Beware, germaphobes: this educational film from the 1950s will make you never want to leave the house again. Part of a series called “Health and Safety for You,” the 1955 short film “Sniffles and Sneezes” warns of the ease with which germs can be spread at school and at home. Sneezy Jane touches a doorknob shortly before Bob, who picks up her germs and transfers them to a book he’s sharing with Sue, who licks her finger to turn pages and passes them along on a pencil to Ann, who spreads them on the cutlery while setting the family dinner table. Yum.
The film serves up some practical advice for staying healthy that will sound familiar. Eat balanced meals, exercise, get a good night’s sleep, and wash your hands. The film’s advice for treatment after catching a cold is cautious: stay in bed—really, do not leave the confines of your bed—listen to some jazz on the radio, and read a book. Use disposable tissues instead of handkerchiefs, which in 1955 were still a socially accepted way of cleaning up your snot. Don’t chew on pencils, which is kind of gross regardless of your infection status.
Other advice borders on paranoia. “Never take bites of other people’s food,” the narrator commands. "Never drink out of someone else’s glass." Never!
Breathing germs on each other. Image Credit:Screenshot via Public Domain Review
These days, researchers can be a little more lackadaisical about cold-spreading germs. According to the Common Cold Centre at the University of Cardiff in the UK, "Despite the fact that very few of us escape from at least a couple of common cold infections each year, common cold viruses are not very contagious."
"Under laboratory conditions," the Common Cold Centre says, "when healthy volunteers are kept with others who are suffering from common cold infections it has proven remarkably difficult to spread infection from one person to another." While washing your hands seems to help stop the spread of the infection, there's only one real way to avoid colds altogether: “Become a hermit.”
The old film strip warns that what seems like a cold could actually be the beginnings of a more serious disease, like diphtheria, measles, or whooping cough, which just a decade ago would have seemed like outdated advice. Since the ‘50s, these diseases have largely been eradicated thanks to vaccines and herd immunity—but they’re all on the rise again thanks to anti-vaccination advocacy. Back to the ‘50s we go!
[h/t: Public Domain Review]