From being found in humans to animals to objects, germs and bacteria are everywhere. Some germs are harmful to us whilst others can actually be good for us and make us healthier. It’s the ones that are harmful to us and cause potentially nasty infections that we should take time to understand in order to learn how we can stay hygienic, protect ourselves and reduce the risk of catching an infection.
Understanding the differences
What are Germs?
Germs are everywhere - in water, soil, plants, animals - and us! We all carry a certain number of germs all over our bodies. The term ‘germ’ can refer to viruses, bacteria, fungi or protozoa and, most of the time they do not cause any harm. However, they do have the potential to cause extremely harmful disease and infection when not controlled with good hygiene. Different germs thrive off different surface areas such as door handles, kitchen sinks, computer keyboards and more. Unless stopped, germs find their hotspot and begin to multiply which can cause extreme harm to our health.
What are Bacteria?
Bacteria are microscopic, single-celled organisms that multiply rapidly and the ‘bad bacteria’ can leak toxins or infect other cells, causing illnesses such as tuberculosis, MRSA and food poisoning. When people talk about ‘good bacteria’ they are often referring to the bacteria that lives naturally in our digestive system and play an important role in keeping us fit and well. However, many bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics which is why doctors are now careful not to over-prescribe antibiotics. You should only be prescribed antibiotics if your doctor believes you have a bacterial infection as antibiotics do not work on viral infections.
What are Viruses?
Viruses are some of the smallest organisms known and are able to replicate rapidly inside your body and cause illnesses such as the common cold and influenza. Viruses can be difficult to treat because they have to take over living cells (known as host cells) in order to reproduce. That means that sometimes it’s not just the virus that gets destroyed in the fight against infection but the host cells as well.
The biggest viral pandemic in world history is attributed to the influenza virus. During 1918-1919, it is said to have claimed an estimated 20-40 million deaths. Today, the flu vaccination is widely available from the NHS and UK pharmacies but due to the different mutations of the flu virus each year, an annual vaccination is recommended.
Bacterial vs Viral Infections
Both bacteria and viruses are types of pathogens that cause disease however viruses are much smaller, and bacteria are larger. Bacteria have the ability to simply reproduce and therefore expand their effect however viruses cannot reproduce on their own so using a repair and replication system, they infect a host to use its DNA and copies itself over and over to spreads and cause disease.
The symptoms of both bacterial and viral infections can be fairly similar. Take a common cold, which is a viral infection, and a sinus infection, which is a bacterial infection, they both usually include symptoms such as coughs, fatigue, headaches and runny nose. Depending on the area of the body that is affected, symptoms can alter. Usually other symptoms that are present are taken into account to determine where the illness has come whether it be a bacterium, a virus or some other pathogen/disease.
Common Bacterial Infections
An array of diseases are caused by bacteria whether it be from contaminated food or contact with an infected surface, many people suffer all sorts of bacterial infections throughout the year and their horrible symptoms. Bacteria are made up of a single cell and come in a range of shapes and sizes. A small number of bacteria can cause infections in humans and these are called pathogenic bacteria. Here we highlight the most common bacterial infections to watch out for within your organisation.
Bacterial respiratory tract infections
• Sinusitis – inflammation of paranasal sinuses where mucus is produced for nasal passages to work effectively. Symptoms can include serious face pain and thick nasal mucus.
• Bronchitis – bronchi become inflamed within the main airway system and can result in a sore throat, difficulty in breathing and thick mucus being produced.
• Pneumonia – inflammation of the alveoli which makes it difficult to breath.
Bacterial Skin Infections
• Impetigo - mainly affects children and appears as red sores that burst and form multiple clusters. It’s known to begin around the nose and mouth area and then the hands and feet.
• Cellulitis – usually affects the lower leg but can affect the face, arms and other areas. The skin appears to be swollen, red and hot to touch.
• Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) – caused by Staphylococcus bacteria which is one of the bacteria that can be resistant to antibiotics. This infection usually occurs where there is a cut in the skin and can be very contagious.
Foodborne Bacterial Infections
• Campylobacter bacteria – this infection can be caught when eating raw or uncooked poultry, drinking contaminated water or raw milk or handling infected animal faeces.
• Salmonella bacteria – affects the intestine tract and is typically caught by consuming contaminated uncooked food or water.
• E. coli bacteria – usually lives in intestines and can be a sign of health however a more dangerous strains can be caught from contaminated, undercooked water or food.
Sexually Transmitted Bacterial Infections
• Chlamydia – usually caused by bacteria called Chlamydia trachomatis which can infect both men and women. Women can get chlamydia in the cervix, rectum, or throat.
• Gonorrhoea – caused by a bacterium called Neisseria gonorrhoeae and usually involves the genitals, mouth and/or rectum.
• Trichomoniasis – caused by infection with a parasite called protozoan called Trichomonas vaginalis.
Other Bacterial Infections
• Bacterial meningitis - severe infection of the meninges, the lining of the brain which can cause permanent disabilities such as memory loss, learning disabilities and hearing loss.
