Germs 101

What are germs and how do they spread?

Most of the germs in the world are harmless to humans. Some types of bacteria even do us good, like the ones in our gut that help us digest food. But it’s worth knowing about germs and how they can be spread in your home – especially because a few simple hygiene steps can help stop them in their tracks.

What are germs?

Germs are microscopic organisms that can make us unwell if they get into our bodies.

The most common types are:

  • Bacteria (e.g. Salmonella which can cause food poisoning)
  • Viruses (e.g. Rhinovirus which causes the common cold)
  • Fungi (e.g. Trichophyton which can cause athlete’s foot)

How are germs spread?

Bacteria and fungi can thrive anywhere warm and moist in your home. But viruses are different. Around one hundredth the size of a bacterium, viruses need to be inside a living host in order to reproduce.

Germs can be spread around the home on people’s hands, usually through touching people or contaminated surfaces. Germs can also travel through the air on tiny dust particles or in water droplets expelled from our mouths and nose when we cough, sneeze or talk.

Common sources of germs in the home are:

  • Contaminated food and water
  • Regularly touched surfaces like doorknobs, taps, TV remotes and telephones
  • Cleaning and waste areas like bins, sinks and toilets
  • Household waste like used or gone-off food, used tissues and soiled nappies
  • Cleaning items like cleaning cloths, sponges and dirty toothbrushes
  • Pets and other animals like rodents and flies
  • Other people

How do germs get into the body?

There are several ways that germs can get into our bodies.

  • They could be eaten in contaminated food.
  • Germs in the air could be inhaled through our nose and mouth get into the lungs.
  • Germs on our skin can enter via untreated cuts or wounds.
  • Finally some specific germs in our body fluids can be passed onto others through bodily contact.

Did you know…

In the right conditions, bacteria like Escherichia coli (E. coli) can divide every 20 minutes so that in only 8 hours a single bacterium can grow to nearly 17 million bacteria!