Friday, November 14, 2014

Household Germs

ABC asks the “shocking” question:  What’s the most germ-infested place in your house?  The answer, it turns out, is “the towels in your kitchen and bathroom.”

They go on to cite a Kimberly Clark-funded study and its author who says, “towels are more likely to be bacteria-ridden than other household items because they are used to wipe hands and surfaces that may have been contaminated by raw meat products.”  They are usually damp, a state that further encourages bacterial growth. 

That is disgusting enough.  It is common knowledge that most home kitchens would not pass the kind of standard health inspection that cafeterias and restaurants are routinely subject to.  We certainly don’t wear our hairnets when preparing dinner.  How many people keep a thermometer in their refrigerator, clean all surfaces, assign different cutting boards to meat and vegetables or are diligent about chilling foods promptly at the end of each meal?  These are standard food safety requirements.  But the idea of handling raw meat and then wiping your hands on a kitchen towel before continuing with meal preparation is the kind of practice that would get your favorite eating establishment shut down.

This is not what really caught my attention in the article, though.  What I noticed was the use of flu season and the Ebola scare in their introduction to set up the story.  Flu and Ebola are viral diseases; they have nothing to do with the bacteria discussion that was the focus of the rest of the story.  Like the writer, most people don’t seem to pay much attention to the difference between bacteria and viruses.  Germs are germs.  If I have a head cold, I call the doctor and ask for antibiotics – the fact that antibiotics act against bacteria and not viruses is not my concern.  So we end up with germs that build a resistance to antibiotics, people don’t make the connection and then rely on “science” to fix the problem.

This is all unnecessary when we have easy access to a complete explanation of the differences between bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa written for kids!  It points out that some bacteria are good, live in your body and help you digest food.  It doesn’t mention that some fungi are good – like morel mushrooms.  It closes with advice about hand washing with soap and water – nothing fancy needed, using tissues for coughs, sneezes and sniffles, and getting proper immunizations.  Yes, it tells kids that immunizations are important and the smart choice.  It closes with “eating well, exercising regularly, and getting good sleep” can keep you healthy.

This is great information and advice that many adults should heed.  When a reporter for ABC news can so casually mix things up, then report on adults wiping, not washing their hands during food preparation, perhaps we need to take a step back and learn from the science that we expect our kids to understand.

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