How Do Germs Spread on Surfaces?

February 26, 2021

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Germs. If it weren't for them, where would we be? Well, given the current state of global affairs, you might think we'd be better off without them just like how Floridians feel about mosquitoes, but alas, they're a fact of life in our existence.

One Infected Person Can Spread Germs Everywhere
But you know what? You'd be surprised to know that germs play an integral role in our lives and that there is such a thing as good germs and bad germs. They create a balance in our lives, so much so that they separate the lines between health and survival.

Did you know that right now, there are more than 100 trillion bacterial microorganisms in your body, both good and bad, that are living inside the gut of your stomach?

Well, according to this Harvard Health Publishing article, "Can Gut Bacteria Improve Your Health?," we have what's known as a "gut microbiota" inside our bodies. Pretty neat, right? These helpful microorganisms in the body help break down nutrients from foods, they can break down medications, act as a protective barrier against intestinal diseases and help produce vitamin K to make blood-clotting proteins. When the body starts to accumulate too much bad bacteria in our guts, they fight them off to strike that balance in keeping us healthy.

However, today's post isn't about good germs at all. Today's article is about the harmful germs that make the news. Sorry good germs, it seems like the major news networks prefer "viral" headlines.

If germs had their own Oscar Academy Awards ceremony, you'd expect to see COVID win its second consecutive Academy Award for best actor with Ebola nominated as best supporting actor making the headlines. In the crowd, we would have all the most common germs that cause diseases and infections, with infamous germs such as Streptococcus pneumonia; known to cause pneumonia, Salmonella; known to cause food poisoning, and who could forget influenza, the infamous virus known to cause the flu!

All jokes aside, the list of harmful germs is exhaustive, and it only gets longer as we've seen in the news lately how COVID has been mutating and becoming more aggressive in how it spreads.

The reason why COVID mutated is that it had the chance to replicate itself as it spread from person to person, but as it replicated itself, it made "typos" in its RNA and DNA. This actually helped strengthen the virus instead of weakening it according to this NPR article, Why Viruses Mutate: Breaking Down The New Coronavirus Variant." Now, it's unfortunate that this is where we are at when it comes to controlling a mutating virus, but there's a lesson to be learned here so that in the future, we can work together to prevent germs from spreading and adapting.

For an organism without legs, have you ever wondered how germs spread so easily to cause such a calamity in our world and become the only thing we ever talk about these days?

Well to find out, we first need to understand how germs spread, the places they prefer to live and don't, and the ways we can help reduce them from spreading.

We're Part of the Problem

Germs Can Easily Spread If Your In Close Contact With Others Or Touch Infected Surfaces

Germs are like secrets, they're hard to keep to yourself.

Humans aren't perfect, and if you think about it, we can be pretty unclean, which is why we practice what we preach and that's living a hygienic lifestyle. But germs have a unique lifestyle too in the ways that they travel. Their vehicle of choice is using us, humans, as a vessel to further the spread of infectious agents.

Depending on the type of germ, most of them are transmitted through direct skin contact, bodily fluid exchange, airborne particles landing on you, contact with feces, or touching an infected surface.

Bacteria and viruses commonly spread from person to person through direct contact. Simple, everyday moments like shaking your coworker's hands, giving your loved one a hug, or rubbing your eyes without washing your hands could allow germs to enter and give you an eye infection.

Germs can spread from person to person when an infected individual sneezes directly on you (how rude), touches commonly shared surfaces (we'll get to that soon), handles raw food with their hands and preps a salad right afterward (check please), and pretty much any circumstance where a person chooses to be unsanitary and go on with their daily lives touching things, coughing, spitting and just continuing the cycle of being unclean.

It doesn't stop there. Even touching animals in a petting zoo or a stray cat in the street is an opportunity for a person to be a carrier for germs to spread, and if it's not directly the animal, it's the surface they were in contact with that could harbor germs.

There are so many opportunities for germs to spread, it could drive you mad, but that's why it's important to break the chain of spreading germs and just practice good hygiene as you live your life.

We've covered the general gist of how germs spread from person to person, and you've got to do what you can to be clean, but sometimes germs will find a way.

If germs aren't traveling and spreading their sickly gifts from person to person, well, sometimes they just like to kick back and relax in all types of environments, such as the air, all types of surfaces, and in the water—germs like to cool off too.

Germ Carrying Surfaces or "Fomites"

As we get into this next section, we'd like to introduce a new word into your vocabulary that is synonymous with everyday objects but with a twist.

"Fomites." The origin of the word is Latin, and the way it's spelled here is in its singular form versus its plural form "fomes." Originally, this Latin word was meant to describe tinder, and no, it's not the app, but rather a term used now to describe any inanimate object that can carry germs, viruses, and bacteria and passively transmit infectious agents onto another person to another person and so on.

