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Myths about virus, germs and bacteria

Germs and bacteria are treated as big enemies these days. We spend endless amount of money and time to protect us from those tiny enemies. And we are absolutely right in doing so in some cases but in some we exaggerate the danger out of proportions. Since we can’t see them, we treat all bacteria in the same way, as enemies. And in this constant battle we seem to forget that we actually need some of them in order to be and stay healthy!

Some of our behaviour is simply originated from stories we have heard or because we instinctively feel a need to protect our selves or to do something! And much of the things we do are originated from a myth that for some reason lives on from generation to generation. In this article I will look into some of the myths that I have been told during my childhood and continue to hear today.

Some short facts about virus, germs and bacteria!

There are thousands different species of bacteria and only about hundred of them are pathogenic to humans. The other, much bigger group, is on the contrary needed and help us stay healthy.

A virus is not the same as a bacteria and it can’t be treated with antibiotic. A virus can’t like bacteria multiply outside a cell, in fact it needs a cell and has enough genetic information to make the cell multiply virus instead of what the cell was supposed to produce.

Use pepper to prevent the gastric flu

In Sweden pepper is a well-known and also common home remedy to prevent gastric flu or any other similar gastroenteritis that includes vomiting. I use it my self because it feels better to do something! But I guess it doesn’t prevent diseases like the winter vomiting disease nor cure me faster if I get it. Even if I know that it probably wont help me, I continue to take pepper because at least I know that it will not hurt me either!

There are so many different recipes to this home remedy: crush them, swallow them in pieces or swallow them whole. And the amount that is needed can vary from a few peppercorns every hour to ten corns every hour or three a day: Personally I usually take five to ten a day for two or three days at times when I know I have been near somebody who later got sick or if I feel a little bit nauseas. Some use white pepper and others use black peppercorns. I guess any pepper will do if you believe in it! But there is no scientific evidence to prove that it works.

In Sweden we also have a very old quote that goes: Pepper, pepper, knock on wood! The quote was used in order to keep evil away from people and houses, like some kind of formula or conjuration, so I guess the trust in pepper is just as old!

Can you get infections from other passengers in an airplane?

Have you ever been in an airplane and with growing concern listened to a sniffling and coughing passenger near by you or somewhere in the airplane? I have, and once you start to think about it, it is almost impossible to drop the thought. If I sit very close to someone with a bad cold I try to breathe the other way but apart from that there isn't so much to do except keep your hands away from your face!

But is there really a bigger risk or is it pure imagination?

When I looked into this a little I found that airplanes have filters for incoming air that usually enters the cabin from the ceiling. The outgoing air flows out on low level near the floor so there is no air that sort of “flows around” in the plane. It is more of “straight in” and “straight out”. It is a big airflow in a plain and the air is in the cabin for a very short time. If you are sitting next to a person suffering from cold or influenza or if the infected person is sitting on the seat behind you or in front of you there is a possible risk that you will be infected. But the risk isn't bigger in an airplane than on a bus or in a car.

Virus Attack!

Can you really “catch a cold” form cold weather?

Haven’t we all heard the warning: dress properly or you will get a cold! But is there any connection between poor clothing and cold? No, there isn’t! You can’t get a cold only from cool weather or poor clothing unless you get so cooled that you become almost unconscious! If you get severely cooled your general condition becomes so affected that your immune system becomes weakened and you can get a cold easier. So even if you are freezing a little during winter because of poor clothing you will not get a cold unless you get infected with virus! If there is no virus you will only be cold and that is unpleasant but not dangerous if it is mildly.

Can you become infected in a public toilet?

Oh, the public toilet! We have all sorts of phobias about a public toilet and we instinctively feel that it is an unhealthy place but we generally focus on the wrong things in a public toilet!

