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Home for us not for Germs

You may scrub your toilet and countertops until they shine, but when it comes to the war between you and germs, consider yourself outnumbered. Germs (the catchall name for bacteria, viruses, and other micro organisms) are everywhere – at home, in the office, even in your car. Luckily, about 99 per cent of them can’t harm us. But the other 1 per cent can be annoying, uncomfortable, or downright scary: Most of these pathogens are either viral or bacterial and can cause everything from a running nose to a potentially life - threatening infection. You may think you know the obvious places where germs propagate - the doctor’s office, the soles of your shoes – but many more germ-friendly locales are completely unexpected yet no less dangerous. Here are a host of surprising new spots where germs like to lurk and easy solutions to keep you and your family safe and healthy.

The Welcome Mat

It serves to greet not only your guests but also all the bugs on the bottoms of their shoes. One study found that nearly 96 percent of shoe soles had traces of coliform, which includes fecal bacteria. “The area near your front door is one of the dirtiest in the house,” says microbiologist Kelly Reynolds, Ph.D, an associate professor of community environment and policy at the University of Arizona College of Public Health. Once bacteria plant their stakes in your mat, anytime you walk on it, you give them a free ride into your home. So, spray the doormat once a week with a fabric-safe disinfectant. Leave shoes at the door, and avoid resting bags and groceries on the mat, too.

Your Vacuum cleaner

“Vacuums, including the brushes and bags, are like meals-on-wheels for bacteria,” says Charles Gerba, PhD, professor of environmental biology at the University of Arizona.“You suck in all these bacteria and food, creating an atmosphere for growth.”A recent study by Gerba and his team found that 13 per cent of all vacuum cleaner brushes tested positive for E.coli, which means you could spread it around the house each time you use the appliance. So, change your vacuum bag frequently, and do so outdoors to avoid the cloud of bacteria that filters into the air.

A dish towel

You know a sponge can harbour nasty germs, but a recent study of hundreds of homes across the U.S. found that about 7 per cent of Kitchen towels were contaminated with MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), the difficult-to-treat staph bacteria that can cause life-threatening skin infections. Dish towels also rated top for dangerous strains of E.coli and other bacteria. We often use towels to wipe up spills, says Reynolds, then reuse before washing them, which spreads germs. So, stick to paper towels to clean countertops, and save the dishrag to dry just washed pots and plates. Change towels or launder at least twice a week in hot water and bleach.

Your car's dashboard

In tests of 100 vehicles from across the United States, the dashboard was found to be the second-most-common spot for bacteria and mould (Food spills were number one). The researchers’ rationale: When air, which carries mould spores and bacteria, gets sucked in through the vents, it’s often drawn to the dashboard, where it can deposit the spores and germs. Because the dashboard receives the most sun and tends to stay warm, it’s prime for growth. Hence, it is better to regularly wipe the inside of your car with disinfecting wipes. Be more vigilant during allergy season- asthma is an allergic reaction to mould.

Soap dispensers

Soap that harbours bacteria may sound ironic, but one recent study found that about 25 per cent of liquid soap dispensers in public restrooms were contaminated by fecal bacteria. “Most of these containers are never cleaned, so bacteria grows as the soap scum builds up.” says Gerba. “And the bottoms are touched by dirty hands, so there’s a continuous culture going on feeding millions of bacteria”. Be sure to scrub hands thoroughly for 15 to 20 seconds with plenty of hot water.

Source: The Hindu, August 6, 2009.

DNA Microarray chip

The credit card-sized microarray chip, called Phylochip can quickly detect upto 9,000 different species of bacteria in air, water and soil. The chip is carpeted with thousands of probes and sensitive enough to differentiate thousands of gene sequences in the sample and list every type of organism present. An airborne disease and bacterial census in air will also be possible to track how climate change impacts the microbial composition of the atmosphere.

Source: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, CA, U.S.A.


ENVIS CENTRE Newsletter Vol.7,Issue 3 July 2009

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