Germs. They’re everywhere.  When you think about it, they are probably densest and most problematic on surfaces like toilet doors and handles, shopping cart handles/toddler seats, and, think about this one:  salt shakers and condiment containers in restaurants.  Anyone want to guess how often those are wiped down with antiseptic?

A-CHOO! photo credit:

photo credit:

Germs come in two basic varieties, bacteria and viruses.  What should people be doing to protect themselves from them, and especially from viruses, given the current fear of ebola sweeping the world? What should one use to disinfect surfaces and hands, and importantly, is there one product that protects best from both?

These are not new questions and an internet search reveals that the matter is fairly well understood, albeit not completely. I checked the NIH web site and was surprised to find not much there, but most other sites of recognizable authority are consistent in that regular hand washing with plain soap is the best agent and method. That was determined in the 1990’s and hasn’t changed. What is new is why the most common chemical used in hand wipes, soaps and gels, triclosan, has some serious drawbacks to its general use.

For disinfecting surfaces, I read that household bleach is being used around people currently infected with ebola. But what I really wanted to know was whether we should be doing something special to protect the rest of us in public places. I certainly don’t want my house or car smelling like Clorox.  I did find that isopropyl alcohol and ethanol, at 60% to 70% strength, is effective against both bacteria and viruses.

Turns out, there was a very good common-sense blog article on the whole germ matter that was published in Scientific American. I recommend it because, although not wholly definitive, it nicely consolidates everything I was able to find, from Web MD to Wikipedia (antiseptics) and beyond.  Here’s the SA link.

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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21 Responses to Germs

  1. PiedType says:

    Clorox is great if the surface can take it. But of course many can’t. Kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, maybe. Elsewhere, forget it. And it gets nowhere near my car. I’m not concerned about Ebola, but I’m certainly taking all the routine precautions against colds, flu, and pneumonia — with the supermarket and my grandchildren being the great exposure hazards. Thanks for the good info.


  2. Like PiedType, I also am not concerned about ebola, for myself or my family, but I’ve been puzzled about what seems to me a contradiction in the advice the CDC is giving to the public. We should not worry, because Ebola is not airborne. It cannot be spread by coughing or sneezing. It can be spread only by direct contact with bodily fluids (blood, feces, vomit). If that is the case, why are we worried about all the passengers on the flight taken by the second infected nurse? She did not vomit, no one on the flight came in contact with her blood or feces — I’m puzzled.


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      The experts do seem consistent, Helen, insisting that bodily fluids and not air are the only method of transmission. What that really means is that infection by casual contact is so rare that mass transmission like the flu won’t happen. However, where’s the dividing line between a puddle and a sneeze, as in the illustration I found for the post? That’s the problem, and I can’t blame people for being cautious. On the other hand, some are going completely off the rails. One writer to the editor of our Joplin Globe this morning is calling for canceling all flights between here and Dallas. DFW is Joplin’s only air connection!


  3. Jim in IA says:

    That’s a good article. My daughter had to stop using anti-bacterial soaps in their house. It was destroying the bacteria in their septic system. It stopped working.

    1. Wash hands with soapy water. Rinse well.
    2. Recite twinkle twinkle little star to get the right minimal time devoted to the washing.
    3. Don’t touch everything with your hands. Use elbows, shoulder, and feet if possible on doors.
    4. Keep your hands OFF of your face and fingers OUT of your mouth and nose.


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Good advice, Jim, especially with the flu season about to start. I would only add that the eyes are a prime entry site for infections that most people don’t think about, so:
      5. Keep unwashed hands away from eyes.

      Also, I’m going to start using hand sanitizer and paper napkins to wipe down restaurant salt shakers and catsup bottles. And your cautionary story about the septic system reminds me of the SA article’s caution that many of the bacteria on and in our bodies are not only beneficial but essential.


      • Jim in IA says:

        Those of us who grew up on farms mucking about in the mud, dirt, chicken coops, hog lots, and cattle lots, have the blessing of being more immune to pathogens and such. Being too clean as you grow up is a curse later.

