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As Americans prepare for cold and flu season and are once again reminded of the perilous threat of illnesses like H1N1, global hygiene experts from the Hygiene Council today announced simple steps for households to take to help break the chain of germ transmission. Nationwide every year, millions of people fall sick with the cold or flu, but recent survey results indicate that Americans may not be taking the threat of germ transfer as seriously as they should be.
A 2010 Hygiene Home Truths Study sponsored by Lysol, results revealed that Americans are neglecting certain areas of the home, particularly in the bathroom and kitchen. By doing so, Americans may be leaving behind dangerous bacteria that increase the risk of illness, as well as cross contamination. And if someone in your home has fallen prey to illness, a lack of proper personal and surface hygiene can keep the germs alive and your household in danger.
"The Hygiene Council study results show that certain areas in our homes are being neglected when it comes to hygiene. What is apparent is that people do clean, but not effectively enough by targeting specific areas with a method that works," says Laura Jana, MD, FAAP. "For example, cleaning with a dirty cloth or not thoroughly washing hands will simply spread bacteria rather than kill harmful organisms. And when someone has been sick, this can be detrimental to the entire household."
Hygiene council members, including Jana and professor John Oxford, chairman of the Hygiene Council and professor of virology at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry in London, recommend that Americans follow these simple steps before, during and after someone in the household becomes sick.
- Regularly wash all kitchen and bath towels, bedroom sheets, blankets and throws used around common areas such as the sofa. The kitchen towel was the second most heavily contaminated area swabbed in the U.S., with 15 percent being unsatisfactory or heavily contaminated/poor.
- Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as the kitchen faucet, kitchen counter, telephone, refrigerator handle and TV remote control. Use a disinfectant, because using a non-disinfectant product could spread bacteria around the home, rather than kill harmful organisms.
- Clean the bathroom, and don't forget the bathtub. The biggest hotspot for germs in the bathroom was found to be the bathtub seal between the tub and the tile, with 40 percent found to be unsatisfactory or heavily contaminated/poor. This area is of particular concern because when bathing children, they are often close to or touching this part of the tub. Bath toys and shampoo bottles may come in contact with the seal, and then when handled by children, may transfer germs to the hands.
- Clean computer keyboards, both at home and at the office. This year's study identified the bacteria staphylococcus aureus, or "staph" on 11 percent of computer keyboards/mouse. This indicates that home owners had not been properly washing their hands. Even more troubling is that 25 percent of households said that they never cleaned the computer keyboard, and only 23 percent said they cleaned it once a week. As the computer is fast-becoming a popular place for Americans to spend their idle time, disinfection is imperative.
The Hygiene Council visited 180 families across nine different countries who all agreed to take part in the study. Countries which took part were the UK, U.S., Germany, Canada, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Australia and India. All the homes selected had at least two children aged 10 or under, including one child under the age of two and were selected specifically to represent a cross section of socioeconomic backgrounds. All homes in the Hygiene Home Truths Study were swabbed for both bacteria and mold; four sites for bacteria only and 2 sites for bacteria and mold.
In addition to the swab taking, the microbiologist noted how clean surfaces looked to the eye; providing a useful comparison between apparent and actual dirt levels. Participating families also completed a questionnaire to gauge their attitudes and perceptions towards hygiene in general and their cleaning behaviors.
The Hygiene Council is an initiative bringing together leading global experts in the field of microbiology, virology, infectious diseases, immunology and public health to formulate realistic and practical recommendations on simple hygiene measures to help the public improve hygiene in the home and community and, in turn, help to prevent the spread of infections.