New Delhi: Germs are omnipresent – be it in air, water and soil or food, plants and animals, including inside the human body. But not all germs are harmful, according to experts, but beware of the ones that can breach your natural defense mechanism of the immune system and cause diseases. Ailments can range from common cold to cough, fatigue and diarrhoea. This Global Handwashing Day, here’s a quick explainer on the different types of germs and the ways we can guard against them in our everyday life to avoid future infections.
What Are Germs?
In layman’s terms, germs are tiny organisms, or living things, that can cause disease in the human body. They are so small and sneaky that they creep into our bodies without being noticed. Explaining the concept of germs attacking the human body, Dr. Bharat Agarwal, Consultant, Internal Medicine, Apollo Hospitals Navi Mumbai said,
Once germs invade our bodies, they stay inside for a long time. They feed on nutrients and energy, and in return produce toxins, which are proteins that act like poisons. Those toxins then cause symptoms of common infections, like fever, sneezes, rashes, coughing, vomiting, and diarrhoea.
What Are The Common Types Of Germs?
According to health experts, there are four most common types of germs that are found in the environment:
– Bacteria are basically the tiny, one-celled creatures, which can survive in any environment by feeding on the nutrients. One such environment for bacteria can be human body. Some common infections that bacteria can cause include ear infections, sore throats, cavities, and pneumonia.
– Viruses are the organism that need living cells to grow and reproduce. Most of the viruses can’t survive for longer duration if they’re not inside a living thing like a plant, animal, or person. When viruses get inside people’s bodies, they can spread and make people sick. Some common examples of viruses are chickenpox, measles, flu and COVID-19, which has given the world a terrible blow.
– Fungi are multi-celled, plant-like organisms. Fungi cannot make their own food from soil, water, and air, instead, fungi get their nutrition from plants, people, and animals. They love to live in damp, warm places. Many a times, fungi are not dangerous in healthy people. A common example of disease caused by fungus is athlete’s foot, an itchy rash that people sometimes get between their toes.
– Protozoa are one-cell organisms that often-spread diseases through water. Some protozoa cause intestinal infections that lead to diarrhoea, nausea, and belly pain.
Explaining how germs can spread in a human body and the risk it poses, Dr. Bharat Agarwal added,
Human body deals with millions of germs on a daily basis. Germs are almost everywhere, and they can survive in any condition. Hands are the main pathways of germ transmission; therefore, hand hygiene is the most important measure to avoid the transmission of harmful germs and prevent infections. The common sources of germ spread are – contaminated food and water, regularly touched surfaces like doorknobs, taps, TV remotes and telephones, cleaning and waste areas like bins, sinks and toilets, cleaning items like cleaning cloths, sponges and dirty toothbrushes, pets and other animals like rodents and flies and people.
How Can You Protect Yourself From Germs?
Hand Washing – The Best Way To Fight Germs: UNICEF says ‘washing hands’ regularly is the best way to stop germs from entering one’s body. It recommends, washing of hands after using the bathroom, when hands get dirty, with soap and water while slowly counting to 20.
Highlighting the importance of washing hands with soap, Palli Thordarson, a professor at the School of Chemistry at the University of New South Wales, Australia, said,
When we wash hands with soap, it dissolves the fat membrane and the germs falls apart like a house of cards and dies – or rather, we should say it becomes inactive. The reason why germs feed on human skin, especially the hands is because it gets proteins and fatty acids from the surface. From hands, the germs can reach your face if you touch it and from the face it can enter in your eyes, nose and mouth. As a result, it enters your body and you get infected. That is why killing the germs from your hands become an utmost important step.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that teaching people about handwashing helps them and their communities stay healthy. Highlighting the importance of handwashing, it further states that handwashing can:
– Reduce the number of people who get sick with diarrhoea by 23-40% in the world
– Reduce diarrhoeal illness in people around the world with weakened immune systems by 58%
– Reduce respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population around the world by 16-21%
– Reduce absenteeism due to gastrointestinal illness in school children around the world by 29-57%
Maintaining Good Personal Hygiene: Both UNICEF and WHO suggest maintaining good physical hygiene like coughing and sneezing into your elbow to keep germs away from your hands and other people.
According to American Lung Association, a cough can travel as fast as 50 mph and expel almost 3,000 droplets in just one go. Whereas sneeze can travel up to 100 mph and create upwards of 100,000 droplets. Why is it is a problem?
Dr. Bharat Agarwal says,
Sneeze or cough is body’s natural way of injecting germs outside from human body. So, when a person does this, the goal of the body is to get rid of whatever is bugging the body internally. That’s why, we say, maintaining good personal hygiene is essential part of living a healthy life.
Disinfect Regularly Touched Surfaces: UNICEF states that germs like to hide on surfaces like countertops, door handles and phones, therefore, in order to keep germs from spreading, one should make it a point to clean the commonly used surfaces on a regular basis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights that one should clean with a household cleaner that contains soap or detergent as that reduces the number of germs on surfaces and decreases risk of infection from surfaces.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.