It’s a Sterile Home for Me!


There is a myth that a sterile home is a healthy home. This is not necessarily so, as the sterile environment may actually be a breeding ground for hardened bacteria.

He scores the goal despite the horrific conditions. The wind and the rain. The state of the pitch. He is elated and he celebrates and runs to the fans and he slides along the grass and mud on all fours with his hands and knees on the ground gathering grass and muck all over his body. He wipes it in his jersey and then uses his jersey to dry the water off his already dirty face.

He is covered in mud from head to toe. But he doesn’t care. He has scored the winning goal. You try to stop him from coming into the kitchen but he does and he muddies the floor. He grabs a banana and starts to eat it. You tell him to wash his hands before he eats, but he never does. He is too lazy and yet he is the most healthy in the house.

He is filthy dirty and he never gets colds or tummy pains. Why is that? Isn’t he exposed to every bug under the sun and yet he is healthy.  Surely he should be cleaner and not eat with his dirty fingers?

We should all live a clean life. There is certain logic to it. Clean water prevents infection. Clean food prevents infection. Certainly on a superficial level it seems so.

And yet should we be living in a totally sterile environment? Is it really healthy? Keeping our environment as sterile as possible should limit the potential for getting nasty infections. It should certainly keep the nasty bugs at bay.

Our strategies to keep ourselves healthy and free from infection involve sterilization of our food and our environment using disinfectants and anti-bacterials and treating our bodies with antibiotics.

So why is the 6-year old footballer able to avoid infections without having to live in a totally clean environment all of the time. Is our own fully primed immune system enough?

The risks of antibiotic resistance are all too apparent with more of them failing and the superbugs becoming even more dangerous to humans. But it is not just humans using antibiotics that is creating the problem of resistance.

Every time any antibiotic is given to an individual then it is released into the environment. It provides an opportunity for a bacterial colony to develop resistance make that antibiotic in the future ineffective.

As an agricultural country, the use of antibiotics in Ireland to treat farm animals when they get infections is vitally important. The financial implications of not treating animal bacterial infections in a country with an economy so dependent on agriculture would be disastrous.

Inappropriate prescribing in agriculture needs to be tackled. Antibiotics are also used as growth promoters in their food to a much lesser extent. The EU has recently banned the use of some antibiotics in animal feed and farmers will have to look to supplement their feed in other ways to keep their herds healthy.

Animal infections can also infect humans and the major way we pick up these infections is through the food chain. Stringent sterilization and pasteurization techniques used in food processing ensure our food is safe. But there have been some reports of food poisoning with resistant strains of Salmonella and E. Coli.

Salmonella infections are particularly worrying as there is widespread antimicrobial resistance and it can be picked up from a wide variety of sources, including chicken, eggs, pork and even handling contaminated cannabis.

Food can also be contaminated after we buy it. Proper hygiene in the preparation of food is the best way to avoid food poisoning and the best place to start is in the home. Good hygiene is paramount when preparing food but a lot of us may be getting it wrong, as what looks clean may in fact not be at all.

Using antibacterial soaps and disinfectant sprays in our homes to create what looks like a sterile environment may save time when cleaning, but this stuff may be doing more harm than good. They are lulling people into a false sense of security that all they need to do is spray one of these antibacterial sprays. They do not offer any advantage over standard soap and water. They may even cause bacteria to develop antibiotic resistance.

There is no substitute to using elbow grease and these agents may even be removing protective bacteria. This will give the superbugs free rein to multiply in our kitchens and bathrooms. The best approach is to keep all surfaces that are used frequently clean and dry.

Conor Caffrey is a medical and science writer. Read article about the superbugs.


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