Hygiene hijinx

The following blog contains a lot of quotes from the very entertaining book ‘At Home’ by Bill Bryson. (I once listened to Mr Bryson reading excerpts from one of his books at the Dog’s Bollocks, a pub in Auckland, New Zealand. Let’s just say that writing books is what Bill is best at and that drinking beer is what the Dog’s Bollocks is best for.) Anyway, the subject of this blog is bugs.

There are about a trillion bacteria living on our skin. Living within our GI tract there are thousands of trillions more.  Add these bacteria up and they outnumber the total of human cells making up our body. An extra-terrestrial researcher may be led to define us as a microbial transport system.

Within our houses there is more unseen life than a rain forest. Your mattress may be shared by you and up to two million bed mites. If your pillow is more than six years old one tenth of its weight may be from sloughed off skin, living and dead mites, and mite dung, officially known as frass.

Lice and bedbugs seem to be making a comeback too, many having developed resistance to pesticides. One epidemiologist comments that washing clothing and linens in cool water ‘just produces cleaner lice’. The New York Times newspaper noted in 2005 that some of the best hotels in NYC have bedbugs. We also harbor creatures like isopods, pleopods, endopodites, myriapods, chilopods and pauropods. These are mostly ineradicable.

Researchers have identified buggy hot spots in the house. The dirtiest area in the house is the kitchen sink, followed by the kitchen countertop. The multi-purpose kitchen cloth is the filthiest object in the house. The two easiest ways to spread bacteria are to wipe things on or with the kitchen cloth and to flush the toilet with the lid up. This last action can spew billions of bacteria into the air, many floating like little soap bubbles for a couple of hours, maybe to be inhaled or just settle on your toothbrush.

Speaking of toilets, a memorable finding in a Florida middle school student science project examined and compared the bacterial content of the toilet water versus the ice in the sodas in the local fast food joints. Yep, you guessed it. Seventy percent of the time it was safer to drink the toilet water. The toilet seat itself is one of the cleanest spots in the home because of constant cleaning. In fact it is five times cleaner than the average desktop.

After reading this book I’ve changed a few of my slovenly habits. I’m now cleaning the kitchen sink, changing the dishcloth more often, laundering in hot, hot water and putting the lid down when flushing the loo. My wife can’t believe this last one. Out with the old pillows too. Don’t want to be knee deep in that frass any more.