Everyday living with germs

SOME years ago, Dr Aaron Glatt swabbed various locations within the New York City subway system. He found that a number of surfaces there hosted large numbers of bacteria.


Comparing that study to recent ones involving computer keyboards (or even ice cubes served at restaurants), he is not surprised at all that many nasty bacteria can be found lurking in your computer keyboard. This could also be due to our own laziness. A survey of more than 4,000 people conducted in January and February 2008 revealed that only about half of respondents cleaned their computer keyboards at least once a month.

But a real health threat?

As for the question of whether these bacteria pose a real health threat, Dr Glatt cautions against paranoia. He says that there is no surface under the sun that is sterile.

Dr Glatt who is president and chief executive officer of New Island Hospital in Bethpage, New York, is practical: "I think we have to say that there is overwhelming evidence that this is not a danger for most people. People can't go crazy about the worry and concern of being exposed to bacteria."

He adds that it is little surprise that one computer keyboard out of the 33 in the swab tests showed levels of bacteria higher than on a toilet surface, as most toilets are flushed on a fairly regular basis.

Our body's defence

While it is true that germs that live on everyday surfaces can occasionally pose a health threat, that is only if the bacteria or viruses with which we come into contact every day manage to get past our natural barrier to such invasions -- namely the skin. Only when they enter the body through a break in the skin or through the mouth do they get access to the body's internal and more vulnerable tissues. Otherwise, they are stopped at the skin level.

A simple defensive measure

IN a world which we share with germs, we must understand that it is not unusual for every square inch of our bodies to be covered with millions of germs, and that some of these germs have the potential to cause disease.

"Handwashing is the single best, cheapest, most effective way to limit your exposure you have throughout your life with potentially dangerous bacteria," says Dr Glatt. "It's amazing how this basic, basic advice is ignored by huge numbers of people every day."


Related articles:

Bacteria: friend and foe

Habitats out there for bacteria

Learn more about germs: July "Genefest 2009" at Science Centre