Germs and Bacteria – The Lurking Menace

germs and bacteria

Domestic cleaning adverts would have you believe that there are harmful bacteria lurking on every surface just waiting to make you and your kids ill. They tell us that there are more germs in your kitchen than on a toilet seat. They brag that their product will kill all known germs but we’ve evolved to be able to cope with a few bugs, indeed without germs and bacteria the human digestive tract would fail almost immediately.


But where are the germiest places you’ll go today without even knowing it? There are plenty of myths around, let’s look at the evidence:

  • A Public (in)Convenience – Your mum and common sense tells you that just about the dirtiest thing in the world is the public loo seat. Just sitting on it would give anyone dysentery, cholera and even small pox even though it was eradicated decades ago.

The truth is… the seat is probably the cleanest surface in the toilet. The seat has about 49 bacteria per square inch, there are many times more germs on the flush handle, the latch on the door and most especially on the basin. If you do use a public toilet, you can sit down, just don’t lock the door, flush or wash your hands!

  • The Office – Our desk is our second home, we work, eat and drink, and maybe even sleep at our desk if it’s a slow day and there’s a parade of cleaners trouping though the office every night, right?

Wrong, here’s why; there are about 25,000 germs per square inch on your telephone, there’s all sorts of food remnants rotting away under your keyboard. And that’s where you eat your lunch?

  • Flying Away – Received wisdom tells us that since smoking was banned on planes that the air is circulated less regularly and therefore germs are able to breed and stay in the cabin for longer than they used to.

While air is of a worse quality than it used to be, the build up of CO2 combined with pressurisation is blamed by some on the increase in the number of air rage incidents the dryness of the air and filtration systems means that germs don’t do well at 30,000 feet. If, however, you are seated next to some-one in the infectious stage of an illness it will be before they start to display any symptoms so stop worrying about it.

  • At The Supermarket – You’d think that the major health risks came from getting run over by a shopping trolley or unknowingly eating out of date foods.

Food labeling is generally pretty accurate and you often have a few days to spare even between the use by date and when it really becomes inedible. People handling vegetables and fresh bread pose more of a risk. The checkouts can be full of germs too, if they’re not cleaned thoroughly then blood from meat or spilt milk products can embed themselves in the belts contaminating everything they touch.

  • Cold Hard Cash – There are plenty of studies and urban myths that nearly every piece of paper money in circulation has cocaine on it. Other notions say that sharing notes in this fashion will lead to the spread of hepatitis. If this is so it’s hard to number the other bacterial and viral contagions that might be living on the cash as it passes through your fingers.

So, the possibility does exist for germs to survive on paper money but germs love a warm moist environment and cash is generally dry and a poor environment for their long term flourishment. Cash machines are another story; hundreds of fingers all day every day, people coughing and sneezing at them so in wet weather they’re a positive biological soup.

  • Stay Away – A common cause for misophobia among travelers is hotel linen; you have no idea at all who’s been sleeping in the bed before you and how well the laundry’s been cleaned before being put back on the bed.

Although any hotel with even the lowest standards would change the bedding after each guest had left, even if they didn’t fabrics offer a rather poor habitat for germs (mites are a whole different story). There is a far greater risk of contamination coming from TV remotes, thermostat dials and even the bible, according to research carried out by the University of Virginia.

  • Work It Out – No one will be at all surprised that gym equipment is awash in bacteria, the conditions are perfect, warm, humid and constantly replenished because of the high traffic of humanity sweating all over it. So long as you give it a wipe before you start you’ll be ok though.

Not only are there many of them, there’s also the variety of bacteria that inhabit the surfaces that surprised biologists looking at the state of exercise equipment. They found E. coli, staph, Enterobacteriaceae and bacillus, a germ associated with TB, a disease thought to be eradicated but which is now making a resurgence. So, while it is important to wipe the surfaces make sure you’re not just moving the germs about, use a antibacterial wipe if you can and avoid clothing that germs can harbor in, man made fibers are great for germs to live in so wear as much cotton as you can and wash your gym kit every time you use it.

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