Introduction and Definitions
Most people know that germs are very small. The term microbe, short for micro-organism, is a blanket term for small organisms that are only visible under a powerful microscope. Bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites are all considered microbes.
Microbes can be found literally everywhere, the world is filled with them. Most are completely harmless, and many are beneficial. When a microbe has the potential to be harmful to our health, we label them germs. The most common germs are bacteria and viruses. There are many different species of bacteria and viruses, and they all affect us in different ways.
Bacteria vs. Viruses
Bacteria are tiny, single-cell creatures that nourish themselves from their environments in order to survive. Sometimes, that environment is the human body. Bacteria reproduce rapidly, both inside and outside the body.
There are good bacteria and bad bacteria - our body relies on certain types of bacteria (for example, we all have bacteria in our intestines that aid us in digestion). However, bad bacteria can cause infections and illness. For example, Salmonella breeds in raw or undercooked poultry, meet and eggs, and if ingested can cause the salmonellosis infection, symptoms of which are diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. Bacteria like this is easy to spread around - If you don't wash a cutting board after cutting raw chicken on it, for example, the bacteria can survive on that surface for hours or even days, and spread to any other food placed on the cutting board.
Viruses, by contrast, need to be inside living cells to grow and reproduce - they aren't alive in the same way that bacteria is. Most viruses can't survive very long if they're not inside a living thing such as an animal, person or plant, but some can still stick around on shared surfaces like doorknobs for long enough to be dangerous.
Viruses cause viral infections, in which the virus attaches itself to the cells in your body and causes them to behave differently, often in very harmful ways. Unlike bacterial infections, viral infections are very difficult to treat with medication. The common cold and flu are both examples of viral infections, as are more serious infections like smallpox and HIV/AIDS.
There are other types of germs, such as fungi, which live in mold/mildew and can cause conditions such as athlete's foot. However, these are generally not as worrisome or as common, and so we'll be focusing on bacteria and viruses.
Some of the Most Common Household Germs
Escherichia Coli (E. Coli)
Common Symptoms: Diarrhea, blood in the stool, severe abdominal cramping, nausea.
Potential Risks: Some strains can cause kidney damage in children, the elderly, or those with weakened immune systems. Can be fatal.
E. Coli is a foodborne bacteria often found in human intestines. They can aid in digestion and creation of vitamin K. However, certain strains produce a deadly toxin that can cause serious illness. Commonly contracted by undercooked or raw hamburger, uncooked/unwashed produce, unpasteurized milk, and contaminated water. Avoid consuming these things, and thoroughly clean and disinfect all surfaces and utensils that have come into contact with them.
Influenza A ("the flu")
Common Symptoms: Fever, muscle ache, headache, fatigue and weakness, runny/stuffed nose, cough/sore throat.
Potential Risks: Can develop more serious complications such as bacterial pneumonia in children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with certain health conditions.
Influenza A is a contagious viral disease of the respiratory tract. While common, it can have very serious health consequences in those who are susceptible to them. Influenza is very easily spread - It can be transmitted through the air by coughing or sneezing, and it can remain alive on surfaces for several days. Furthermore, those infected can spread it 1 day before any symptoms develop. The easiest way to prevent influenza is to make sure all surfaces are disinfected thoroughly after any contact, as well as keeping a safe distance to avoid coughing/sneezing transmission.
Rhinovirus ("the common cold")
Common Symptoms: Runny nose, sore throat, sneezing, coughing. Can rarely cause a mild fever and/or muscle/joint aches.
Potential Risks: Can be more serious in those with weakened or compromised immune systems.
Rhinovirus is a very common viral infection that most people will experience several times throughout their life. There are 99 known strains of this virus. It can be spread very easily, by direct contact (touching a sick person) or indirect contact (touching a surface a sick person touched, such as a doorknob), as well as through the air by coughing/sneezing. Frequent and thorough handwashing, as well as surface cleaning and disinfecting, is the easiest way to avoid rhinovirus. If you have a cold, cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, to prevent it from spreading around.
Common Symptoms: Diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever.
Potential Risks: While most people recover without treatment, those with weakened or compromised immune systems require antibiotics to prevent the infection spreading to other parts of the body.
Salmonella bacteria, when ingested, can cause the salmonellosis infection, a nasty bacterial infection that can be very severe for certain people. Commonly breeding in raw or undercooked poultry, meat or eggs, as well as contaminated dairy products, salmonella can be spread from these breeding grounds to just about any other surface or food if the surfaces or utensils used aren't thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. For example, if raw chicken contaminated with salmonella is prepared on a cutting board, and the same cutting board is used for cutting vegetables, you can contract the salmonellosis infection by eating those vegetables.
Staphylococcus Aureus (Staph)
Common Symptoms: Swollen, red bumps on the skin that may contain pus, fever.
Potential Risks: At-risk groups can develop further skin infections, as well as other infections such as pneumonia.
Staphylococcus Aureus causes what is commonly referred to as "staph infections". Spread easily by direct skin-to-skin contact or indirect surface touching, such as a doorknob, staph infections can be highly resistant to antibiotics. For this reason, it is important to prevent its transmission, by frequently washing hands as well as disinfecting any potentially touched surfaces.
Eliminating these Germs
These are just a few of the dozens of common household germs you're likely to come across, and while they have a lot of distinguishing features, one thing they all share is that they can easily be prevented from infecting you with a couple of simple behavior changes.
First, try to limit your direct contact with people who may be sick. Don't share drinks or shake hands. If they're actively sneezing and/or coughing, try to keep a bit of safe distance between you.
Second, wash your hands frequently, and avoid touching your face before washing your hands. Proper handwashing takes at least 30 seconds of thorough rubbing with soap and water, covering all areas including the back of your hands, wrists, between your fingers and under your fingernails.
Next, learn to recognize the places that bacteria and viruses are likely to 'hang out'. This includes any surface or tool used in food preparation - cutting boards, knives, countertops - and surfaces that receive contact from everyone in the household - doorknobs, sink faucets, dining room tables, TV remotes. These items and surfaces should be disinfected regularly.
Don't just clean, disinfect
It's important to recognize the difference between cleaning and disinfecting. Using soap and water, or many other cleaning products, will remove dirt and visible grime, but it doesn't kill the microbes that could make you sick, it just pushes them around and carries them from surface to surface. Products that disinfect go one step further, and destroy the microbes that the eye can't see.
A great way to disinfect surfaces is to use Extra Strength Sandy Wipes. Our wipes are made to kill 99.9% of household germs, including all germs listed above and many more. They're great on all surfaces, from wood to glass to metal to plastic, and everything in-between. Using a quick-dry, streak-free formula that leaves no residue behind, they're a one-step solution for killing germs all over your home.
Also try Sensitive Skin Sandy Wipes, for those with dry or sensitive skin, and Eco Friendly Sandy Wipes, our green alternative that's organic and compostable.