All about germs

What are germs? What's the difference between a bacteria and virus? How are germs spread? How can germs be eliminated? We're glad you asked. Find all this and more.

All about germs

Germs: the facts

What are germs? What's the difference between a bacteria and virus? How are germs spread? How can germs be eliminated? We're glad you asked. Find all this and more.

What are germs?


A potentially harmful type of microorganism that can be spread easily but avoided through basic hygiene and cleaning practices.

The details

A microorganism is an organism that is too small to be seen by the naked eye — in other words, it is "microscopic." Microorganisms include bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, and prions, among others. Microorganisms exist virtually everywhere, in soil, air, food, water, animals, plants and people, and most are harmless. In fact, many microorganisms promote good health.

How do germs spread?

  • Indirect contact, like touching a surface that held raw food, or was contaminated by someone who is sick and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes
  • Through the air, like when someone coughs or sneezes into the air
  • Through contaminated food and water
  • Through contact with animals or by a bite or scratch

How and where germs survive

Germs thrive in moist conditions. In some instances, germs can live on surfaces for hours and even days. Did you know that flu germs can live on surfaces for up to 2 days!

This isn’t cause for alarm. But, remember that it’s an important thing to note is that while surfaces may look clean, they can contain germs and you need to ensure you clean and disinfect regularly.

What about viruses?

Viruses are different from bacteria and fungi. They are extremely small at only 1/100th of the size of bacteria or fungi. But unlike bacteria or fungi, which are capable of growing on their own, viruses need a host to infect in order to reproduce. It is through this process that viruses cause disease.

In many cases, it only takes one virus particle to make you sick. That’s why handwashing and surface disinfection are important measures to help control the spread of disease, especially those cause by viruses.

How to prevent the spread of germs

Hand washing

Hand washing is one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of germs. Every time you touch a contaminated surface, you can transfer germs to and from your hands — but proper and thorough hand washing removes most germs from your hands.

When to wash your hands

  • Before handling food or eating
  • Before preparing a baby's meal or handling sterilised equipment
  • Before applying contact lenses
  • Immediately after handling raw foods, such as poultry
  • After visiting the toilet or changing a nappy
  • After touching animals or their toys or equipment
  • After contact with blood or body fluids (like vomit, nasal secretions, saliva)
  • After touching a contaminated area (e.g., trash can, cleaning cloth, drain, soil)
  • Before and after dressing a wound or giving medicine
  • More often when someone in your home is sick
  • Whenever hands look dirty

5 steps to well washed hands

  • Wet your hands and apply liquid, bar, or powder soap.
  • Rub your hands together vigorously to make lather, and scrub all parts of the hand, including thumbs and under and around the nails
  • Continue for 20 seconds. It takes that long for the soap and scrubbing action to dislodge and remove stubborn germs. (Need a timer? Imagine singing "Happy Birthday" all the way through — twice!)
  • Rinse your hands thoroughly under running water
  • Dry your hands using a clean, dry towel

When Soap and Water Aren't Available

You can still keep your hands clean even if water isn't available. Hand sanitisers are designed to help kill germs on hands that are not visibly dirty, without the need for water or towels.

A Special Note about At-Risk Audiences

The prevention of germs is especially important if you, or someone in your home, is in an at- risk group. This can include young children and the elderly.

Practicing frequent and thorough handwashing, surface cleaning and disinfection are extremely important to help reduce the spread of germs to these and other at-risk groups.

Always read the label and use only as directed.