WebMD Health - Home and Health

Oct 14, 2010 10:00 PM

Germs Right at Home in American Houses

Oct. 14, 2010 -- Many U.S. homes have disease-causing germs, but Americans rank among the highest in practicing good hygiene, a new study shows.

The 2010 study called Hygiene Home Truths conducted by the Hygiene Council says that even though the U.S. ranks high in hygiene practices, there is plenty of room for improvement, especially in bathrooms and kitchens.

The council sent germ- and mold-spore hunters armed with swabs into homes in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Australia, and India, looking for microscopic evidence of germs.

Homes of people who agreed to participate were swabbed for bacteria and mold.

U.S. Homes Cleaner Than Most

The study says that 89% of U.S. samples were satisfactory or spotless, but that we're still not doing enough cleaning, leaving behind bacteria and mold that increase the risk of illness.

According to the study, the biggest hotspot for germs was found to be the bathtub seal between the tub and tile, 40% of which were rated unsatisfactory or heavily contaminated.

The council says this area is particularly worrisome, because kids, when being bathed, are often close enough to these areas to pick up bad bugs.

The kitchen towel was the second most heavily contaminated area swabbed by germ sleuths, with 15% ranking unsatisfactory or heavily contaminated.

The council says a growing concern in U.S. households is the presence of the bacteria staphylococcus aureus, commonly called staph, which was identified on 11% of computer keyboards or mouses.

This indicates that some homeowners aren't washing their hands, or at least not properly.

Findings for Homes in the U.S.

Among other findings for U.S. homes:

  • People in 25% of households said they never cleaned the computer keyboard, and 23% said they cleaned it only once a week.
  • 80% of U.S. households said they cleaned refrigerators once a month.
  • 95% said they didn't know that household mold can cause respiratory illnesses.
  • 85% of householders felt their homes were at least satisfactorily clean, if not spotless, possibly due to the fact that 55% of respondents said they have a cleaner or domestic help.
  • 100% of teapot or coffeepot handles in the U.S. were found to be satisfactory or spotless.
  • 5% of households flunked the council's cleanliness test for computer keyboards and mouses. And 5% of refrigerator interiors in the U.S. failed the council's cleanliness test.

The council was formed in 2006 as a disease-fighting initiative involving public health experts worldwide. The global swab-down was sponsored by Reckitt Benckiser, maker of Lysol brand products, with the goal of identifying dirty spots and offering recommendations to help people make household items cleaner.

The study results "show that certain areas in our homes are being neglected when it comes to hygiene," says the Laura Jana, MD, of the Hygiene Council. "For example, cleaning with a dirty cloth or not thoroughly washing hands will simply spread bacteria rather than kill harmful organisms. And when someone has been sick, this can be detrimental to the entire household."

The global analysis also found that:

  • India and Saudi Arabia had the dirtiest kitchen towels. Households in the U.S. and Germany had the cleanest.
  • Saudi Arabia and India had the dirtiest teapot (or coffee pot) handles. Handles in the U.S. and Canada were the cleanest.
  • Saudi Arabia had the dirtiest computer keyboard and mouse surfaces, followed by Malaysia and Germany.
  • 6% of baby stroller handles worldwide were found to be heavily contaminated. South Africa had the dirtiest.

The council offered a number of recommendations for killing germs or at least for fighting harder against them. These include:

  • In the bathroom, more cleaning may be needed for the bathroom seals. A mold and mildew remover is needed on a regular basis to keep mold spores at a minimum.
  • Dirty kitchen towels should be washed at high temperatures -- above 140 degrees F to kill bacteria, or consider using an antibacterial laundry aid. Keep kitchen towels dry and do not use them for drying hands or washing children's faces.
  • Wash hands regularly and thoroughly.

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