The New Health Threat In Your Home
What does your vacuum really do, besides sucking up the debris that litters your carpet and floors? According to a new study inApplied and Environmental Microbiology, it may also be kicking up a hot mess of mold and bacteria, which settles as dust until you repeat the vicious cycle the next time you clean.
Besides being gross, this dust has larger health implications—namely allergies and infections. After measuring the emissions from 21 vacuums of varying ages in a special clean air wind tunnel, the researchers from the University of Queensland and Laval University were able to identify the particles and bacteria that came from the vacuums. What they found in the sampled bacteria were resistance genes for five common antibiotics, including theClostridium botulinumtoxin gene.
“Our manuscript described microbial emissions when vacuum cleaning,” says co-author Caroline Duchaine, PhD, of Laval University in Quebec. “We did not find any pathogens but found some antibiotic-resistance genes and high emission rates of molds and bacteria. It is too early to link our findings with health issues but they are showing another source of indoor contamination, which can be linked to lung health.”
These findings fall in line with previous studies that have identified human skin and hair to be a significant source of bacteria in floor dust and indoor air. The concern brought up by researchers is that pathogens in the air, which are easily re-suspended by vacuuming and inhaled by the home’s occupants, may be potential sources of asthmatic and allergic reactions.
The good news: there's an easy fix to help settle the dust. Luke Knibbs, PhD, one of the researchers involved in the study, offers this advice:
- Ensure the dust bag or chamber in your vacuum is kept clean and dust isn’t allowed to accumulate.
- People who are susceptible to the bacteria and allergens found indoors should try to get the best vacuum cleaner they can afford.
- Sensitive people may want to consider wearing a disposable mask while cleaning.
- HEPA filters help, but make sure to maintain them.
- Hardwood floors, provided they are regularly cleaned, may help reduce the overall load of dust-borne microbes indoors.
Regardless of floor type, says Dr. Knibbs, a thorough cleaning regime is key. Another tip: don't let the air in your home get too stale. “Emissions cannot be avoided, so good ventilation is very important to ensure air change rates that will not allow accumulation of airborne contaminants," says Dr. Duchaine.
We’ll be adding “clean vacuum” and “open windows” to our weekly to-do lists.
Video: How a long-forgotten virus could help us solve the antibiotics crisis | Alexander Belcredi
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