In the last month, I have come down with two of the nastiest illnesses I’ve had in a while. I’ve had to put all training on hold and spend most of my days sleeping or trying to keep in fluids. Word on the street is there are some spring flus going around- and one of the uglier ailments you may meet is a horrible stomach bug that will leave you down for the count for at least a week, with lingering pains continuing for up to five days! Of course the best advice is still WASH YOUR HANDS, as often as you can, especially before eating, and avoid direct contact with those who are visibly ill; coughing/sneezing etc.
Now that Spring is in full swing though, it’s hard to tell who has a nasty bug, and who simply has allergy sniffles. Though I can’t give you the magic equation to tell a sick person from an ordinary allergy sufferer, I can give you a little information on some germs living in your home in places you may never expect- and how to avoid them.
The first thing we should discuss is bacteria. When we hear the word “bacteria” we automatically think of those commercials on television where a magic looking glass is shown on a surface to reveal globular green crawlies covering every surface like landmines. Though it makes for a good commercial, it’s not quite what you would find if you were to really look at your countertops microscopically. Most importantly, the majority of bacteria living in your home, indoor air and surface areas are non-dangerous, common species. According to the Mold and Bacteria Newsletter, the 4 most common species of mold found in indoor air (air, not surfaces) are: Micrococcus, Staphylococcus, Bacillus, and Pseudomonas.
These four, common bacteria are kind of everywhere. Micrococcus in particular is so common that you can find it on your skin, in the soil and even in water and the meat that you purchase at the grocers. It is a sphere-shaped bacteria, that feeds on decomposing materials, and is the culprit in spoiled fish. This bacteria is also the one responsible for making sweat have a bad smell. Thanks a lot, Micrococcus. Like most bacteria, it requires air to grow, but Staphylococcus, the next bacteria on our list, can grow with, or without air.
Staphylococcus is something we hear about more often, and usually not for a good reason. Another sphere-shaped bacteria, Staphylococcus is usually known for its presence in hospitals. Though common enough, being found on your skin, nasal passages, throat, and even in your hair, this bacteria can be a little nasty when it wants to be. Staphylococcus can cause food poisoning, skin infections, toxic shock syndrome and when it becomes drug-resistant it is the driving force behind MRSA. Because Staph is literally everywhere you’re probably not going to suddenly come down with a serious infection unless you’re very sick already and immucompromised, or have failed to keep a wound clean and free from infection.
This next bacteria, Bacillus is a bit of a super-star in the world of bacteria; this bacteria contained the mystery organism isolated from a 250-million-year-old salt crystal, potentially the oldest living cell discovered. That’s pretty impressive, for a little bacteria! Unlike our last two bacteria, Bacillus is rod-shaped, and very hardy. (Bacillus also has the ability to produce endospores all on its own. Endospores are small, tough, structures that can survive unfavorable environmental conditions. ) Bacillus also lives off of decaying matter and can be found in dust, water, soil and even inside your own digestive system! Though mostly harmless, some species of Bacillus have been known to cause food poisoning and even infection.
Our last common bacteria is Pseudomonas. Pseudomonas is another rod-shaped bacteria that lives on plants, in soil and water. Sources say, “as a general rule” this bacterium will not infect a healthy individual, but it can make an immunocompromised person very ill. Pseudomonas is what is called an “opportunistic pathogen” and usually considered a nosocomial infection- meaning you come under attack from this bacteria while in the hospital. This bacteria attacks individuals who are immunocomprised and while in patients bodies, produces exotoxins. Exotoxins are microscopic toxins that damage and destroy host cells and surrounding tissues- this of course, causes major damage.
Because of these more serious possibilities we can begin to see how even harmless bacteria can become dangerous. Bacteria that cause disease and illness in humans are known as pathogens. Some pathogens responsible for food-born illness are:
- E.coli O157:H7
- Campylobacter Jejuni
- Staphylococcus aureus
- Listeria Monocytogenes
- Clostridium Perfringes
- Vibrio Parahaemolyticus
- Vibrio vulnificus
These organisms can become serious problems once they make their way into your kitchen and food items. These pathogens can get into meat, dairy products, spices, chocolate, seafood and water. These pathogens can be formidable foes, but can be prevented by proper food-handling; like not leaving cold (or hot) food out too long in room temperature where bacteria can grow, washing fresh vegetable and fruits before eating them, never contaminating cutting boards or knives with raw chicken or other uncooked meats.
Most importantly (after hand washing), you should keep all surfaces in your kitchen clean, and avoid using that dirty kitchen sponge- sponges can be the dirtiest thing in your kitchen. Cleanliness shouldn’t stop in the kitchen; you should aim to keep as much of your home as clean as possible to avoid illness. This article, written by Angela Epstein, offers some expert tips on what to replace in your home and when to replace it.