Most of us have a feeling that there are very nasty bacteria and viruses crawling around everywhere in a public toilet and we use all possible trick to avoid them. For example,as a woman I try to avoid direct contact with the toilet seat in a public restroom or toilet and sort of sit in the air over the toilet. It is very uncomfortable and I honestly don’t know why I keep on doing it. I know it is very unlikely that any bacteria or virus would enter my body from neither my behind nor my legs. How could they? We all know it is impossible if we behave normal. Another trick is to cover the seat with napkins or toilet paper to avoid direct contact with the toilet seat, which is also totally unnecessary. We probably get more bacteria on our hands during our struggle to avoid them than if we didn't mind and behave normal! Even though most of us know it is unnecessary we keep on doing it anyway because it feels better!

A visually dirty toilet seat could be a risk but on the other hand, who sit down on a visually dirty toilet seat anyway?

So, a public toilet seat is not the big risk in a public toilet. But there are other places where we need to be a bit cautious in a public toilet!


Only use floating soap in a public toilet! If there is no floating soap; only use water instead. A soap that is shared by many different people can contain both bacteria and virus in cracks and on the soap.


Only use paper towels! Some restaurants consider terry towels more luxurious than paper towels but it is the opposite really. A terry towel is a perfect place for bacteria to grow on and after several people have used it you have a disgusting mix of bacteria and virus on a damp towel. Don’t use them if they hang in a public toilet unless the restaurant provides one terry towel to each guest!

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The flush button

If you want to avoid bacteria and virus in a public toilet make sure you use the flush button before you wash your hands. The flush button is one of those places that can become pretty dirty. But again, it is no danger if you simply wash your hands afterwards.

The door

Another place that can be a risk area in public toilet is if the toilet is in one room and the basin is in another room. In cases like this we must be aware of that the handle on the door are touched by several people with dirty hands, which can be a small risk. But again, it will all be taken care of during a normal hand wash!

The water tap

And the last thing to think about before you are done: Use a paper towel to turn off the water if it is manual tap!

The easy solution to decrease the risk of infection!

Normal hand wash! Normal hand wash is the best way to prevent infections! Also during periods when influenza is common! Wash your hands under running water and add floating soap. Rub your palms against each other and also wash all other sides of your hands that are often forgotten. Dry your hands afterwards on a paper towel.

Bacteria are amazing!

What about disinfectants? Do you really need them?

To use disinfectants is to exaggerate the risk out of proportions. The only time it can be suitable is if there is no possibility to wash your hands in a public toilet or if you work in health care or other places that involves caring for sick people. Otherwise normal hand wash will be sufficient in everyday life. To use disinfectants indiscriminately or just to be on the safe side can in the long run instead increase the risk of getting infections or allergies because it can actually make us more susceptible!

We need many of the bacteria that surround us and to kill bacteria without discernment isn’t good at all. If we continue to kill harmless bacteria in the way we do it can result in the opposite since the bacteria can develop resistance. You can read more about some of the totally unnecessary disinfectants we use, such as silver ions here.

Remember; one of the best protections against dangerous bacteria is a normal and balanced bacterial flora! So we better treat the bacteria in a smart way!

Suggested readings!


Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on March 14, 2012:

Hi Silver Fish, What an awful experience to sit next to an ill person during so long time on a flight! It is impossible to ignore something like that and I would have been really stressed. I can imagine that it is something you will never forget! Good to hear that it all went well and that you didn't catch any disease.

Thanks for reading and for the visit, best wishes


Silver Fish from Edinburgh Scotland on March 12, 2012:

Really interesting, voted up.

Your description of sitting next to an ill person on a plane brought back memories of a flight I boarded from Kuala Lumpur to Amsterdam, and spent 16 hours sitting next to a man who was coughing, sweating and shivering.

I was very fearful that I would be stricken down by some awful tropical disease.

I survived unscathed however!

Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on March 01, 2012:

Hi JKenny, you have many good points and I agree with you! Especially about the unnecessary fear for bacteria. We need to be smart if we are going to survive. Bacteria make small changes to meet all our efforts to get rid of them and now we have soon used all our weapons against them. And then, they will be dangerous since many infections doesn't have a cure anymore. We have come a long way from natural living and I guess that affect us with time. Along with all the chemicals we invent and that are spread in the environment as well as in our bodies. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, I appreciate it very much,


Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on March 01, 2012:

Marcy, I see so many commercials on TV about sanitizers in all possible and impossible shapes and our fear for bacteria and germs has gone out of proportions. We can not live without germs so it is better to be smart and learn how to live with them:) Thanks for your comment and for reading!


Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on March 01, 2012:

Hi Daisy! I agree totally! Washing our hands is the best way and we don't need anything more except in very special situations. I am so glad to see you and appreciate your comment and everything you do for others here!


James Kenny from Birmingham, England on March 01, 2012:

This is a great hub, and one that needed to be written. People often forget that some forms of bacteria are essential to the survival of life on this planet. I remember reading somewhere, that many of the diseases that afflict us today e.g. common cold and flu actually originated in farm animals and crossed over to us thousands of years ago when we started domesticating them.

Also, I remember talking to a Doctor about this issue several years ago, and he said that we are overly obsessed with soap, and in fact contact with dirt is vital for building up our immune system. He also said that the reason why many of us suffer from hayfever is that we don't have enough contact with the natural world, thus making us more susceptible.

Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on March 01, 2012:

I like your reminders of what's germy and what's not! Very helpful tips, especially this time of year! Thank you for sharing!

Daisy Mariposa from Orange County (Southern California) on March 01, 2012:


Thanks for publishing this very informative, useful article.

If one washes one hands frequently, many problems can be avoided.

Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on October 30, 2011:

Hi RTalloni! It is so good to see you:) I know what you mean, I think of it too when I have to use a public restroom. It is so easy to worry too much because the bacteria are everywhere. We must learn to live with them and be careful in the right situations. Thank you for the encouraging and kind comment,


RTalloni on October 28, 2011:

Such good points--I'm traveling now and YIKES! It's a lot of work to avoid the nastiness--so sickening to see people in and out of the rest rooms without washing their hands--you know they have used all the same door handles as everyone else!

Glad to see your alert posted here--with an eye on using common sense and not worry toooo much... yuk. :)

Oh yes, hubs that generate good comments are winners--voted up!

Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on October 23, 2011:

Ktrapp, I am glad to hear that you found this one interesting! I think you will be ok since you already think about those areas in a public toilet. I am careful with the same areas as you and I try to keep my hands clean when I exit a public restroom also. It is the small little things that matter! Thanks for reading and for the voting! I appreciate your comment,


Kristin Trapp from Illinois on October 23, 2011:

Tina - It's like you wrote this for me personally - especially the airplane and public restroom part. I for one use paper towels for everything in a public restroom - to flush the toilet, to turn the sink on and off, and to open the door. Then I hold the door open and hope I can throw the dirty paper towel away in the trash can if there is not one right next to the door. Great hub. Voting up and interesting.

Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on October 22, 2011:

Hi Vocal! Just swallow the peppercorn whole! That is how I do it! Take around ten peppercorns a day for two or three days. But I know that some people take much more pepper than I do, so you will have to try out how much your stomach can take! I really hope you don't get the stomach flu, and please come back and tell me how it went! I hope it works!


Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on October 21, 2011:

Tina - It's me again :) I want to start taking the pepper, as some of my piano students have been sick with the stomach flu. Please tell me how to take it. Do you simply sprinkle it on food? Thanks.

Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on October 21, 2011:

Good evening Galelach!

The immune system is our best friend! I am sorry to hear about your difficulties and I can only hope that you soon will get well from your cold. It must be so difficult to avoid colds during this time of year. There is coughing and snivelling people everywhere!

Thanks for adding your experience to this hub,


Ghaelach on October 20, 2011:

Morrning thoughtforce.

A point that has been mentioned in comments was about the immune system. My immune system has been messed around by my illness so i must do a 30 day tablet course each year for the rest of my life to build my system back to full working order.

Without it working properly i would catch everything that was doing the rounds.

This very month i should start the course but a heavy cold got to me first. Next year i'll start my course a month earlier before my immune system is on the floor.

Have a nice day.

