Germs are all over the place, all the time. Truly, those little microbes are living, dying, and multiplying in all of our homes and public spaces at all hours, nonstop. Sure, there's no doubt that it's not a pleasant thing to think about, but the more you know about how germs are spread, the better you can avoid passing them around. Not to mention, not all of those germ-y foes are quite as terrible as we might think, and our bodies are, after all, pretty well equipped at dealing with them.
"Germs are everywhere and come in many different forms," Ashley Wood, RN, BSN of Demystifying Your Health, LLC, tells Bustle. "There are viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites. The ones that are most common are viruses and bacteria."
Typically, you need to come into direct contact with germs in order to become infected by them and have them thrive within you. Meaning, they don't usually just jump out of nowhere and attack your immune system, they have to be passed from touching surfaces, eating something, or coming in contact with another person or their fluids.
Take a peek at some interesting — and yes, slightly gross — facts about germs you might not have learned in school.
1. Germs Have Different Lifespans
Some germs live longer than others, and they survive and thrive in different environments, too. Some germs can live on surfaces, like door knobs, or phones, for periods of time, so when you touch these things, they can pass to you, says Wood.
"Other germs you need to have direct contact with an infected person or eat food that has the germ in it," says Wood, since they die on surfaces or in air.
Keep those knobs clean, friends, and don't share drinks with your partner if they have a cold, OK?
2. Our Immune System Can Kill Most Of The Germs We Encounter
Our bodies are fighters.
"When a germ enters our body, our immune system kicks in and tries to fight it off," says Wood. "For most germs, this is an effective way to get rid of it. However, some require taking medication to assist the body in doing this."
The nice thing about our immune system? For the most part, it is able to remember what we’ve been exposed to and is able to fight it off easier in the future, says Wood. Pretty cool.
3. Washing Your Hands Is Legit Important
OK, so, we did learn this in school, but they taught this for a reason.
As far as controlling germs, the most important thing we can do is thoroughly and frequently wash our hands, Wood says, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and if we’re sick.
"If you are sick, stay home and limit the number of people you interact with so you’re not spreading germs unnecessarily," says Wood.
4. Germs Change And Evolve
"Germs are constantly evolving, which means we need to as well in order to stay one step ahead of them," Wood says. That means keeping things clean, especially surfaces that get used a lot.
"This is significantly important when dealing with food prep and storage," Wood says. Keep food contained and clean often.
5. There Are Species That Can Live Without Oxygen
It does sound creepy and alien AF, but some germs don't need air to keep on keepin' on. Good for them.
"There are species of germs called anaerobic bacteria that can live without oxygen," Nate Masterson, a certified health expert at Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. "Due to the nature of these bacteria, they are able to survive in a wide variety of extreme environments and thrive where no other creatures dare come near."
6. There Are So Many Germs In Your Mouth
Keep on brushing those chompers.
"There are many species of bacteria in the oral cavity," LA-based dentist, Dr. Daniel Naysan, tells Bustle. "In a clean mouth, there are 1,000-100,000 bacterial germs living on each tooth surface. In a [mouth that hasn't been cleaned], there are 100 million to 1 billion."
Now, some of them can be good bacteria, he says, which help keep our oral cavity healthy, and some could be bad bacteria, which cause tooth decay and gum disease.
All those bacteria can actually increase the chances of heart attacks, strokes, arthritis, and have been linked to several forms of cancers, as well as to erectile dysfunction, he says.
Brushing twice a day, flossing, and going for regular dentist cleanings are all recommended for keeping your mouth in good shape.
7. Your House Has A Lot Of Germs
Nathan Ripley, founder of Maid Just Right, tells Bustle a little bit about where germs are lurking hardcore in your homes.
"Your sink can contain many times more bacteria than even your toilet," Ripley says. "And what's worse, the rest of the kitchen is probably dirtier than the sink. Refrigerators, cutting boards, water heaters and coffee makers are one of the most contaminated items in any household. They're certainly carrying fecal matter and bacteria."
Fortunately, he says, keeping a tight cleaning schedule and regularly cleaning your surfaces and changing sheets should help with the problem.
8. There Are Good Germs That We Need To Live
Finally, there are indeed germs we need to live. There is truly plenty of beneficial bacteria!
"There are trillions bacteria in your gut, and they are incredibly important for your immunity, and overall health," nutritionist Lisa Richards, tells Bustle. "Most of them weren’t there when you were born, however. A large part of our gut flora comes from our environment."
We pick up beneficial bacteria and yeast from the food we eat, she says, the soil in our parks, or simply by touching non-sterilized surfaces.
"Living in a germ-free environment is actually terrible for your health," she says, as we need germs to strengthen our immune systems.
While we want to keep clean and avoid passing around sickness, not all germs are so bad. Plus, we can't really avoid them anyway, you know?