The bacteria timebomb in your home
The experts’ rules for beating household bugs that can trigger heart disease, allergies and strokes.
Most of us never give a second thought to how long we’ve had that old chopping board – or those pillows, even that hairbrush. But while they may all look clean and serviceable enough, these seemingly innocent household items can actually harbour potentially harmful bacteria if used too long, regardless of how often they’re cleaned.
Here, with the help of scientific experts, we examine how often you should spring clean those everyday household items – and when it’s time to simply throw them in the bin.
Wood is more porous than plastic or metal, making it more susceptible to carrying germs and bacteria, explains John Oxford, Professor of Virology at Barts and the London Hospital. The bacteria particularly prevalent in the kitchen is E. coli, usually from raw meat or children with poor hygiene habits. This can lead to severe food poisoning.
Beware: Seemingly innocent household items can harbour harmful bacteria
Don’t put wooden spoons in the dishwasher, especially not on a regular basis, as they may crack and therefore provide a haven for bacteria. Instead, soak in disinfectant for about half an hour and then wash with boiling soapy water.
REPLACE: After five years, but earlier if the wood cracks, or if any part becomes soft or dark, as this could mean the wood is rotting and retaining bacteria.
Research suggests that a range of serious health problems, including heart disease, stroke, arthritis and chronic infections could be linked to ‘unhygienic’ toothbrushes.
A study by Manchester University found that the average toothbrush contained about ten million germs, including a high percentage of potentially fatal bacteria such as staphylococci, streptococcus, E. coli and candida.
‘You can’t see the build-up of germs, but you can see the distorted and broken bristles that will harbour the bacteria, explains Wimpole Street dentist Dr Charles Ferber.
REPLACE: Every three months.
These need to be washed once a week at 90c or more to wipe out, staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria that can be transferred from your skin to the towel. Normally benign, it can cause infection if it comes into contact with a wound — and it can also live on dry surfaces.
REPLACE: Use indefinitely if washed at high temperatures without damage.
PILLOWS AND DUVETS
Unwelcome guests: Dust mites can live in your duvet and pillows
A brand-new pillow doubles its weight in three years, thanks to remains of dust mites that build up inside it.
This could aggravate hay fever, eczema or asthma, particularly since your face is touching the pillow and you will be breathing in the remains, explains Professor Jean Emberlin, director of Allergy UK.
Dust mite waste also leaves people more susceptible to rhinitis (stuffy nose) and sinusitis. Washing your pillow will help — do so every few months at 60c for at least 20 minutes. If you have asthma or allergies, buy hypoallergenic pillows, which are usually made from foam.
Duvets also harbour dust mites and skin debris in the same way.
In one study by the University of Worcester, ten typical duvets were analysed and scientists discovered they contained up to 20,000 live house dust mites along with bacteria and fungal spores. Duvets should be washed every six months.
REPLACE: Pillows, every two years; duvets every five years.
One hair follicle can hold 50,000 germs and your brush can contribute to this. Brushes can also collect residues of hair products which can become sticky and attract dirt.
‘We also have lots of bacteria on the skin and what may affect one person may not affect another,’ adds dermatologist Dr Andrew Wright, consultant dermatologist with Bradford Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
So diseases such as impetigo, a contagious skin infection that usually produces blisters or sores on the face, neck or hands can spread from one person to another by sharing a brush. The brushes should be washed in hot, soapy water every week and left to dry.
REPLACE: Every four years — but sooner if the bristles get damaged as these can scratch the scalp, causing potential infections to spread.
PLASTIC CHOPPING BOARDS
The average chopping board is home to 50 times more bacteria than a loo seat, says the Hygiene Council. That’s because while people perceive loo seats as needing regular cleaning, the same approach isn’t applied to a chopping board, explains Professor Oxford.
To clean, spray with disinfectant, scrub and then pour boiling water over the board. Keep separate chopping boards for raw meat and poultry and another for vegetables and fruit to prevent bacteria such as E. coli spreading to salads or fruit, for instance, which will be eaten raw and not cooked at the high temperatures needed to destroy the bacteria.
If your chopping board starts to develop deep marks from knife cuts, it’s time to replace the board, as bacteria can lurk in the grooves.
REPLACE: Three years.
We excrete half a pint of moisture every night, says the Sleep Council. This, and the annual 1lb of skin scales we shed, provides a constant source of food for dust mites.
The average bed contains more than 10,000 house dust mites (resulting in more than two million droppings), according to figures from Allergy UK. Even if you haven’t got hay fever or allergies, being in constant contact can make you allergic, particularly if there are allergies already in the family, says Professor Jean Emberlin.
