Beware!!! They are Everywhere and Can Infect You!!! - Part I
‘ “Basically, if you do undergarments in one [laundry] load and handkerchiefs in the next, you’re blowing your nose in what was in your underwear,” ’ declares Dr. Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona Department of Soil, Water, and Environmental Science. Ew, that is horrifying! Even if you are single, you are not living alone! Germs lurk everywhere!
What do you suspect is the germiest room in the house? Most would suggest the bathroom, and perhaps pinpoint the commode, particularly the seat and bowl, as germ laden. However, Dr. Gerba considers the toilet seat the “gold standard” of cleanliness. On average, a toilet seat only harbors between 50 and 300 bacteria per square inch, a very low number. While the toilet bowl houses more germs comparatively, it is still cleaner than many other household areas and surfaces. The least sanitary room is the kitchen! (We will return to the bathroom, and specifically the toilet, shortly.) Of the top five sterility offenders, kitchen components account for 80%: 1. Sponge: A sponge contains approximately 200,000 times more fecal bacteria than a toilet seat. That equals more than 10 million bacteria per square inch. (This is one of those rare occasions when “million” sounds terrifying!) The University of London’s Dr. John Oxford, a professor of virology, crowns the sponge the dirtiest household item worldwide. It follows that if you clean the counter, dishes, eating utensils, and other surfaces and kitchenware with a sponge, you will pollute everything.
So, when you drink your cup of joe each morning, if you employed that evil sponge to clean the coffee mug, you are relishing more than just caffeine! And if you used the dishwasher instead, the coffee still contains germs. The culprit is the water used to brew it. Dr. Gerba proclaims that very little difference exists between tap’s and bottled water’s bacterial content.
2. Kitchen Sink: More E coli–the prevailing bacteria found in feces–resides in your kitchen sink than in the commode after you flush it! Whether you are preparing raw meat or vegetables, you use the sink to rinse and clean the food. You can become infected with E coli and salmonella from flesh products and with viruses and parasites from vegetables.
3. Bathroom Sink: You not only wash your hands in the bathroom sink after using the lavatory, but you also brush your teeth, wash your face, and do much
more in it. The germs on your hands and face and in your mouth, from fecal matter to salmonella, all contaminate the sink. If you assumed that these germs wash down the drain as the soap does, you are regrettably mistaken. Even soap leaves a residue . . .
4. Cutting Board: You employ it to chop fresh, raw vegetables, which are suffused with bacteria and possibly parasites, and raw meat, which contains animal fecal matter. As such, it is no shock that research indicates that the average cutting board is 200 times dirtier than the average toilet seat.
5. Kitchen Floor: As you cook and clean, food particles periodically fall to the floor, where studies show that germs instantaneously adhere to the food. Bye, bye “five second rule.”
Evidently, germs skulk throughout your home. Before exploring this topic further, it is useful to define germs. They are categorized as follows:
1. Bacteria: What can multiply from 1 to 1 billion in only ten hours? Bacteria can! These are single-celled organisms that rapidly reproduce. There are good bacteria, such as that which inhabits the large intestine, where the bacteria help produce various vitamins and hormones, stop the proliferation of dangerous, pathogenic organisms, etc., and there are bad bacteria. The latter include streptococcus, which causes pneumonia, and salmonella, which induces food poisoning and typhoid fever.
2. Viruses: These infectious agents contain genetic material; however, their survival necessitates hijacking another creature’s cells, a process that destroys the host’s cells. Antibiotics do not kill viruses, as they do bacteria, and many viral infections are lethal and incurable, such as Ebola and AIDS.
3. Fungi: These single or multi-celled organisms include mushrooms, yeast, and mold and act as parasites, symbionts (organisms that depend on each other for survival), or saprobes (organisms that live and feed on dead organic matter). Fungi are both harmless, as mushrooms are, and destructive, as candida and athlete's foot are. Still, do not be hoodwinked. Though largely innoxious, fungal infections are a nuisance, as eradicating the infection without harming the host’s cells is nearly impossible. Moreover, while medication may prevent further spreading, it usually fails to destroy the existing colony.
4. Protozoa: These motile, single-celled organisms behave like tiny animals. Protozoa are parasites, symbionts, or predators of certain bacteria and algae. Some protozoa can kill you, such as the brain-eating amoeba, and others breed diseases as malaria. Do not allow the brain-eating protozoa to cause alarm. You will not discover any inhabiting your abode. Rather, you will most commonly confront bacteria and viruses. As aforementioned, the bathroom, particularly the toilet, deserves further discussion. You probably occasionally place your toothbrush on the bathroom sink, along with the toothpaste and dental floss. Certainly, you hang hand and bath towels in the bathroom. If you leave the commode lid open while flushing, the churning water creates germy aerosols that become airborne and waste matter resultantly taints everything in the bathroom. Pictures of this scene look like Baghdad during an air attack, according to Dr. Gerba. To compound the problem, the microorganisms remain alive for at least two hours following each flush! Ew! You may be wondering whether your toothbrush contains fecal matter. Yes, unfortunately, it most likely does. A University of Manchester study revealed that the average toothbrush holds 10 million germs, including E coli! That is astounding! There are some household items, however, that are definitely germ free, right? Surely, clean laundry is sterile. Intuitively, you would probably say yes. This time, completely disregard your intuition. Fecal matter, from your undergarments, contaminates the washing machine. In fact, a load of underwear can transmit approximately 100 million E coli to the next load. Lamentably, hot water and soap generally do not eliminate these germs. The water must reach or exceed 150 degrees to kill germs. Once you fold your “clean” laundry and place it in your drawers and closets, your hands are corrupted as well as other clothing items, towels, etc. Besides the home, the office and cells phones are seething with germs. There are 400 times more bacteria covering work desks and phones and 200 times more germs on keyboards than on toilet seats. The fact that 75% of Americans use their phones while occupying the lavatory advances the issue. Where do you find the fewest germs in the office? You probably guessed correctly–the toilet seat.
Summary: Germs are everywhere! So, how do you avoid becoming ill and maintain a sterile home and office? Next week's article will provide the answers. Stay tuned for Part II!