Germs lurk everywhere, even in places where you least expect to find them. Your kitchen counter, for instance, likely has more germs on it than your trash can. The truth is humans tend to avoid things that they perceive as dirty and frequent places that they feel are clean and safe. Unfortunately, you can’t rely on your perception alone. You might feel safest in areas where germs double in size every 20 minutes or so. If that’s the case, how can you keep from getting sick thanks to the infestation around you? Fortunately, you can stack the odds in your favor by identifying the most common germ-ridden areas and taking proactive steps to limit your exposure. Here are six places crawling with germs.
Public Water Areas
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, swimming pools and water playgrounds play a major role in spreading infection. Most outbreaks associated with swimming pools are gastrointestinal in nature, resulting in symptoms of diarrhea. However, skin, ear, respiratory, eye and neurological infections are also spread at public pools. In addition to being found in the water, germs are often found on walkways, chairs, water fountains, showers and restrooms used by pool visitors.
While you can’t keep everyone who is sick out of the water at a public pool, you can take steps to protect yourself against infection. Do not go into the water if you have an open wound. Wash your hands frequently while you’re there, especially after using the restroom. When you’re walking and lounging around the pool, always wear shoes and sit on your own towel, not directly on pool chairs. And when you’re done swimming for the day, take a shower right away to wash off any contaminants that you picked up in the pool.
Daycare and Play Areas
You can be sure there are germs anywhere children congregate. Not only do children get sick more often than adults, they are perfect transmitters of germs. Most viruses and bacteria spread via person-to-person contact. Many others spread through bodily fluids. Your toddler might be unique and precious, but he probably shares at least two common features with all kids: He touches everything, and he puts just about everything in his mouth. And since he’s not the only kiddo doing it, chances are high that his daycare – or anywhere else crawling with kids – is also crawling with germs.
To keep your children safe at daycare and on the playground, carry alcohol wipes and hand-sanitizing gel in your bag. Wipe down all play equipment and toys before your children play with them. Also, cleanse your children’s hands frequently while they’re playing. Using running water and regular soap will do the trick, but if you’re out and about, you may not have access to these. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers will keep disease-laden germs at bay.
Doctor’s Offices and Hospitals
Where do sick people go? They go to the hospital, and they take their germs with them. Your doctor and her staff may spend hours of their day meticulously cleaning after each patient, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pick up something from a previous patient.
Since most germs are spread through direct contact, do not shake hands or get close to people while at the doctor’s office. You should also bring your own tissues, magazines and toys for your children while you’re waiting in the lobby. Try to sit as far as possible away from obviously sick patients, and sanitize your hands frequently. If it’s cold and flu season, don’t be afraid to don a mask, which can usually be obtained from the front desk of your doctor’s office. Some illnesses spread quickly and easily through the air, so wearing a breathable facemask is a good line of defense.
Public Restrooms (Plus Porta-toilets)
Studies have uncovered some gross findings when it comes to public restrooms. Approximately 25 percent of restroom soap dispensers have fecal bacteria on them. Other bacteria and germs frequently found in public restrooms include E. coli, streptococcus and staphylococcus. Germs are most often found on things that people touch, such as door knobs, paper towel holders and faucets. You can imagine that portable toilets, like the ones set up during races or concerts, hold even more unpleasant surprises.
Your best defense against bathroom germs is to wash your hands with plenty of hot water for at least 20 seconds. Follow up with an alcohol-based sanitizing gel, but use it once you leave the restroom. While in the restroom, avoid touching anything you don’t have to. For added protection, use a paper towel to grab door handles or push down faucet levers.
Public Schools and Buses
Children who attend public school can contract as many as 12 colds a year. When you add in the number of other infections and illnesses they contract from being in contact with other children, it’s apparent that schools and school buses are among the germiest places known to man.
To keep your kids safe at school, educate them about germs and how they spread. Show your kids how to keep from touching everything in sight, and remind them to keep from rubbing their eyes, especially before they’ve washed their hands. Toys, pencils and erasers aren’t food – make sure your kids know not to chew on them. Emphasize the importance of handwashing, and encourage your kiddos to wash their hands as often as their teacher will allow. If allowed, pack some alcohol-based hand sanitizer in your children’s backpacks to use when handwashing isn’t practical.
Your Home and Work Space
Believe it or not, the most germ-laden place in your home is your kitchen sink. Tests have shown that there are generally more than 500,000 bacteria per square inch in your kitchen drain alone. Obvious things like your toilet, bathtub, phone and cleaning sponges are also infested. Even when you’re cleaning, you’re at risk for coming into contact with E.coli. Changing over your wet clothes to the dryer, for example, can expose you to bacteria since bacteria actually gets killed during the dry cycle.
Fortunately, you have more control over your home than you do public places. Disinfect and clean surfaces with appropriate products regularly. Antibacterial soaps and cleaners aren’t generally recommended anymore since regular soap and water will clean most surfaces. Plus, antibacterial products won’t work against viruses, like the ones that cause flu or the stomach bug. If you want to boost your sanitizing power, look for safe bleach-based alternatives that will cut down on germs.
When you’re preparing food in the kitchen, wipe down your counters multiple times. Use bleach and hot water, or a safe alternative, to reach places that are hard or impossible to wipe down, such as sink drains. Remember, no matter how much you clean, there will still be some germs in your home. The best thing you can do to protect yourself is to wash your hands frequently.
Germs are everywhere. They’re unavoidable. You will never be able to completely eliminate your contact with germs, and in fact, you need some amount of exposure to build up certain immunities over time. You can, however, decrease your chances of getting sick through proper and thorough hygiene practices, such as washing your hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds. Taking precautions can keep you from getting sick whether you’re catching up with friends at a playdate or relaxing at home with your family.