In my last entry, I talked about the history of bathing, having just read a book on the topic. I mentioned that in various times and places, people managed to live six or seven decades without ever washing their hair or taking a bath or brushing their teeth. Admittedly, living this way meant that they were far more prone than we are to things like carbuncles (something Ashenburg doesn't mention but which I briefly found fascinating ten years ago or so in that "Oooh, how disgusting!" way) and being toothless by age 40, but it didn't necessarily kill them, or cause their flesh to fall off.
(That is, not washing one's hands or body didn't necessarily kill the unwashed one. It did sometimes kill the people that one touched--for example, the many women who died of pueperal or childbirth fever, contracted when they were attended by doctors with unwashed, germy hands. Ignaz Semmelweiz, the doctor who suggested that his esteemed colleagues should wash their hands before touching a woman's filthy nether regions, was ridiculed out of the medical profession by men who greatly resented his outright assertion that they were somehow unclean; he died in an institution, a broken man.)
But here's that something can make the flesh fall from your bones, and might potentially kill you: flesh-eating bacteria, transmitted by skin contact and resistant to antibiotics.
You can contract it from sex with an infected person, but you can also get it from contact sports. It's common in kids.
The article doesn't say how it is eventually cured for the people who contract it, only that "One in five infected patients in the US required hospital treatment."
But it also mentions the best way to avoid infection. That's right: "probably [probably! They don't know for sure] to wash thoroughly with soap and water, especially after sex."
I have a pretty good immune system and the ailments that tend to impair my health aren't usually infectious, aside from a mild cold from time to time, or the occasional bout of food poisoning, but I tend to recover very quickly. Normally I'm not the least bit hesitant to shake someone's hand but this is REALLY gross. Then there's the full-body massage I get every three or four weeks: I don't suppose I'll stop, but I might have to talk to my massage therapist about this. But how do you say, "I'm mildly concerned about contracting a gross infection that causes my skin to rot from the outside and my lungs to rot from the inside?" It's not a conversation I'm used to having.