There are more germs on a cell phone than a toilet seat.
Germs or microbes are literally everywhere. They are in the air that we breathe, and on nearly every surface we touch. A cell phone has 10 times more germs on it than a toilet seat. At this very moment, there are colonies of germs living and working inside of each person. Some good. Some bad. They come in many forms like: bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa, and helminthes. Some are beneficial to humans, and some are extremely dangerous, even deadly. In this blog we will discuss germs and our relationship to them. We will also discuss ways that cleaning professionals might prevent the spread of harmful microbes while also avoiding germ hysteria.
The Darker Side of Germs
When germs are harmful to humans, they present real dangers. Some germs in the form of bacteria cause illnesses like strep throat and tuberculosis. Viruses can cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to HIV/AIDS. Fungi can cause infections like candida and ringworm infections. And germs in the form of protozoa can cause giardia and malaria. Considering that some of these germs are deadly to humans, it certainly seems wise to be cautious. But can we be too cautious? The overuse of hand sanitizers, antimicrobial soaps, and antibiotics can be linked to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in every corner of the globe. Furthermore, our obsession with eradicating germs can also be linked to a weakened immune system, which then may lead to inflammatory related diseases.
The overuse of antimicrobial soaps can be linked to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
In late 2017, the Food and Drug Administration halted the use of Triclosan and 23 other active ingredients, which can be found in many over-the-counter antiseptics like hand sanitizers and liquid soaps. The FDA found that there might be health risks associated with the use of Triclosan including hormonal imbalances, skin cancer, and the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria. The FDA also stated, “At this time, FDA doesn’t have evidence that Triclosan in OTC consumer antibacterial soaps and body washes provides any benefit over washing with regular soap and water.”
Even so, some would argue that we’re not cautious enough. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nearly 1.7 million infections are acquired each year in American hospitals resulting in 99 thousand deaths annually. Those infections affect about 5-10% of the total annual number of American hospital patients and about an additional $20 billion in healthcare costs. This is a staggering figure that the CDC and its partners are working hard to remedy.
The Brighter Side of Germs
While 1.7 million hospital-acquired infections annually is a staggering figure, here is another staggering figure: the entire biomass on earth of bacteria alone far exceeds that of the biomass of all plants and animals on earth. And we have yet to categorize most of these bacteria. In fact, there are more microorganisms in a healthy teaspoon of soil than there are people on earth. This makes a scorched earth approach (i.e. coating ourselves and everything in antimicrobial soaps, detergents, hand sanitizers, antibiotics, etc.) not a very likely or beneficial solution. When doing so, we run the risk of harming our beneficial micro-biomes within and around us making us more susceptible to even more dangerous and resistant microbial invaders.
There is a relationship between germs and the immune system.
Then there is the relationship between our immune systems and germs. More and more studies are determining that we need the exposure to many of these microbes to help strengthen and develop our immune system. This is known as the hygiene hypothesis, which was proposed by David Strachan 1989 and was later expanded upon in 2003 with the old friends hypothesis. These theories have gone on to be fundamental in how we understand our relationship to germs. As scientists continue to study our symbiotic existence with germs, they are learning that exposure to certain microbial species may be essential in preventing certain inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
Weighing Both Sides
So, what exactly does this mean for professional cleaners? Cleaners are tasked with removing unwanted soils and addressing microbial invaders that are dangerous to building occupants. How do cleaners effectively clean the indoor environment without creating a negative impact through the overuse of harsh cleaners and disinfectants? We do it through calculated, results-driven, measurement-based cleaning. Knowledge is our best weapon.
Avoiding Germ-Hysteria in Your Cleaning
Focus more on being a remover and not an exterminator. If you are removing unwanted soils that serve as a food source and harborage for harmful bacteria, they will have nothing to eat and nowhere to hide. Recognize risk verses reward. Only use the hard stuff for projects that require it. Prolonged exposure to harsh cleaning chemicals may have a severe impact on your health. A recent study suggests that prolonged use of harsh cleaning chemicals can be as bad as smoking a pack of cigarettes per day. Avoid using a one-size-fits-all approach. Airports, airplanes, train stations, hospitals, long-term care facilities, schools, and universities all have a unique set of needs. Airports see a confluence of every kind of person from every corner of the earth increasing the likelihood of exposure to more exotic strains of pathogens. Long-term care facilities and hospitals have occupants with weakened immune systems. Schools have children that are more prone to illness. So, be mindful and clean accordingly.
Avoid germ hysteria in your cleaning.
So, are we too hysterical about germs? The answer is – it’s complicated. We cannot afford to ignore the threat of germs, nor can we address that threat in an irresponsible way. As professional cleaners, knowledge is the best weapon. Stay educated and up-to-date with the ever-evolving relationship between humans and germs, and you might find that germ hysteria will become as invisible as the germs themselves.