From the doorknobs of our homes to the buttons of a building’s elevators, we touch a variety of objects on a daily basis. Performing such tasks is a normal part of our lives, so we rarely place any attention on the hidden danger that’s lurking on these surfaces. However, it’s high time we start thinking about where we place our hands, as many of the communal surfaces and objects that we come into contact with on a daily basis harbor numerous types of germs, including harmful bacteria and viruses.
Contact with contaminated objects and surfaces is a major cause of the spread of diseases. When a sick person touches an object, they could inadvertently transmit pathogens onto its surface, exposing the next person who touches them to the virus or bacteria. There are several ways one can prevent the spread of these diseases, and the most important methods are the following:
- Practicing proper hand hygiene
- Disinfecting surfaces on a regular basis
- Avoiding direct contact with contaminated surfaces
Once you’ve become more aware of the presence of pathogenic microorganisms on common objects, you have a better chance of avoiding these 7 common types of illnesses that are typically transmitted through contaminated surfaces.
- The Common Cold
Most cases of the common cold occur during a certain season, but one can be infected by it from touching a contaminated surface or direct person-to-person transmission any time of the year. When a person with a cold sneezes or coughs on an object, the item becomes covered with the virus. If you happen to touch the contaminated object and proceed to rub your eye or wipe your nose and mouth with your hand, there’s a chance that you’ll get sick as well.
There are over 200 different viruses that can cause the common cold, and these include the following:
- Rhinoviruses and other enteroviruses
- Human coronaviruses
- Influenza viruses
- Parainfluenza viruses
- Human orthopneumovirus
- Human metapneumovirus
To reduce the risk of contracting the common cold, you’ll have to wash your hands regularly or sanitize them after you touch dirty surfaces. You may also further protect yourself from contamination by wearing antimicrobial clothing like a pair of arm sleeves or fabric hand protectors.
Influenza (or more commonly known as the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. Although many people often mistake the flu for the common cold, these illnesses are entirely different from each other. Influenza infects the throat, nose, and lungs, and it occurs when you least expect it. Influenza cases range from mild to severe, and the most serious cases could even lead to death if left untreated.
The flu spreads from person to person. If a person sneezes or coughs, the droplets containing the virus can be inhaled into the lungs or land on the mouths or nose of people who are nearby. It’s less common for people to catch the flu virus from touching a contaminated surface and then touching their mouth, nose, or eyes. Nevertheless, it pays to be careful, so always wash and sanitize your hands after holding objects that could have also been in contact with someone who has the flu.
Although influenza and the common cold share similar symptoms, signs of the flu are often worse as they can include the following:
- High fever that lasts for 3-5 days
- Runny or stuffed nose
- Sore throat
Most people who have the flu do not require medical attention. However, to prevent the spread of influenza, it’s best for the patient to remain home and rest. If you have the flu and want to relieve some of its symptoms, you may take over-the-counter medications that can reduce the fever or take prescription antiviral flu drugs. It’s also in your best interest to get flu vaccinations annually to boost your immune system so it has a better chance of fighting the virus in case you get sick.
- Coronavirus Infections
Viruses that fall in the coronavirus group are zoonotic viruses, which means they’re often found in animals like birds, pigs, and bats. Although they commonly affect animals, coronaviruses can “jump” species in rare cases, making it possible for humans to be infected and transmit the virus to other people.
Coronaviruses affect a person’s respiratory tract and guts, and their symptoms can range from mild to severe. These symptoms often include the following:
- Repeated shaking
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
- Loss of smell or taste
Patients who have compromised immune systems, underlying medical conditions, and are in an older age group can also develop pneumonia or bronchitis from coronavirus infections.
Three major outbreaks of severe human coronavirus infections occurred in the 2000s. These are:
- Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002, caused by SARS-CoV
- Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2012, caused by MERS-CoV
- Novel coronavirus (Covid-19) in 2019, caused by SARS-Cov-2
The main modes of transmission for coronaviruses are droplets produced by coughing, sneezing, and talking. If a person with coronavirus contaminates a surface, the virus can survive for up to several hours or days, depending on the material of the surface. Currently, there is no treatment or vaccine for most coronaviruses. As such, during major outbreaks, it’s crucial to disinfect one’s hands and to keep one’s surroundings clean, as well as to practice social distancing to slow down and prevent the spread of coronavirus infections.
Despite the presence of the word “worm” in its name, ringworm is actually a skin infection that is caused by several types of fungi. The fungi that cause ringworm can grow in warm and moist areas of the body. There are around 8 types of ringworm, and their names typically depend on where the infection is located on the body. However, they share the following symptoms:
- A ring-shaped rash forming on the infected skin
- Red, scaly, or cracked skin
- Itchy skin
One can get ringworm through skin-to-skin contact or by sharing personal care items and clothing with a person who is infected by the fungus.
- Pink Eye
Pink eye occurs when the eye’s conjunctiva is inflamed. The causes of the eye’s irritation stem from a variety of sources, such as allergens, bacteria, viruses, and foreign bodies and chemicals. While there are many ways an eye can get irritated, pink eye is often caused by allergies, and by bacterial or viral infections.
Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria such as Streptococcus pneumoniae, Staphylococcus aureus, and Haemophilus influenza. Most bacterial conjunctivitis cases are mild and resolve on their own. For severe or persistent cases, however, topical antibiotics are prescribed.
Viral conjunctivitis is caused by contagious viruses like the ones associated with the common cold. This type of pink eye is highly contagious, but most cases are also typically mild. Viral conjunctivitis is mainly spread through hand-to-eye contact or if the eye comes in contact with an object that has been contaminated with the virus. Currently, there is no treatment for viral conjunctivitis. The only way to recover from it is to let the infection run its course. However, you may relieve some of the symptoms by lubricating the eyes with eye drops.
Allergic conjunctivitis happens when the eyes are exposed to allergens like pollen, dust mites, molds, and animal dander. Like the other types of pink eye, allergic conjunctivitis cases are often mild. However, if left untreated, it can cause serious damage to a person’s vision. You can alleviate some of the symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis by lubricating the eye. To minimize the risk of contracting allergic conjunctivitis, it’s best to keep the house clean and stay indoors during pollen season.
Symptoms of pink eye include the following (may occur in one or both eyes):
- Eye discharge
- Tearing or watery eyes
- Experiencing a gritty sensation in the eyes
Norovirus is a highly contagious virus found in fecal matter of infected humans and animals. This virus can easily contaminate food and water, as well as surfaces that have been exposed to it. Symptoms of norovirus include the following:
- Body pains
It’s possible that a person with norovirus will show no symptoms. However, they’re still at risk of spreading the virus. If you suspect that you’ve been exposed to this virus, visit your doctor and follow the treatment and preventive measures prescribed.
- Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C
Hepatitis is a condition wherein a person’s liver becomes inflamed. Its symptoms include the following:
- Stomach pain
- Mild fever
- Poor appetite
- Jaundice of the eyes and skin
There are 5 main types of hepatitis (from A to E), but for the purpose of this article, we’ll be focusing on hepatitis B and hepatitis C. These types of hepatitis spread through contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person. As such, sharing an infected person’s razor or toothbrush, or using unclean needles for medical or aesthetic purposes can place a person at a higher risk of contracting the disease. While a vaccine is available for hepatitis B, there is none that can help prevent hepatitis C.
Everyday, we come into contact with communal objects that could potentially harbor pathogenic microorganisms. Disinfecting them is not always possible, so proper hand hygiene goes a long way toward ensuring that you don’t contract any of the diseases mentioned above.