A quick introduction to Bacteria & Microbes
Microbes and Bacteria are present in almost every part of the human body. In fact, micro-organisms outnumber human cells by 10 to 1 and can make up to 3% of the body’s mass¹. A microbiome refers to the make-up of these micro-organisms in a specific location, for example, the gut, skin or nose.
In healthy adults, the microbiome is essential to human health and survival. An example of this, is the bacteria that is present in the gut which allows humans to digest foods and absorb nutrients which would otherwise be unavailable.
In an effort to understand infectious disease, a 2012 Human Microbiome Research project¹, funded primarily by the National Institute of Health (NIH), with over 200 collaborators, attempted to find a healthy baseline for the microbiome in healthy adults. Here’s what was found:
What’s fine for you, can be harmful to others.
It was revealed that even “healthy individuals differ remarkably in the microbes that occupy habitats such as the gut, skin and vagina”¹ and that “much of this diversity remains unexplained”¹. It was also found that “the diversity and abundance of each habitat's signature microbes to vary widely even among healthy subjects, with strong niche specialisation both within and among individuals”¹. In short, each person that is otherwise ‘healthy’ has a different bacterial make-up. There is no standard microbiome for a healthy individual so a bacterium that may be fine for one person, may not be for others.
It was also shown that nearly everyone routinely carries pathogens, microorganisms known to cause illness. This goes to show again, that the bacteria that is non-harmful to one individual may be harmful to another.
For example, many individuals carry Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) on their skin and in their nose without any harm to themselves, however, when MRSA is exposed to other individuals, it can cause significant illness. It is currently unclear why some harmful bacteria can lie dormant in some individuals and not others.
How are pathogens transmitted?
These pathogens can be transmitted and spread through a number of ways including contact (which may be direct or indirect), droplet or airbourne. For more information on the modes of transmission click here.
Once they are transmitted, pathogens and infectious agents can live on inanimate surfaces such as beds, towels, desks and hand rails for months (depending on the type of organism, the source, destination surface and humidity levels)². Once the bacteria are on the surface, they can easily be transmitted to a person simply by contact with that contaminated surface.
Understanding Hygiene Practice
This is where hygiene and the necessity for good hygiene practice becomes necessary. The Australian Guidelines for the Prevention and Control of Infection indicate that “source individuals may be actively ill, may have no symptoms but be in the incubation period of a disease, or may be temporary or chronic carriers of an infectious agent with or without symptoms”³, indicating that whilst personnel may appear healthy there is still the potential to transmit harmful bacteria. Good hygiene practice aims at reducing both the transmission and spread of harmful bacteria as well as reducing the risk of infection by exposure to pathogens.
One of the most researched and implemented hygiene practices is the washing of hands due to the incredible preventative ability it has and its economic viability. In saying this, a study of Australia Teaching Hospitals found that only 30% of staff were found to follow hygiene protocol when unmonitored, increasing the rate of Healthcare Acquired Infection’s (HAI)⁴.
Here’s what you can do to promote good hygiene practice:
Don’t leave your health to luck, or to others. You have all rights and a responsibility to ensure that your health and safety is protected in any therapy or medical circumstance. Furthermore, by practicing good personal hygiene, you can help contribute to a healthier society.
Here are some simple ways you can protect yourself and others during any kind of therapy session:
Be aware. Is there a sink in the therapy room? Did you see your therapist use it? Are they wearing gloves? If you have concerns, speak up. Ask the therapist if they can kindly wash their hands. Ask if the therapy bed can be wiped down in front of you (if there isn’t a single use protector) and ask for hygiene products that are proven to reduce the transmission of bacteria. Paper products for example, or those that don’t fully cover the face hole, just don’t cut it. Stay home when you are feeling unwell. Wash your hands regularly.
1 Gevers, D., Knight, R., Petrosino, JF., et al. The Human Microbiome Project: A Community Resource for the Healthy Human Microbiome; PLOS Biology: 10(8) (2012). doi: 1371/journal.pbio.1001377
2 Russotto, V., Cortegiani, A., Raineri, S.M. et al.Bacterial contamination of inanimate surfaces and equipment in the intensive care unit. j intensive care 3, 54 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40560-015-0120-5
3 Australian Guidelines for the Prevention and Control of Infection (May 2019); Accessed 1 October 2019 from https://nhmrc.govcms.gov.au/about-us/publications/australian-guidelines-prevention-and-control-infection-healthcare-2019#block-views-block-file-attachments-content-block-1
4 Mitchell BG, Shaban RZ, MacBeth D, et al .The burden of healthcare-associated infection in Australian hospitals: a systematic review of the literature. Infection, Disease & Health ;22:117–28 (2017) doi:10.1016/j.idh.2017.07.001
5 The Australian Charter for Healthcare Rights (July 2019); Accessed 1 October 2019 from https://www.safetyandquality.gov.au/publications-and-resources/resource-library/australian-charter-healthcare-rights-second-edition-a4-accessible