Tag Archives for " hand-washing "

Some natural methods to avoid getting the Flu

Some natural methods to avoid getting the Flu

Another virus has dominated the headlines this fall and winter 2022, an old nemesis that changes disguises (varieties) every year to trip us up–Influenza.  Of course, you could always take a gamble that the Flu vaccines offered in clinics will match the real cocktail of virus in the air, but there are a lot of other ways to reduce your chances of contracting this illness that don’t involve needles.  Let’s get started!

Yes, masks, social distancing and hand-washing are still part of the solution.  Some health advisory authorities, like the California Department of Public Health, are basing mask recommendations against flu on COVID-19 illness risk in your area, because flu and RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) spread in similar ways to COVID-19.  The CDC has a searchable risk database by county here,  Infants and young children, as well as older adults and those with chronic medical conditions, are most at risk for RSV, which can cause bronchiolitis (an inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia. (CDC.gov)  For more on masks, check out our article here.

Avoid air pollution.  It doesn’t seem like crisp winter air should come with air pollution flags, but unfortunately winter sometimes hosts the worst conditions of the year.  There are several different types of a phenomenon called “inversions” (which are well-explained in this video from the University of Illinois Extension), but they all involve a warmer layer of air above a cooler layer of air, restricting air movement and causing pollutants to be trapped near the earth’s surface.  That bad air quality will likely contain elevated levels of fine particulates like PM2.5 and PM10, carbon monoxide (CO) and sulfur dioxide (SO2), which were all shown to increase the risk of influenza-like illness (ILI) in Jinan, China (The short-term effects of air pollutants on influenza-like illness in Jinan, China, 2019).  If your area is known to have moderate to bad air quality days, keep an eye on it and adjust your plans accordingly!  Airnow.gov, breezometer.com and local news stations can all help you stay informed and healthier.

These tips can help you stay healthy against a plethora of diseases (dispatchhealth.com):

  • Stay active: get out and rake leaves, or take a brisk walk around the neighborhood or around your local mall if the weather is inclement.  Routine exercise is a simple and smart way to bolster your immune system and improve your overall health.

  • Rest well; try to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night, because sleep is critical to a well-functioning immune system.  If you have difficulty getting to sleep, reduce your caffeine intake after noon, don’t use digital devices in bed, and try a melatonin supplement.

  • Take your vitamins–in your food!  Foods that are rich in vitamins A, C, D, E, zinc and selenium naturally boost your immune system, while foods that have lots of added sugar, salt, and fried and highly processed foods may do the opposite (avoid them).  (Healthline.com)

  • Consider herbal supplements (7 Natural Remedies for Preventing the Flu):

    • Echinacea.  As shown in a 2015 study in the Czech Republic, Echinaforce Hotdrink is as effective as oseltamivir (Tamiflu Oral) in early treatment of confirmed influenza virus infections.  If this particular drink is not readily available, you can take tablets containing 6.78 milligrams of echinacea extract two to three times a day, having 900 milligrams of Echinacea root tincture daily or five to six cups of echinacea tea on the first day of symptoms, and then 1 cup a day thereafter. 

    • Oregano oil has powerful antiviral effects, too: you can take 500mg twice daily to help reduce the effects of a cold, as well as fight it off.

    • Essential oils used in a diffuser can help with congestion and headaches, as well as preventing airborne viruses from being able to infect you.   Clove,  peppermint and eucalyptus are some of the most popular.  According to a 2021 review, essential oils from Eucalyptus are recognized for their broad spectrum of action, such as antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, anti-immunomodulatory (against diseases that suppress the immune system), antioxidant, and wound healing properties.  One study that was reviewed showed that when the pure eucalyptus essential oil was actively diffused with a nebulizer for 15 seconds (oil concentration: 125 μg/L of air in the chamber), Influenza Virus-A was completely inactivated in the air.

And of course–keep your bipolar ionizers running!   The Germ Defender, Air Angel and Whole Home Polar Ionizer produce positive and negative ions that can disable viruses and bacteria on surfaces and in the air from across the room.  We have posted links to some of the scientific studies on this technology here.   We’re hoping that this winter you can use these natural tips to make more good memories with family and friends, and less memories of illness, missed work and school from the flu!

Photo by Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash

How can bacteria possibly grow in/on my soap?

How can bacteria possibly grow in/on my soap?

Well, it seems like a conundrum to me: our use and promotion of antibacterial products which actually have bacteria growing in them.  It’s like finding out your bar soap has bacteria on it (ahh, unfortunately it does).  So what’s the purpose of washing if the soap we are using has bacteria?

There are some heavy duty questions.  We’ll tackle them by splitting them up into parts.

Part 1: The science of soap and its intended purpose

Let’s go back to the purpose and method of washing our hands (or actually any part of the body): to get us clean.  Clean means the removal of dirt and germs, but not the killing of germs.  Our bodies naturally produce oil, and a lot of dirty surfaces have oil in them, making dirt stick to our hands and difficult to remove with water alone.  Why? Because oil and water don’t mix.  Here’s where the chemistry of soap helps.  Soap molecules are elongated and have two ends: one end that loves water (hydrophilic) and one end that repels water (hydrophobic).  When you lather your hands with soap, the end that repels water sticks to the oily dirt, and the end that loves water, well of course sticks to the water, and the soap will help lift away the oily dirt from your skin.  Any germs in the dirt are loosened with it and flushed down the drain when you rinse well with water.  Thus, the purpose of washing with soap is not to kill germs, but to wash them away!  

