With the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, we constantly hear reminders for us to don on masks, avoid crowded spaces, and wash our hands frequently. Our hands come into contact with hundreds of surfaces every day – computers, phones, door handles…the list goes on. This also means that we can end up getting microorganisms on our hands when we touch these surfaces. While most microorganisms are harmless, a small group of microorganisms called pathogens can cause disease if they enter our bodies. Here are some common pathogens that can be found on our fingertips (literally!)
Name: Staphylococcus aureus
Commonly found on: Skin, mobile phones, shopping cart trolleys
Description: Staphylococcus aureus is commonly present on our skin, as well as the lower reproductive tract of women. It is usually harmless, but can act as an opportunistic pathogen. S. aureus is a common cause of skin infections, respiratory infections, and food poisoning.
Name: Enterococcus sp.
Commonly found on: Toilet seats, handrails, seats in public areas (e.g. playgrounds, public transport)
Description: Enterococci can naturally be found in the intestines of humans and animals. In particular, E. faecalis infections are a common cause of food-borne diseases and urinary tract infections. Due to their naturally high level of antibiotic resistance, many antibiotics are ineffective against infections caused by enterococci.
Name: Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2)
Commonly found on: Respiratory droplets (e.g. coughing and sneezing), contaminated surfaces in public areas, clothing
Description: The name of this virus should ring a bell, for it is responsible for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This virus is a strain of the SARS-CoV, which was the culprit behind the SARS outbreak in 2002 to 2004. Due to the highly infectious nature of SARS-CoV2, the pandemic has greatly changed the way we live and work.
With each of the 3 pathogens that we have just learnt about, there are hundreds to thousands more that can be easily found on our hands. While these pathogens cannot be eradicated, we can minimize the risk of contracting disease simply through proper hand washing. For the record, simply wetting your fingers for a mere second and swiftly brushing them on your pants is not considered as proper handwashing.
Remember to stay healthy, stay safe – and wash your hands.
This article is written in the support of the Health Promotion Board’s hygiene messages.
Written by Ang Shi Min
Illustrations by Jasreel Tan