Myths about virus, germs and bacteria
Germs and bacteria are treated as big enemies these days. We spend endless amount of money and time to protect us from those tiny enemies. And we are absolutely right in doing so in some cases but in some we exaggerate the danger out of proportions. Since we can’t see them, we treat all bacteria in the same way, as enemies. And in this constant battle we seem to forget that we actually need some of them in order to be and stay healthy!
Some of our behaviour is simply originated from stories we have heard or because we instinctively feel a need to protect our selves or to do something! And much of the things we do are originated from a myth that for some reason lives on from generation to generation. In this article I will look into some of the myths that I have been told during my childhood and continue to hear today.
Some short facts about virus, germs and bacteria!
There are thousands different species of bacteria and only about hundred of them are pathogenic to humans. The other, much bigger group, is on the contrary needed and help us stay healthy.
A virus is not the same as a bacteria and it can’t be treated with antibiotic. A virus can’t like bacteria multiply outside a cell, in fact it needs a cell and has enough genetic information to make the cell multiply virus instead of what the cell was supposed to produce.
Use pepper to prevent the gastric flu
In Sweden pepper is a well-known and also common home remedy to prevent gastric flu or any other similar gastroenteritis that includes vomiting. I use it my self because it feels better to do something! But I guess it doesn’t prevent diseases like the winter vomiting disease nor cure me faster if I get it. Even if I know that it probably wont help me, I continue to take pepper because at least I know that it will not hurt me either!
There are so many different recipes to this home remedy: crush them, swallow them in pieces or swallow them whole. And the amount that is needed can vary from a few peppercorns every hour to ten corns every hour or three a day: Personally I usually take five to ten a day for two or three days at times when I know I have been near somebody who later got sick or if I feel a little bit nauseas. Some use white pepper and others use black peppercorns. I guess any pepper will do if you believe in it! But there is no scientific evidence to prove that it works.
In Sweden we also have a very old quote that goes: Pepper, pepper, knock on wood! The quote was used in order to keep evil away from people and houses, like some kind of formula or conjuration, so I guess the trust in pepper is just as old!
Can you get infections from other passengers in an airplane?
Have you ever been in an airplane and with growing concern listened to a sniffling and coughing passenger near by you or somewhere in the airplane? I have, and once you start to think about it, it is almost impossible to drop the thought. If I sit very close to someone with a bad cold I try to breathe the other way but apart from that there isn't so much to do except keep your hands away from your face!
But is there really a bigger risk or is it pure imagination?
When I looked into this a little I found that airplanes have filters for incoming air that usually enters the cabin from the ceiling. The outgoing air flows out on low level near the floor so there is no air that sort of “flows around” in the plane. It is more of “straight in” and “straight out”. It is a big airflow in a plain and the air is in the cabin for a very short time. If you are sitting next to a person suffering from cold or influenza or if the infected person is sitting on the seat behind you or in front of you there is a possible risk that you will be infected. But the risk isn't bigger in an airplane than on a bus or in a car.
Can you really “catch a cold” form cold weather?
Haven’t we all heard the warning: dress properly or you will get a cold! But is there any connection between poor clothing and cold? No, there isn’t! You can’t get a cold only from cool weather or poor clothing unless you get so cooled that you become almost unconscious! If you get severely cooled your general condition becomes so affected that your immune system becomes weakened and you can get a cold easier. So even if you are freezing a little during winter because of poor clothing you will not get a cold unless you get infected with virus! If there is no virus you will only be cold and that is unpleasant but not dangerous if it is mildly.
Can you become infected in a public toilet?
Oh, the public toilet! We have all sorts of phobias about a public toilet and we instinctively feel that it is an unhealthy place but we generally focus on the wrong things in a public toilet!
Most of us have a feeling that there are very nasty bacteria and viruses crawling around everywhere in a public toilet and we use all possible trick to avoid them. For example,as a woman I try to avoid direct contact with the toilet seat in a public restroom or toilet and sort of sit in the air over the toilet. It is very uncomfortable and I honestly don’t know why I keep on doing it. I know it is very unlikely that any bacteria or virus would enter my body from neither my behind nor my legs. How could they? We all know it is impossible if we behave normal. Another trick is to cover the seat with napkins or toilet paper to avoid direct contact with the toilet seat, which is also totally unnecessary. We probably get more bacteria on our hands during our struggle to avoid them than if we didn't mind and behave normal! Even though most of us know it is unnecessary we keep on doing it anyway because it feels better!
A visually dirty toilet seat could be a risk but on the other hand, who sit down on a visually dirty toilet seat anyway?
So, a public toilet seat is not the big risk in a public toilet. But there are other places where we need to be a bit cautious in a public toilet!
Only use floating soap in a public toilet! If there is no floating soap; only use water instead. A soap that is shared by many different people can contain both bacteria and virus in cracks and on the soap.
Only use paper towels! Some restaurants consider terry towels more luxurious than paper towels but it is the opposite really. A terry towel is a perfect place for bacteria to grow on and after several people have used it you have a disgusting mix of bacteria and virus on a damp towel. Don’t use them if they hang in a public toilet unless the restaurant provides one terry towel to each guest!
The flush button
If you want to avoid bacteria and virus in a public toilet make sure you use the flush button before you wash your hands. The flush button is one of those places that can become pretty dirty. But again, it is no danger if you simply wash your hands afterwards.
Another place that can be a risk area in public toilet is if the toilet is in one room and the basin is in another room. In cases like this we must be aware of that the handle on the door are touched by several people with dirty hands, which can be a small risk. But again, it will all be taken care of during a normal hand wash!
The water tap
And the last thing to think about before you are done: Use a paper towel to turn off the water if it is manual tap!
The easy solution to decrease the risk of infection!
Normal hand wash! Normal hand wash is the best way to prevent infections! Also during periods when influenza is common! Wash your hands under running water and add floating soap. Rub your palms against each other and also wash all other sides of your hands that are often forgotten. Dry your hands afterwards on a paper towel.
Bacteria are amazing!
What about disinfectants? Do you really need them?
To use disinfectants is to exaggerate the risk out of proportions. The only time it can be suitable is if there is no possibility to wash your hands in a public toilet or if you work in health care or other places that involves caring for sick people. Otherwise normal hand wash will be sufficient in everyday life. To use disinfectants indiscriminately or just to be on the safe side can in the long run instead increase the risk of getting infections or allergies because it can actually make us more susceptible!
We need many of the bacteria that surround us and to kill bacteria without discernment isn’t good at all. If we continue to kill harmless bacteria in the way we do it can result in the opposite since the bacteria can develop resistance. You can read more about some of the totally unnecessary disinfectants we use, such as silver ions here.
Remember; one of the best protections against dangerous bacteria is a normal and balanced bacterial flora! So we better treat the bacteria in a smart way!
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