Saturday, August 28, 2010

8 Germiest Public Places

get rid of germs

Tip Numero one: Wash your hands regularly
Washing your hands whenever you come in contact with someone else or anything like taps or doorknobs can really cut down on the number of germs you pick up.

Tip Numero two: Keep your hands to yourself
Seriously, do NOT touch people if you don’t have to ESPECIALLY if you know they are sick with the flu or a cold, or if their kids are. Minimizing contact is huge in terms of keeping bacteria and viruses away from your insides.

Germ, Virus and Bacteria Killing Solutions
By simply using Dial Complete Antibacterial Foaming Hand Wash when you wash your hands you can stay a heck of a lot healthier. Of course you cannot always have a sink handy which can seriously hamper your ability to wash your hands so you may want to invest in a small bottle of Purell Instant Hand Sanitizer. You can keep it in the car or even keep it on your person, it’s even cheap too.

If you are like me and really don’t want to touch faucet taps more than you have to, then get yourself one of those neat new touchless soap dispensers for your home. You’ll never have to lay your fingers on a faucet again, just hold your hand under it and the sensor will tell it to squirt and taa daa, soap! The Simplehuman Sensor Soap Pump is the one that not only does it pump out the soap automatically, it times you! Yes, it times you, then you know when the recommended 20 second hand washing time is done.

You don’t have to be a germaphobe to know that germs, viruses and bacterial can be dangerous, even deadly. By using the above mentioned products and following the tips you can stay healthier and so can the rest of your family.

Worried about you or your kids picking up diseases at school, restrooms or the mall? There’s good reason: Viruses and bacteria run rampant on surfaces you touch every day. We blow the lid on the 8 germiest public places.

Touch a germ-infected surface, then rub your nose or mouth, and the next thing you know, microbes are dancing the mambo in your body.

With cold and flus and run-of-the-mill bugs crawling about public places year round, germaphobes have plenty to worry about.

No wonder. Unfortunately, going anywhere people congregate can boost your chances of getting sick, says Philip Tierno, Ph.D., author of The Secret Life of Germs (Atria) and director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University's Langone Medical Center.

That’s because disease-carrying bacteria and viruses live practically everywhere — shopping malls, grocery stores, playgrounds, petting zoos, restaurants. They can survive up to two hours on shopping carts, escalator handrails, even doorknobs before they find their next victim.

“We encounter about 60,000 types of germs every year, but if you’re healthy, there’s no need to fear going out in public,” Tierno says: Only 1%-2% are potentially dangerous to people with normal immunity. Plus, the body has an incredible ability to fight off germs. Special cells called neutrophils and lymphocytes (white blood cells) attack any microscopic invader.

You can also give your defense system a boost by taking steps to prevent infection. Read on for the top 8 germiest public places and ways to stay healthy:

1. Grocery store
Germiest items: Shopping cart handles and seat buckets

Watch out! Shopping cart handles are a breeding ground for infectious viruses and gut-wrenching bacteria.

“Customers may sneeze, wipe their noses, then touch the cart handles,” says Lola Stamm, M.S., Ph.D., a microbiologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

They’re also contaminated by children’s dirty hands. And by leaky meat packages that you toss into your cart. Poultry and beef can contain bacterial bombs such as salmonella, campylobacter and E. coli, which cause severe diarrhea, intestinal swelling, nausea and vomiting, she says.

“If meat packages leak onto the conveyor belt, it could contaminate the food on the conveyor as well as your hands,” Stamm says.

About 70%-80% of the shopping carts tested nationwide had E. coli, says Charles Gerba, Ph.D., a University of Arizona microbiologist who spends a lot of time studying germs in public places.

Cart kid seats are E. coli hot spots “because they hold raw food and [diaper-wearing] kids,” he says. “And nobody disinfects.”

Be careful, too, around those enticing displays of fruits and veggies.

Sprinklers used to keep produce moist may contain Legionnella, Stamm says. The bacterium can cause “a deadly respiratory tract infection, particularly in older people and others with underlying health problems.”

Germ-free fix: Use disinfecting wipes on handlebars and seats - many stores now offer these at the entrance. And be sure to wash veggies and fruits before eating them.

2. Children’s playgrounds
Germiest items: The swings, jungle gym and other equipment

Playgrounds are germ minefields. Kids touch everything they see and often put them in their mouths.

The largest threat is from fecal bacteria from bird poop on playground equipment and diaper-wearing tots, Gerba says.

Another kid-friendly hot zone: petting zoos and exhibits with animals infected with E. coli, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Germ-free fix: Wash hands thoroughly or use hand sanitizer after returning from playground, using the bathroom and changing diapers. (Rub hands together for 20 seconds under clean running water, the CDC advises.)

