In our quest to rid germs, is there a tipping point where things can become… too clean? By Dawn Chen
Photo: 123RF.com/Comaniciu Dan
Germs are everywhere. There’s no escaping these little microorganisms, and the two main forms of germs are bacteria and viruses. We all know that exposure to certain germs can cause diseases and illnesses, and that one simple way to protect yourself is to wash your hands properly. In fact, the correct form of hand washing can even reduce germ count by up to 99 per cent! But in our quest to eradicate germs, can we go overboard and become “too clean”? And is doing so actually… bad? We ask Vincent Chow, associate professor at the Department of Microbiology, NUS, and Yeo Wee Ming, microbiologist and founder of SUTL EnvironTech, to shed light on this.
What are the pros and cons of using disinfectant products?
According to both Vincent and Wee Ming, disinfectant products are effective in killing off germs and help to reduce the likelihood of disease transmission through environmental objects (such as door handles or common touch points like public tables). However, disinfectant products also contain very strong and powerful chemicals that can potentially cause skin irritations or respiratory problems. The constant use of disinfectant products can also “induce the development of resistance in germs over time,” says Wee Ming.
Should I use a disinfectant that claims to kill 99 per cent of all germs?
“Yes, but it’s very dependent on the environment and the occasion,” says Wee Ming. “For example, I will not use such a strong disinfectant regularly in my own house.” Vincent agrees, and adds that the usage of such strong disinfectant products should depend on context (such as in hospitals).
Will using a strong disinfectant weaken my natural immunity to germs?
“Only if you over do it,” says Wee Ming. “We get enough exposure to germs when we eat food and dairy products, when we breathe, or through interacting with people or nature on a regular basis. These instances actually help our immune system mature as we are exposed to environmental microbes.” That said, this isn’t a free pass to forgo hygiene. It’s equally important to ensure you’re not picking up the wrong germs (i.e. the kind that could get you really sick).
How can I protect myself against the spread of infectious germs?
Practise good hygiene habits. Vincent suggests frequent hand washing (especially before and after eating), covering your face with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, and disposing of soiled materials properly.