Most of the germs we encounter don’t come from inanimate objects. Door handles, phones, money, and ATM machines are not a major source of illness. Avoiding infection is fairly easy. Basic hygiene (read: washing your hands before eating and after going to the bathroom) gets rid of most bacteria. Germs may exist in surprising and some not-so-surprising places:
Claim: Every time you flush the toilet, your toothbrush gets sprayed with bacteria.
Gross but true. Microorganisms are ejected when you flush the toilet and land all over the bathroom, even if you close the lid. But you probably won’t get sick from this. When the toothbrush dries, most of the organisms will die anyway. Just keep your toothbrush as far away from the toilet as possible, or put it in the medicine cabinet, he says. If someone in the house is ill and using the same bathroom as you are, her germs could be spread this way.
Claim: Money is by far the germiest stuff around.
False. In general, because dollar bills are dry, they don’t give bacteria a chance to multiply to levels that would make you sick. Plus, the metal in coins actually acts as an antibacterial agent. You certainly don’t have to run to the bathroom and wash up after each transaction — unless you sit down to eat afterward, he says. And you should always wash your hands before eating anyway!
Claim: You can get plantar warts and athlete’s foot from walking barefoot on dirty floors.
True. Both plantar warts, caused by a virus that produces flat gray or brown bumps on the soles of the feet, and athlete’s foot, a fungus that causes flaking and itching between the toes and on the soles of the feet, are often contracted from walking barefoot in the locker room. That’s because the floor is warm and damp from the shower and sweat — a perfect breeding ground for viruses and fungi. Always walk around the locker room in flip-flops, and never go barefoot in any public place.
Claim: Your makeup is a breeding ground for bacteria.
True. Any bacteria on your hands or face contaminates the makeup when they come in contact. Two possible problems can result: pimples, which are caused by bacteria trapped inside pores; and pinkeye, a bacterial infection caused by staphylococcus. Avoid infection by washing your hands before applying makeup and cleaning your applicators weekly. Toss makeup after two months. For foundation, instead of touching the tube or bottle with your fingers, pour it on your hand or an applicator to apply. Another tip: Wipe brushes with alcohol when you don’t have time to wash them. And never share makeup; you can easily transfer infections this way.
Dirty Door Handles
Claim: The bathroom-door handle on the public restroom is the germiest place.
False. Door handles actually have the least bacteria of any surface in public restrooms. That’s because, almost 68 per cent of people wash their hands before leaving the restroom. To pick up something like salmonella, which can cause diarrhea, from someone who didn’t wash up, you’d need a huge dose of the bacteria. Also, most bacteria need a warm, moist environment to survive and can live on hard, dry surfaces for only one to two hours.
Unclean Office Objects
Claim: Your office desk is way dirtier than a toilet bowl.
True. The average desktop has 400 times more bacteria than a toilet bowl, simply because people usually don’t clean their desks on a regular basis, says Gerba. Most of these germs are harmless, in a recent study it was found that the parainfluenza virus, which causes colds and flu, on about one-third of office surfaces. The germiest object: the phone. Viruses such as the flu can survive for two or three days on desktops, phones, and computer keyboards. They’re transmitted when you touch contaminated objects and then put your hands on your nose, mouth, and eyes. By the way, the door handle on the microwave in the office kitchen is also a very germy place. So be sure to wash your hands after heating up your lunch. Keep microbe levels on your desk down by regularly cleaning with a disinfecting wipe, particularly during flu season.
Finally, should You Use Antibacterial Products?
Not unless someone in the house is sick. Plus, there’s a potential drawback: A number of studies have suggested that triclosan, an ingredient used in many antibacterial items, may actually foster resistance to many germs. They are useful only if someone in your home is ill or has a skin or gastrointestinal ailment. Otherwise, alcohol- and bleach-based products work best at killing germs without promoting the growth of dangerous super bugs.