Your Washing Machine Can Be a Home for Bacteria — What You Should Know
By Christopher Curley
Today's high-efficiency home washing machines might not be eliminating bacteria as thoroughly as their older, less-efficient counterparts.
This finding comes after a multidrug-resistant pathogen was found on the clothing of infants at a neonatal intensive care unit at a German children's hospital — despite all normal precautions being taken to eliminate exposure to such superbugs.
The eventual culprit, investigators found, was in the hospital's laundry room.
There the investigators found consumer-grade washing machines instead of the usual high-temperature industrial washing machines typically used in hospitals, researchers reported in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.
Fortunately the infants were only exposed to the drug-resistant Klebsiella oxytoca pathogen but not actually infected, the researchers said.
What's in Your Washer?
But the findings raise the question: If the problem is a consumer-grade washing machine, do consumers need to be concerned about harmful bacteria lingering in their machines at home?
The answer is mixed.
"This was a washer in a hospital so it would be exposed to bacteria — such as this one — that thrive in hospital environments," Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Maryland, told Healthline.
"This bacteria is resistant and can cause severe infections but still requires a susceptible host. Many people can be exposed to drug-resistant bacteria and even colonized with them — like are many healthcare workers — yet have no infections occur," he said.
But in order to save energy, today's high-efficiency machines wash clothes at lower temperatures — less than 140°F.
That means more bacteria survive the washing process, noted Ricarda M. Schmithausen, Ph.D., a lead author of the study and a senior physician at the Institute for Hygiene and Public Health at the WHO Collaboration Center at the University of Bonn, Germany, in an American Society for Microbiology press release.
In particular, the researchers found bacteria growing in the rubber seals of the washer, which then spread during the unheated rinse cycle.
Few Dangers — With Some Exceptions
However, most bacteria are benign or even beneficial.
"For those of us who use cold or warm water wash and efficient short-drying cycles, some hardy germs will be left on our linens and clothes, [but] the possibility of dangerous, resistant bacteria in our washing machines causing disease is very remote," Dr. Bruce Hirsch, attending infectious disease physician at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York, told Healthline.
"We're all exposed to bacteria all the time without illness. This story suggests that if a household has a family member with a recent prolonged hospitalization, hot water and prolonged drying should be considered," he said.
Dr. Martin Exner, chairman and director of the Institute for Hygiene and Public Health at the WHO Collaboration Center, University Hospital/University of Bonn, where the research was conducted, concurred in the study's press release.
"This is a growing challenge for hygienists, as the number of people receiving nursing care from family members is constantly increasing," he said.
Keeping Your Washer Clean
If you live with an elderly relative, vulnerable newborn or simply want to go the extra mile, you can take certain measures to keep your clothes and washing machine free of the worst bacterial contamination.
"Bacteria tends to lurk in the detergent drawer, rubber seals and washing drum," Hilary Metcalf, MPH, an infection preventionist at Mission Hospital in Orange County, California, told Healthline.
Consumers should be especially wary of washing machines kept in humid environments such as garages or sheds, since these are the perfect environments for bacteria to thrive.
And germs such as E. coli, salmonella and Klebsiella oxytoca can cause pneumonia, skin infections, abdominal cramps, vomiting and diarrhea, especially in people with compromised immune systems.
Try wiping down seals in your machine with a 10 percent bleach solution, some experts recommend.
You can also try washing your washer.
"It might seem counterintuitive, but washing your washing machine once a month can significantly reduce you and your family's exposure to germs and infections," Metcalf said.
There's no reason to fret over every wash cycle, however. Instead, choose your wash settings on a case-by-case basis depending on how the wash got dirty.
"Normal home laundering will adequately remove normal levels of soil. However, if contaminated with blood or bodily fluids, the laundering process should be enhanced with disinfecting solutions such as hydrogen peroxide, bleach or Borax, and in water that's at least 160°F," Metcalf said.
Many washers have a "sanitize" setting that will bring it up to these higher temperatures outside of its normal wash cycle.
And there's a more effective germ killer people can try to keep pathogens away from their clothes: drying them outside on the line.
"One of the most striking germ killers is the sun," said CJ Xia, vice president of marketing and sales at antibody manufacturing company Boster Biological Technology. "Some scientists say to avoid using the dryer entirely."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.
Typhoon Molave is expected to make landfall in Vietnam on Wednesday with 90 mph winds and heavy rainfall that could lead to flooding and landslides, according to the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. To prepare for the powerful storm that already tore through the Philippines, Vietnam is making plans to evacuate nearly 1.3 million people along the central coast, as Reuters reported.
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By Sarah Steffen
A stretch of coastline in the Philippine capital, Manila has received backlash from environmentalists. The heavily polluted Manila Bay area, which had been slated for cleanup, has become the site of a controversial 500-meter (1,600-foot) stretch of white sand beach.
