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Common Myths About Hygiene and Cleanliness

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 23 Jun 2013 | comments*Discuss
 
Hygiene Bacteria Germs Myths

While we all know the importance of cleanliness and keeping bacteria to a minimum, many of us are unclear about the facts regarding hygiene. This may cause us unnecessary stress or even lead us to do certain things which actually contribute to poorer hygiene!

So here are come common misunderstandings regarding cleanliness and 'germs':

1. Soap kills germs

Myth! Plain, normal soap does not actually have the ability to kill bacteria. Instead, it cleans hands by lifting the bacteria off the skin surface and thus forcing them be rinsed off with water, down the drain. To actually 'kill' germs, you would need to use an 'anti-bacterial soap'.

2. Having good germs will protect you from bad germs

Myth! So-called 'good germs' are the bacteria normally found on your skin and which co-exist with your body in harmony. 'Bad germs', on the other hand, are pathogenic or disease-causing bacteria which can cause infection and illness. Good and bad germs are always present on your body and the relative numbers are different for different people. However, having good germs on your body does not protect you from bad germs – anybody can become contaminated with bad germs at any time. Note also that even 'good germs' in the wrong place, at the wrong time, can cause serious infection and illness – such as is the case with people who have AIDS.

3. Hand sanitisers are the best for killing germs.

Fact! Hand sanitisers are one of the most efficient ways of killing bacteria – providing that they contain a minimum of 60 to 95% alcohol. Alcohol can kill viruses such as rhinovirus, herpes, HIV, RSV, influenza, hepatitis; multi-drug resistant bacteria such as MRSA and VRE, fungus and tuberculosis. In fact, alcohol rub sanitisers are so effective, they can kill up to 99.9% of all bacteria on hands within 30 seconds of application. However, they are not really appropriate when your hands are visibly dirty or contaminated with blood – in this case, use soap and water, followed by the sanitiser if necessary.

4. Children get head lice when they have poor personal hygiene.

Myth! Even children who are scrupulously clean and have very good personal hygiene can still get lice. Head lice is transmitted through direct head-to-head contact or through contact with clothing, such as hats, scarves and coats – or even personal grooming items, like hair brushes and towels.

5. Killing germs on your hands will lower your immunity.

Myth! Your body is always covered with micro-organisms, as well as your environment, and you cannot kill all of the micro-organisms on your skin. In fact, they are beneficial as they help to stimulate your immune response. By killing some germs on your hands will not lower your overall immunity but it will help to prevent infections.

6. Bad breath isn’t necessarily caused by poor oral hygiene

Fact! Bad breath or halitosis is caused by oral bacteria but this does not necessarily mean that you never brush your teeth!

One of the most common causes of bad breath is a dry mouth – this is one reason why most people have bad breath in the mornings, as saliva production slows during sleep. Saliva acts as a mouth rinse and also contains compound which kill bacteria and buffer their waster products, so that when mouths become dry, bacteria have a better environment to grow and produce more waste – all of which leads to bad breath. Some people suffer from chronically dry mouths (a condition called 'xerostomia') which can also be a side-effect of certain medications, such as anti-histamines, blood pressure medicines, anti-depressants and diuretics.

Another common cause of bad breath is periodontal disease (gum disease) as this provides 'pockets' between the teeth and gums for bacteria to live in. Sinus conditions can also contribute to bad breath as they can lead to discharge dripping down the back of the throat and onto the back of the tongue. In addition to the foul taste and smell of this discharge, bacteria will also feed on this discharge and create more foul-smelling waste.

7. Using alcohol hand sanitisers will cause bacterial mutation and resistance.

Myth! Alcohol kills bacteria and dead micro-organisms cannot mutate. Therefore using hand sanitisers do not encourage resistance to antibiotics or mutations into more virulent forms of bacteria.

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