Health -The Truth About Germs

Every since you had Baby, germs and cooties are tops on your list of worries. You make everyone hand sanitize and the slightest hint of a sniffle will make you send friends packing. There’s a lot of myths out there about what can make baby catch a cold. We asked germ expert Dr. Benjamin Tanner to help us sort fact from fiction.

Q&A with Dr. Benjamin Tanner, germ expert

BCM: Kids always drop things on the floor, especially food. Is there any truth to the two-second rule?

BT: The two second rule is total baloney. It’s the stickiness and adhesion properties of a surface that determines the transfer of germs. For example, if an apple is on a dry coffee table there aren’t that many germs that will be transferred, but a wet sponge on a table would pick up many more.

BCM: Is it enough to just Purell after we touch something dirty? (i.e. changing diapers, equipment at the playground, runny noses etc)

BT: Hand sanitizer is less effective than soap and water. The Center for Disease Control recommends only using sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available. Soap removes all the germs but products like Purell don’t remove the rhinovirus which is the cause of the common cold. Hand sanitizers react to contamination after it’s already occurred. It’s better to focus first on prevention.

BCM: How worried should we be about our kids getting sick from sharing straws, cups, snacks etc.?

BT: The flu is primarily transmitted from air and aerosols-like from coughing or sneezing, studies have shown that for flu, ingestion of the virus (such as by ingestion of saliva) isn’t very likely to make you sick. However, with colds and viruses, the chance of getting sick from ingesting someone else’s saliva is higher.

BCM: Most of us live in close quarters in the city. What can we do to reduce the risk of germs spreading in our homes?

BT: Anytime you have a lot of people in a cramped space it’s an increased risk of germ transmission. People who live in apartments should be diligent. Taking your shoes off is a good idea. Sunshine and fresh air are the best disinfectants as the UV rays are germicidal. When cleaning use a disinfectant. There are lots of safe and natural cleaning products and those are great but the most effective are EPA registered disinfectants which kills germs. It’s a good idea to wipe surface areas after you disinfect if you want to reduce the amount of chemicals left behind on the surface.

BCM: What if you have pets? Is there an increased risk of your kids getting sick from the germs they bring in?

BT: Because they move around the house so much – and sometimes have a mind of their own – dogs are little germ transferors. However, they generally don’t harbor bad germs themselves. Any germs of concern on the dog will usually have come from somewhere else in the house.

BCM: What’s the best way to keep the nursery as clean and germ-free as possible?

BT: Here is a simple three-step method to ensure a germ-free nursery. First, learn the hot spots of germ contamination. In the nursery the #1 hotspot is the changing table, then toys and other high-touch surfaces after that. Second, prevent the spread of germs by incorporating products that require less handling and therefore reduce the spread of germs. A Diaper Genie Elite is such a product. Its handy foot pedal means you can handle a messy diaper change without spreading the germs around, such as onto the rim of a traditional diaper pail. Lastly, disinfect surfaces regularly (once a week is fine for most surfaces, but the changing table should be disinfected daily). Remember that baby’s skin and respiratory tract is extra sensitive to disinfectant chemicals, so it’s a good idea to do a quick water-only wipedown after disinfecting.


–Dr. Benjamin Tanner is the founder and principal of Antimicrobial Test Laboratories, LLC, a microbiology laboratory that specializes in testing and development of disinfectant chemicals and other antimicrobial technologies. He is also the author of the book “Legal Aspects of Infectious Diseases”, and has worked extensively with the industry, academia, and government. Before launching Antimicrobial Test Labs in 2006, Dr. Tanner enjoyed years as a microbiologist with the Clorox Company. Dr. Tanner is currently partnering with Playtex® to address simple ways that moms can help to maintain a clean and germ-free nursery environment.