What you can’t see can kill you. According to a 2011-2012 study of acute care hospitals, there were over 10,000 distinctive microorganisms found. Of these, the most common types were gram-positive cocci and enterobacteriaceae, both of which are types of bacteria. The gram-positive bacteria included the cause of staph infections and endocarditis (severe inflammation of the heart). The enterobacteriaceae included common illnesses such as salmonella and e. coli.
While these would be expected in hospitals, you may not know that many of these same bacteria could be growing and thriving in your trash bin. You may even be endangering your safety when you take out the trash. Here are a few common types.
Escherichia coli (E. coli) is actually a name for a diverse group of bacteria, not just one. Some are actually found in the intestinal tract and promote healthy digestive processes. However, there are a few strands that can make you severely ill. According to the CDC, “Some kinds of E. coli can cause diarrhea, while others cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia, and other illnesses.” These harmful types of E. coli can appear in contaminated raw fruits, vegetables, meat, and other animal products. Once you throw any of these items away, it’s very likely E. coli will start to grow.
While most people will not be infected with listeria, for anyone with a compromised immune system, it can be dangerous. Listeria is commonly found in deli meats and unpasteurized dairy products. Once you throw these infected items in the trash, the bacteria will continue to thrive in your bin. If someone gets infected with listeria, it will either stay in the gut or spread to the rest of the body, causing a condition known as invasive listeriosis. Normal listeria just causes typical food poisoning symptoms such as fever and diarrhea. Listeriosis, on the other hand, is very serious. FoodSafety.gov states that listeriosis can cause “stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions in addition to fever and muscle aches.” In pregnant women, it is even worse and can result in fetal infection or even fetal death.
Salmonella is well-known for existing in raw eggs, but it can be found in raw meat and unpasteurized dairy products as well. Though rare, it can also be found in pet food, nuts, and unwashed fruits and vegetables. Once infected with salmonella, it takes about 4-7 days to heal and usually causes food poisoning symptoms. These can include diarrhea, fever, cramps, vomiting, and nausea. In more serious cases it may get into the bloodstream, which is known as typhoid fever. Typhoid fever is a life-threatening condition that exacerbates the symptoms of salmonella and may add new ones, such as rashes.
Clostridium perfringens (C. perfringens) is a type of bacteria that causes food poisoning. It’s commonly found in raw meats. While heat kills it, leaving meats at room temperature for long periods of time can cause the bacteria to spread. Despite the long and complicated name, C. perfringens is surprisingly common. The CDC estimates that there are around 1 million infected in the US each year. While most cases are unserious and resolve in 24 hours or less, severe cases may persist for weeks. Symptoms of the illness typically include diarrhea and stomach cramps.
Hepatitis A is a mild to serious infection of the liver. Today it is commonly preventable by vaccines, as those who get the vaccine develop lifelong immunity. Typically, hepatitis A originates from contaminated water, where it can go on to infect shellfish. It’s also found in raw poultry products. While most people who get it do eventually recover, it has quite a long recovery time, ranging from weeks to even months. In the elderly and immunocompromised, it may cause liver failure or even death.
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