Your home is a health risk

A new survey from the Global Hygiene Council has revealed that 83% of all people surveyed think their home poses a low (52%) or no (31%) risk with regards to the spread of infections and illnesses.

Local results don’t deviate much from the global norm, with 59% of South African respondents believing that their home poses a low risk, and 30% think no risk. In fact, research has shown that 40% of reported food-borne outbreaks were caused by food consumed in private homes.

The Dettol Hygiene Home Truths Survey of more than 16,000 adults, across 16 countries, including South Africa has also revealed a lack of awareness of those illnesses and infections that can be caught and spread within the home. Just 36% of respondents in this survey were aware that bacteria that cause stomach upset, such as Escherichia coli (E.coli), Campylobacter and Salmonella can be picked up in the home and only a third (33%) knew that another cause of diarrhoea and vomiting, norovirus, can also be spread within the home. South Africans fared better than their global counterparts with 42% of people understanding that bacteria like E.coli, Campylobacter and Salmonella can be contracted within the home, while 45% of South African women know that norovirus / diarrhoea and vomiting can be picked up within the home, compared to just 35% of men.

Local Global Hygiene Council member Dr Kgosi Letlape commented, “Despite peoples’ best intentions, if they are unaware of where germs are in the home, then they will not know how to prevent the spread of infection and the hygiene measures they use are likely to be inadequate. It is important to remember that handwashing is the first line of defence against infections both inside and outside of the house. I urge members of the public in South Africa to help protect themselves and their families from these often preventable infections by washing their hands thoroughly and regularly with soap and clean water, as well as cleaning and disinfecting food and hand contact surfaces in the home.”

The lack of awareness of the infection risks in the home are further reinforced by a low level of knowledge about where potentially harmful bacteria can be found. 68% of respondents did not know that E. coli can be found in both the kitchen and bathroom, while 65% did not know that Staphylococcus aureus, which can cause skin and wound infections, and food poisoning can also be found in these areas.

South Africans showed a better understanding of bacteria in the home, with just 15% of respondents not knowing where E. coli can be found in the home, however, a third (28%) do not know where Staphylococcus aureus can be found. Both are found in the bathroom and kitchen.

Despite this, three quarters (75%) of respondents did report that they clean their homes to remove dirt and kill germs, compared to 86% in South Africa. However, only 43% of respondents reported actually using a product proven to kill germs, while a higher 56% of respondents usually use antibacterial / disinfectant product that kills germs to clean frequently touched surfaces / objects in their home

With hand hygiene being recognised as the single most important method of preventing and controlling infection, encouragingly 82% (90% of South Africans) reported always washing their hands when they look dirty and 72% (80% of South Africans) before and after preparing food. However, 27% (35% of South Africans) of respondents admitted rarely washing their hands after coughing and sneezing, both proven ways of transmitting infection-causing organisms to the hands.

Professor John Oxford, Chairman of the Hygiene Council and Professor of Virology at Barts and The London School of Dentistry commented, “The results from this survey clearly show that people feel a false sense of security within their homes in terms of exposure to germs, most likely because of a lack of awareness of the risks they pose to them. The good news is that simple hygiene measures such as targeted surface disinfection and handwashing with soap and clean water at key times, such as before and after preparing food and after going to the bathroom, can help to break the chain of infection, helping to prevent the spread of illnesses and infections around the home and amongst family members.”

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