10 things you didn’t know about germs

They’re the tiny little organisms in the air we breathe, the food we eat, clothes we wear and water we drink. But while they can make us sick, Bianca Chatfield finds germs aren’t all bad.

Here’s 10 things you might not know about germs, the microscopic creatures who are with us in everything we do.

1. There are four major types of germs – bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa. They’re found all over the world in all sorts of places.

2. Astonishingly bacteria, single-celled organisms that can act like plants or animals, have existed on the earth for over three billion years.

3. A clean mouth has between 1,000 and 100,000 bacteria on each tooth. If that makes you squirm, consider this. The human body is home to some 1,000 species of bacteria.

4. Remember your mum warning you that germs are spread by locking lips? The real fact is that more germs are transferred by shaking hands than kissing!

5. Amazing numbers are common in the microbial world. Scientists say if all the viruses on earth were laid end to end, they’d stretch for 100 million light years.

6. Keep a lid on it. Research has found that when you flush a toilet, an invisible cloud of water shoots 1.8 metres into the air. Even 90 minutes later, contaminated water can linger on nearby surfaces – enough to make you sick.

7. While we’re on the subject of toilets, would you believe an office desk has 400 times more bacteria than your average loo, at around 20,000 per square inch (or 2.5 square centimetres)?

8. And a fun fact to remember next time you’re popping in the earplugs. Researchers have found when we wear headphones for just one hour, it increases the bacteria in our ear by 700 times.

9. Walter Reed discovered the first human virus, yellow fever virus, in 1901. It was 17 years later, from 1918-1919, that ‘The Spanish Flu’, was to strike. The deadliest flu pandemic in history, it killed 21,642,274 people worldwide, taking more lives than World War II.

10. A virus that is known simply as M13 has the power to change the world. Scientists have genetically engineered M13 viruses to emit enough electricity to power a small LED screen.

Yes, it’s a germy world we live in and while not every germ can cause illness and infections, simple things like regularly washing and drying your hands can help to stop their microbial journey.


To wash your hands properly and reduce the risk of spreading infections, it pays to:

  • Wet your hands, apply soap (liquid soap is preferable) and lather well for at least 20 seconds, making sure you also focus on the back of hands, between the fingers, and around the wrists.
  • Rinse well under running water to remove all traces of soap.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel (paper towels are preferable) or air dryer.

Catch up on the full episode of The House of Wellness TV show to see more from Zoe, Ed, and the team.

Written by Liz McGrath