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Experts offer advice on combating fall allergies and flu
A couple of local experts offers allergy sufferers some handy tips to ease their discomfort.


In a 2011 germ study conducted by the National Sanitation Foundation International, 22 families swabbed 30 everyday household items ranging from kitchen surfaces to cell phones to pet items to measure contamination levels of yeast, mold and coliform bacteria (a family of bacteria that includes Salmonella and E. coli).

The findings identified the top 10 hot spots along with tips to help keep these areas germ free.

1. Kitchen sponge/dish rag

The item most frequently used to clean dishes and countertops was actually the germiest place found in most homes. Sponges and dish rags can pick up bacteria during the cleaning process, and, if not properly sanitized between uses, can be a prime spot for germ growth.

To Clean: Place wet sponges in the microwave for two minutes once per day and replace often — every two weeks or more. Better options for kitchen cleaning are dishcloths, towels and rags. These items can be sanitized by washing on the clothes washer’s sanitizing cycle or with bleach. Replace washable linens every one to two days.

2. Kitchen sink

The second-highest concentration of microorganisms was found in the kitchen sink.

To Clean: Wash and disinfect the sides and bottom of the sink once or twice a week with a disinfecting cleaner. Sanitize kitchen drains and disposals monthly by pouring a solution of one teaspoon household bleach in one quart of water down the drain. Wash kitchen sink strainers in the dishwasher weekly.

3. Toothbrush holder

The third germiest place in homes wasn’t in the kitchen, but the bathroom. And while many people would suspect faucet handles or light switches to be a germy place, the toothbrush holders in our test homes revealed more germs.

To Clean: If dishwasher safe, place the toothbrush holder in a sanitizing dishwasher and wash once or twice a week. If not, hand wash with hot soapy water, rinse and then wipe with disinfecting wipe once or twice a week.

4. Pet bowl

If you have a pet in your home, you probably need to know pet dishes were found to be the fourth germiest place in the homes analyzed.

To Clean: Pet dishes should be washed daily, either in a sanitizing dishwasher or scrubbed by hand with hot soapy water, then rinsed. If handwashing, place dishes in a bleach rinse (one cap of bleach in one gallon of water) and soak for 10 minutes once per week. Rinse thoroughly and air dry.

5. Coffee reservoir

Rounding out the top five germiest places in the home was the coffee reservoir. Given the dark, damp location, it’s not surprising it is a prime location for bacteria, mold and mildew.

To Clean: Follow the manufacturer’s recommended cleaning instructions. A common recommendation is to clean by adding up to four cups of vinegar to the reservoir, letting it stand for 30 minutes and then running the vinegar through the unit. This is followed by running two to three cycles of fresh water through the unit until the vinegar odor is gone. Most manufacturers recommend cleaning every 40-80 brew cycles or at least monthly.

6. Faucet handles

Faucet handles in the kitchen and bath contained coliform bacteria as well as yeast and/or mold.

To Clean: Clean daily with disinfecting cleaner or disinfecting wipes.

7. Pet toys

Pet toys were a source of coliform bacteria (including Staph bacteria), yeast and mold in many homes. Encourage everyone in your household to wash their hands after playing with household pets and especially before eating.

To Clean: Hard toys can be cleaned gently with hot soapy water, rinsed with fresh water, disinfected with a mild bleach solution and thoroughly rinsed to remove any residue. Soft toys can be washed with other laundry on the washer’s sanitizing cycle. Wash monthly or more often as needed.

8. Countertops

Countertops had coliform bacteria present in 30 percent of the homes tested. Sources of coliform can be traced to many food items, including unwashed produce as well as raw meat and poultry. Coliform can also be introduced into a kitchen through improperly washed hands as well as contact with household pets, including pet dishes and toys.

To Clean: Countertop surfaces should be washed daily. Once all food prep activities are completed, wash the countertop with hot soapy water, rinse with clean water and apply a bleach/water solution or a sanitizing agent recommended for your countertop.

9. Stove knobs

While not a place that many of us think about, stove knobs are in the top 10 for common places for germs to hide in our homes.

To Clean: Remove knobs, wash in hot soapy water, rinse well, let dry and re-install once per week.

10. Cutting boards

Because cutting boards may come into contact with many different foods, it’s important to thoroughly wash them after each use and between food types.

To Clean: Place in the dishwasher after each use or hand wash with hot soapy water, rinse and apply a disinfecting agent such as a bleach/water solution.

Source: NSF International


For some, fall means scarves, boots, football and pumpkin spice and everything nice. It’s a reason to celebrate.

For others, it means the worst part of their year: allergies.

But sufferers of seasonal allergies may have new hope on the autumn horizon. At least one local allergy expert said allergy sufferers can take several steps to lessen their discomfort without visiting the doctor or pharmacy.

“Keeping the car windows and house windows rolled up decreases exposure (to seasonal allergens),” said Dr. Amy Boyd of the Allergy and Asthma Clinic of Northeast Georgia on Jesse Jewell Parkway. “You can also take over-the-counter antihistamines such as Zyrtec, Claritin and Allegra.”

The cause of the seasonal allergies such as itchy eyes and runny noses is usually one culprit.

“The largest contributor to fall pollen season in our area is ragweed,” Boyd said.

Ragweeds are flowering plants common in the southern region of the North American continent. One ragweed plant may produce up to 1 billion grains of pollen in a single season, which is distributed by the wind. Ragweed pollen is one of the most common causes of allergic rhinitis, or hay fever.

Ragweed season commonly runs from August through November.

A study conducted by the National Institutes of Health and the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the cost of absenteeism and reduced productivity due to allergic rhinitis ranges from $2.4 billion to $4.6 billion per year.

If you suffer from ragweed allergies, a new treatment may arrive at a doctor’s office or pharmacy soon.

“There’s also a new sublingual tablet designed to treat ragweed allergy,” Boyd said. “This is the first year we’ve had ragweed sublingual tablets available in the United States.”

The tablet, Ragwitek, was approved by the FDA in April for use by adults ages 18-65 who have a confirmed ragweed allergy. Individuals can be tested for the allergy at any allergy clinic.

In addition to the onset of ragweed allergies, other health ailments are emerging as the weather turns colder.

“As everyone gets back in school, we are starting to see more infections,” Boyd said. “Unfortunately the flu seems to be starting early this year, as we’ve already seen several confirmed cases in the Gainesville-Hall area.”

In addition to flu shots — which Boyd recommends everyone of the proper age receive — several other measures can be taken to stave off infection.

“I know it’s so basic and people think it is silly, but (handwashing) is the most important thing you can do,” said Rachel Weaver, a nurse practitioner with the Northeast Georgia Physician Group.

Cleaning areas that are heavily trafficked, including door knobs and shopping carts, is another easy step that may go miles to ensure a healthy body through the autumn months.

“We use Lysol spray,” Weaver said. “Keep that around your desk and spray down your computers and phones when you’re leaving.”