Sunday, September 17, 2006
Where the Wild Things Are
We thought if you got sick God was punishing you. Then we discovered germs and then we developed antibiotics to deal with germs. And then we discovered that it didn't make any difference if you were Hitler or Mother Teresa - penicillin works. It has nothing to do with your behavior.
CFers have to walk a fine line between being cautiously aware of the pathogens and allergens in the home, and outright germaphobia/paranoia. In addition to CF, I have asthma and allergies, which forces me to pay particular attention to eliminating clutter and other messes in the home. Whether or not the health of a CFer is affected by cleanliness depends on an individual's sensitivities to certain pathogens and allergens. I am allergic to things like animal dander, dust mites, pollen and mold spores, and fragrances (like candles, air fresheners, etc.) For that reason, the following items are a MUST for me:
1) protective pillow covers and mattress covers
2) Vacuum cleaner with 99.9% allergen reducing capability
3) 2 HEPA filters (one upstairs, one downstairs)
Pathogens (i.e. bacteria and viruses) in the home are inevitable despite our best efforts to diligently keep things clean. Some sources estimate that more than 65 percent of colds, 50 percent of all cases of diarrhea and 50 percent to 80 percent of food-borne illnesses are caught in the home.
Where shall we place blame for this? Suprisingly, not the bathroom, but on the kitchen! In fact, there could be up to 200 times more fecal bacteria on your kitchen cutting board than on your toilet seat. This is likely because people regularly disinfect their bathroom while kitchen items may be overlooked.
Kitchen Sponges and Rags
The moist environment of sponges and rags is an ideal place for bacteria to flourish. Wiping your counters or dishes with a dirty sponge will only transfer the bacteria from one item to another.
Replace kitchen sponges and rags often. Ideally, this should be about once a week.
Allow them to dry out between uses. Most bacteria can only survive a few hours on dry surfaces.
The cracks and crevices in your cutting board provide plenty of space for bacteria to grow.
To clean the board, first hand-wash it using hot water and dish detergent to remove any food particles. You can then use a mixture of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach in one quart of water to sanitize the board, leaving it to air dry.
Alternatively, you can put the board in the dishwasher to sanitize it.
Kitchen countertops can still harbor germs even if they look clean. This is especially true if you've "cleaned" them with a dirty sponge or rag.
The kitchen faucet and faucet handle is an often-overlooked source of potentially harmful bacteria.
The drains in both your kitchen sink and bathtub provide yet another moist environment that bacteria love.
Use baking soda and an old toothbrush to get rid of stains, grit and grime around drains.
Disinfect drains regularly as you would any other surface.
As tempting as it may be, a thorough cleaning of the home should not involve use of antibacterial products. Doing so will disrupt the balance of bacteria in your home, wiping out both good and bad varieties, which could pave the way for harmful bacteria. You are better off using antibacterial/disinfectant cleaners on an item-by-item basis rather than as an all-purpose cleaner. Also be aware of the ingredients in commercial cleaners as many contain harsh chemicals that can be harmful to your health. My personal recommendation is a product called "Simple Green". It's very safe (even safe enough to drink!) but tough enough to do outdoor cleaning.
For more information about keeping your home a healthy habitat for you and not for the bacteria, please visit some of the sites below.
Is Antibacterial Soap Better than Regular Soap?
Five Common Hygiene Mistakes
Why Hand Washing is So Important
Infection Control in Cystic Fibrosis
EPA Guide To Indoor Air Quality