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Germophobia, or a Real Concern?

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Germophobia, or a Real Concern?

Aug 18, 2016

Germs on my lemon? Germs in my car? A recent Men’s Health article listed six everyday items that have tested surprisingly high for bacteria and fecal matter, including the slice of lemon in your water glass. Dr. Kirtly Parker Jones explains whether or not you need to bust out the industrial strength cleaner and start sterilizing.

Episode Transcript

Announcer: Covering all aspects of women's health, this is "The Seven Domains of Women's Health" with Dr. Kirtly Jones on The Scope.

Interviewer: Seems like you can't go a week without seeing one of those lists that talk about, "Oh, there are germs here or there are germs there. You need to watch out." The latest is in Men's Health. It's six everyday items that are filled with germs. And I wanted to try to get a physician's perspective on this, if this is something I should really be concerned about when I see one of these articles or if it's not such a big deal. Dr. Kirtly Parker Jones, I'm going to go ahead and give you the six things and then tell me if I should worry or not.

Dr. Jones: Give them to me. I'm ready.

Interviewer: So, according to Men's Health, six everyday items that are filled with germs. Number one, when you do a load of underwear, they say here in this article that it could leave 100 million E. coli behind in your washing machine, contaminating the next cycle. So that's number one. Number two, lemon wedges in your drinks. They say it contain disease-causing microbes and sometimes tested positive for human fecal matter. Number three, the car windshield. They're saying the vapor from the washer fluid has high levels of this bacteria that can cause pneumonia.

Number four, new clothes. They're saying that they found evidence of skin flora, feces and respiratory secretions, I suppose from people trying them on, on new clothes. The car dashboard, they say, is the second germiest spot in your car. And number six, your contact lens case also can be very, very germy as well.

Dr. Jones: Okay. So . . .

Interviewer: So do I need to worry about these things? Do I need to go out and buy some industrial-strength cleaner and just go to work on these six things?

Dr. Jones: Well, hold the thought about that industrial-strength cleaner for just a sec. First of all, we evolved to be together and what you've talked about is bacteria that are being . . . maybe being natural. There are bacteria in dirt and maybe that's also on the lemon, but people have touched the lemon and then they dropped the lemon in your drink. So we've done a pretty good job and most of us have stayed very safe being exposed to other people's bacteria every single day. We kiss people on the cheeks, we get their bugs. We wash their clothes with ours, we get their bugs. It goes on and on and we do okay.

Now, there are clearly some bugs which are not so great, but we've been quite healthy. Now, what worries me about every single one of those things that you talked about, from the vinyl dashboard, which [off gas] is vinyl, which is not really good for your liver or your contacts case, which is probably made out of bisphenol A, which when you pick it up, you absorb it. And for guys, it can make their sperm not so great. And in fact, new clothes are covered with all kinds of artificial stuff to make them kind of stiff and make them smell. You know, you smell new clothes, they smell weird.

Interviewer: You're not making me feel any better. Actually, you're making me feel worse, like germs are not the problem is what I am hearing.

Dr. Jones: Well, germs, I don't worry so much about germs. It's all of that stuff that our body never evolved to take care of, which is in our environment now, all of the time. So you have some choices in terms of what you're going to do. Unfortunately, you just can't get a car that doesn't have a vinyl dashboard and that's too bad. If you can avoid cooking it in the sunshine in the summer, that probably would be better for you. I think that washing new clothes is probably a pretty good idea. Now you've just spread all of those awful chemicals that are in the new clothes to everybody else's clothes, but there you go.

I think that when you use industrial cleaners, some of those cleaners, the triclosan, which is in many industrial cleaners, that's been shown to cause liver problems and epigenetic problems. So I'm a big fan of vinegar. So vinegar or lemon juice. Let's go back to that lemon. So, yeah, maybe that lemon has some stuff on it.

Interviewer: Like even fecal matter?

Dr. Jones: Yeah.

Interviewer: That seems like the worst out of all of these things.

Dr. Jones: Fine, fine, fine. But the lemon itself, being acidic . . . so it's not whether you have some lemon, you just need to have lots of lemons because the acids in the lemon can kill bacteria. There you go. And use vinegar for cleaning.

Interviewer: All right. So it sounds like Men's Health has it all wrong. They've got me worrying about all of the wrong things. So now that you've introduced a whole new set of things to be terrified with, what can I do about it?

Dr. Jones: Okay. You know the worst thing of the whole process is living in fear makes your cortisol rise and you don't sleep and you get fat and it changes your whole biochemistry when you're afraid all the time. So I just say to give it up. There are too many of us on the planet anyway. Live a good life. If you like lemon in your water, just go for it.

Interviewer: Don't worry about these lists.

Dr. Jones: Yeah, don't worry about the lists.

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