How Germs Are Spread and How to Prevent Them

With the global concern about viruses and germs dominating the news, let’s take a look at what germs are, places they can be found and steps you can take to help prevent the spread of them in your daily life.

What Are Germs and How Are They Spread

A germ is defined as “a microorganism or a portion of a one that is capable of developing into an organism or a part of one.” Germs are all around us: in the air, soil, water, and on the inside and outside of our bodies. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Many are actually needed to keep us healthy. A seed that grows into a plant is a germ. Only a small percentage of germs cause infection.

The four main types of germs are: bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), germs can spread when a person touches something contaminated and then touches his or her eyes, nose or mouth.

How Long Germs Can Live on Various Surfaces

According to a new study released by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the CDC in March of 2020, scientists concluded that the COVID-19 virus is “stable for several hours to days in aerosols (tiny airborne particles that can survive on air currents over distances) and on surfaces.” Airborne transmission can occur when infected people cough, talk or sneeze germs into the air.

The SARS virus, which has some similar characteristics to the novel coronavirus, was also studied and detectable on the following surfaces for these timeframes:
  • in aerosols for up to three hours
  • on copper for up to four hours
  • on cardboard up to 24 hours
  • on plastic and stainless steel for up to 2-3 days

What You Can Do

The CDC recommends wearing disposable gloves and cleaning these and other high-touch surfaces with soap and water or a disinfectant wipe. Items packaged in cardboard, plastic or metal containers, such as canned goods, should be wiped down before use.

High-touch surfaces include: tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, sinks, etc.

Click here for more household disinfecting and cleaning tips from the CDC.

Personal Steps You Can Take

Because it’s possible to spread the COVID-19 virus without exhibiting symptoms and for it to live on various surfaces, public health officials reaffirmed the need for these critical health precautions:
  • Wash hands frequently with non-anti-microbial soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as mask, gloves, and other protective wear, when there is an expectation of possible exposure to infectious material.
  • Maintain separation of at least six feet from people who may be at risk for respiratory conditions.

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