The 7 "Germiest" Public Places

I don't think germiest is really a word, but you get the point. It's a place where germs are most likely to hang out for a long time. Since everyone is trying to avoid getting the flu or a cold, it's good to know the most popular public places you're likely find bacteria and viruses.

ABC News recently looked into this topic and after testing different locations made a list of 7 public places where cold and flu causing germs, along with E. coli bacteria are quite prevalent.

1.Restaurant Menus.

I hadn't thought about it before, but these things are seldom (if ever) cleaned after being passed around from person to person. Since cold and flu viruses can live on hard surfaces for up to 18 hours, you can imagine what your family might be holding in their hands while contemplating a meal. It's a good idea to wash your hands (or use a hand sanitizer) after you're finished with the menu. Also, never place the menu on your plate or under your silverware.

2. Lemon Wedges.

Keeping with the restaurant theme, lemon wedges appear to be another place where very nasty germs like to gather. In a study published in the Journal of Environmental Health, nearly 70% of the lemon wedges perched on the rims of restaurant glasses contain disease-causing microbes. Researchers analyzed drinks from 21 different restaurants and found 25 different microorganisms lingering on the lemons they secured. Some of the most common microorganisms were E. coli and other fecal bacteria. I can see how that would happen since I never see a server wash his or her hands before reaching into a shared bowl of pre-sliced fruit and putting one in my water or tea.

3. Condiment Dispensers.

While we're still sitting at the restaurant table, take a look at the condiment dispensers. These are shared by people day after day and refilled by hands that may not have been washed for hours. Seldom do restaurants (although I'm sure there are some) regularly bleach the condiment containers. Since few people actually wash their hands before they eat at a restaurant, you're holding a container covered with previous patrons germs and pouring them on your food. Remember that bottle of hand sanitizer? You might want to put some on your hands and wipe down the condiment dispenser before you actually use it. If you're thinking about picking it up with a napkin instead, know that napkins are porous and germs can pass right through. I didn't know that.

4. Restroom Door Handles.

OK, you've decided to visit the bathroom and wash your hands or whatever else you may decide to do there. You've washed your hands and are ready to exit. You grab the restroom door handle and pull it open out you go unfortunately your hands are carrying everyone else's bacteria and germs that didn't wash their hands before they left. We know what most people do while they are in the bathroom. So, next time grab a paper towel (usually less porous than a napkin) and open the door with that. Some people may think you're germ-a-phobic, but who cares? Your family is feeling fine and they're sniffling and coughing and waiting in the doctor's office to be treated.

5. Soap Dispensers.

Going back a step, just when you thought you were doing the right thing by washing your hands there's another place where germs populate in soap scum. About 25 percent of public restroom dispensers are contaminated with fecal bacteria. Soap that harbors bacteria may seem ironic, but that's exactly what a recent study found. "Most of these containers are never cleaned, so bacteria grow as the soap scum builds up," says Charles Gerba, PhD. "And the bottoms are touched by dirty hands, so there's a continuous culture feeding millions of bacteria." Be sure to scrub your hands or have your child scrub their hands thoroughly with plenty of hot water for 15 to 20 seconds--and if you happen to have an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, use that, too.

6. Grocery Carts.

This is the one that I personally think would be number 1 in germ content. I always rub the handle and bar on a grocery cart down with sanitizer before I shop. I can't tell you how many times I've seen people coughing into their hands and then grabbing the cart handles. Or how many kids, with runny noses, sitting in a cart with their mouth on the handle. And you wonder where you got sick? The handles of almost two-thirds of the shopping carts tested in a 2007 study at the University of Arizona were contaminated with fecal bacteria. In fact, the bacterial counts of the carts exceeded those of the average public restroom. Many stores have started placing sanitizer cloth dispensers near the carts. Use one. If you don't see any, the tried and true method of wiping it down with your hands covered in sanitizer is a good alternative. A bit messy, but it dries quickly.

7. Airline Bathrooms.

A lot of people don't travel all that often and when they do it's usually by car. But occasionally you'l have to hop a plane. When Gerba tested for microbes in the bathrooms of commercial jets, he found surfaces from faucets to doorknobs to be contaminated with E. coli. It's not surprising, then, that you're 100 times more likely to catch a cold when you're airborne, according to a recent study in the Journal of Environmental Health Research. To protect yourself, try taking green tea supplements. In a 2007 study from the University of Florida, people who took a 450-milligram green tea supplement twice a day for 3 months had one-third fewer days of cold symptoms. The supplement brand used in the study was Immune Guard.

If per chance you should have to see a doctor for something the flu, a cold, a broken finger, a rash etc. you're likely to come in contact with a lot of things touched and held by sick folks while in the waiting or exam room. Bring your own books, magazines, tissues and hand sanitizer with you. If you're bringing a child pack their own toys, crayons and coloring books. If possible leave a couple of chairs between you and other patients.

Does all this sanitizing seem excessive? Maybe a little. But we're in the throws of a really dangerous flu outbreak. Children and adults are dying from this one so extra prevention is called for. It's not too late to get a flu shot if you haven't already.

Listing these germiest places does give one pause, but it also provides new insight into what we share with others and never even think about. I'll keep a bottle of sanitizer with me for now and use it.


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