Bacteria and viruses: how dirty street clothes really are

Bacteria and viruses: how dirty street clothes really are

DThe number spread on some Internet media seems worrying: at least 72 colonies of bacteria and viruses are said to accumulate on the skin and clothes during the day. It sounds very – and dangerous. Therefore, in some families the rule applies: under no circumstances go to bed in civilian clothes!

Johannes Knobloch sees it calmly. The specialist in microbiology, virology and epidemiology of infections says: “I didn’t count. But one thing is clear: when I return from abroad to my home environment, I will always bring with me something that wasn’t there before.”

Whether these germs can actually be dangerous to us depends on many factors. On the one hand, by your state of health. On the other hand, the lifespan of bacteria and viruses. This also includes how well they can survive in less than optimal conditions.

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“There are huge differences between viruses,” says Knobloch, head of hospital hygiene at the University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf. So-called enveloped viruses – for example influenza or coronavirus – have a very short survival time on surfaces. “If I don’t take it directly from there and apply it to my mucous membranes, when I go home there will be no more infections.”

Non-enveloped viruses behave differently. For example, noroviruses, which cause vomiting and diarrhea: even if you only get a few copies on your fingers and then put them in your mouth, transmission can easily occur. “But not about clothes!” Knobloch clarifies. The same goes for respiratory infections: you should touch your face a lot or come into contact with your eyes.

But when could our street clothes actually become dangerous for us – and what role do beds or sofas play in this? For the hygiene expert, these are very theoretical cases. Of course nothing is impossible. An example: on the bus there is someone with purulent pustules on the skin who scratches and then touches the seats and furniture. It is possible that one of the next passengers will touch these very areas and carry the pathogen home to the bed.

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“So it cannot be ruled out that something like this could happen Staphylococcus aureus even increased a little. And if I then get a small scratch, I could actually get an infection with the pathogen,” says Knobloch. However, they do not breed on the dry surface at all. The risk is therefore “very manageable”.

Bonn infectious disease specialist Peter Walger can also reassure: for healthy patients, clothing plays “almost no role” as a means of transmitting diseases in the home environment. This is why there are no rules on how best to behave at home. The answer to the question “Civilian clothes on the bed – yes or no?” It mainly depends on your sense of cleanliness and hygiene.

And the spectrum is broad, as Walger, a member of the board of directors of the German Society for Hospital Hygiene, observes. “Some are extremely fussy and change their bedding more often than every two weeks. Some people put a bedspread on the bed and others don’t care at all.

Who should wash their bedding more often

But there are exceptions, that is, people who should be a little more rigorous about their home hygiene. For example, people with open wounds, neurodermatitis, chronic eczema, or poorly controlled diabetes mellitus. “Their skin can be massively colonized by germs, which in certain circumstances, for example during an operation or injury, can turn into an infection risk,” says Walger.

These patients should remember to protect themselves and others through particularly rigorous hygiene and home cleanliness standards. For these high-risk patients it is important to wash clothing and bed linen more often, as well as individual items at at least 60 degrees. “Immediately afterwards there are virtually no germs left that could pose a danger,” says Walger.

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The germs could also cause problems for allergy sufferers. For example, when they sit on a park bench. Because it can be filled to the brim with bacteria and fungal spores that we can absorb through our clothes and bring home. “It doesn’t necessarily make me sick, but if I have allergies, and I have a lot of them, it might not be a good thing if I’m constantly breathing them in at night,” Knobloch says.

His conclusion: “You can’t say there is no risk of germs on clothes, but it is very manageable.” Ultimately, there is no business associated with zero risk. If you don’t want to expose yourself to any danger, you have to lock yourself in your apartment for the rest of your life.

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