Germs lurk everywhere, populating surfaces from public restroom sinks to kitchen counters and computer keyboards. A single sneeze from a flu sufferer launches thousands of virus particles across an entire room, and those germs can linger in the air for hours. Most people’s immune system can deftly handle these would-be invaders, but anyone with autoimmune and inflammatory forms of arthritis need to take special precautions. The same drugs that suppress the joint-damaging immune response can leave you vulnerable to bugs that cause disease.
Learn how to clean some of the most commonly germ-infested areas of your home and office, and protect yourself from bacteria and viruses that can make you sick.
How to Kill Germs
Killing germs requires a two-step process, cleaning and disinfecting, says Susan Sumner, PhD, a food scientist at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. “You have to have a clean, clean surface to sanitize,” she says.
To be sure you’re using a product that actually kills germs, watch for two words: sanitize and disinfect. “Sanitize” means it will kill 99.99 percent of specified bacteria within 30 seconds of application. “Disinfect” means it will kill all specified organisms within 10 minutes of application. Want to avoid bleach or other harsh chemicals? Try a mixture of vinegar and hydrogen peroxide or buy a product like Benefect or PureGreen 24.
Sanitize Sinks and Tubs
Sink drains are coated in a layer of slime, called biofilm, which teems with bacteria like E. Coli and Salmonella – the kinds that can make you sick. Water alone won’t rinse these bugs away. Mix water with bleach and then scrub the sink or tub to break up the slime and kill the germs.
Don’t use the kitchen sponge to wipe down surfaces. When you sponge off the countertop, “you end up spreading bacteria around your kitchen,” says Elizabeth Scott, PhD, a microbiologist who is co-director of the Center for Hygiene and Health in the Home and the Community at Simmons College in Boston, Mass. Use a paper towel to clean up surface food particles and grease, then toss it in the trash and apply a disinfectant.
To sterilize those germy sponges, immerse them in a microwave-safe dish of water and zap for four minutes on high. Or, pop them into your dishwasher if it has a “sanitize” setting.
Banishing Bugs in the Bedroom
The average mattress can contain a plethora of microscopic invaders. So you can sleep soundly in your bed, wash your sheets in chlorine bleach at least once a week to kill germs. Consider sealing your mattress in a hypoallergenic, airtight covering for additional protection.
Battling Germs in Public
Kids with filthy fingers and adults with questionable hygiene practices spread germs everywhere they travel – from the supermarket to the bank ATM. Here’s how to clean some of the dirtiest public areas before you touch them.
Grocery carts: Think about all the babies with dirty diapers and drooling mouths who sat right where you’re putting your hands, not to mention the sniffling, coughing shoppers who have used that basket. Before grabbing the handle, give it a good swipe with a germicidal wipe (don’t rub the cloth back and forth – it can spread germs without killing them).
ATMs: Researchers who tested the buttons on ATMs found they were dirtier than the doorknobs of most public restrooms. To avoid withdrawing germs, use an alcohol-based hand gel or wash your hands with soap and water after getting cash.
Condiment containers: Tabletop containers of salt, pepper or ketchup hardly ever get cleaned in restaurants. Carry wipes and give containers a good once-over.
Your purse: Researchers who swabbed the surfaces of handbags found germs like Pseudomonas, which can cause eye infections, along with Salmonella and E. Coli. Carry a leather or vinyl bag, which cleans more easily than cloth. Keep your bag off the floors of public restrooms, and don’t put it on the kitchen table when you return home.
To avoid germs you don’t have to go to extremes. Follow basic hygiene rules, and stay away from anyone with chickenpox, shingles, flu, pneumonia, and other infections that can be dangerous to people on immune-suppressing drugs.
“Don’t drive yourself nuts and become a germaphobe,” says Aaron Glatt, MD, an epidemiologist practicing in Rockville Center, New York. “Awareness, plenty of hand washing and antibacterial gel should be enough to keep you healthy.”
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