You get the idea. We're talking about how germs spread from surfaces and objects onto you, and you'd be surprised what types of fomites or surfaces they prefer and the ones they don't.

For germs to actually get in you on their own, they would have to exist in large numbers to assault your immune system and compromise it.

Germs would have to land on a surface. Survive until someone touches it, and then that person touches an exposed part of the body like the face, mouth, nose, wounds and we'll leave the rest up to your imagination of exposed entryways of the body.

So what are the surfaces that germs prefer the most? Well, every germ is different. Tinea, the fungus responsible for athlete's foot, prefers warm, dark, and moist surfaces like showers, towels, sweaty sneakers, or socks, etc. and it spreads through direct contact or through dead skin cells left in or on the examples given. But not all germs have it good like Tinea and some are dependent on their host and such is the case with viruses.

Viruses don't do well on surfaces if there aren't enough of them to survive on one. In fact, viruses on surfaces and objects decline over time, within hours to days, according to the CDC. However, viruses live longer on surfaces that are made of stainless steel, hard plastics, and other similarly hard non-porous surfaces.

When it comes to germs, viruses, and bacteria, the surface matters. And we won't be able to cover each specific germ and what their preferences are, but you'll get a general idea nonetheless with some examples.

Viruses Can Live On Various Surfaces For A Lengthy Amount Of Time And Survive In The Air Up To 4 Days
Porous surfaces, such as cardboard, wood, cloth, and tissue-like materials, pose problems for viruses and bacteria. A chapter titled, "Survival of Influenza Viruses on Environmental Surfaces," in The Journal of Infectious Diseases Vol. 146, conducted a study with the influenza virus. They stated that both the influenza A and B viruses survived less than eight to 12 hours on porous surfaces. However, on hard surfaces, such as stainless steel, they found that it survived for 24 to 48 hours.

Porous surfaces allow germs to fall inside the material deep within them. On a microscopic scale, porous surfaces have tiny holes that germs can fall into. Once a germ is entrapped within a porous surface, it's pretty much game over for them because porous surfaces suck moisture away, creating an uninhabitable environment for them.

The porosity of a porous surface plays a huge role for germs to survive, but what about hard surfaces or fomites that allow germs to spread? We mentioned it a bit, but the majority of surfaces we interact with are non-porous ones.

Hidden Nasties That Linger

Think about the everyday fomites we interact with, now that sounds weird, so let's rephrase. Think about the everyday surfaces we interact with that are hard surfaces that can harbor germs.

If we had to list them all, which we won't, our list would include your phone, refrigerator handle, light switches, doorknobs, remote control, faucet handles, microwave handles, shared office supplies, water fountains, shopping carts, elevator buttons, computer keyboards and computer mouse, and the list goes on. Hard surfaces exist everywhere, and they are homes for zillions of germs. Some germs even prefer certain hard surfaces over others.

Stainless steel, plastics, chrome, and glass hard surfaces can harbor germs the longest, between hours to days, but a copper-made surface makes their lifespan a lot shorter, for example. So what's a surface we interact with the most and has the germiest potential?

Raw Foods Harbor Germs So Always Use A Sanitized Cutting Board To Avoid Illnesses or Stomach Problems
Cutting boards. This fomite in particular is where things can get a little tricky when it comes to spreading germs. Cutting boards are used to prep raw foods and they're made of different materials like plastic, wood, and glass.

Untreated wooden cutting boards are porous and non-porous if they're sealed. So depending on what germs are present on the type of wooden cutting board you're using will determine if they will thrive or not. Plastic boards are non-porous, but as you use the board (same goes with wood) with your knife, you're creating grooves for the germs to live in. Glass boards would be your best bet in mitigating the spread of germs, but make sure you're cutting with earmuffs on because it's like fingernails on a chalkboard. So when you're prepping raw foods such as poultry, raw meat, and seafood, be mindful of how you are handling these high-risk types of foods known to cause cross-contamination.

Running your board through a dishwasher or a good ol' fashioned scrubbing with anti-microbial soap and water in between your preparation of raw foods is your best bet in reducing the spread of germs. But what other everyday objects we use are germy?

The answer is our phones. We keep them with us while we eat, sleep and who isn't on the phone while using the restroom? Every time we touch something and immediately touch our phones and bring it up to our faces where our mouths are is an opportunity for germs to spread and attack.

All in all, when it comes to hard surfaces like metals, plastics, and the things we touch frequently, you need to be mindful of sanitizing and disinfecting these fomites to reduce the risk of transmission. Now, how do germs spread in the air and water?

