The “Dirty” Truth: Are Bacteria Harmful?

In the hand washing and drying industry, it’s unavoidable that you’ll come across the term “bacteria.” It’s not surprising, since bacteria have quite the bad reputation—certain strains cause a number of serious diseases including pneumonia, meningitis, foodborne illnesses and more. But that leads to the question: are bacteria harmful? The answer is more complicated than you might think. In this blog, we bring in microbiology expert Dr. Kelly Reynolds to explain the difference between good and bad bacteria as well as bacteria and germs.

A hand and example of types of bacteriaWhat Are Bacteria?

Bacteria are microscopic, single-celled organisms that are—not to alarm you—everywhere. They are in the air. They are in your body. In fact, if you weighed all the bacteria in your body together, they’d top the scales at more than three pounds. With that frightening statistic out of the way, let’s get to the good news: not all bacteria are harmful!

“So, these bacteria are going to be under your fingernails, they are going to be on doorknobs, they are going to be in salads, in milk, in the things that we eat and drink all the time,” said Dr. Reynolds, who heads the Environment, Exposure Science & Risk Assessment Center at the University of Arizona. “Not every bacterium is the same when it comes to disease risk. Most are completely harmless and, in fact, some of them are actually beneficial to you.”

Our immune systems need the right combination of bacteria so we can stay healthy. For instance, there is an intestinal bacterium that helps to digest food, provide nutrients and even destroy some disease-causing organisms. There are beneficial bacteria outside our bodies as well, including a soil bacterium that converts nitrogen to ammonia, and then supplies it to plants to ensure growth.

Bacteria Vs. Germs

“Bacteria” and “germs” are sometimes used interchangeably, but germs are actually a catchall for microorganisms as a whole. The category of germs also includes viruses, fungi, protozoans and helminths. That’s why you need to take it with a grain of salt when you hear about a study announcing the presence of germs in an environment. It could be referring to any of the previously mentioned category items.

“The reverse is also true. Bacteria detection does not necessarily mean a threat of ‘germs,’” said Dr. Reynolds. “To detect germs in the environment, things that could actually make you sick, you need to use selective media to identify those specific pathogens out of the sea of good bacteria.”

A closeup on hands being washedA Trusted Name in Hand Hygiene

The next time you hear about the dangers of bacteria, you know the “dirty” truth isn’t quite as bad as you’ve been told. Regardless, Excel Dryer is a trusted name in hand hygiene.

Our line of sensor-activated, touchless hand dryers have long been put to use by restaurants, schools, hospitals and health centers, stadiums and countless other facilities. Please contact us to learn more about how our line of hand dryers can help keep your hands clean and healthy.