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Healthy Aging

Surprising Places Germs Hide Out

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 09/21/2010
Last Updated: 12/28/2010

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I don’t know why, but lately I am on a cleaning frenzy. Maybe it’s all from writing about (you could have a perfectly clean house and they will invade. But they just conjure up the word “dirty,” don’t they?). Maybe it’s my way of procrastinating – instead of sitting at my computer to work, I find something in dire need of scrubbing. Or maybe it’s because when I’m at the gym and notice someone sweating all over a machine, then blithely walking away, it just seems so…WRONG.

But it is good to be aware, because winter’s coming and that’s when pesky viruses and infections seem to find their way to us. Remember last winter, when everyone panicked over H1N1 and many people refused to shake hands or touch anything without gloves on? (Interesting note: when I looked up “H1N1” on the CDC’s the page was no longer being updated. Instead, it was labeled, “historical archive.”)

Although we may not have H1N1 to worry about this year, there are still the old standby germs that are always hanging around. And the critters have a way of hiding out in places you’d never expect. That’s good to know, since if you’re like me, at least you’ll have a legitimate reason for your own cleaning frenzy.

Telephones, TV remote controls, computer keyboards and copying machines. Bacteria and cold and flu viruses can survive up to several days on inanimate surfaces. So, you may be exposed to germs long after someone appears to be sick. Without thinking, you may then touch your hand to your eyes or nose and voila – you’ve spread those germs.

Paper money. Germs like money as much as the next person. A Swiss study found that some strains of flu virus can survive on paper money for as long as three days. But it gets worse – if the germs are mixed with mucus, they live on for up to 17 days. (Gross, I know, but place it in your “good to know” file.) Might be a good idea to use credit cards to cut down on handling money…

Doctor’s waiting rooms. Yes, this one is pretty obvious. The next time you’re tempted to pick up a magazine in the waiting room, or you fill out information using the pen supplied by the office, maybe you want to consider bringing along your own reading material and stashing your own pen in your handbag instead.

Bathroom sink handles, door knobs and light switches. Studies find that these are likely to harbor traces of cold virus.

Microwaves, countertops, salt and pepper shakers. You most likely know that things like sponges, kitchen faucet handles and cutting boards can harbor germs and should be regularly cleaned and disinfected. But don’t forget these other things that are touched frequently and likely to come into with raw food.

The gym. Face it, it’s great for some things, like getting in shape, but the sad truth is that it’s rife with germs. Sweat, abrasion and direct or indirect with lesions and secretions of others can make your skin vulnerable to diseases like MRSA, athlete’s foot, boils, impetigo, herpes and ringworm. (I wish more people realized that they should either lay a towel down and not sweat all over the equipment and/or use proper gym etiquette and wipe down the machine after they sweat all over it. Rant over).

Restaurant menus. It’s strange that I never see anything written about menus harboring germs. But I’m convinced that if paper money does, then menus, which are touched each day by many people (and I’m sure are never wiped off), must be contaminated too, no?

This Matters> Be conscious of what you touch and how you get rid of germs. For handwashing, use plain soap and wash for 20 seconds vigorously under running water. Don’t forget the backs of your hands, your wrists, between your fingers and under your fingernails. Singing “Happy Birthday” to yourself usually takes care of the amount of time you need to be washing.And if you use a towel to dry off, use it to turn off the faucet, too. If you can’t get to a sink, make sure you keep some hand sanitizer with you.

Wipe surfaces that might be contaminated with either a cleansing wipe that is registered with the Environmental Protection Agency, or squirt some alcohol-based hand sanitizer on a paper towel and wipe the surface. Personally, I use rubbing alcohol on a Q-tip to clean my computer keyboard and the remote controls. Works like a charm.

Interesting Bit > Scientists have found that bacterial colonies differ person to person, and each individual carries her own “personalized” assortment of microorganisms. The most popular places for bacteria to hang out, they found, are in the gut, the forearms, palms, index fingers and backs of knees and soles of feet.


We were just on a cruise and for the first 48 hours their policy is to limit exposure in the buffet. So they don't let anyone serve themselves and they dont have salt and pepper shakers out. Once the 48 hours was over, I almost couldn't eat at the buffet - constantly thinking about how many hands had touched that serving spoon or that salt shaker.