3. Public restrooms
Germiest item: Sink

Most women worry about public toilets. Well, you can sit a little easier now: The porcelain throne is not the biggest restroom offender.

It’s the sink.

Bacteria swarm on the sink tap or faucet handles, Gerba says, because we touch them right after using the toilet.

Also, “the sink tap is a wet, moist environment,” so bacteria can survive there longer, he says.

Watch out for soap dispensers, too, because they’re handled by many filthy hands, Stamm says.

Airplane bathrooms are especially germy because they’re small and used by lots of people, says Gerba, who found E. coli on faucets and door handles in the dozens of samples from airborne restrooms.

In fact, an airplane’s faucet may be a greater threat than those in other public restrooms because the water is timed, so fliers have to touch them frequently to wash their hands properly, he says.

So what’s the cleanest part of a bathroom?

The toilet: About 48% of American women use covers or toilet paper to cover the seat, Gerba says.

Germ-free fix: Avoid touching moist surfaces and wash hands thoroughly after touching sink faucets and soap dispensers. And use a paper towel to turn the water off.

4. Offices
Germiest items: Telephones and desks

In a study of 113 work surfaces in offices in five of the nation’s big cities, Gerba found more than 25,000 bacteria hitching a ride on telephones. Desks and computer keyboards followed close behind.

In fact, your desk has 400 times more germs than a toilet seat, Gerba says. Why?

People don’t disinfect surfaces in offices, he says.

Another danger zone: Inside desk drawers, where workers stash food.

“Germs find plenty to snack on,” he says, like moldy fruit and opened bags of chips or crackers.

When it comes to germs, women are not the fairer sex. Bacterial levels in women’s offices were nearly three times higher than in men’s.

“Women seemed to have more stuff in their offices, from makeup bags to pictures of family and purses on their desks,” Gerba says.

Germ-free fix: Once a day, wipe down your desk, phone and keyboard with anti-bacterial wipes or cleaners.

5. Restaurants
Germiest items: Table surface, high chairs

No, contaminated food isn’t the biggest threat at restaurants — it’s the rag used to wipe the table “clean."

When busboys wipe down a table or chairs, their dirty rags may be spreading a small film of E. coli, he says.

They should put disinfectant on the rag after each use, but Gerba’s studies show that the same cloth was used on more than a dozen tables before it was disinfected.

High chairs harbor fecal bacteria too, because they hold diaper-wearing tots.

Germ-free fix: Carry sanitary wipes to swipe the tabletop and high chair when you’re seated.

6. Libraries
Germiest items: Countertops and surfaces

Libraries appear to be tidy, sterile places, but they crawl with as many germs as a fast-food restaurant.

Why so filthy? Lots of people shuffle through and peruse books, log on to computers and touch countertops, Gerba says.

Germ-free fix: Use hand sanitizer or wash your hands after thumbing through books or touching countertops.

7. Cruise ships
Germiest item: Handrails

Cruise ships are like floating cities, packed with thousands of people in a small space. That also makes them infection incubators.

From 2001-2005, gastrointestinal illness on ships increased 25.6%, according to a CDC study: The culprit? Norovirus.

Some of the largest outbreaks occurred in 2002-2006, when new strains of norovirus emerged,” says Capt. Jaret Ames, chief of the CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program.

Noroviruses, which cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain, are resistant to routine cleaning procedures and they’re easily transmitted in places people congregate, such as dining rooms, drinking fountains and shared restrooms.

Trouble is, they’re hard to avoid on a cruise ship.

“As soon as you step out of the cabin you’re in public area,” Ames points out.

Handrails pose the biggest infection risk because they’re among the first surfaces passengers touch when they board ship, Ames says. The viruses are most often brought on board by embarking passengers and crew.

A recent study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases found that the cleanliness of a cruise ship's public restrooms may predict subsequent norovirus outbreaks. Researchers found that only 37% of 273 randomly selected public restrooms on cruise ships were cleaned daily. One researcher noted that there was a substantial risk for washed hands to become contaminated when the passenger exits the restroom, as only 35% of restroom exit knobs or pulls were cleaned daily.

Germ-free fix: Wash hands frequently throughout the day and before touching your mouth or face, especially when smoking and eating.

8. Malls
Germiest item: Escalator handles

How often do you hang onto the escalator handrails while catching a ride at a shopping mall or airport?

Hands off: They’re teeming with germs, according to a study published in a 2005 issue of the International Journal of Environmental Health Research. Scientists took samples from dozens of escalator handrails across the country and found 19% showed high bacterial contamination.

“The sheer volume of people who touch escalator handles makes it a bacteria hot spot,” Gerba says.

Germ-free fix: Don’t touch them. But if you do, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer afterward.