We now enjoy better health and life expectancy than ever before. Yet although good hygiene in the home has played an important part in getting us there, maybe there's a temptation to think it's not as important now? Think again!
While some major infectious diseases have been made rare now in the UK, not least through vaccination, other infections like stomach bugs, flu and flu-like illnesses are still very common. Though the symptoms are often minor and short-lived, in some cases they can be long-lasting or even fatal.
Most of this illness is preventable through good hygiene, and that's as important in the home as outside it.
More people than ever now suffer from asthma and other allergies. Many allergy sufferers find keeping the home clean and free from 'triggers' such as dust mites, pollen and mould can reduce help control symptoms and avoid 'attacks'.
It's possible some change in our exposure to microbes over the last 50 years could be a factor in the rise in allergies, but we're not now living in super-clean homes - they still teem with billions of bugs.
A recent study by the Food Standards Agency estimates that about 17 million people in Britain each year get a stomach bug, leading to about 19 million days off work or school. Colds, flu, and the whole range of flu-like illnesses that lie somewhere in between will take a similar toll.
For most of us, the symptoms of such illnesses are quite minor and short-lived, but sometimes it's more serious. For example, stomach bugs like salmonella and campylobacter leave 3-5% of people with long-term symptoms, and flu kills thousands every year.
Though most of us have strong immune systems that fight off infections well, around 20% aren't so fortunate. These so-called 'vulnerable groups' include babies and young children, pregnant women and the rising numbers of elderly people. There are also many people whose immune system is depressed temporarily through medical treatment, including the growing numbers being cared for at home rather than in hospital, as well as the permanently immune-compromised. Even taking antacids can reduce your immunity to certain infections!
As well as old-established infections that plagued our parents and grandparents, new kinds of bugs are constantly evolving - swine flu, bird flu, SARS and legionella for example. In addition, there are so-called 'superbugs', antibiotic-resistant strains of common organisms such as MRSA that cause infections that are difficult to treat and cure. It's important to remember that the question of bugs being resistant to antibiotic medicine is quite different to them being resistant to anti-bacterial cleaning products, and in fact keeping your home clean is vital for health.
The bacteria and viruses that cause these infections come into the home with people, pets and in some cases raw food. They travel around the home via hands, surfaces and fabrics and good hygiene can help stop them making someone ill. Click here to find out how germs spread, and how you can stop them spreading.
Did you know the facts behind this common myth?
Myth: People living in cleaner homes are more prone to allergies
Fact: The scientific evidence doesn’t support the idea that we need germs and infection to stay allergy-free or that over-use of cleaning products is a factor in the rise in allergies.
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