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CNN SUNDAY MORNING

Interview With Philip Tierno

Aired November 16, 2003 - 08:12   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, they're everywhere, on nearly everything you touch. And some of them can make you sick. We're declaring a war on germs this morning. Here to help us is Philip Tierno. He is the Director of Clinical Microbiological and Diagnostic Immunology at the New York Medical Center.
Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Tierno. We appreciate your time.

PHILIP M. TIERNO JR., MICROBIOLOGIST: You're welcome.

COLLINS: So do you think people have any idea how many germs are out there?

TIERNO: I think they have vague concepts of germs, but they don't realize that probably 80 percent of all infectious disease is caused by germs. And germs -- I'm sorry, germs that have been contracted by touch.

COLLINS: It's a good point you bring up, especially now with this latest Hepatitis A outbreak that I'm sure you're aware of. Three deaths and more than 500 people sick. What can people do? What are some of the very basic things that people can do to avoid these types of germs?

TIERNO: Well, because of the figure I just quoted, the most important thing they can do is wash their hands prior to eating or drinking anything. If you look in your home, probably the hottest spot with regard to germs is the kitchen sponge. The kitchen sponge is involved in cleaning up meat carcasses and all sorts of other animal debris, as well as vegetable matter, which can contain potentially pathogenic germs like salmonella, shigella, campylobacter, e. coli, and the like.

And people think if they clean up that mess and simply rinse it off with some detergent soap they can kill those germs. Well, in fact, that's not the case. You need to actually disinfect the sponge.

COLLINS: And how do you do that? I mean, am I supposed to just be throwing my sponges out every day? Or is there something I can rinse them in? What do I do?

TIERNO: No. You can actually rinse them in a little Clorox and water. About an ounce of Clorox and a quart of water. That will disinfect. You can use antibacterial soaps to rinse off the sponge. That would work. And also drying the sponge is very effective. Desiccation or dryness kills germs.

COLLINS: OK. And then I should be replacing them, though. How often?

TIERNO: I would replace them every two weeks or so because they become entrapped with meat debris and all sorts of other debris that you really can't rinse out.

COLLINS: Yes. Let's go ahead and move on, if we could, to the bathroom. Also not a place that people are keeping as clean as they should?

TIERNO: Well, it's more of the lack of knowledge that when they flush a bowl, the aerosolization that occurs can move fluid up to 20 feet from the point source.

COLLINS: Ah.

TIERNO: Which means if there's feces in the bowl or urine -- and you talked about Hepatitis A, that is transmittable by feces or urine -- you can have that splatter all over on the countertops, on combs, toothbrushes and the like. The simple remedy is just to close the lid on the toilet.

COLLINS: Before you flush, gotcha.

TIERNO: Before flushing.

COLLINS: All right. What about the toothbrush? You know, we were talking about some of these things and we all brush our teeth, go to the bathroom. These things are just part of human life.

But the toothbrush is something else that a lot of the producers and I hadn't really thought about. We should be rinsing that out?

TIERNO: Well, actually, the toothbrush can become entrapped with all sorts of particles, including cellular debris from the mouth. And that can grow over time. So a very simple solution to that problem is to dip it in a little bit of peroxide or mouthwash. And let it air dry.

Again, dryness kills germs. And that's a very good thing you can do.

COLLINS: And you should try to do that each time you use it?

TIERNO: I would do it after each use, correct.

COLLINS: Wow. All right. Let's move back to the kitchen, if we could.

What about our garbage bags? There's actually a product out there that you can use that could help cut down on germs? TIERNO: Yes. There are all sorts of plastic liners that have built in them antibacterial materials. But nevertheless, if you have a spill that occurs in the trash bin as you collect meat debris and other particles from the kitchen, sometime you have an expression of the fluid at the bottom. And that should be sanitized or disinfected with Lysol or Clorox, or one of those kitchen brands. And then you should change your liner after the intrusion.

COLLINS: All right. Very good. We certainly appreciate all of your help this morning. And it will be about time for me to go home and clean my house, I think, even more than I thought.

All right. Philip Tierno, thank you so much for your time this morning.

TIERNO: You're welcome.

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