LOL Ghaelach

Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on October 19, 2011:

Hi vocal, the truth is that I do not really know if it works or not! It is impossible to know, but I am not the one who wants to take a chance, so I eat pepper every time I feel I am in danger for getting a stomach flu! I have not had the stomach flu in 15 years, that´s all I can say! You are so right about the immune system and proper nutrition. Combined with hand wash, we will be ok!

Thanks for your support vocal, and for voting! It is great to see you:)


Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on October 18, 2011:

Tina - Thank you for this hub. I had no idea that pepper helps to prevent stomach flu - or does it? Your hub is helpful and such a good topic to write about. Especially with the flu season approaching. I'm a big time hand washer. My super market also has disinfection towels available for wiping down the shopping cart handle. I like this. I also believe a good, sturdy immune system is a good thing for us to build up through proper nutrition. Voted UP!


Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on October 15, 2011:

Hi Prasetio, you are always such a great supporter and a good hubfriend! I think we should be aware of the danger with germs and bacteria but not exaggerate it! If we take precautions in the right situations we will be ok! Thanks for reading Prasetio and I wish you a great weekend!


prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on October 14, 2011:

Wow....Tina, you have great information about virus, germs and bacteria. We may don't give attention, but the danger always haunted us. Thanks to remind us about public toilet. Thanks for share with us. Keep on good work and vote up!


Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on October 09, 2011:

Hi Alastar, to take pepper when I feel I am at risk for a gastric flu makes me feel better and it usually works, but I have no proof that it really makes any different at all. I might have shed a myth instead of logically analysing the myths that are already widespread:)

Yes, it still costs a few Swedish kronor to use a public toilet, (which is about little less than 1 dollar), but there are free toilets too. I understand that people from other countries are a bit surprised about having to pay for a toilet visit but for me it makes sense. Usually, I find the free public toilets to be less clean and not so well maintained as the other so I prefer to pay! Thanks for reading my hubs Alastar and for always leaving great comments! Take care and I see you soon,


Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on October 09, 2011:

Ghalelach, I so agree with you, the comments give a hub so much more value! I think it is amazing that you can have such a realistic vision on bacteria considering what has happened to you. Because we do need some of them!

We are all at risk of becoming infected with multiresistent bacteria, and I wish someone will come up with a cure soon and also that the use of antibiotics and antibacterials will be more moderate!

I wish you a good weekend Ghaelach,


Alastar Packer from North Carolina on October 08, 2011:

Very good with the pepper, had no idea about using it for stomach flu. Cool about the good luck knock too. Oh yeah, the air on planes is circulated right out. I think we're less likely to pick up something flying rather than being in a vehicle. The grown-ups would say that about the cold weather all the time but it never quite made sense to me. One myth down the tube, definitely. Hey Tina, I remember being surprised back in the 80s with having to pay some kroner for the restroom use, is it still like that?

Ghaelach on October 08, 2011:

A very good morning to you Tina.

The nice thing about writing comments is that you comment on a hub that someone has just written and can add your own feelings to it.

My experience with bacterium doesn't make me angry any more, as it is something i must live with till the end of my days.

I can only say that thank God we have these little things or we'd be in a bad way without them. They are a part of are staying alive, we need them.

Apart from my wife and the medical people no one has heard of my problem so it's a nice feeling for me when someone else understands the every day problems i have.

Take care and have a nice day.

LOL Ghaelach

Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on October 07, 2011:

Sunshine, the quote is quite addictive and hard to get rid of once it is stuck:) Most old quotes have their origin from someone’s reality so there can be some truth in it! At least it doesn’t hurt anyone!

Last time I flew, I couldn’t help thinking about how the air circulated since there was so many people coughing and sneezing on that plane. I was convinced that I would catch a cold or flu but since I didn’t, I wanted to know why!

A certified germafobic, that was a new title to me:) But now you know how to stay clear of bacteria; hand wash! Thanks for your visit Sunshine, it is always great to see you!


Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on October 07, 2011:

Hi felicitylovespari, nice to meet you! Yes we want to avoid them but without being paranoid! It is easy to let our fear take over so we must use our common sense. Thanks for your comment


Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on October 07, 2011:

Acaetnna, I am glad you liked this one and found it useful too. Even though the bacteria are everywhere, we don not need to chase them on every level. It is better to focus our efforts to where they do the best effects. Thank you so much for reading, I appreciate your visits, you are such a great hubfriend!


Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on October 07, 2011:

Good evening Ghaelach,

I do the same, wash my hands when I know I have been in an environment with greater risk.

I am so sorry to hear that you got such a serious infection! That is part of the problem with this growing paranoia for killing bacteria and germs. The bacteria have been here on Earth much longer than we and they have a remarkable ability to adapt to new circumstances. We must save the few weapons we have against bacteria until it is necessary, like in your case. In order to control bacteria we need to be smart, not shoot on everything that moves! There is endless advertisement for antibacterials or things with antibacterials. Everything from cutting boards, to hair dryers, to socks and clothes. It is absolutely hysterical to use it in our everyday life. In health care, on the other hand, it is needed to use antibacterial in order to protect people from getting infections after common and needed operations. Since I have worked in a surgical ward for about twenty years and taken care of newly operated patients, I know the importance of hand hygiene. I will read your hubs about bacterium and I cant even imagine what you are going through. Thanks for your comment and for adding value to this hub with your experience. Again, I am so sorry for your infection.


Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on October 07, 2011:

Hi thoughtforce! I like your swedish pepper quote, I may start using it! As a certified germophobic I appreciate all the hard work you put into this article! I thought the air in a plane just kept circulating! I haven't flown in a while so I guess I never thought more about it, that's good to know! Thanks for the info! :-)

Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on October 07, 2011:

Alicia, Yes for some reason they seem very dangerous and from all antibacterial that are sold, it looks like we have forgot that bacteria also are good for us. We kill all bacteria indiscriminately in order to protect us against a few! Thanks for reading Alicia, and for your encouragement that means a lot to me!


Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on October 07, 2011:

Hi Martie! I guess it is pretty easy to get paranoid over germs and bacteria since we cant see them and we know that some of them can really hurt us. But it is probably the same with almost every fear we might have, that most of the fears is possible to control with our mind. Normal hand wash is quite sufficient in most cases.

Thanks for reading Martie, it feels good to know you are there! I wish you a wonderful weekend!


felicitylovespari on October 07, 2011:

Very clever stuff. Thanks. We all want to avoid viruses and bacterias.

acaetnna from Guildford on October 06, 2011:

I found this most fascinating, very interesting and extremely useful. Thank you Tina. Definitely voting up and pressing the appropriate buttons too.

Ghaelach on October 06, 2011:

Good Evening thoughtforce.

Very good hub with big tips on cleanliness.

When we have been anywhere out of the house the first thing we do when we get back inside is was our hands. In towns and cities where there are lots of people where there is a greater risk of bacterium. Hand rails, door handles, objects that all sorts of people handle in the shops, getting on and off the bus or tram, even a chair in a cafe. So the first thing is wash hands.

One thing i haven't made clear is that in 2002 i went into hospital healthy for a minor OP and ended up a cripple. I must say the OP was OK but the after treatment was a disaster and that came down to cleanliness of the hands. I now have "Staphylococcus Aureus and Streptococcus" bacterium overall in my body. Doctor's have given this the name of "Osteomylitis" of which there are three levels. I have the third level which is chronic and chronic is not curable.

My story of bacterium can be read in two of my hubs.

An advertisement that i laugh at comes from a firm that make tooth brushes. The bristles with paste clean your teeth and on the back of the brush it is so formed so that they say you can scrape the bacterium from your tongue. We all have Staphylococcus in our mouths which helps to start the desolving process of the food in your mouth which is then digested.

Just another point as you say where we need these little devils.

As i have first hand knowledge of these pesky blighter's i've voted a big UP followed by awesome and interesting.

Take care and have an nice evening.

