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Germs and Where They Lurk Most

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Monday, October 27, 2008 10:29 AM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: Protecting Your Family, Bacteria, Antibacterials, Hand Washing, Disinfectants, Viruses, E. Coli

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IMAGE SOURCE: © Stop the Spread of Germs / U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Germs are everywhere, whether you can see them or not – whether you like it or not.

“There are very few surfaces that are truly germ free,” says Dr. Aaron Glatt, president and CEO of New Island Hospital in Bethpage, New York, and a spokesman for the Infectious Disease Society of America. “Almost never, will you be able to culture something and not find germs on it.”

Ninety percent of you is composed of germ cells, says Dr. Phillip Tierno, director of clinical microbiology and immunology at NYU and author of the “The Secret Life of Germs.”

The best way to protect yourself from germs to avoid virus and illness is by using disinfectants, hand-washing with soap and water, and keeping hands away from the mouth and face.

Below are some germy surfaces your cleaning supplies will be happy to get acquainted with. You may never have realized some of the worst germ offenders, while others may seem obvious:

The Phone

The phone, both cell phones and landlines, provide the most convenient meeting place for two different sources of germs – your hands and mouth. After all, people are the source of most germs.

Germs are not just from your hands, but sources such as your saliva also – which is why the mouthpiece is often even dirtier than the handle.

Laundry Machines

Laundry done at both the Laundromat and home is rife with germs.

Only 5 percent of people use very hot water to wash their clothes and dry them for a full 45 minutes, a process that would likely kill more bacteria. Bypassing these steps means transferring wet clothing into the dryer, which leaves a film of germs all over your hands.

Purses and Wallets

While they serve similar functions for women and men, they are germy for different reasons.

“It greatly benefits you to avoid putting your purse on the ground, both inside and outside, whenever possible,” says Tierno.

However, many women fail to follow that advice and therefore their purses pick up bacteria from wherever they are placed – from the bathroom floor to soiled ground.

Wallets on the other hand, pick up lots of bacteria by way of what goes in them, says Charles P. Gerba, nicknamed “Dr. Germ,” a professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona.

Money makes its way around, from one germ-filled hand to the other and in the process picks up many germs, viruses and often times even trace amounts of illegal drugs. That’s not an urban legend; many studies have confirmed that a majority of the U.S. currency contains trace amounts of cocaine. And, at some point, it will end up in your wallet.

And most men keep their wallets in their pockets, close to their body temperature which is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria.

Buttons, Buttons, Buttons

All buttons are usually crawling with germs – from ATMs to elevators, telephones, drink machines, water fountains and more and they are usually not cleaned or disinfected often to kill viruses and bacteria.

Gerba notes, first-floor buttons on elevators are the dirtiest.

Cutting Boards

Despite what you have heard, the smarter choice may be to prepare your food on another surface. According to Gerba, there are 200 times more fecal bacteria on the cutting board than on a toilet seat. He explains, many people simply rinse their cutting board rather than thoroughly washing it which allows bacteria and viruses to remain and fester.

The Car

Spending time behind the wheel, people are unknowingly acting as a chauffeur to a host of invisible passengers - from the gear shift to the trunk to the dashboard.

In a recent study, British microbiologists randomly tested both the interiors and trunks of 25 cars and found that the typical automobile had, on average, 285 types of bacteria. Ten or so were identified as major types of bacteria.

Researchers found the stick shift, harbored the most germs overall, although they had guessed it would be the steering wheel.

An American study by Gerba and a colleague, in 2006, found the dashboard to be one of the most germ-laden locations in 100 tested vehicles.

Lastly, the trunk carpet houses some of the nastiest of bacteria, where scientist found 300 to 400 types of bacteria. Interestingly, researchers note the diversity of activities people use their car trunk for – one day to dump trash, while the next to carry groceries and usually not disinfecting in between, making the car even more susceptible to a variety of bacteria.

Car Seats

Driving with more passengers, particularly smaller passengers, increases the amount of sneezing, coughing and spilling food, leaving germs behind that can be transferred to hands, nose, mouth and eyes.

As Gerba puts it, “If you’re a soccer mom, essentially you’re driving a germ-mobile around town.”

Airplane Bathroom

Notably, as you may have guessed, the worst is the airplane bathroom. They are the germiest restroom you will ever find.

While airplane bathrooms do get cleaned, the sheer volume of people they cater too in a short span of time leaves them dirty, very quickly.

Remote Control

You may want to keep your hand out of the popcorn bowl if you have been or plan to handle the DVR remote. Experts recommend wiping down the remote at least once a week, but people hardly ever remember to do so. #


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