So interesting about having to wait 48 hours to dig into the buffet. I guess cruise ships have been especially hard hit with various gastro illnesses, so they're making every effort to be safe, huh?

All good points, but don't forget that there are links between increase childhood asthma and allergies and overly clean houses. Not that I'm inclined to lick a menu...

Great list, Sheryl. I was just scrubbing my refrigerator this morning and thinking about all the little germies.

Just a side not on hand sanitizers, I just read that they may not be so great because many have a carcinogenic ingredient, triclosan, which has no effect on killings germs. I thought it was just pure alcohol and I'm trying to use it only when in dire gross scenarios. Soap and water is best, but I've noticed most dr's offices have replaced their sinks with hand sanitizers...

Thanks for this info, A.S. I know soap and water is best, but I always thought that was because the hand sanitizers kill off too many germs and then we become resistant to being able to kill off the germs when we really need to. Did not know about triclosan. Good to know!

Wow ... I'm germ conscious, and some of these are new to me. Ick!

Another spot: gas pumps!

I'm not obsessive, but we instituted a policy of keeping wipes in the car years ago. When we come out of the grocery store or other "germy" places we all wipe our hands. It really seems to have reduced the number of sniffles we get.

YES. I always feel so grimy after pumping gas. Keeping wipes in the car is a great solution. Thanks!

You know, I never bought them until I had kids. Now that my kids are out of diapers I'm STILL buying them in bulk. I keep them in the car and everywhere. It works great for quick touch ups. I even wipe the toilet seats in public restrooms before my daughter uses them. She's so small and puts her hands on the seat to steady herself and it FREAKS ME OUT.

Gotta say - I left my fulltime office job last November and didn't get ONE SINGLE COLD for the rest of the winter. I credit my healthy streak to avoiding office restrooms, telephones, keyboards, and of course, the idiotic practice of coming to work when you're fall-down-contagiously-sick. Common sense goes a long way! Wipe things down!

Well, sure, that makes sense that the workplace is so laden with germs. May your no-cold bout continue, Casey!

....escalators! I was at the mall with my son and when I put my hand on the rubber railing to steady myself..my son said,"You're not going to touch that are you?" But I agree, you can get a little crazy with this stuff.

Oh, yes...hadn't thought of that. A perfect spot for breeding all kinds of germs. But without holding on, I'm afraid I'll fall - oh, no, which is worse? Germs. Falling off an escalator. Oh, my.

I always dread heading into Germ Season, so I appreciate this post, Sheryl. I work at home, but the kids still manage to bring a few viruses home from school every year.

My house is such a mess. It must be a germ zone! I haven't been making time to clean because Real Life has been getting in the way. This is a good inventory of germy places! At the same time, I think it's important to realize that some cleaning products are just as toxic as the germs. Maybe you could write a post about that?!

This making me want to run for the household cleaners to start scrubbing! I usually wipe down door knobs and such, but I hadn't thought to taking care of the keyboard--that makes sense. Off to find Q-tips.

Yesterday Annabelle came home from school and told me that a boy who sits at her table "threwed up all over at lunch." I instantly stuck her in a silkwood shower and then took her backpack and folders and sprayed the hell out of them with lysol. LOL We're getting on a plane in 7 days.... I don't need anyone coming down with ANYTHING.

Great list above. It's funny.. I have always had pen issues and usually just use my own instead of any given to me. I always see people coughing into their hands etc.. freaks me out.

Yikes! I'm somewhat squeamish about paper money and the gym but I hadn't thought of all these other places germs could hide out. A scary reminder!

This surgeon's daughter is a bit of a germophobe -- I avoid escalator hand rails and public bathroom door handles, that sort of thing. But I got over it (sort of) after having my son. He would mouth any plastic toy in the sandbox as a toddler, and stick his lips right up to the bus window.

Immunity building, right?

I was lucky to find this fmxhosting.com/drupal635 website. You sure can write and teach and inspire. Keep writing - I'll keep reading.

Literally it was surprising to know about the places where germs hide out. Especially when people travel we get touched with a lot of people, we go places, meet people and touch things too. Thanks for discussing about the ways through which germs can enter our body and the ways to avoid it.

i always carry my own stuff like magazines and pens. in public places and ocassions like you just cannot avoid germs.Great list above. I always see people coughing into their hands etc.. freaks me out. a handkerchief or tissue paper is a must.


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