Special report: Tracking Germs - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Special report: Tracking Germs

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By Dawn Hobby - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - There are about above five thousand H1-N1 virus cases reported in in 47 states across America, with six people confirmed dead,

With more cases reported in other countries, too, the C.D.C. remains on guard for an autumn upsurge. 

So how do we protect ourselves from the virus, or any germ-borne illness for that matter?

It may be simpler than you think, as we found out when Tracking Germs. Germs are everywhere.  You can't see them, but if you're around people, you're around germs.

 "They're on our skin from the minute we're born," says Infectious Disease Specialist, Dr. Craig Smith.

And from the minute we're born, we're germ magnets. "The germs are everywhere and you can't avoid them," says Dr. Smith.

The office coffee pot, door handles, faucets and phones are all surfaces where we pick up germs.

Dr. Smith says, "There are good germs and bad germs and you want to make sure the bad germs are not the ones being spread to places where you can get sick."

The bad germs, like cold and flu germs and the H1N1 swine flu virus, can live on surfaces for up to 18 hours.

"It's almost astounding sometimes to see the environment as you touch things," says Smith.

We used a product called glow germ to show just how easy it is to spread germs.  Glow Germ is a lotion made up of thousands of tiny plastic particles that are simulated germs. It disappears once you apply it, but when you turn on a black light, the simulated germs glow.

We used Ben Roberts' desk as a test site and contaminated the items on his desk to see how easily these simulated germs transfer.

About an hour later, Ben sat down at his desk.  After he touched his computer, mouse, tv remote and phone, we turned off the lights and turned on the black light, to see how many of my germs he picked up. His hands glowed.

 "It's very easy to see how well it gets spread," says Smith.

 And the more we touch things, the more germs we spread. "You think you're going from your desk to the bathroom, but along the way you'll touch the stapler, you'll touch the printer, you'll touch the computer, you'll touch this, so people are not very aware of all the contacts they make," Smith says.

Because of all those contacts we make, hand washing is essential.  "Washing our hands is the most important thing for any kind of disease spread," says Smith.

But hand washing doesn't work if it's not done properly. Dr. Smith says, "Usual hand washing is on average only three to five seconds for most people. In reality you want to wash your hand for 20 to 30 seconds."

Warm soapy water is best, and when you're finished, dry off with a paper towel, use the paper towel to turn off the faucet and use the same paper towel to open the door.

And what about hand sanitizer products? Dr. Smith says, "If your hands are visibly clean, no dirt or anything on them, then the alcohol cleanser is equivalent to washing with soap and water.

"Wash your hands, be careful what you touch, if somebody is sneezing and coughing, then they should be polite enough to cover themselves and you may have to nowadays say 'don't hug me or don't touch me right now because I don't want to catch something from you.'"

Another thing to help you avoid catching something, carry those anti-bacterial wipes around with you, especially if you're in large crowds, shake a lot of hands, or eat at a buffet.

While you know to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, it's best to cough or sneeze into the bend of your arm rather than your hand, because when you contaminate your hand, you're more likely to spread germs.

Click HERE to see a list of the 10 worst germ spots

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