October 13, 2021
Everyone knows when the winter season begins in Connecticut. It’s around germ season, when viruses, bacteria, fungi, and the rest of the germ family gang up on humans, these infamous indoor creatures.
Since the arrival of COVID-19 last year, Americans have been super vigilant to avoid a specific germ, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes this coronavirus.
A virus and a bacterium are germs with a difference. A virus, a collection of non-living molecules, needs a host to survive. Bacteria, the type we eradicate daily from kitchen counters and other household surfaces, are free cells that can survive inside or outside a body.
Here’s a look at the two as we move into another sprout season.
Tired of hearing about hand washing, masks and social distancing? It works. The flu season practically disappeared last winter. In the southern hemisphere, the number of cases was so low that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the season ended with “virtually no circulation of the flu.” The COVID-19 numbers were staggering, but they could have been much worse without the millions of people who followed safety protocols.
This all-purpose formula can help you avoid getting sick during the next cold-flu-COVID season, which begins now. Flu season is back this year.
“Like the flu and COVID-19, the common cold is spread through the air via droplets expelled when a person sneezes or coughs,” said Dr Virginie Bieluch, head of the infectious diseases division at Central Connecticut Hospital.
COVID-19 has evolved into the Delta variant, a highly contagious variant transmitted by aerosols, tiny, light virus particles. A year ago, when the larger, closer contact droplets were more of a transmission threat, Americans were advised to wipe up all packages purchased at local stores to avoid possible contact with the virus. But that concern faded, assuming surfaces were sanitized regularly.
A new Canadian study has found that even in a grocery store, the risk of catching the virus on a hard surface is low. Researchers at the University of Guelph, Ontario, found no positive results for the virus after taking nearly 1,000 samples from four high-traffic grocery stores, cleaning cart handles, conveyor belts, freezer doors and other surfaces twice a week for a month.
But previous tests have shown that influenza A and influenza B viruses can survive for up to 48 hours on hard, non-porous surfaces such as stainless steel and plastic. The only last up to 12 hours on softer materials such as fabric, handkerchief and paper.
The COVID-19 virus, meanwhile, can survive on porous surfaces for days to weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On porous surfaces, the virus only lasts a few minutes to a few hours. (Above, a rendering of a COVID-19 pathogen under a microscope.)
So how do you know, without a test, if you are sick with the flu or COVID-19?
“There is really nothing major to distinguish between the two,” said Dr Ulysse Wu, director of the infectious disease system and chief epidemiologist of Hartford HealthCare. âBoth can produce very high fevers. Both can produce chills. And both can be associated with gastrointestinal upset. But the things that would make you lean towards COVID are shortness of breath and cough. “
In a Delta resurgence, take no chances. While we may not be required to wear a mask in some public places this winter, beware of crowded public areas and avoid unnecessary contact with frequently touched surfaces when you are away from home. But in a Delta variant resurgence, a mask becomes the face of public health protection.
“Wearing a mask is the cheapest way to reduce the spread of the virus,” says Dr Faiqa Cheema, a Hartford Health Care specialist in infectious diseases. “It keeps your respiratory droplets and saliva from getting contained, thus protecting others around you.”
Some viruses that cause the common cold, such as rhinoviruses and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), says Dr Bieluch, can survive longer than the virus that causes COVID-19 on doorknobs, computer keyboards, etc. elevator buttons and other hard surfaces. These germs can even survive a pass with a disinfectant wipe.
âIf you touch that contaminated surface,â she said, âthen touch your mouth, nose or eyes, you can develop a cold. “
You can’t avoid germs even if you never leave your house. Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder who analyzed dust samples from 1,200 American households in 2015 identified more than 9,000 species of microbes, bacteria and fungi. The type of bacteria in a home can be different if only men or women live there. (Gentlemen, a male-dominated home is likely to contain two skin bacteria of the genera Corynebacterium and Dermabacter, and the fecal-related genus Roseburia.)
In an enlightening exercise a few years ago, NSF International (a public health and safety organization) conducted a swab analysis of 30 common household items in the homes of 22 volunteer families.
The kitchen test found coliforms, bacteria that include both salmonella and E. coli and a possible indicator of fecal contamination, on:
- Over 75 percent of dish sponges and rags.
- 45 percent of kitchen sinks.
- 32 percent of counters.
- 18 percent of cutting boards.
The bathroom, generally considered the coarsest and germiest place in the house, was a surprise for coliform testing:
- 27 percent of toothbrush holders.
- 9 percent of bathroom faucet handles.
The study found coliforms in 81 percent of households, yeasts and molds in 31 percent of households, and golden staphylococci (staphylococci) in more than 5 percent of households.
Toilet tip: The top of the seat is generally fine. Germs tend to collect at the bottom of the seat. If you need to lift the seat, use toilet paper or something else to protect your hand.
How to fight against house germs
Cleaning removes germs, the CDC notes, but disinfection destroys them. Soap and water kill most germs in the kitchen, but you’ll need a disinfectant every now and then. Check the label. A disinfectant, specifically registered with the Environmental Protection Agency, contains ingredients that destroy.
Follow the directions on the label. Typically, the disinfectant should remain on the surface for a few minutes.
- When cleaning, use paper towels instead of rags or cleaning towels, which trap germs.
- If you are using a cloth towel, wash it in hot water.
- Try disposable disinfectant wipes that clean and disinfect.
- In the bathroom, regularly clean and disinfect all surfaces.
And of course wash your hands!