Airborne germs can spread when an infected person coughs, talks, sneezes, or spits into the air. One sneeze can help germs spread and travel as fast as a sports car going 200 MPH. And if it's not someone sneezing and spreading it through the air, then germs can spread from an HVAC system. When someone sneezes or coughs, you can see the large droplets fall onto someone or something, but at the same time, there are tiny microdroplets that are being carried through the air traveling up to 160 feet just from one cough. In HVAC systems, germs can spread from floor to floor. Penn State did a study on Tuberculosis microbes and found that within a 10-story building during an eight-hour period, the microbes had traveled from the first floor to the 10th.

Technically speaking, when you cough or sneeze, germs are spreading through a fine mist, which essentially means that they are being spread through water. However, there's more to it. Germs can spread through the water in recreational places like swimming pools or the beach.

Swallowing pool water contaminated with Cryptosporidium is the most common water-borne disease that causes watery diarrhea as well as E.coli, and Shigellosis can cause similar symptoms. At the beach, your chances of catching MRSA in the ocean water are possible if you're swimming with an open wound. So avoid going into pools or the ocean with open wounds, and please don't drink the water.

Help Prevent the Spread of Germs


Thourough Handwashing For Atleast 20 Seconds Helps Prevent the Spread of Germs
The simplest thing you can do to help prevent the spread of germs is to wash your hands frequently. It's the simplest act that can help others from getting sick and furthering the spread.

And we don't mean a quick rinse and that's it, no. Proper handwashing is rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds with antimicrobial soap and water so that it forms a lather. You then rub your wrists, back of your hands, in between those fingers, and under your fingernails too, as if you were a surgeon getting ready to scrub in. Then you dry your hands with a clean towel, or an air dryer if you're in a public restroom.

The same goes for if you're about to eat or you're prepping food. Be especially cautious when you're preparing raw poultry, meat, seafood, and eggs to avoid cross-contamination. You should wash your hands often if you're dealing with a wound, helping a sick person, or changing your baby's diapers. Handwashing goes a long way for you to protect yourself, but there are other things you can do at home and at work as well.

Cleaning your home or workspace also helps prevent the spread of germs. But you know what also takes it even further? Sanitizing and disinfecting your spaces with products designed to kill a broad-spectrum of germs. You want an EPA-registered sanitizing and disinfecting product that doesn't put you in harm's way but kills at least 99.99% of germs, viruses, and bacteria.

If you want to feel the ultimate peace of mind at home or share that peace of mind among colleagues at work, then leaving the sanitizing and disinfecting up to the professionals is a surefire way to achieve just that.

Germs Don't Stand a Chance

As you do what you can to help prevent the spread of germs by practicing good hygiene and cleaning your spaces often, you can always go above and beyond by calling disinfection specialists like the Germinator for further protection. Just take a look at the video below to see us in action!



We take sanitizing, disinfecting, and deodorizing to the next level of advanced protection using electrostatic sprayers. Our approach is very thorough, and before and after service, we will ATP test your surfaces for microbial activity using a luminometer. This lets us know how clean your surfaces are, and we use it as a benchmark to measure the effectiveness of our services.

The next step is the application of our Genesis treatment, which utilizes the power of HOCI (hypochlorous acid). Genesis is a one-step cleaner and broad-spectrum sanitizer and disinfectant treatment that's derived from naturally occurring minerals. It kills a wide range of bacteria and viruses on hard, non-porous, environmental surfaces without the use of harsh chemicals or fumes. It's on the EPA N List of products determined to meet the criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

We then apply our Shield solution. The Shield is a water-based quaternary ammonium compound that imparts a durable bacteriostatic finish to a wide range of non-food contact surfaces. It is EPA-registered to be effective against the growth of mold, mildew, algae and odor-causing bacteria. It creates an invisible barrier that combats deterioration and discoloration and promotes freshness for up to three months.

Once we've applied our Genesis and Shield solutions, we will then retest your surfaces to verify our work and ensure your spaces are clean and hygienic through ATP testing.

Germs: Can't Live With Them or Without Them


We provide a new generation of advanced microbial protection to help prevent the spread of germs, but it is up to us, collectively, to prevent the spread of germs that cause infectious diseases. We've learned a lot today about germs, but that knowledge and understanding of how pathogens spread and mutate is an area of study that will continue as the pandemic has made us more aware of the relationship between germs and us.

Together, we have the ability to be more cautious, clean, and caring as we go about our lives living among germs. And it's true, we can't always avoid them, and germs are literally inside of us at all times. But, we can control and clean the surfaces, objects, or "fomites" we interact with to help prevent the threat of germs.

Protecting yourself from germs through proper hygiene, cleaning and sanitizing, and simple handwashing is key to helping someone else #LiveProtected at the same time.

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