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There are four different types of microorganisms (germs) that can affect our health: bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa.

View our simple distinction guide that can help you become a pro at understanding these different germs. While bacteria and viruses are the germs that cause most diseases in humans and animals; not all germs are harmful. The majority help our bodies function properly, such as gut bacteria, without which our food would not be digested properly.1 Get more information on a multitude of beneficial bacteria that you come into contact with every day.

Unfortunately, there are harmful germs that can live on various surfaces and objects we touch everyday like door knobs, stair rails, and telephones. These harmful germs can enter the body through openings such as the mouth, nose, eyes, and breaks in the skin.2 Contaminated food and water serve as points of entry for germs to make their way into our bodies as well. Once inside, they quickly begin to multiply and disrupt cell function.3

At its most devastating, we associate viruses with the 2014 outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, or the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic.4 But the most common infectious disease is the common cold. The common cold can be spread by coughing and sneezing. One sneeze emits 20,000 droplets that contain pathogens such as rhinovirus or coronavirus. That’s why it’s important to focus on prevention by boosting your immune system, staying informed about immunization dates, and maintaining a clean environment.

Boost Your Immune System

When your immune system is strong and healthy, your body is better equipped to fight against disease and infection. Diet plays a key role in maintaining overall health; enjoying a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains contribute to a well-functioning immune system, as does drinking plenty of water.5 Regular exercise and getting adequate sleep are also ways to improve your immune system. Refraining from smoking and limiting alcohol consumption help preserve the body’s ability to fight germs. In addition, washing your hands properly by scrubbing the back and front of hands plus in-between fingers and under finger nails with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, and cooking meats thoroughly are simple steps you can take to avoid infection. Finally, visiting your doctor can give you insights into your health and provide medical screening for health risks that target your age group.6


The Center for Disease Control recommends immunization for 17 preventable diseases in babies, children, adolescents, and adults. View the CDC guidelines.

Influenza is a serious disease that millions are infected with, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized for, and thousands die every year of.7 In the U.S., flu season can start as early as October and end as late as May. Recalling adaptive immunity, vaccines cause the body to develop antibodies, which work during the body’s immune response to fight disease. Getting a seasonal flu vaccine reduces your chances of getting sick. The more people immunized, the better off the entire community is; often called herd-immunity, getting vaccinated can not only help yourself, but the people around you as well!8

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Getting the flu vaccine cannot cause the flu
  • The flu can be particularly dangerous for those with existing health conditions, including asthma, heart disease, and diabetes
  • Getting the flu vaccine every year optimizes the chances of immunity

Getting Rid of Germs

Germs can make their way from everyday surfaces to the body and cause sickness. The flu virus can live on a surface for up to 48 hours.9 Considering the average kitchen sink has 100,000 times the number of germs found in a toilet, it’s important to use household disinfectants or disinfectant wipes to reduce the number of bacteria on surfaces. The label will indicate the proper contact time to ensure that bacteria is killed.

It can be difficult to make the distinction between disinfecting, sanitizing, and cleaning. So here is the breakdown:

  • Disinfecting is the process in which a disinfectant kills nearly 100% of germs that contaminate a certain surface.
  • Sanitizing reduces surface germs and is beneficial to do after cleaning, but it does not kill all germs- there will still be some left behind after using a product that just sanitizes.
  • Cleaning works by using soap or detergent and water to physically remove soil or dirt, but does not specifically remove germs from that surface.

Kitchens and bathrooms are the areas of your home where disinfecting is the most crucial. When cleaning the kitchen, give special attention to the sink, countertops, and garbage cans because these areas tend to harbor the most germs. Sink faucets can be sterilized with a disinfectant. Cutting boards and garbage cans are also common locations for bacteria to grow. Having separate cutting boards for veggies and meats can reduce cross contamination of bacteria. Cleaning the garbage can with a bleach solution kills bacteria and reduces odor. In addition, sponges are a source of germs. To disinfect, run them in the dishwasher or put a wet sponge in the microwave for one minute.10

