Cleaning for Health-What You Can’t See, Can Hurt You! (Part I)

The world around us is made of both seen and unseen hazards. At times the hazards that one sees are enough to make you tremble in fear. But, the “unseen” should hold equal dread and fear. While one can arm himself for defense against the visible enemy, I think we would all agree, it is much more difficult to be armed and ready to defend against an invisible enemy.

What you can’t see, can hurt you. Invisible to the naked eye, a world of microorganisms (living things so small you need a microscope to see them) lives in soil, on your skin, in your mouth, on the floor, and on doorknobs, cell phones, shopping cart handles, computer key boards, or elevator buttons–pretty much everywhere.

Not all microorganisms are harmful, but a number of them can cause illness or even death—and waste no time multiplying exponentially, inside the human body or out. Controlling the growth of harmful microorganisms is vital to health. But before you can do that, you have to understand who your opponents are and how they get into your body.

Identifying the Enemy
Some types of infectious microorganisms (also known as germs, microbes, bugs or pathogens) are:
• Bacteria-single-celled microorganisms that exist as independent (free-living) organisms or as parasites (dependent on another organism for life). You would have to magnify a single coccus (round bacterium) 500 times to make it as large as the period at the end of this sentence.
C. diff (Clostridium difficle), MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and VRE (vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecalis) are just a few of the sometimes deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can take up residency in a hospital patient who came in for a completely different reason. Talk about kicking a person when he or she is down.
• Fungi-feed on organic matter and can be either single-celled or multi-cellular. Molds, mildews, yeasts and mushrooms are common examples of fungi. Some fungi cause disease in humans. Different types of fungi include: mold on shower curtains or around other surfaces that are moist and dark; airborne mold riding on dust particles, athlete’s foot and yeast infections. Fungi can cause a life-threatening infection in an immunocompromised person (someone who has a weakened immune system such as a cancer patient who is receiving chemotherapy).
• Viruses-even smaller than bacteria, viruses must borrow components from a host in order to live. Viruses may reproduce with errors or mutations. The ability to mutate is responsible for the ability of some viruses to change slightly in each infected person, making treatment more difficult.
During the 1980s and early 1990s, HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), HBV (Hepatitis B Virus) and HCV (Hepatitis C Virus) emerged and remain a life-threatening global issue.
Noroviruses (viruses that cause the stomach flu or gastroenteritis and are common to cruise ships, schools and other public places) and rhinoviruses (causing the common cold) are also common viral threats.

As you can plainly see, the “unseen enemy” can be very frightening and threatening to the unsuspecting or unarmed person. But, with science on our side, we can develop some hands-on infection prevention strategies.

Introducing Hands-on Infection Prevention Strategies
Although cleanliness may be next to godliness, it’s also very closely related to disinfection. In fact, cleaning can avert the need to disinfect in some situations because clean and dry surfaces can’t harbor microbial growth for very long.
A disinfectant kills existing microbes. However, depending on the pathogen, preventing the microbes from getting a foothold by removing food and moisture (two essentials for sustaining living organisms) may, in the long-term, be as effective as a chemical disinfectant. In fact, most chemical disinfectants can’t do their job when high levels of organic soil are in the way. Soil can absorb the active ingredient, provide more places for the germs to hide, and change the chemical nature of the disinfectant.
By removing the organic soil with an appropriate cleaner, you give the right disinfectant a much better opportunity to kill the target bugs.

Come back next week for Part II of “Cleaning for Health”

About Darrel Hicks

J. Darrel Hicks, B.A., is the author of Wiley Publishing's "Infection Prevention For Dummies", and is nationally recognized as one of the top experts in infection control. Darrel Hicks is also the Past President of the IEHA and is an active member in AHE where he holds the designation of CHESP. View all posts by Darrel Hicks

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