Germs: Exclusive Look Under the Microscope
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo.- With the flu season in full swing, it seems like everyone knows someone who is getting sick. A quandary which is creating a bit of paranoia with what you’re coming in contact with. It may be that aching head or runny nose that people find to be the nuisance when they come down with that unexpected cold, but it all starts with one thing: the spreading of germs. Though germs are everywhere, medical professionals say our hands could be at the top of any dirty list. “We have normal flora,” said Tracey Matthews, Medical Technology Laboratory director at Colorado Mesa University. “We are covered in bacteria.” According to the Center for Disease Control, nearly 47 percent of the time the peak season for the flu is February. Matthews has been a medical laboratory scientist for over 18 years. She says the spreading of certain bacteria is a cause for the recent flu outbreak. As we head further into this month, it may only get worse since viruses tend to love dry and cold. “A person can be infected up to 6 feet away from you if you sneeze and they breathe that in,” said Matthews. “Many diseases and conditions are spread by contact,” said Tamara Capp, of the Mesa County Health Department. This is why I traveled to Colorado Mesa University’s new medical technology lab to see how many germs can spread to the average hand, just after 60 minutes of washing them. Medical professionals swabbed my hand before and after using 70 percent isopropyl alcohol hand sanitizer, so we compare the difference. After two days of studying the bacteria, we had a result. “It is covered with normal flora,” said Matthews. “This is normally on your skin at all times.” After just 60 minutes passed, an immense amount of bacteria grew on my hands, as well as a strep species. “For us in a laboratory, what we need to determine is the organism that we are finding, is it part of the normal flora, or is it something that is causing the disease,” said Matthews. Matthews says more harmful issues can arise, when you touch things like shopping carts, ATMs, or any item that's often exposed to the public. “I think all of those surfaces have the same amount of bacteria,” said Matthews. Bacteria that health officials warn are only truly eliminated with proper care. “Just kind of being aware of a hand shake, or touching a door handle and making sure you're washing your hands,” said Capp. “It’s everywhere,” said Matthews. “So the biggest things you can do to protect yourself are proper hand washing, and of course try and keep your surfaces as clean as possible.” But not impossible to get rid of, as long as you pay attention to all the places your hands have been.