The Bacteria Timebomb in Your Home The experts' rules for beating household bugs that can trigger heart disease, allergies and strokes

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Most of us
never give a second thought to how long we’ve had that old
chopping board – or those pillows, even that hairbrush.

But while they
may all look clean and serviceable enough, these seemingly innocent
household items can actually harbour potentially harmful bacteria
if used too long, regardless of how often they’re cleaned.

Here, with
the help of scientific experts, we examine how often you should
spring clean those everyday household items – and when it’s
time to simply throw them in the bin . . .


Wood is more
porous than plastic or metal, making it more susceptible to carrying
germs and bacteria, explains John Oxford, Professor of Virology
at Barts and the London Hospital. The bacteria particularly prevalent
in the kitchen is E. coli, usually from raw meat or children with
poor hygiene habits. This can lead to severe food poisoning.

put wooden spoons in the dishwasher, especially not on a regular
basis, as they may crack and therefore provide a haven for bacteria.
Instead, soak in disinfectant for about half an hour and then wash
with boiling soapy water.

After five years, but earlier if the wood cracks, or if any part
becomes soft or dark, as this could mean the wood is rotting and
retaining bacteria.


Research suggests
that a range of serious health problems, including heart disease,
stroke, arthritis and chronic infections could be linked to ‘unhygienic’

A study by
Manchester University found that the average toothbrush contained
about ten million germs, including a high percentage of potentially
fatal bacteria such as staphylococci, streptococcus, E. coli and

‘You can’t
see the build-up of germs, but you can see the distorted and broken
bristles that will harbour the bacteria, explains Wimpole Street
dentist Dr Charles Ferber.

Every three months.


These need
to be washed once a week at 90c or more to wipe out, staphylococcus
aureus, a bacteria that can be transferred from your skin to the
towel. Normally benign, it can cause infection if it comes into
contact with a wound – and it can also live on dry surfaces.

Use indefinitely if washed at high temperatures without damage.


A brand-new
pillow doubles its weight in three years, thanks to remains of dust
mites that build up inside it.

This could
aggravate hay fever, eczema or asthma, particularly since your
face is touching the pillow and you will be breathing in the remains,
explains Professor Jean Emberlin, director of Allergy UK.

Dust mite waste
also leaves people more susceptible to rhinitis (stuffy nose) and
sinusitis. Washing your pillow will help – do so every few
months at 60c for at least 20 minutes. If you have asthma or allergies,
buy hypoallergenic pillows, which are usually made from foam.

Duvets also
harbour dust mites and skin debris in the same way.

In one study
by the University of Worcester, ten typical duvets were analysed
and scientists discovered they contained up to 20,000 live house
dust mites along with bacteria and fungal spores. Duvets should
be washed every six months.

Pillows, every two years; duvets every five years.


One hair follicle
can hold 50,000 germs and your brush can contribute to this. Brushes
can also collect residues of hair products which can become sticky
and attract dirt.

‘We also
have lots of bacteria on the skin and what may affect one person
may not affect another,’ adds dermatologist Dr Andrew Wright,
consultant dermatologist with Bradford Hospitals NHS Foundation

So diseases
such as impetigo, a contagious skin infection that usually
produces blisters or sores on the face, neck or hands can spread
from one person to another by sharing a brush. The brushes should
be washed in hot, soapy water every week and left to dry.

Every four years – but sooner if the bristles get damaged as
these can scratch the scalp, causing potential infections to spread.


The average
chopping board is home to 50 times more bacteria than a loo seat,
says the Hygiene Council. That’s because while people perceive
loo seats as needing regular cleaning, the same approach isn’t
applied to a chopping board, explains Professor Oxford.

To clean, spray
with disinfectant, scrub and then pour boiling water over the board.
Keep separate chopping boards for raw meat and poultry and another
for vegetables and fruit to prevent bacteria such as E. coli spreading
to salads or fruit, for instance, which will be eaten raw and not
cooked at the high temperatures needed to destroy the bacteria.

If your chopping
board starts to develop deep marks from knife cuts, it’s time
to replace the board, as bacteria can lurk in the grooves.

Three years.

the rest of the article

9, 2010

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