Operating in secret Biological agents

Natural microscopic organisms include bacteria, viruses, fungi, molds, mildews, and mites. Pollen is a collector of spores from seed-bearing plants. All these can be either tracked in on shoes and clothing from the outdoors, or simply fly in on the wings of chance. And all multiply indoors and can cause irritations and illnesses.

The greatest source of nutrition for indoor microbes is the three or four grams of skin that flake off of the average human body once every day. (Did you know that most of the dust in your home comes from human skin?)

Symptoms of sensitivity include the usual retinue of allergic reactions: runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, sore throat, coughing, and upper respiratory discomfort. Hives and rashes are also common. Flu-like symptoms can result, including fever, chills, malaise, muscle aches, and chest tightness.

No easy-to-use kits are available to measure for microbe contamination. If your family seems to suffer from any of the above ailments more commonly when the house is closed up (and wet or humid), you should do a bit of investigating.

The first place to look? Wherever there's water. Face it, water can be a big problem. Especially when left standing or combined with just enough warmth to create an oozy stew. Microbes love damp places. That's why the biggest front in your war on biological agents is in the marshes — wherever there's water. The following list tells you where to look and what to do to fix the problems you may find:

SEft l Wet carpeting is a virtual breeding ground for all kinds of nasty little critters. If you have carpet in your bathroom, replace it with vinyl or tile, and make sure to seal the joints and edges extremely well. No carpet in the laundry room or kitchen, either. If you have area rugs, wash them in hot water occasionally or take them to the cleaners for thorough cleaning.

l Clothes dryers are hot and wet, perfect for microbe propagation. Make sure your dryer is vented well to the outdoors. If you have a leaky washing machine, especially if it's in your basement and it is perpetually wet underneath, you have a microbe farm.

l Clean all drains once a week with a strong disinfectant. Microbes love the filthy, wet environment down in a drain. If you have a drain in the basement that seldom sees water flushed into it, it's a prime candidate for a science-fiction movie.

l Repair all leaks in the roof or plumbing system. Leaks generally result in rotting wood or sheetrock. Not only does this cause contamination, but it also depreciates the value of your home.

l Repair leaky faucets. Every drop splashes and humidifies far more than you'd guess.

l Wet insulation materials are very fertile. If you have a leak in your roof or siding, you probably have wet insulation, which doesn't work very well and encourages rot, mold and infestations.

l If you have leaks in your grout, you have wet, oozing sheetrock somewhere beneath. You can fix leaks in grout very easily with silicon caulking. The clear stuff matches any decor.

l Never allow water to pool, especially in your basement. Find and fix whatever problem is causing the water to pool.

l Fix leaky toilets. These are just asking for it. Not to mention the fact that you're going to pay a lot more than you need to when you have to fix the rotted subflooring. And fuzzy toilet seat covers are simply nuts, if you value your health. (I could make a number of good jokes here, but I better not.)

l Install a vent (See Chapter 13) or a window in your bathroom. An enclosed bathroom with no ventilation equals microbe nirvana. You need to let your bathroom dry out thoroughly. Failing a vent or window, use a fan and keep the bathroom door open when not in use. Make sure the joints and cracks are sealed well.

Moisture is essential for microbe propagation. Reducing the humidity in your home is always a good idea if your family is sensitive to skin irritations. See Chapter 8 for more details on how to keep the humidity low in your house.

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