This may be common knowledge to you—since Garden of Life’s been saying it for 10 years now—but the hands are one of the five main areas where germs enter the body. That’s why we should regularly implement hand-washing. What may not be common knowledge, however, is that you can pick up some nasty microbial hitchhikers if you’re not careful. That’s where consistent, smart hygiene comes in. It goes beyond cleanliness, too. It might even make a difference in immune health.
Our money, for example, could be crawling with disease-carrying bacteria, according to researchers at a meeting of the American Society of Microbiology. U.S. Air Force doctors collected a sampling of 68 one-dollar bills at a grocery store and a concession stand at a high school sporting event and examined them for bacterial contamination.
They found 59 of the 68 bills infested with bacteria that can cause infection in people with weakened immune systems, and five of the bills had bacteria that can cause serious forms of pneumonia--even in healthy people. Coins also proved to retain bacteria; salmonella and E. coli organisms survived several days on the surface of coins.
This raises some concern about food handlers, such as cafeteria and concession stand workers, who regularly juggle food and money. The average life of a dollar bill is about 18 months, so it has the potential of passing through hundreds or thousands of hands, giving any bugs plenty of time to hitch a ride.
Nasty tenants can catch rides on other items as well—even higher tech items. Research indicates that cell phones can harbor acinetobacter baumannii, a stubborn bacterium that can become resistant to antibiotics and can survive on inanimate objects like cell phones for long periods of time. Bacteria found on the hands and cell phones of 124 employees at Soroka University Medical Center found acinetobacter on 12% of cell phones and 24% of hands. It’s bacteria that can be lethal for the critically ill or the immuno-compromised.
That’s why healthy hygiene practices are essential, yet we’re not always doing a good job with it. For example, a survey says that 80% of Americans are likely to wash their hands before handling food or eating, and 75% will do so after changing a diaper, but many don’t wash after petting a dog or cat, or after sneezing or coughing.
Judy Daly, Ph. D., director of the microbiology laboratories at the Primary Children’s Medical Center a the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah, says, “Although hand-washing seems like such a little thing, it could really have a powerful impact on the way we manage the spread of infectious diseases and newer public health threats. The same people who fail to wash their hands after using restrooms go on to pick up children, handle food, greet family and use other public facilities. Hand-washing can also prevent flu and colds.”
Donald Low, M.D., chief of the department of microbiology at the University of Toronto and Mount Sanai Hospital in Toronto, says: “Make hand washing part of your mindset. When washing your hands, rub your hands together for at least 10-15 seconds, making sure to scrub wrists, palms, backs of hands, fingers and under fingernails.”
It’s pretty clear that hand-washing is an important part of proper hygiene—and you may want to choose chemical-free cleansers. Why? The skin is a vital part of the immune system and even traces of chemicals can interfere with health, since chemicals used on and around the fingernails can go directly into the bloodstream.
It’s just plain smart to practice healthy hygiene. You might just avoid some unwanted hitchhikers.