Fight Back Against Germs!
Germs! They’re everywhere. Here are some simple strategies for protecting yourself while commuting, shopping, banking, or doing anything else that takes you out into public places.
“If anyone ever dares you to lick something in a [public] bathroom,” says Charles Gerba, “lick the women’s toilet seat. Almost half of women put paper down or wipe the seat before sitting.”
Gerba, a microbiologist, knows the toilet seats in women’s bathrooms are among the cleaner things in there. He has studied the most germ-infested surfaces in public places. Among the worst: bus rails/armrests, shopping carts, escalator handrails, water fountain handles, public phones and gym equipment.
“Anything that’s touched a lot becomes a germ transfer point,” says Gerba. You can’t easily avoid touching germ-infested surfaces, so what’s the best defence? Beyond the obvious-washing hands frequently and using alcohol gels when you can’t get to soap and water-try these germ-busting strategies.
• In a public bathroom, use the stall closest to the door. It’s used less-and is therefore cleaner. Most people, given a row of stalls, will choose the middle one, says Gerba.
• Use your sleeve or elbow to push the button on the paper towel dispenser, then use a towel to press the soap dispenser, close the taps (in a public bathroom they’re germier than the toilets), and open the door when exiting. (You can dispose of the towel in a trash can outside.) If you have to push the door open, use the palm of your hand, not your fingers.
• On a plane, use the bathroom early in the flight, before dozens of other passengers get in there. Be aware that the powerful flush in an airplane toilet kicks particles of whatever has been in there into the air, so flush only after closing the lid (with a paper towel).
• When using an elevator, bank machine, copier, vending machine or anything else with buttons, use your knuckles to press those buttons if at all possible instead of your fingers.
In the Basket
• Use a disinfectant wipe to swab shopping cart handles, which Gerba says are the most bacterially contaminated object you encounter regularly. Besides all the hands that touch the cart, he says, think of the raw food that’s placed in there, and how many young children drool on the handle and sit in the cart. “You’re putting your broccoli where some kid’s butt was.”
Carry a pen. Of all the items where you can pick up germs “pens make me squirm more than anything,” says Gerba. Think of how many fingers touch the common pens in banks or the ones in stores used to sign for credit card purchases. “You know they never get changed, because they’re chained to the counter,” says Gerba. “I always carry my own pen.”
• Skip the table wipe. The cloth used by staff tends to be “a mobile home for bacteria,” says Gerba. “Half the time, it spreads a layer of E. coli in front of you.” In one of his studies, the bacteria count on restaurant tables was 45 times greater after cleaning than before.