Sand Makeup Crucial for Ecosystems<p>While UNEP/GRID-Geneva generally supports finding <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/not-enough-sand-for-construction-industry-despite-abundance/a-49342942" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">alternative sources of sand</a> so as not to disrupt ecosystems in rivers and oceans when extracting them, Vander Velpen stressed it was vital to use sand which closely matches the makeup of the native sand to protect beach fauna.</p><p>"If you change the core characteristics of the native sand, the original sand, you need to do an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to find out how it's going to impact the ecosystem and nearby ecosystems," he told DW.</p><p>But according to Torres, such an assessment was not done in Manila.</p>
Beautification Stunt Instead of Proper Cleanup?<p>Manila Bay's waters are heavily polluted by oil and trash from nearby residential areas and ports. A huge "No swimming" sign warns visitors to stay away from the ocean.</p><p>Philippines' <a href="https://denr.gov.ph/index.php/priority-programs/manila-bay-clean-up/25-priority-programs/1825-frequently-ask-questions-faqs-on-the-dolomite-and-the-beach-nourishment-project" target="_blank">Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)</a> has denied dolomite sand poses any risk to human health and the ecosystem.</p><p>However, scientists of the University of the Philippines have come forward disputing the DENR's claims. A <a href="https://biology.science.upd.edu.ph/index.php/ib-statement-regarding-dolomite-in-manila-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statement by the Institute of Biology</a> said that using crushed dolomite did not address any of the rehabilitation phases and instead was "even more detrimental to the existing biodiversity as well as the communities in the area," pointing to the case of water birds. "The dumping of dolomite in Manila Bay has effectively covered part of the intertidal area used by the birds thereby reducing their habitat."</p><p>At peak migration season, Manila Bay is home to 90 aquatic bird species, including species of international conservation concern that are facing a very high extinction risk in the wild. </p><p>Authorities should focus on protecting and conserving biodiversity, the Institute of Biology added. "Rehabilitating mangroves is an example of a nature-based solution that is cheaper and more cost-effective than the dolomite dumping project," the scientists said.</p><p>Moreover, <a href="http://www.msi.upd.edu.ph/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Marine Science Institute</a> has warned that prolonged inhalation of finer dust particles of dolomite could "cause chronic health effects," leading to discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath and coughing.</p><p>They also warned dolomite sand grains would erode during storms and be carried out to sea, essentially being washed away.</p>
Rehabilitation vs. Reclamation<p>Environmentalists say covering up the beach doesn't address the real issues of the bay. Torres and others believe the best way to clean up Manila Bay is not to add anything, but rather remove trash and pollution.</p><p>"There have been studies saying much of the waste comes from already collected waste — so these are open dump sites along the coast that get washed up because of the rain," Torres said.</p><p>She criticized the authorities for continuing to push reclamation projects she says are at odds with each other. These projects will affect large areas of mangrove forests, she said, and experts warn that this, in turn, exacerbates coastal erosion.</p><p>"If you've removed the areas that helped trap the sand, like mangrove forests, then the likelihood increases that you will have to nourish a beach. Same as building right up to the waterfront," said Vander Velpen of UNEP/GRID-Geneva.</p>
Plenty of Sand in the Sea?<p>The question of Manila's contentious white beach echoes larger questions about sand mining worldwide. <a href="https://unepgrid.ch/storage/app/media/documents/Sand_and_sustainability_UNEP_2019.pdf" target="_blank">Global sand consumption has tripled</a> over the past two decades, UNEP/GRID-Geneva has found. A huge chunk of it is now taken up by construction.</p><p>"Many operate on the assumption that natural sand is endless in its supply," said Vander Velpen.</p><p>Sand scarcity is a concern shared by Stefan Schimmels of <a href="https://www.fzk.uni-hannover.de/fzk_start.html?&L=1" target="_blank">Forschungszentrum Küste</a> who's done extensive research on shore nourishment to stop coastal erosion. And as climate change and rising sea levels are threatening coasts, demand for sand will grow even more.</p><p>A large study, the <a href="http://www.stencil-project.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/STENCIL_SWOT_Analyse_191026.pdf" target="_blank">Strategies and Tools for Environment-Friendly Shore Nourishments as Climate Change Impact Low-Regret Measures (STENCIL project)</a>, focused on the German island of Sylt, a popular vacation spot.</p><p>About 1 million cubic meter of sand per year is used to maintain the coastal area of Sylt, STENCIL project head Schimmels said. That's about 100 million 10-liter buckets of sand.</p><p>When sand was extracted off the coast of Sylt, underwater craters were formed. "You can still detect these craters even decades later," Schimmels told DW.</p><p>"Also when you add a couple of meters sand onto the beach — you essentially bury all things that do creep and fly," he said. "How quickly will they recover?" Schimmels said more research was needed as there was still too little known about long-term effects on the environment. </p>
Criticism Piling Up<p>As for Manila's artificial white sand, it looks like some might have already been blown away by a recent storm. DENR claims it wasn't washed away, but said that grayish sand, stones and other material had simply piled up over the dolomite sand. People in Manila have tweeted photos showing how the storm has ravaged the beach. </p>
<div id="adc0b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="98f9390db6bb81cb421aaf0bb9d9a6fb"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318816633280851969" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Exactly one month after giving excited netizen a glimpse of Manila Bay white sands, look what happened now after ju… https://t.co/X0Z9i0bPB0</div> — M*A*S*H (@M*A*S*H)<a href="https://twitter.com/Magtira_Matibay/statuses/1318816633280851969">1603265362.0</a></blockquote></div><p>Authorities have been called tone-deaf for spending around 389 million pesos ($8 million) on a beach nourishment project in the middle of a raging pandemic.</p><p>An image of cake iced with the words "It really hurts - that's [worth] 389 million pesos?" has since gone viral.</p>
<div class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4387aad52ea316e4db7330052318ca2f"><div class="fb-post" data-href="https://www.facebook.com/theweekendpatisserie/posts/144564207350008"></div></div><p>"It's just a waste of precious resources," Torres said. </p><p>The environmental activist now also worries that she might be labeled a terrorist for speaking out under the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/philippine-anti-terrorism-law-triggers-fear-of-massive-rights-abuses/a-53732140" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Philippines' controversial new anti-terrorism law</a>. She says she could be arrested for inciting fear when talking about environmental dangers.</p>
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