• Otitis media – more commonly known as an ear infection which causes inflammation of the middle ear.
• Urinary tract infection (UTI) – an infection of the bladder, urethra, kidneys, or ureters more commonly known to affect women as they have a shorter urethra then men making it easier for the bacteria to reach the bladder.
Common Viral Infections
Since a virus cannot reproduce it has to find a way to spread and multiply. In order to do so, a virus infects a host by hijacking the hosts genetic material to produce more virus particles. An active viral infection kills the hosts cells to free its newly formed virus particles which leads to nasty viral infections symptoms, cell and tissue damage and an immune response. After the initial infection, some viruses become inactive for example in the case of chicken pox or common cold sores. Here are the most common viral infections you should look out for.
Respiratory Viral Infections
• Common colds – primarily affects the nose, throat, head and sinus and can last anywhere between 2 – 10 days.
• The Flu – usually includes symptoms such as a fever, aching body, dry cough, sore throat and can be extremely contagious, spreading from coughs and sneezes.
• Bronchiolitis – can cause inflammation and congestion in the airways of the lungs, commonly known to affect young children.
• Coronavirus – a newly discovered, highly contagious respiratory illness that can develop into something serious when caught by vulnerable victims such as the elderly and those with underlying health issues such as diabetes, cancer and other chronic respiratory diseases. Read everything you need to know about the Coronavirus and how to prevent it to learn how to minimise the spread of germs that may cause covid-19 within your business.
To reduce the spread of respiratory infections it’s absolutely vital to practice good hand hygiene within your organisation at all times, encouraging staff to cover their nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces with necessary equipment and avoiding contact with infected individuals.
Viral Skin Infections
• Molluscum contagiosum – caused by poxvirus and is usually the result of a mild skin disease characterised by growths that appear on the skin.
• Herpes – stay in a nearby nerve and causes blisters in the same area. It stays in your body and can become ‘active’ which results in a physical outbreak on your body.
• Varicella-zoster virus (VZV) – causes chickenpox and shingles and then retreats to nerve tissues near the spinal cord and brain.
Foodborne Viral Infections
• Hepatitis A – a viral liver disease transmitted through congestion of contaminated food or water.
• Rotavirus – highly infectious stomach illness that usually affects young children or babies and can result in stomach-ache, diarrhoea, vomiting and fever.
• Norovirus – causes inflammation of the stomach or intestine called acute gastroenteritis and can be highly contagious.
Sexually Transmitted Viral Infections
• Human papillomavirus (HPV) – can often cause genital warts or cancer and affects the skin mostly.
• Hepatitis B – an infection in the liver and is often spread by blood and body fluids.
• Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) – attacks and weakens your body’s immune system reducing your ability to fight everyday infections and diseases.
Other Viral Infections
• Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) – a type of herpes that can result in fever, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and an enlarged spleen. Commonly known as the ‘kissing disease’ that has affected more than 90% adults.
• West Nile virus (WNV) - commonly transmitted by infected mosquitos and can cause a fever, headaches and other systems and less commonly can result in inflammation of the brain.
• Viral meningitis - inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord that causes headache, fever, stiff neck, and other symptoms.
Common Germ Hotspots to be Aware of
Some viruses and bacteria can live for a long time outside of the human body and will thrive on surfaces such as toilet handles, light-switches, keyboards and desks. That’s why it’s important to wash your hands thoroughly and regularly before and after certain activities such as going to the toilet, before cooking and eating food, after touching pets and blowing your nose to name but a few. In office environments, it also helps to keep your desk and equipment hygienic with handy anti-bacterial wipes whilst businesses from various sectors such as restaurants or gyms could invest in disinfection services to keep a facility really clean and hygienic.
Find out more information on the top germ hotspots that could be affecting your health and therefore could cause any of the above infections.
How to Prevent the Spread of Germs
There are many ways to prevent the spread of infection both at home and in the workplace that can ensure you and those around you stay as healthy and hygienic as possible. We should all be mindful to practice good general hygiene habits such as:
• Covering your mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing
• Practising effective hand hygiene
• Staying at home if you feel ill to reduce the risk of spreading infection to others.
• Disposing of any tissue waste safely and responsibly after use
For workplaces, it’s vital to provide a considerate environment that is safe and clean and for hygiene to be encouraged. This can be achieved by providing proper solutions such as soap and hand sanitisers in washrooms and key points throughout your facility, adequate means so that employees and visitors can dry their hands too such as hand dryers or paper towel dispensers, and aircare solutions.
To ensure your staff and visitors are well educated on how to prevent the spread of germs, you can also display hygiene guidance posters and signage around your premises to consistently promote good hygiene at all times.
Contact Citron Hygiene
The team at Citron Hygiene are passionate about helping businesses to build healthier spaces in order to reduce the transmission of harmful germs. If you would like to learn how our solutions that encompass washroom hygiene, floorcare and facility hygiene can help to prevent the spread of germs on your premises, contact us today to find out more.