How long do germs live?

I spent all day doing laundry. All right, maybe it wasn’t all day but it sure felt like it. Cleaning up after a vomiting child can be tough in the winter time. Unfortunately, it’s too cold to rinse off any sour curds outside. As I scraped off the sheets into the kitchen sink, I wondered how long the germs could live. I turned to my Disease Prevention Manager, Clare Edelmayer  at Doylestown Hospital, PA to find the answer.

She says depending on the germ and the surface it lands on, a germ can live for hours to days and sometimes months.

Most bacteria and viruses die within hours if they are outside the body. Surprisingly, survival does not depend on how deadly the germ is. For example, HIV virus in blood will die as soon as the blood dries outside the body.  However, some strains of flu viruses can survive 24-48 hours on non-porous surfaces such as your kitchen counter or on the handle of a plastic spoon and 2-8  hours on porous surfaces such as your toddler’s sleeve or on paper tissues. 

Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcal Aureus (MRSA), a bacteria which can cause skin infections filled with pus, stays alive for several hours to several days on surfaces.  Hepatitis B virus, a cause of liver disease, can stay viable on surfaces for 2 weeks or more, and the bloody-diarrhea producing Clostridium Difficile can live on surfaces up to 5 months. 

In other words, most germs die within hours, but don’t count on germs dying before they have a chance to enter your unsuspecting child’s mouth or nose. A dilute bleach solution works well to clean surfaces outside the body and of course, have your children frequently wash their hands.

The next time one of my kids throws up this winter, I’m tempted just to bury the sheets under the snow out back and fetch them in the spring.

Naline Lai, MD with Julie Kardos, MD
©2011 Two Peds in a Pod®

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1 Comment

  • Reply Bed Rails February 9, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    I feel like there is conflicting opinion on kids and germs. Exposing your kids to germs/strengthen immune system Vs. keep germs at bay at all costs.

    I’m in the camp that tries to keep germs at bay, but having school aged kids, I understand they are going to be exposed to germs at a higher rate then most.

    I can’t believe some germs can live for months! I think we have one of those in my house this year the way my kids have been feeling all winter.


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