        That is a good #5 addition.


  4. aFrankAngle says:

    Fabulous article … and one written with your wit. Is your pseudonym Rob Dunn?


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Is your pseudonym Rob Dunn?

      Ha. If only. But his style definitely delighted me, Frank. The thing that inspired me to this post was the seeming failure of experts in the medical field to definitively study and prescribe for this basic problem. While it’s true that most authorities do embrace hand washing as basic, nowhere else than Dunn’s article could I find anyone tying all the information together in a straightforward and common-sense way. It needed doing, but sadly, only a few people will read it and take it to heart. The current hysteria and fear over ebola, with one American death, is absurdly out of proportion when airborne flu kills tens of thousands of people every year, and sickens millions. And half the population rejects flu vaccinations. Go figure.


      • aFrankAngle says:

        This sort of safety is too much thought as common sense, and when mentioned, many times it’s too casual. Meanwhile, sense you aren’t Rob Dunn, he must be a graduate of the Jim Wheeler School of Writing.


  5. aFrankAngle says:

    PS: The antimicrobial force field line cracked me up!


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      The antimicrobial force field line cracked me up!

      Me too, and especially the instruction to regularly wipe-down your grimy kids. Reminds me of the unfortunate kid with no immune system living in a plastic bubble. Our kids were raised on the floor with the dog. 😆

      Liked by 1 person

  6. hermitsdoor says:

    I’m a believer in Germ Theory. The more the better. I like my 1 billion plus bacteria living on and in me. Clean surfaces can be useful against a limited number of germs. A healthy immune system is a better defense. How do we keep our immune systems healthy? Exposure to lots of bacteria. That’s my Germ Theory. Go Pro-Biotics.


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Agreed, many bacteria are beneficial. Children raised in a germy environment have stronger immune systems and fewer allergies. One depressing fact about immune systems, however, is that they weaken with age. We just got our flu and pneumonia shots, both adjusted stronger because we are over 65. Agreed about pro-biotics too. Also, drink buttermilk. Thanks for visiting. 🙂


  7. As a complete germphobe, this article terrified me. I’m more frightened of germs than of North Carolina turning to Sharia Law.


  8. Archon's Den says:

    And on a non-sequitur note, I came here to vent, and further explain about getting lost, where my wife can’t read it, and become depressed/angry.
    The woman has no sense of direction or location, and can’t read a map at gunpoint. She can get lost in a linen closet. We used to go to a small local mall, with a two-story department store out front, and a strip-mall arrangement behind, including a Michael’s store which we would go into very infrequently.
    We would enter the Eaton’s store, and turn left to go up the escalator to housewares. On leaving, we would come down the adjoining escalator. The car could be seen through the front windows, to the right. The mall was visible to the left. She always turned left. I would ask what she wanted at Michaels. “I don’t want Michaels! Where’s the car??” Two months later we’d play the same game….and three months later, etc., etc., etc.!
    On the overland trip through Ohio, I let her hold the Rand-McNally Road Atlas, with faint hope. We were nearing a small town where I needed to transfer from one highway to another and asked her to look for Peoli.
    “I can’t find Peoli!” “Start at St Clairsville and follow the blue line.” “I can’t find St. Clairsville!” “Your right thumb is on it!” “Oh, down there.”
    With all its failings, I trust the GPS more. 😯


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      My wife is similarly direction-challenged. I don’t blame her, it is simply a function that she wasn’t born with. Any reference to the compass is completely lost on her. On the other hand, there have been numerous times when she knew we were lost and I refused to admit it, so it evens out. I am not unhappy with the situation because it sometimes gives me a smug, albeit temporary, sense of superiority. 😉

      By the way, relative to germs, I just read yesterday that cruise ships now routinely order a form of alcohol hand sanitizer that is more effective than that commonly available in drug stores. I’m thinking that there may be no definitive study yet on its effectiveness – the researchers are too busy looking for the next viagra. 🙄


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