8 Myths About Germs Explored: True or False?

The world of germs can be a murky (and dirty) place. We answer FAQs about bugs and bacteria

A microbiologist answers the most common questions about germs

We’ve all heard of the five-second rule – some of us have even used it, sometimes stretching it out, depending on the deliciousness of the fallen treat. But is there any truth to it?

Jason Tetro is no germaphobe, but he will lend you some hand sanitizer. As the author of The Germ Code and one of the world’s leading germ experts (seriously, he even calls himself The Germ Guy), Tetro knows more about the microbial world around us than you might want to.

It turns out that many of the dirty secrets we thought we knew about germs are nothing but filthy lies. We asked Tetro to confirm or deny some of the most common.

Credit: Flickr / Anita Hart

Our Money is Filthy – Half-truth

“Beforehand, it used to be that our paper money was a real problem, but since we switched over to these indestructible, plastic bills, germs don’t seem to be attaching. American money is still filthy, but our new bills are fairly safe. In terms of coins, the old coins that used copper, nickel and zinc (all antimicrobials) were actually really clean—now they’re made with these alloys that bacteria can grow on. So, even the coins can pose a risk.”

Credit: iStock/joebelanger

The Five-second Rule is Not to Be Tested

“It’s more about where, rather than how long. If you drop something in an area that you’re familiar with, like your home, then no worries. If you happen to be somewhere you don’t know (say a fry drops on the table of a new restaurant), the best thing to do is just leave it because it could possibly pick up a bunch of different, foreign types of germs.”

The Wilderness is A Pathogen Factory – False

“If you go out into nature and you rub your hand in the dirt, you probably won’t find any pathogens, because the good bugs (those that don’t cause us harm) don’t like the pathogens, and kill them. Unless you’re in an environment where there are parasitic pathogens, you don’t really need to wash your hands when you’re out in the wild. We live in an urban environment and because we have forsaken the good germs, whenever you come into contact with people and public surfaces, there is a good chance that you’ll pick up a collection of bad germs.”

Credit: iStock / monkeybusinessimages

You Should Always Spray Down Gym Equipment – True

“If you’re not touching with your skin and only with clothing, then you’re only transferring moisture, not germs. But if you are touching with your skin, which is likely, you can transfer germs. Make sure that when you wipe down, you leave the spray on for 10 to 15 seconds before wiping it off, so it has time to act on the germs – most people don’t do that.”

Children Raised in the Country Are Less Susceptible to Bugs than Kids Raised in the City – True

“Children raised in rural areas are exposed to a wide variety of germs, including some of the pathogens that we see in the city, but at much lower levels – so, it trains their immune systems. This small exposure doesn’t cause you to be sick, but helps your immune system; we call is a ‘passive vaccination.’ Then, when you come into contact with them again, your system will be able to get rid of them before they make you sick.”

The Toilet is Cleaner than the Bathroom Door Handle – True

“Germs are highest in concentration where there is highest traffic. The highest amount of traffic occurs on door handles and sink handles, so those are the things that you want to be more cautious about. So opening the door with your elbow is a great idea. It’s funny because you can even see companies developing antimicrobial door handles now.”

You Should Avoid Using Too Much Hand Sanitizer – False

“The best way to protect yourself is to use hand sanitizer. If it’s made with alcohol with between 62 and 70 per cent ethanol, you can never get too much. And as long as you have 15 seconds of wetness on your hands, you’re good to go.”

Grocery Store Produce is Covered in Germs – Half-truth

“If it’s grown within about 200 km, that’s local food that will likely have the same type of bacteria that you’re used to. So, it’s fairly safe. But if it’s imported, sometimes they won’t follow the food-safety measures that you need, so the best thing to do is give it a good wash.”