SPECIAL REPORT: How easily can germs spread?

KTTC crew decided to do a bit of an experiment, to show how easily germs can be spread -- and ultimately, the importance of hand washing.
Published: Nov. 8, 2021 at 7:59 PM CST
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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- You’ve heard it all before: the best way to protect yourself from germs is to simply wash your hands. But, that may be easier said than done.

KTTC crew decided to do a bit of an experiment, to show how easily germs can be spread -- and ultimately, the importance of hand washing.

First things first, let’s go back to the basics.

“Hand hygiene is the most effective way to prevent transmitting illness, whether it be the common cold, coronavirus, strep throat, any of that,” Olmsted County Public Health nurse Christa Seymour said. “Good hand washing is the best way to reduce transmission.”

By now -- that fact has probably been ingrained into your mind. Recommendations from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention have been on posters, public service announcements and plastered all over social media. Wash your hands with warm soap and water for 20 seconds and dry thoroughly.

Again, easier said than done. In all reality, the average person doesn’t do that. A study from 2013 found that 95 percent of people wash their hands for six seconds.

So, KTTC is testing that theory -- using our Chief Engineer John Wilcox and our Assignment Editor Kilat Fitzgerald as guinea pigs. For the experiment, KTTC crew used a product called “Germ Glo.” It’s essentially an invisible powder, that’s only detected by an ultra violet light. In this scenario, everything that glows under the UV light, are germs.

Before powdering them up, we asked them a few questions.

Do you think you touch your face a lot? Where do you expect to see these germs?

“It might be on my face, I usually used the back side of my hand to do that,” John said.

Do you have a strategy at all knowing you have these “germs” on your hands?

“I certainly am more conscious of it,” Kilat answered. “But sometimes I do stuff without thinking. There’s an itch on my face and I go to that, to touching all kinds of stuff. And a lot of things happen without getting in a hand wash between everything.”

John and Kilat went about their days -- but we’ll check back in with them later.

“Germ Glo” is actually a technique that’s been used by Olmsted County Public Health nurse Christa Seymour. She’s used it to demonstrate the importance of hand washing to kindergarteners, restaurant personal and more.

“We use our hands for everything that we touch,” Seymour said. “We are using our hands as a carrier of putting food in your mouth, to touch our loved ones, to pet our animals. They definitely are a carrier. The good news is, though, by just following quality hand washing it can rid of germs that can make you ill.”

Another part of the experiment: seeing the importance of hand washing first hand. Three KTTC employees powdered up and washed up.

Derek Grant, a producer at KTTC, did a quick hand wash with just water. Under the UV light, much of the powder -- or germ-- residue was still there. KaMaria Braye, a reporter, was somewhere in between, scrubbing with soap and water, but not for the entire 20 seconds. She was surprised to see how many of the “germs” were left. Victoria Carra, our 6 and 10 producer, did the recommended 20 seconds -- in her case, her hands were mostly clear.

While we all know by now that 20 seconds of hand washing is the recommendation (or a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’) it’s very likely that the average population just goes through the motions -- even in the midst of a global pandemic.

“A lot of people do just go through the motions and not thinking,” Seymour said. “Twenty seconds is a decent amount of time. Unless you are consciously doing it, you’re probably not doing it.”

Now -- back to our friends, John and Kilat.

Retracing Johns steps, we found “germs” on the side of his nose, the headset at his desk and quite a bit on his hands. By the time we checked in, John believed he had washed his hands twice, maybe even three times.

Kilat had a slightly better score. We found a spot on his forehead and even his face mask.

KTTC crews also found “germs” scattered around the newsroom, on door handles, vacuum cleaners, water bottles and other hard surfaces. By the way, Seymour recommends wiping down hard surfaces at least once a day. Another fun fact: your cell phone, that is put to your face on a daily basis, is dirtier than your toilet set. So you might want to consider wiping it down too.

“Just making sure you do a good job of wiping down those hard surfaces that can be places where germs like to hang out,” Seymour said. “Frequently touched surfaces.”

In all reality, when it comes to germs, bacteria and viruses, we’re on high alert right now.

“We’re in the midst of a pandemic, right? So we are seeing people get sick and not know how they got sick,” Seymour said. “They went to the grocery store a couple times and they are still getting sick and there is definitely an awareness because of COVID-19 and how that is spread.”

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