Montana Public Radio

All About Germs: Dr. Starbuck Explains

Aug 1, 2017

Hi.  I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck and I’m here today with health tips on: germs.

How many of you have heard someone say ‘cover your mouth when you cough so you don’t spread germs’.  Or ‘wash your hands before you eat to get the germs off of them’.  Or maybe you’ve heard ‘use a Kleenex when you sneeze’ or ‘don’t share your water bottle or cup’.  And of course everyone knows you have to wash your hands after using the bathroom!

Germs are clearly yucky and something nobody wants.  But what are germs anyway?

Credit NIAID (CC BY 2.0)

Well germs are microorganisms that make us sick.  Microorganisms are tiny, tiny living things.  They are so tiny you can’t see them when you look at your hands or  a glass of water.  You can only see them when you look under a microscope.  The microorganisms that we call germs can be bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa.  Most microorganisms don’t cause disease.  In fact, you might even eat bacteria that are good for you, like the type that is in yogurt.  Some bacteria cause strep throat and ear infections.  Some viruses cause colds and flu and many kinds of sore throats.  When you have ringworm or athletes foot, you’ve got fungi living in your skin.  People in Montana can get a protozoa infection called giardia if they drink water straight from a creek or stream.  Giardia is an illness that gives you a bad stomach ache and cramps and makes you run to the bathroom a lot.

So where do these germs live?  Well they can live in all sorts of places.  They live in the mucus, that stuff that comes out when you sneeze or cough, of someone who is sick.  They can live in the dirt, or on plants or on our skin.  People can spread them around from one person to another.  That’s kind of creepy I know.  But you shouldn’t really worry about it too, too much.  Most people’s skin and most plants don’t have germs.  Most dirt is totally safe to touch and to get on your hands and feet and body.  Plus there are things you can do to protect yourself and others from germs.

You can touch a germ when you go to the bathroom or when you are around someone who is sick or when you are in a public place like a pool or a grocery store.  You can also swallow a germ if you share water bottles or forks or food with someone who is ill.  So, the very best thing to do about germs is to be clever about them.

Since kids are much smarter than germs, it doesn’t take much except good habits to keep germs away from you.  To beat germs, wash your hands before you eat, before you go to bed, and any time you might have touched a germ.  Washing your hands is easy.  But you have to do it in a special sort of way to make sure you kill all the germs.  First, make sure you use soap.  Just a splash of water is not enough.  You don’t need anti-bacterial soap.  Any old plain soap will do.  You also need to be sure to wash all around your fingernails because germs can hide out under your nails.  It’s best to wash for 15 seconds.  Ask your parents to help you find a little song or poem that lasts 15 seconds.  That way you can sing to yourself or say the poem out loud while you wash.  Then you’ll know that you are washing for the right amount of time.

The other thing you can do to avoid germs is to back up a little bit when you are around someone who is sick.  You don’t have to be mean or rude.  Just keep an eye out and when you see someone about to sneeze or cough, step back a couple of steps so you don’t get their germs on you.

I hope these tips protect you and that you don’t get a lot of germs any time soon.  But if you do, a quick trip to the doctor will help a lot and get you feeling better.

I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck, and I’m wishing you well.