RSPH says we need to separate good bacteria from the bad

UK public health experts are calling for a better understanding of the role of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria in our every day lives – and want to dismantle the myth that the epidemic rise in allergies in recent years has happened because we’re overdoing hygiene.

However, losing touch with friendly microbes can reduce our natural bodily defences and is a fundamental factor underlying rises in an even wider array of serious diseases.

A conference hosted in London last week by the Royal Society for Public Health for delegates from the household care industry, food hygiene, healthcare and health agencies discussed “the Hygiene Hypothesis”, an idea first proposed in a 1989 study which suggests that a lack of childhood exposure to harmful germs and fewer childhood infections are to blame for the rise in allergies.

Since then, the phrase “hygiene hypothesis” has often been wrongly used in the media to suggest that modern hygiene standards are bad for our health because we are ‘too clean’.

Scientists are now discovering that ‘good’ bacteria are vitally important to us. A healthy person has a natural microbiome of bacteria in their body which numbers ten times more than their individual cells. These bacteria control metabolism, breakdown of food and absorption of vital nutrients, so it is important we get them and keep them.

Children need exposure to good bacteria as early as they can and as high a range as possible, so pets, visits to farms, outdoor activities are vital to building up their natural microbiome of bacteria.

However, while optimising our exposure to the microbes we need, good hygiene is still vital to reduce the risk of illness from harmful bacteria in high-risk areas.

By identifying critical touch points, such as hand and food contact surfaces, cleaning cloths, household items, washrooms, floors and walls we can break the chain of infection while retaining ‘good’ bacteria.

Examples of where targeted hygiene is critical include food preparation areas, especially in places where we prepare meals from raw meats, or the packaging from raw meat factories, especially raw chicken, which is the biggest single source of food poisoning in the UK.

Hospitals also need bacterial elimination around patients with open wounds or even in the air around people with low immune systems.

Professor Elizabeth Scott explained that disinfectant alone however is an ineffective method of killing harmful bacteria, because even after repeated disinfectant applications, bacteria has the ability to grow back.

Surfaces treated with antibacterial technology however used in conjunction with regular cleaning regimes, are effective against the growth of most harmful pathogens including Campylobacter, MRSA, E.coli, Legionella, Listeria and Salmonella.

Professor Scott told delegates that the news media’s over-simplification of hygiene issues with attention-grabbing headlines such as ‘Why we all need to stop washing our hands” were giving the completely wrong message and ignoring the scientific evidence.

Explaining the importance of ‘hygienic cleaning’ she said: “it’s not about keeping our homes germ free. It’s about good hygiene to reduce the number of organisms on critical sites and surfaces to break the chain of transmission.”

*Please note that Addmaster was acquired by the Polygiene Group AB in January 2021, so all news articles prior to that date will still be branded as Addmaster.