LOL Ghaelach

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on October 05, 2011:

This is a useful and interesting hub, which I enjoyed reading, Tina! Viruses and bacteria seem especially dangerous because they can't be seen, but as you say, they don't always cause problems, and some bacteria are actually good for us. Thank you for telling us about some of the precautions that we should take to avoid infection and for dispelling some of the myths about germs.

Martie Coetser from South Africa on October 05, 2011:

What an interesting hub! Some people are paranoid about germs, viruses and bacteria. I try to control my fears and just do the most essential - wash my hands before and after... and the rest on the list. Thanks for the tips about pepper. Great hub, Tina, voted up and upper.

Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on October 05, 2011:

Movie, I am glad to hear that, gastric flu is really awful! I eat a lot of pepper as well but as I said, I do not really know if it is working or if it is a coincidence. My analytic side tells me it is a myth, but I keep on eating pepper when I feel the need anyway. And pepper, pepper knock on wood, it has worked so far……. Thanks for your comment and I am glad you liked this one. I hope you avoid gastric flu in the future also and since we love pepper, it can’t be seen as if we follow a myth!


Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on October 05, 2011:

Hi Polly, Yes, I do worry a bit about them:) I think we all do, but I should never use antibacterials in everyday life because that is to exaggerate the fear. Normal hand wash is quite sufficient. I also observe how they treat food if I visit a new fast food restaurant and I return food that isn’t warm enough immediately if it is supposed to be warm. That is more like wise precautions and I think it is healthy to have some special rules if we have valuated them and know why we have them. Thanks for reading, I so appreciate your visit!


Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on October 05, 2011:

Hi carco! Yes I know what you mean, catch a cold and cold weather often coincide. It is the same here too and maybe that is why this myth still lives on. I think the reason we get more colds during the cold season is because we spend more time inside buildings and bacteria and virus can infect more people at the same time. There is always a reason for myths! Thanks for stopping by and for your encouraging vote!


Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on October 05, 2011:

Susan, I think it is ok since you clean it so thoroughly! If we know what we are doing and know the risks, as you do, we will be ok. We all find ways that works best for us. I must say that we do not have a separate cutting board for raw meat either but we clean it thoroughly after use and also replace the cutting board when it becomes a bit worn and get to many scratches! Thanks for your input and for the excellent!


Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on October 05, 2011:

Hi Esmeowl12, yes the cold weather myth is something I have heard all my childhood too! Some myths are hard to stop and live on from generation to generation:)) It is so nice to see you and thanks for reading and the vote!


Movie Master from United Kingdom on October 05, 2011:

Hello Tina, No wonder I never seem to suffer from gastric flu, I eat an enormous amount of pepper, I love the stuff!

I didn't realise that you couldn't catch a cold from being cold!

Excellent tips for the public toilet!

A really interesting hub, thank you for sharing and voting up/interesting.

Pollyannalana from US on October 04, 2011:

I think you worry about those germs, lol. I do because there are so many bad things now to kill people but around my house or getting my hands in dirt doesn't seem germy to me, so I don't take it that far but I have had a rule for many years now that my husband and I do not eat in fast food places in winter where they handle your food without gloves (but something like pizza to go would be OK) and I have not had cold or flu in so very many years I know that has to be the answer. I get a sore throat if I go barefoot in winter and let my feet get cold, though, so I try not to do that. I guess we could go crazy thinking too much about it, great hub.


Paul Cronin from Winnipeg on October 04, 2011:

Lots of good info here, I especially am puzzled by the cold weather vs getting a cold, as it always seems to be the time of year me and my family suffer the most through colds. Thanks for sharing, voted Up and Interesting!

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on October 04, 2011:

I think now a days people are way too obsessive about germs. I still use a wooden cutting board even for cutting up raw chicken. I wash it in scalding hot water daily and after using it. Many people think that I am wrong for doing this and so be it, but I have never gotten sick from it. I could go on and on but don't want to take up too much space here. Excellent Hub!

Cindy A Johnson from Sevierville, TN on October 04, 2011:

What a great hub. Thanks for pointing out that you don't catch a cold from cold weather. That one drives me crazy! You have addressed important issues in an amusing way. Voted up and useful.

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