Is your home making you sick?


Home alone? You never are, actually! Everyone considers their home as a safe refuge from the dangers of the big bad world out there, but most people do not realize that they share their living space with billions of invisible microbes. Most of these are harmless and even beneficial to humans, but others, in right concentration and circumstances, can spread deadly diseases. Infants and young children whose immune system is yet to develop fully are especially at risk from household germs.

Even rigorous cleaning of floors and other surfaces with commonly available chemicals like phenyl does not kill these disease-causing bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites, according to experts. For that, you need to use potent surface cleaners with germ-kill capacity and follow effective home hygiene practices.

Germs commonly found in an average home include Enterobacteriaceae, E. coli, Pseudomonas spp., S. aureus Clostridium difficile and Norovirus which emit toxins in human body. They can cause severe health problems like infections, illness of the intestines, gastroenteritis, and diarrhoea. The total count of bacteria at home can often be very high, in some cases reaching more than 100 million bacteria per 100 sq. centimeter. This is a recipe for a health disaster if left unattended. Bacteria such as salmonella can survive on hard surfaces for weeks and can cause food poisoning and fever if ingested, such as by eating food that gets dropped on the floor.

The prevalence of diseases caused by household germs is much higher than what is popularly believed. According to a WHO report, 4 out of every 10 cases of food-related infections in Europe occur at home. In India, diarrhoea alone kills 2 lakh children every year, according to UNICEF. Poor home hygiene is a leading cause of this. Keeping your home free of deadly germs is even more important in the backdrop of the spread of infectious killer diseases such as swine flu.

While germs may be found in every corner of the house, they have very high concentrations in what are called “germ hotspots”. According to hygiene specialists, the daily or weekly routine of cleaning your home does little to protect you from harmful microbes. For cleaning to be effective, you need two things: (i) a special focus on places where germs lurk the most, and (ii) a surface cleaner which can actually kill germs, not merely wipe dirt and grime off the surface.

According to Dr. Arvind T Dubey, General Physician, Om Sai Datt Clinic, Mumbai, “Cleaning household surfaces with soap and water or ordinary cleaners like phenyl is common practice in India. These substances with poor disinfectant property are not able to kill microbes completely. This can particularly put infants and young children at risk of ill health, especially in the time of seasonal infections such as cold and flu. Use of good quality disinfectants are far superior than ordinary cleaners like phenyl as they help in making people safe from disease-causing germs.”

Just because a surface is clean does not mean it is germ free too. While buying a household cleaner, go for those which clearly mention their germ killing capacity on the product label. Merely mopping floors and other home surfaces with soap and water or commonly available phenyl – which is manufactured by small-scale units with no quality standards – only spreads the invisible colonies of germs uniformly across the wider surface, instead of controlling them. This defeats the purpose of the exercise and increases the risk of infections and ill health. A strong disinfectant in the cleaning agent is essential to achieve germ-free surfaces rather than merely dirt-free surfaces.

Germs thrive in damp and moist areas, dirty and high-traffic surfaces and objects that get touched a lot. Kitchen and bathroom are two places in a home where colonies of germs thrive. Germ banks develop in surfaces that come in regular contact with hands and feet, cleaning cloths and utensils.

Dish towels, faucets and cutting boards in the kitchen, refrigerator handles, hand towels, tooth brushes and commode surfaces in the washroom, door handles, baby toys, welcome mat, floors, telephones and TV remote, all are areas where harmful germs may be present in large concentrations. A study found that the average kitchen sink carries more bacteria than toilet or the household garbage bin! These objects, along with floors, need special attention for cleaning and disinfection.

A cleaner-disinfectant is good for house hygiene and germ speed cleaning. It combines cleaning with killing germs, rather than only cleaning the surface, as is the case with phenyl or hot water and soap. A germ-free house can substantially reduce the risk of catching infectious illnesses, protect the health of your family and avoid recurring visits to the neighborhood doctor.


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