Part 2: Antibacterial Soaps

Antibacterial hand soaps first came on the scene after 1984, when David Poshi and Peter Divone filed for a patent for “antimicrobial soap”, which used triclosan to kill microbes. (The FDA, Soap, and Superbugs)  After several decades, the safety of triclosan came under scrutiny (it is an endocrine-disrupting chemical that may cause cancer), and in 2013, the FDA called for data proving that triclosan was safe for everyday use and more effective than preventing infections than products that didn’t contain it.  After manufacturers had not provided the necessary proof, in 2016 the FDA ruled companies couldn’t sell triclosan-containing consumer products such as antibacterial soaps anymore and stated that washing with antibacterial hand soap is not any more effective than washing with soap and water. (Triclosan)

These rules from the FDA don’t apply to handsoaps used in healthcare settings, or hand sanitizers or antibacterial wipes.  So in these cases, triclosan is allowed because of the ability to kill germs even when water is not used to flush them away.  

Part 3: The ability of soaps and even antibacterial soaps to harbor bacteria (!)

Hopefully the understanding of how soap works to loosen dirt and germs from our hands will help to override the gross fact that soap, like most other moist substances in the house, can harbor bacteria.  For normal (non-antibacterial) soaps, It all goes back to biofilms.  Biofilms are thin, slimy layers of bacteria that adhere to surfaces and to each other.  (For more on biofilms you can read our article here.)   The slime on your teeth in the morning and the slime in the dog’s water bowl are both examples of biofilms. 

Biofilms are colonies that protect the bacteria from eradication by scrubbing, or drying out, or in the case of antibacterial soap, from agents that can directly kill it.  The slime is a coat of armor to the bacteria living beneath it!  

If bacteria can form a biofilm, it’s set to thrive, because biofilms are particularly hard to eradicate.  We brush our teeth in the morning, and wash out the dogbowl, but guess what–the biofilm is back the next day, if not a few hours later.  So, it’s not surprising that the longer a container is used and has water in or around it, the more likely there’s a biofilm on it!  This goes for our water bottles, contact lens storage cases, and yes, bar soap dishes, handsoap, shampoo and body wash containers.  In fact, a study in 2011 showed that about 25% of soaps sampled from public restrooms in the US were contaminated with more than 106 colony-forming-units (CFUs) per ml (for reference, the maximum amount of contamination for eye cosmetics or baby products is 100 CFUs per gram or ml).  

Refillable containers for many different products are still thought to be the best practice to reduce plastic waste, and they do accomplish that one goal.  However, the way they are refilled is very important and can substantially increase the risk for biofilms to grow and contaminate the soap inside.  In another 2011 study, 14 refillable soap dispensers were sampled in one elementary school, and all 14 had significant bacterial contamination, which resulted in a 26-fold increase of gram-negative bacteria on hands after washing with the contaminated soap!  In a school setting, of course there adults and children, and although hand-washing technique was not dictated, washing with bacteria-contaminated soap increased bacteria on the hands for both.  Bacteria levels dropped drastically after the soap containers were changed out to accept sealed refill packets (bladders of uncontaminated soap).  

What are the lessons here?  

  • Although the FDA’s position on antibacterial soaps is probably true (antibacterial soaps do not provide any measurable benefits over plain soap outside of a healthcare setting), it is made on the premise that the soap or the container is not harboring bacteria!  

  • Refilling your soap container without using sealed soap refills may expose you to increased bacteria.  This is because without extensive cleaning of the dispenser, humid air that fills a nearly-empty dispenser is probably enough to enable a biofilm to take hold, and without thoroughly cleaning your soap dispenser, the new liquid soap poured into it becomes contaminated, too.  This article by GoJo, a soap manufacturer, outlines the risks of refilling your soap dispenser from larger containers of soap and lists these facts about soap dispensers (from article Evaluation and remediation of bulk soap dispensers for biofilm):

    • Once dispensers are contaminated with biofilm, even cleaning and soaking in bleach has been proven ineffective, as biofilms are highly resistant. 

    • It takes only a tiny number of remaining bacteria from the biofilm community to recontaminate the soap and dispenser. Recontamination occurs rapidly – within two weeks.

    • Contaminants can be present even when not obvious or visible (that’s why we call them “microorganisms” – you need a microscope to see them).

    • Biofilms can be found in bulk dispensers made of any materials (plastic, stainless steel, etc.).

Therefore, if you use liquid soap, making the switch to sealed soap refills or single-use dispensers is safer for everyone who uses the soap!   The problem is that there are virtually no “natural” soaps for the home that use sealed soap refills.  There are many “solutions” online for cleaning soap dispensers, but they are more than likely ineffective– this article showing that even industrial chemicals such as sodium hypochlorite, sodium hydroxide and benzalkonium chloride were not able to completely eradicate a biofilm of salmonella after it was allowed to establish for only 7 days.

  • Many people prefer solid bar soap to liquid soap for washing.  However, solid bar soap that sits in water allows a slimy biofilm to form that nurtures bacteria with dead skin cells and water.  If you use solid bar soap, make sure to use a dish that allows water to drain off the soap (so it’s not sitting in a puddle of water) and one that is not porous, like a good ceramic or metal dish.  Wooden grate soap dishes are popular and very “zen”-looking, but think about wet wood and all the microbes that it can sustain!   Don’t be tempted to use that “soap water”, either.  To get rid of bacteria on the surface,  washing the bar soap thoroughly with water drastically diminishes the risk of bacteria surviving on the soap. It is also recommended to wash the container where the bar soap is kept often to keep the goo from developing.  (The Shocking Truth About Bar Soap And Germs)  Check out these soap dishes:

Although it seems like an insult to a frugal, ecologically conscious mind, the most healthy soaps come in liquid single use dispensers or a bar soap situated on a well-drained soap dish.  You might keep these in mind the next time you see a super deal on a liquid soap refill, and even reconsider the merits of old-fashioned bar soap.

Photo by Matthew Tkocz on Unsplash