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Hygiene” refers to conditions or practices by which people maintain or promote good health by keeping themselves and their surroundings clean. Even in our contemporary society, good hygiene practices continue to be the primary disease-prevention strategy. Hygiene is one of the silent victories of public health.

Do personal hygiene and household cleanliness practices affect the risk of spreading infectious disease?

The home is a dynamic environment where many different types of activities can be performed by wide range of individuals, all of whom can vary in age, health, and susceptibility. In any given day, the typical home can provide the functions of a hotel, a restaurant, day-care center, a medical center, or a pet shop. Given the wide array of situations that can be present in a home, it is not difficult to imagine that there is a parallel array of potential hygiene needs that accompanies the individuals and activities that make up a typical household day.

  • At any given time, the majority of households are made up of healthyindividuals with a normal sensitivity to illness. If exposed, they can certainly become sick, but they are not especially sensible and their symptoms and recovery are somewhat predictable. In these homes, the need for hygiene exists, but is primarily targeted at avoiding known risk situations.
  • If acute illness(gastrointestinal, for example) is present in the home, the need for hygiene increases because there are now additional risks associated with environmental contamination. The chance of more family members becoming ill increases due to the potential of direct person- to-person contact or contact with contaminated surfaces. The number of households where some type of acute illness is present can be relatively large, though smaller than the number of “healthy” homes.
  • Hygiene needs in the home increase even more when those with chronic illnessare living there. In such cases the need for extra hygiene lasts longer, but typically involves an even smaller portion of the general population.
  • The highest attention to hygienic cleaning in the home is reserved for the portion of the population that is considered to be This group consists of infants, the elderly, and those with suppressed immune systems due to chronic illness or medical treatments they receive. This can be a significant portion of the population. For example, this population is estimated to be as high as 20% of the overall U.S. population.

Exposures to pathogens must be minimized for this group, since their immune systems are least well equipped to fight off disease.

Controlling Infectious Microbes in the Home

In the home, the first line of defence against infectious disease is cleaning and disinfecting.

Cleaning is the mechanical removal of dirt and soil from an object or area. Detergents and water are the preferred products for cleaning. Under normal conditions, cleaning is adequate for most households. However, in some circumstances, such as illness in the family or handling of potentially contaminated food, disinfection may be necessary.

Disinfection is the chemical inactivation or killing of microbes. Products containing substances such as alcohol, sodium hypochlorite bleach, quaternary ammonium compounds, and phenolics, can be disinfectants, depending on the formulation and use of the product. In many countries, government authorities must approve ingredients as antimicrobial agents and approve product formulations containing an approved ingredient as being efficacious against specific microbes or microbes in general.

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