Bacteria and Viruses: How Dirty Regular Clothes Really Are

Bacteria and Viruses: How Dirty Regular Clothes Really Are

DThe number that has spread in some Internet media seems worrying: at least 72 colonies of bacteria and viruses accumulate on the skin and clothes throughout the day. That seems like a lot – and dangerous. Therefore, in some families the rule applies: under no circumstances go to bed in normal clothes!

Johannes Knobloch sees this calmly. The specialist in microbiology, virology and epidemiology of infections says: “I didn’t tell you. But one thing is certain: 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, your own health status. On the other hand, the lifespan of bacteria and viruses. This also includes how well they can survive in less than ideal 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 – flu or coronavirus, for example – only have a very short survival time on surfaces. “If I don’t take it directly from there and apply it to my own mucous membranes, there will be no more infection when I return home.”

Non-enveloped viruses behave differently. For example, norovirus, which causes vomiting and diarrhea: even if you put just a few copies on your fingers and then put them in your mouth, transmission can easily occur. “But not about the clothes!”, explains Knobloch. The same goes for respiratory infections: you would have to touch your face a lot or get in your eyes.

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

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“So it cannot be ruled out that something like this could happen Staphylococcus aureus it even increased a little. And if I have a small scratch, I can get an infection from the pathogen,” says Knobloch. However, they did not reproduce on the dry surface. 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. That’s why there are no rules about the best way to behave at home. The answer to the question “Normal clothes in bed – yes or no?” It mainly depends on your own sense of cleanliness and hygiene.

And the spectrum is broad, as Walger, board member of the German Society for Hospital Hygiene, notes. “Some are extremely picky and change their bedding more frequently than every two weeks. Some people put a quilt on the bed and others don’t even care.”

Who should wash bedding more often

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

These patients must remember to protect themselves and others – through particularly strict rules of hygiene and cleanliness in the household. For these high-risk patients, it is important to wash clothes and linens more frequently, and individual items, even at at least 60 degrees. “Immediately afterwards, there are practically no germs left that could pose a risk,” says Walger.

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Germs can also cause problems for allergy sufferers. For example, when they sit on a park bench. Because it can be full of bacteria and fungal spores that we can absorb through our clothes and take home. “It doesn’t necessarily make me sick, but if I suffer from allergies and I have a lot of them, it might not be good if I breathe them in all the time at night,” says Knobloch.

Their conclusion: “It cannot be said that there is no risk of germs on clothes – but it is very manageable.” Ultimately, there is no activity associated with zero risk. If you don’t want to expose yourself to any danger, you will have to lock yourself in your apartment for the rest of your life.

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