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Safety Report: Cleaning to the Point of Sickness

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This season of sniffles, coughs, and sneezes makes a germaphobe cringe.  They soap, scrub, and sanitize obsessively to keep colds and flu away.  But cleaning too much could make you more likely to get sick.  

We didn't have to search far to find a clean freak.  "I cleaned my desk and I want to go wash my hands right now," said NBC29 Sunrise Reporter Jennifer Von Reuter.  "I can't function."

In addition to weekly desk wipe-downs, Von Reuter stocks hand sanitizer everywhere, "in all my purses, my work bag, the car.  I have them everywhere."

She even has a particularly proper way of opening doors, "I'm very particular about what I touch with my hands."

Von Reuter loses count on how often she soaps and scrubs her digits, but Von Reuter never forgets the alphabet. 

"I usually say the ABCs twice in my head," she said. "I go and grab a paper towel to dry my hands, use the paper towel to turn off the water.  Then I use the paper towel to open all the doors on my way back down to the newsroom."

But our newsroom's admitted germaphobe knows that not all bacteria is bad.  Von Reuter said, "I understand that getting germs is good for your immune system, but I still hate being sick.  I hate it."

"We live encased in bacteria," said Dr. Owen Hendley with University of Virginia's Division of Pediatric Infectious Disease.  "I'm a great believer in hand-washing."

His study of the common cold found that the virus can survive on surfaces touched by someone who's sick, and then get picked up and spread.

"I notice that I'm picking up things, but before I pick my nose and before I rub my eye, I very carefully wash my hand," said Dr. Hendley

Dr. Hendley stays away from sanitizers.  He says the alcohol that kills off bad bugs evaporates within about a minute, leaving behind a gel that germs and bacteria can actually cling to.  "There's no residual effect from that gel you've put on there."

So you're picking up the very viruses you wanted to avoid in the first place.  And Hendley discourages obsessive cleaning and hand-washing that rubs your skin raw.  He said, "If you have enflamed hands, you're going to have a hell of a lot more bacteria on the flamed hands than you do normally."

But our sunrise colleague isn't thinking twice about her concentration on keeping clean.  "I will always wash my hands constantly and wash them the way I do," said Von Reuter.  "I will always do it."

Eighty percent of infectious diseases are transmitted on our hands, and children are the worst carriers of germs.  That's why Dr. Hendley advises parents to make sure your kids wash their hands when they get home from school or day care.

To debunk more myths about cleaning and sanitizing, click on the links below: