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Germs & Mould

There are more bacteria in our bodies than there are cells in our bodies (over 100 trillion of them!).

Microorganisms are ubiquitous. There is no where on this planet that they donot exist.

As a society we need to get out of this notion that all germs are bad. If it wasn’t for bacteria, life wouldn’t exist on this planet. During my training as an acupuncturist in China in the early 1990s, I was appalled at the lack of hygiene in the hospitals – and yet I never heard of a case of Golden Staph! Most are essential to our survival. Look at the amount of research on the bacteria in our intestines – the probiotics. Not only are they essential to our digestive function, they also play an integral role in our immune system and in reducing the development of allergies (this is not surprising given that 70% of our immune system exists in the gut). So why has our society become so obsessed with eliminating germs?

For decades now, there has been a campaign by some companies to convince you that all germs are bad in order to buy their product. Just have a look at the amount of advertising devoted to this: air fresheners, cleaning products, liquid soap solutions, antibacterial washes and so on. We’ve become so obsessed with our need to create a ‘sterile’ environment that generations of children are not being exposed to bacteria and viruses required to challenge their immune system (T1 helper cells); this is essential as it keeps other parts of their immune system (T2 helper cells) from over reacting. In addition, the effect of hygiene reduces the body’s production of the regulatory T cells all of which contributes to the allergic response (Watts, 2004). This became known as the Hygiene Hypothesis. The higher incidence of asthma and allergies in developed countries is thought to be due in part to the overuse of toxic chemical cleaners. Using harsh chemicals such as bleach and ammonia to kill germs creates ‘super germs’ as the few that survive exposure to the chemical, mutate and consequently may become more dangerous to your health. By no means am I suggesting that you start shovelling dirt into your home, just change the way you clean your home (more detail is available in chapter 6 of Healthy Home Healthy Family).

Having said this, there are some bacteria that need to be avoided in the home including E Coli (found in faeces), Salmonella (raw meat, eggs and dairy) and  Listeria (soft cheeses, dairy and raw food). Mould is generally only a problem if there is a dampness issue.

Bleach has a high pH which not only makes it ineffective at killing mould, it may actually provide it with a food source.
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TIPS TO REDUCE GERMS IN YOUR HOME

When it comes to micro-organisms its a numbers game. You can effectively reduce the numbers of germs in your home without the need for harsh chemicals - in fact the use of bleach and toxic chemicals is not recommended as apart from causing lung and skin problems, many of them may create 'super germs'. Whilst you cannot get rid of all germs (which you shouldn't do anyway as many play a vital role in our ecosystem and bodies), you can reduce your family's exposure by doing the following:

  • Avoid pets in the house or confine them to non carpeted areas on their own rug that is regularly aired
  • Dont wear shoes in the house
  • Wash fruit and vegies and eggs (that dirt could be chook poo!)
  • Dont leave food (including pet food) lying around the house as it will attract pests
  • Keep benches dry. Wipe with a damp microfibre cloth and follow through with a dry clean tea towel
  • Wash tea towels and sponges / dish cloths everyday in the washing machine (that means having a few spare)
  • Sterilise the sponge by putting in the microwave oven for 30 seconds or put it in the dishwasher!
  • Scrub chopping boards between uses and when you can expose them to the best cleaning agent of all - the Sun!
  • Cover foods in glass containers (plastic is not recommened unless it is a 'safe plastic')
  • Get a fridge thermometer and check that it is below 5 degrees C
  • Wipe the fridge once weekly with a damp microfibre cloth to which you have sprinkled some bicarbonate of soda
  • Food: check the expiry date
  • Avoid dinted tin cans as they may have been aerated which will significantly reduce its expiry date
  • Pests want food, moisture and shelter; address this and you won't have a problem. Seal entry points into the home with steel wool (rats hate this). Avoid pools of water around the home (mop up floods within 24 hours). Put fly screens on exterior doors and windows.
  • Leftovers - put in the fridge whilst it is still warm. Dont leave cooked leftovers on the bench as within 2 hours the bacteria will be having a party! Eat leftovers within 2 days. Cooked rice must be eaten within 24 hours!

MOULD

As a natural therapist I have observed time and time again, numerous healthy families move into homes with mould related problems and develop asthma for the first time. One of the first symptoms to develop is fatigue that is not improved by rest. Children are very susceptible to the adverse health effects of mould as their lungs and immune systems are still developing. Recurrent colds, hay fever, asthma, sinusitis, tonsillitis, lethargy and pneumonia may be indicative of mould exposure.

TESTING FOR GERMS & MOULD

This can be achieved in two ways:

  1. Assess the level of moisture in a building material using a protimeter (this is the cheapest option however it wont determine the type or prevalence of microbes in the air) OR
  2. Conduct air sampling to determine the type and prevalence of bacteria and mould in a room. The latter requires laboratory analysis which is a complicated procedure that requires highly technical equipment. Samples cost $150 per sample. For more detail, click here.

SOLUTIONS

  • The key to preventing mould related problems is to identify and eliminate the source of moisture. This may require the expertise of a building biologist. Check for roof and plumbing leaks, flooding, poor drainage, condensation build up in the bathroom or laundry, rising damp, high humidity and so on.  More detail is provided in the Healthy Home, Healthy Family book.
  • Moisture damaged materials should be dried within 24 hours otherwise a mould problem is likely to ensue. If not, you may need to discard it.
  • Clean areas affected by mould with an 80% naturally fermented white vinegar to 20% water solution. DONOT use bleach as it is likely to feed it!

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DID YOU KNOW

Exposure to toxic mould in a home may cause croup, asthma, bronchitis, recurrent colds and flus, and other lung conditions.