this germ-ridden life

31 08 2011

Photo: Adrian J Hunter

(Germ-phobes should stop reading now and click over to the positive psychology stuff in the menu on the right. You’ve been warned.)

Next time you see an advert promoting “kills 99% of all bacteria”, remember the following facts…..

1. Every square inch (6.5 sq. cm) of your skin hosts about 6 million bacteria. (National Geographic)

2. About 1000 different microbes live in your gut. And that is a healthy gut. (source)

3. Door handles are the most likely way that cold viruses are spread (beyond airborne transmission – coughing and sneezing without covering your mouth). One touch by a contaminated person can spread to the next 14 people. (source)

4. 72% of shopping trolleys returned positive tests for faecal bacteria, 50% returned positive for E.coli. That’s more than you’d find in the supermarket public toilets. Reuseable shopping bags are similarly inhabited, unless they are regularly washed.

5. Cloth seats on public transport are a haven for bacteria and mould, according to San Francisco University and University of California researchers. The cloth seats are difficult to clean and even wiping then down with alcohol swipes only kills a portion.

6. What doesn’t kill them makes them stronger…..antibacterial cleaners and antibiotic over-use has been linked to the development of superbugs – the bugs that are resistant to all manner of antibiotic. So just remember that when you sterilise your kitchen bench.

7. the average ATM has more germs than public toilets.

8. Picnic tables have more germs than porta-potties. Presumably this is beause we tend to wash and sterilise the porta-potties because we think they are dirty.

9. At home, the kitchen sink is the area with the highest number of germs, followed by other damp places – dishcloth, toilet bowl, garbage can, refrigerator, and bathroom doorknob.

10. In the office, phone receivers, desktops, keyboards and elevator buttons are a hive of germy activity – moreso than toilets.

11. playground equipment (don’t even get me started on sandpits!) and escalator handrails are other germy spots.

12. When you flush your toilet, E. Coli is sent up into the air and settles on whatever is nearby. Facewasher, toothbrush, towels – what do you have in the same room as your toilet?

Th world is a giant petri dish….which is why I subscribe to the hygiene theory, which is as follows: Exposing your immune system to a reasonable amount of dirt and hazards leads to a healthy functioning immune system. (The corollary of this is that if your immune system is never exposed to these challenges, it over-reacts when it does). And really – is surrounding yourself with toxins designed to kill living cells (bacteria) really a good idea for our health?

(NB: I have used the word “germ” where it was used in the source documents, and the more specific bacteria or virus where that has been identified)

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