common than ever before.” Again, I don’t know of a single case of someone getting MRSA by going barefoot. Indeed, it is well-known that the best place to get MRSA is in a hospital, the covering of your feet being irrelevant. Outside the hospital, MRSA infection usually occurs via the fingernails and scratching. The unpleasant truth is that people (especially kids) pick their noses and then scratch their itches, like bug bites. The MRSA, which lives harmlessly in the nose, is thereby transferred to the broken skin of the bug bite and infection ensues. This is a good example of why hand-washing and good hygiene are so important.

Finally, Dr. Crane mentions puncture wounds in the article, but she does not mention pseudomonas. Although staph lives harmlessly on the skin all over your body, pseudomonas does not. Pseudomonas thrives in shoes, however, and in one study 50% of shod children with foot puncture wounds obtained a pseudomonas infection; zero barefoot children did (the reference for this study is in The Barefoot Book). Even getting a puncture wound is safer sans shoes. It should also be mentioned that frequently wearing shoes thins and softens your plantar skin, making you more vulnerable to infection. Frequent barefooting toughens and thickens your skin, and keeps it healthy and dry, which combats microbial infection.

Unfortunately, experts like Dr. Crane are still spreading misconceptions about barefooting to the public. In truth, going barefoot is generally safe and is almost always healthier than wearing shoes.

*Dr. Crane's article can be found HERE.

7 comments:

  1. BTW... If you look closely at the photo, you will notice a man with his driver's license in his mouth. Now THAT is how you get sick.

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    1. I recently asked several of my full-time barefooter friends if they’ve ever suffered an infection from going habitually barefoot.Nailexpert by Wartner

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  2. I am in agreement from two years of personal experience that all these fears about going barefoot are irrational and that it's actually pretty practical and healthy.

    A few years back, I used to have athlete's foot which caused itchiness and disgusting skin breaks on the bottom of my feet. After a few months or so, I realized that they were gone and my feet were fine again and more so.

    It's sad to see this kind of well intentioned misinformation preventing people from making a financially independent choice that could enrich their life, but hey- products make profit but just using the feet is something anyone can do without shelling out money.

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  3. One thing that boggles my mind is that people are quick to point out that bare feet are unsanitary, but don't consider how much more unsanitary bare hands are!

    It has been proven that microscopic pieces of human waste can be found on door knobs, handrails, counter tops, etc left behind from other people that didn't wash their hands thoroughly after leaving the bathroom. Not to mention H1N1 and so many other diseases that people get on their hands from touching objects that are diseased by other people's hands. None of this stuff normally gets on the floor. What's worse, people eat with their hands!

    Despite how unsanitary bare hands are, we are all still alive, aren’t we? It's no different with bare feet. There is no doubt that concerns about bare feet being unsanitary are fueled mostly by prejudice rather than facts.

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  4. In October I flew across the country completely BF. I was BF before I even entered the airport. I walked inside of Sac, LA, Philly, Chi airports. I basically went unnoticed except for one airline employee. At Chicago a southwest employee taking my boarding pass stopped the line to deal with me. He ultimately did not make me put shoes on, but he wanted to see I had some. I had some stashed in my carry on. Then he let me on the plane without putting them on. He warned me the flight attendants might say something to me. they did not. He also mentioned the FAA require shoes on passengers during take off, and landing. This was my only negative interaction at the airport. My feet felt safe, and comfortable.

    By the way. How do passengers shoes being on feet effect the plane taking off, and landing ? Too funny.....

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  5. I have never had an infection either, but I didn't want to rely on just my own anecdotal evidence when I explain that (smart) barefooting is safe. Thanks for the article!

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  6. Can you get mercer from walking around hospital with wet socks

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