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Glasses Shared, Germs Spread

Posted May. 11, 2003 22:27,   


The `washing hands` practice has been the most effective weapon against Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, in Hong Kong where the flu-like virus is now subdued from the earlier peak.

A Hong Kong-based organization conducted a survey against some 500 people in early April and found that 86% of respondents washed hands more often than the deadly virus swept through the region.

The World Health Organization has recently explained that by washing hands and disinfecting toilets thoroughly people can fight off SARS, adding that the virus spreads through fecal matter.

Being more attentive to everyday hygiene practices, in fact, we can prevent most of epidemics.

When you fall off and sustain a scratch, you blow the sore part using your breath inadvertently. In a medical sense, however, it hardly helps healing. Instead, it might lead to a secondary infection. By blowing off the injured part to ease pain after using a disinfectant, in particular, you virtually send germs inside your mouth into the affected area. It is known that 1cc of human saliva contains about 100 million germs including streptococci and staphylococci.

Bathrooms are filled with germs that cannot be seen with naked eye. Germs contained in fecal matter spread through people when germs remaining on the doorknob or toilet handler are touched by hands. So by washing hands thoroughly, you can shake them off avoiding putting them inside your body.

When you turn off the tap with hands, however, you can be exposed to germs. Therefore, you need to use tissue when turn off the tap when it is not a pedal type. Use tissue to open the door or push it with your shoulder. Most advanced countries have automatic restroom doors.

It remains controversial, however, whether sharing glasses causes infection. It is less likely that hepatitis B or AIDS virus spread through saliva remaining on glasses. Hepatitis B virus, which is more infectious than HIV, rarely spreads through hand shaking, small kisses, food prepared by virus carriers, discussions with carriers, sneezes or coughing.

Saliva, however, often carries such germs as streptococci, staphylococci and hemophylus influenza, which can cause sore throats, fever, headache and muscle ache. It can also spread tooth-decay germs. And people who have a wound inside the mouth are more vulnerable to infection. In this regard, sharing glasses is seen more or less as a risky habit.

A pot stew may contain germs except when it is boiled up. In particular, if the spoons of those who did not wash their hands properly are dipped into the stew, the dysentery germs that cause food poisoning can be transmitted. Therefore, it is desirable for each to use different bowls.

However, some are opposed to this idea. A medical doctor pointed out that if the germs of food poisoning are transmitted by passing the glass around or having the same stew, the disease should have been widespread in the nation.

Those who put saliva when turning a page can have the germ from the hand or the page in the mouth. Moreover, some can have the germs of food poisoning or tuberculosis when they touch the books that those infected with such germs have already touched.

It is also dangerous to put the saliva when counting the paper money. On each bill, there are 6,000 germs that can cause tuberculosis and intestinal bleeding. Among bankers and casino workers, the reason for their having a sore throat is probably due to the germs on the money.

(Advice from Professor Kim Ui-jong at Seoul National University Hospital, Professor Kang Young-jae at Yonsei University, Professor Kim Nam-joong at Seoul Asan Hospital, Professor Oh Gye-heon at the Soonchunhyang University, and Dr. Song Ho-jin at Seran Hospital.)

Jin-Han Lee likeday@donga.com