Cleaning & Disinfecting

What are germs?? What is's the difference between a bacteriuma and a virus?? How do germs spread?? How can germs be eliminated?? We're glad you asked. Find all this and more.

Introduction to Micro-organisms

A micro-organism is an organism that is too small to be seen by the naked eye — in other words, it is ‘microscopic’. Micro-organisms include bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, and prions, among others. Micro-organisms exist virtually everywhere, in soil, air, water, food, animals, plants, and people, and most are harmless. In fact, some types of micro-organisms are helpful.

About Germs

When a micro-organism has the potential to cause illnesses such as food poisoning, colds, or sickness and diarrhoea, it is often referred to as a ’harmful germ’. There are three main types of harmful germ which can be controlled through basic hygiene and cleaning practices. These include:

  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Fungi (mould and mildew)

Although some infections are easily managed and will go away on their own, others can be more serious and may lead to severe illness. It is therefore important to practice the healthy habits that can help stop germs spreading.

Germs can spread via:

  • Direct contact — through close physical contact with someone who is infectious
  • Indirect contact — by touching a surface that has been contaminated with germs from raw food, or by someone who is sick, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes
  • Through the air — by inhaling germs from other people’s coughs and sneezes
  • By consuming contaminated food or water
  • Some germs spread through contact with animals or through bites and scratches

How and Where Germs Survive

Germs thrive in moist conditions. In some instances, germs can live on surfaces for hours — and even days. For example, flu germs can survive on surfaces for up to 2 days.

The important thing to note is that although surfaces may look clean, they can carry many harmful germs. You need to clean and disinfect to reduce germs on surfaces.

Viruses are Challenging Germs

Viruses are different from bacteria and fungi. They are extremely small — only 1/100th of the size of a bacterium But, unlike bacteria and fungi, which are capable of growing on their own, viruses need a host to infect in order to reproduce. It is through this process that viruses cause disease.

In some cases, it may only take one virus particle to make you sick. That's why frequent handwashing and surface disinfection are important measures to help control the spread of disease — especially those caused by viruses.

Prevention Tips

Handwashing

Washing your hands with soap and water is one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of germs. Every time you touch a contaminated surface, you can transfer germs to and from your hands — but proper and thorough hand washing helps to remove the germs from your hands.

When to Wash

  • Before handling food or eating.
  • Before preparing a baby’s feed or handling sterilised equipment.
  • Before applying contact lenses.
  • Immediately after handling raw foods, such as poultry.
  • After visiting the toilet or changing a nappy.
  • After touching animals or their toys or equipment.
  • After contact with blood or body fluids (like vomit, nasal secretions, saliva).
  • After touching a contaminated area (e.g. cleaning cloth, drain, soil).
  • Before and after dressing a wound, giving medicine, or applying a medical device (e.g. catheter).
  • More often when someone in your home is sick.
  • Whenever hands look dirty.

How to Wash

  • Wet your hands with warm water and apply a small amount of soap.
  • Rub your palms together vigorously (away from the water) to make a lather.
  • Rub every part of your hands, including under and around your nails.
  • Continue for 20 seconds. It takes that long for the soap and scrubbing action to dislodge and remove the germs. (Need a timer? Imagine singing ‘Happy Birthday’ all the way through — twice.)
  • Rinse your hands well under clean running water.
  • Dry your hands thoroughly using a clean dry towel.

When Soap and Water Aren't Available

You can still keep your hands clean even if water isn't available. Hand sanitisers are designed to kill germs on hands that are not visibly dirty, without the need for water or towels.

A Special Note about At-Risk Groups

Good hygiene is especially important if you, or someone in your home, are in an at-risk group. This can include babies and young children, the elderly, pregnant women, those with a chronic health condition, and those whose immune system is suppressed (e.g. due to HIV/AIDS or cancer treatment). These people are less able to fight off infections.

Frequent and thorough handwashing and surface cleaning and disinfection are particularly important for reducing the spread of germs to these at-risk groups.