By Jennifer McGohan
(Wampsville, NY – Jan. 2012) Germs, like viruses and bacteria, are almost everywhere. Germs may live on surfaces for a few hours or a few days, allowing plenty of time to seek out a next victim. Touch a germ-infected surface, then touch your eyes, nose or mouth, and you may get sick.
Every year, we come into contact with more than 60,000 different types of germs. Think of all the places you go in a day and how many surfaces you touch along the way. If you are normally healthy, there is no need to fear: only 1 to 2 percent of germs are potentially dangerous to healthy people with normal immunity.
And by taking steps like practicing good hygiene, you can often prevent illness!
Here is a list of a few of the germiest places to watch out for and simple steps you can take to prevent germs from getting you.
1. Shopping cart handles and seat buckets. Next time you are grocery shopping, take notice of how many people sneeze, wipe their nose with their hand, and then touch the cart handle.
Soiled baby diapers in cart seats aren’t the only way for you to make contact with nasty germs; think about food items like drippy meat packages that go into your cart or seat bucket. Raw meats can contain bacteria like salmonella and E. coli. These germs can give you diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting. A nationwide study found 70 to 80 percent of shopping carts had E. coli. So what should you do?
Germ Prevention Tip 1: Take advantage of disinfecting wipes and wipe down cart handles and seats – many stores now provide these wipes at their entrance. Also, wash fruits and vegetables before eating them.
2. Public Restrooms. I may know what place in the restroom you may be thinking of, and if it is the toilet seat, you are wrong! Believe it or not, the cleanest place in the bathroom is often not the toilet!
The germiest place in a restroom is the faucet handles. We touch sink handles right after going to the bathroom and those handles see a lot of traffic! So what’s the fix?
Germ Prevention Tip 2: After using the toilet, wash your hands with soap and water and use a paper towel to shut off the water to avoid re-contaminating your hands. It also won’t hurt to use a paper towel to open the bathroom door on your way out, either.
3. The Office. Telephones, desks and computer keyboards, oh my! Did you know that your desk has 400 times more germs than a toilet seat? Also, women beware, studies found bacteria levels in women’s offices were almost three times higher than in men’s. Why? Women tend to have more “stuff” from purses, food and makeup on their desks that germs like.
Germ Prevention Tip 3: Don’t get sick from the germs in your workstation – wipe down your desk, phone and keyboard with disinfecting wipes or a cleaner daily!
4. Restaurants. Wait! Don’t jump to any conclusions yet! What you may want to really worry about is not the food, but the cloth used to wipe your table. Ever notice a funky smell after your table was just wiped “clean” before you sat down? That cloth may not have been disinfected after each use and may be spreading bacteria like E. coli onto your table – that you will then touch before eating. Solution – we’ve got one!
Germ Prevention Tip 4: Be worry-free when going out to eat – pull out your disinfecting wipes again (don’t leave home without them) and wipe down that tabletop yourself just to be safe!
5. Stair and escalator handrails. If you like to take the stairs at the mall for some exercise – way to go … just remember to wash your hands because handrails are very likely to be germ hot spots by the nature of how many people touch them.
Germ Prevention Tip 5: Wait to rub your eye until after you’ve cleaned your hands. Using handrails is important to make sure you reach your destination safely, just make it a habit to wash up or get out that alcohol-based hand sanitizer afterwards (for both you and your child) to keep those germs and infections like pink eye away.
While germs are and always will be around us, and while most of them do not normally harm us, you can greatly lower the number of germs to which we are exposed at our desks and while grocery shopping by cleaning those surfaces. Everywhere else, we can lower our risk of getting sick by consistently using good hand hygiene.
Hand washing is the first line of defense to stop germs, rather than giving them a way into our bodies.
Good hand hygiene means making it a habit of cleaning your hands often with soap and water, especially before and after eating, after touching handrails, after coughing or sneezing or using the bathroom.
When in a pinch or on the go, use an alcohol-based (61 percent or higher) hand sanitizer – a drop the size of a dime will do.
By doing these things regularly, you will enjoy a happy and healthy season!
Jennifer McGohan is a public health educator with Madison County Department of Health.