Disinfection is also important when cleaning your bathroom because bacteria and viruses are aerosolized and deposited on surfaces each time your toilet is flushed.11 The general rule for cleaning in the bathroom is to do a thorough disinfecting once a week and while you are cleaning, to let the product do the work for you. For example, if you are applying a mold and mildew-eliminating product let it sit in your grout before you brush it away. The same rule applies to the products used to eliminate soap scum and water spots that can build up on your tub, plastic shower curtain, or glass shower door.12 The label on any of these products will direct you to the length of time you should let the product sit before washing, scrubbing, or wiping it away. To clean mirrors, windows, or other high shine surfaces use a glass cleaner in small quantities, and wipe the product with a clean cloth until the area is clean to avoid streaks.13 Wash towels once a week or more as skin cells rub off on the material. Finally, keep toothbrushes and other personal hygiene, like razors, stored away to prevent them from coming in to contact with airborne germs from flushing toilets.14

It is also important to disinfect your children’s toys, especially if they have taken them out of your home recently. Just a short trip to school for show-and-tell could result in a layer of germs coating your children’s stuffed animals, cars, or dolls. If the toy is made completely of plastic with no battery packs or fabric, submerge in a pot of boiling water for 5 minutes or run through the dishwasher. Fabric toys like stuffed animals, again with no battery packs, can be loaded in the washing machine and washed on the gentle cycle. Lastly, metal toys, like trucks and trains, can be disinfected in a mixture of 1 tablespoon of bleach to 1 quart of water and allowed to air dry.15

 Lastly, hand washing is one of the simplest yet surest way to protect against disease causing germs such as salmonella, E. coli, and norovirus. To ensure that hands are clean, use soap and lather the back of the hands, the front, the fingers, and under finger nails. After, use a clean towel to dry the hands. Touching your nose, eyes, and mouth allow germs to enter the body. By keeping hands clean, you greatly reduce the chances of getting sick. 

You're Sick. Now What?

Even after following all methods of prevention, the body is still susceptible to disease and infection. If sick, the Center for Disease Control recommends staying home to prevent spreading illness to others. This also gives your body a chance to rest and recover. Cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing, wash your hands, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth to prevent passing the sickness to others. The best way to prevent your sneeze or cough from contaminating other surfaces is to cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or the crook of your arm. Lastly, visit a doctor if symptoms persist.

  1. 4 Germs and disease. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2017, from
  2. 4 Germs and disease. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2017, from
  3. Vidyasagar, A. (2016, January 05). What Are Viruses? Retrieved April 24, 2017, from
  4. Vidyasagar, A. (2016, January 05). What Are Viruses? Retrieved April 24, 2017, from
  5. Greger, M. (2017, May 25). How Much Water Should We Drink Each Day? Retrieved August 30, 2017, from
  6. Publications, H. H. (n.d.). How to boost your immune system. Retrieved April 24, 2017, from
  7. Misconceptions about Seasonal Flu and Flu Vaccines. (2016, November 17). Retrieved April 24, 2017, from
  8. Misconceptions about Seasonal Flu and Flu Vaccines. (2016, November 17). Retrieved April 24, 2017, from
  9. C. (2011, January 21). De-Germing Your House: Words to the Wise. Retrieved April 24, 2017, from
  10. C. (2011, January 21). De-Germing Your House: Words to the Wise. Retrieved April 24, 2017, from
  11. Bernarducci, E., Bilancieri, J., Cassin, T., Chase, B., Endres, M., Fisher, R.,… Zdanowski, D. (1992) The CSMA Consumer Products Handbook. Washington D.C., US. Chemical Specialties Manufacturers Association, Inc.
  12. Kerr, J. A Smarter Way to Clean Your Home. Retrieved August 29, 2017, from
  13. Bernarducci, E., Bilancieri, J., Cassin, T., Chase, B., Endres, M., Fisher, R.,… Zdanowski, D. (1992) The CSMA Consumer Products Handbook. Washington D.C., US. Chemical Specialties Manufacturers Association, Inc.
  14. C. (2011, January 21). De-Germing Your House: Words to the Wise. Retrieved April 24, 2017, from

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