Keep mattresses clean by stripping the bed and vacuuming it at least once a week, he adds.
REPLACE: Every five years though if you vacuum every week it can be up to ten years.
Mould and fungal infections can flourish in trainers, particularly as they are often stored in a warm, dark environment such as a wardrobe or cupboard under the stairs. A recent study found 100 times more mould in old shoes than in a loo.
Trainers and running shoes can lose their support as the material gives way with use, leading to foot strain, explains Mike O’Neill, a consultant podiatrist at the Princess Grace Hospital, London and spokesman for the College of Podiatrists.
You should wash trainers once a month with cold, soapy water and leave out to dry naturally.
REPLACE: Once a year or every thousand miles.
Not the most pleasant item to put under the microscope, but a brush with frayed or loose bristles, or one that shows signs of wear and tear will not effectively scrub the bowl so that you can flush away bacteria, explains Professor Oxford.
Frayed bristles can also cause splashing and send dirty toilet bowl water on to the walls and area surrounding your toilet bowl, spreading bacteria when you touch these surfaces.
REPLACE: Between six months and one year.
The warm, damp and porous nature of kitchen sponges make them an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. In these conditions one bacterium can multiply to more than four million in just eight hours.
This can make them up to 200 times more infested than a lavatory. A study by the University of Arizona found that most sponges in kitchens hold large numbers of bacteria including E.coli and salmonella.
They also spread germs around easily as they are moved from surface to surface.
Try to keep different cloths for different jobs — one for worktops and another to wash dishes.
Wash cloths in the dishwasher as the high temperature — at least 90c — and the powerful chemicals of the dishwasher tablet should kill bacteria, says Professor Oxford.
Sponges should be squeezed out and dipped in disinfectant and rinsed in hot water so hot you can’t put your hand in it.
However, an even more efficient way to kill germs is to put the sponges in the microwave. A study by the University of Florida found that two minutes of microwaving on full power killed or inactivated more than 99 per cent of all living bacteria in kitchen sponges.
Researchers say it is the heat rather than the radiation that kills bugs. And as microwaves work by stirring water molecules, it is better to put wet rather than dry sponges in the oven.
REPLACE: Every month or use disposable kitchen towels instead.
Wooden emery boards are difficult to clean, and can accumulate germs in the crevices. If then used on a split or lifted up nail this could cause a localised infection, says Dr Andrew Wright.
And if more than one person uses a board, infection can spread from person to person. As an alternative, invest in a glass nail file, which is not porous and can be washed under very hot running water.
REPLACE: After every three uses.
PS WHY YOU CAN KEEP TEA TOWELS FOREVER…
Tea towels can also spread bacteria, so it’s important to wash them regularly and be very careful how you use them.
If you wipe your hands on a tea towel after you have touched raw meat, this will spread bacteria to the towel. Then, if you use the tea towel to dry a plate, the bacteria will spread to the plate.
To be sure of killing germs you need to use a very hot wash, preferably 90c, says Professor Oxford. Low, energy-preserving temperatures won’t do the job
REPLACE: Can keep cloths as long as required if they are washed each time on 90c.
… BUT BEWARE OF THE VACUUM CLEANER
There are many other everyday items that harbour nasty germs, but usually we don’t think twice about cleaning them. These include:
VACUUM CLEANERS: Researchers at the University of Arizona recently found that 50 per cent of the vacuum brushes tested contained faecal bacteria; 13 per cent with the potentially fatal bug E.coli.
Spray the brush with a disinfectant after every use — traces of bacteria can survive five days inside the vacuum after you empty the dirt. And disposable-bag vacuums promote more bacterial growth, says the study, so you might want to try the bagless variety.
Clean attachments at least once a week by washing in hot, soapy water, or these germs can be transferred to upholstery and furniture and be picked up by hand.
AIRING CUPBOARD: Germs thrive in warm environments such as this. So wipe surfaces inside your airing cupboard at least once a week with a clean cloth and very hot, soapy water. Leave to dry naturally.
WATER TANKS: Water storage tanks need to be kept clean to prevent sludging, sediment and scale — all of which provide favourable conditions in which bacteria can grow, including the eye bug acanthamoeba which can lead to sight loss and is the reason you shouldn’t wash your contact lenses in tap water.
Tanks need to be cleaned at least twice a year by sanitising with bleach. Additionally, a more in-depth cleaning involving draining the tank, removing sediment, scrubbing down the walls, and sanitising should be done every few years.
SOAP DISPENSERS: Just think about how many times a day dirty, germy hands touch the soap dispenser in your bathroom or kitchen — spreading cold and flu bugs as well as faecal bacteria such as E Coli.
Kill the germs hiding out on soap and lotion dispensers by washing the tops at least once a week.