I keep an eye on all kinds of magazines and news sources for the very best health information. But I have to say, the magazine Popular Mechanics hasn’t been on my radar.
Until now, that is. Because a friend of mine forwarded an extremely eye-opening article that has me looking at my home–specifically my dishwasher, washing machine, and a few other surprising places–in a whole new light.
I talk about superbugs here from time to time–how they’re bred in hospitals and how the overuse of antibiotics is contributing to what’s becoming a major public health issue–but I never knew that I could have a little superbug farm going in my very own home. But after reading about five places that could be breeding these mega germs, I’m definitely going to be adjusting a few domestic habits.
First up is the dishwasher, that wonderful invention that eliminates dishpan hands and gets your dishes sparkling clean. Researchers in Slovenia tested 189 dishwashers on six continents and found that 62 percent had fungi living in the rubber door seals. They were a bit surprised–they’d thought the high temperatures and harsh soaps wouldn’t support microorganisms. But the species of black yeast they found, which can cause infections, thrives in such extreme conditions, especially with a steady stream of nutritious crumbs and other debris that go with your plates into the dishwasher.
There’s some bad news on this one–nobody knows how to prevent these nasties from growing. There haven’t been any reports of infection related to contaminated dishwashers, but more research is needed since these fungi could be quite harmful to infants and the elderly.
Next up we have the shower. That “soap scum” that builds up when life takes over and there’s no time to clean? Yeah, that’s not soap. It’s actually bacteria, which absolutely love the warm, moist conditions in the shower. Most of the bacteria that live on your shower curtain and walls are harmless, but it’s another story when it comes to your showerhead. There, it’s warm, moist, and dark. Staphylococcus, legionella, and Mycobacterium avium come in with the water supply and multiply in the nice little cave that is your showerhead.
And half of the water droplets that come from a typical showerhead are just the right size to go straight into your lungs. The good news is that you can clean your showerhead or replace it, and rain-type heads don’t create the fine mist that can be inhaled. Also, if your immune system is up to snuff, you don’t have to worry about any infections.
The washing machine is the third hidden breeding ground for superbugs. Tests have uncovered 94 species of microorganisms in washing machines–and about a third of those can infect humans. The water filter, rubber tubes, and metal elements of the outer drum are all home to germs. Even concentrated detergent can’t get rid of the microbes. One contributing factor could be washing with lower temperatures and bleach-free cleaners out of environmental concern.
This next one is a big one. It’s, unfortunately, the air you breathe in your home. In one test in Philadelphia, researchers found colonies of MRSA in the air around kitchen trash and in bedrooms. It could come from pets, and the bacteria in the kitchen are probably from food. Researchers pointed out that the steady diet of antibiotics given to farm animals leads to meat and dairy products crawling with antibacterial-resistant bacteria. In the trash, those bacteria get plenty of food and warmth. They also noted that airborne bacteria are associated with infections in hospitals and could therefore definitely be culprits at home, too. I know I’m going to start taking the trash out every day, no matter how tired I am after a long day of work.
Finally, there’s the fridge. In a 2008 study, 23.4 percent of tested fridges were home to bacteria that cause respiratory infections. The veggie crispers had the highest concentrations. There’s an easy, though tedious, fix for this. When you clean your fridge, don’t just give it a quick wipe down. Take the drawers out and get all the nooks and crannies where bacteria can thrive.
Generally, unless you have a compromised immune system, you don’t have to freak out over these hidden superbug breeding grounds. But it’s certainly a good reminder that, no matter how clean we think we are, germs are going to find a way to multiply!
Now, I’m off to give my apartment a good scrubbing!
Ms. O’Brien has written for Nutrition & Healing, Healthier Talk and a variety of other natural and alternative health outlets. She believes in the power of natural medicine and her goal is to open people’s eyes to the benefits of alternative and integrative medicine.
Christine is passionate about helping people help themselves without having to turn to harsh drugs or invasive surgeries.
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