Study Reveals Public's Knowledge Gaps About Illness-Causing Germs


The Hygiene Council, a body of leading international experts in the field of microbiology and virology supported by an unrestricted grant from Reckitt Benckiser, has released a new study indicating that moms are not always clear on which germs are harmful to their families' health and why it is important to protect against them. Some germs lead to coughs, sneezes and upset stomachs that may result in lost school and work days. During cold and flu season, it is important to know what germs can cause illness and how to stop them from spreading in order to stay well.

In the Hygiene Council study, only half of U.S. moms surveyed felt that the microbe that causes diarrheal illness, campylobacter, was a harmful germ, compared to 78 percent of moms who believed MRSA was harmful.  When it comes to taking the proper steps to ensure homes are germ-free, 28 percent of moms believed that being too clean and not killing such germs could actually increase the likelihood of children developing allergies.

"The data show that moms have been misinformed with regard to the correlation between immunity and exposure to germs. They need guidance on the difference between harmless and harmful germs," says Professor John Oxford, chairman of the Hygiene Council and professor of virology at Barts and the London School of Dentistry.  "While there also appears to be a growing belief that one can be 'too clean', such as by overusing disinfecting agents and sanitizers, there is no scientific evidence to support this notion. The Hygiene Council wants to reassure moms that building hygiene into their family's daily routine is an important way to help prevent the spread of infection this cold and flu season."

The Hygiene Council also surveyed moms about their thoughts on exposure to germs and found some confusion among the risks and perceived benefits. Despite knowledge that exposure to some germs can make you ill, only 43 percent of U.S. moms reported being concerned or very concerned about their children coming into contact with germs. Nearly 20 percent of moms would let their children pick up a cold from other children to help build their immunity, and the same percentage would even let their children eat food that has fallen on the floor.

The moms surveyed, however, did reinforce CDC recommendations in noting how they would protect their children from bad germs. When moms were asked what precautionary measures they would take if they heard there was an illness circulating, the most popular measure (78 percent) was to ensure that their children washed their hands more frequently.

"The fact that so many moms encourage hand washing means that there is an understanding of how germs are passed from person to person," says Dr. Philip Tierno, director of clinical microbiology and immunology at NYU Langone Medical Center, and a U.S. Hygiene Council representative. "We just have to work to ensure that this knowledge goes into practice in homes."

The Hygiene Council encourages families to practice simple prevention measures, which follow recommendations put forth by the CDC as a way to help stop the transmission of germs that cause the flu:

- Get vaccinated with a seasonal flu shot. The CDC recommends that everyone six months and older get a flu vaccination.
- Always practice proper etiquette when sneezing or blowing your nose.
- Wash your hands with soap and water often and use hand sanitizer if you don't have access to a sink.
- Routinely clean and disinfect commonly touched surface areas in your home and workplace, especially when someone is sick.

For more information about ways to stay healthy during cold and flu season, visit

Source: Reckitt Benckiser


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