Where germs love to hide
By Kristen Finello
When it's cold outside and we're cooped up indoors in dry stagnant air, cold and flu germs spread quickly and easily.
And it's easy to understand why. "Colds and flu are basically transmitted by droplets. If someone near you coughs or sneezes, you can inhale the droplets and catch what they have," says Dr. Elizabeth Baorto, division director of pediatric infectious disease of Goryeb Children's Hospital at Morristown Memorial Hospital in New Jersey. "Or if someone coughs or sneezes and leaves secretions on a surface -- or on their hand -- and you touch that surface -- or hand -- you will most likely pick up the germs."
So how do you slip past a nemesis you can't even see? The trick is to find out where germs are likely to lurk and then do your best to either avoid making contact or take steps to disinfect.
Here's your list of germy hot spots at home and in public places -- and how to stay healthy in spite of them:
- Telephones and remote controls: Even though these gadgets are touched by many different people throughout each day, few of us ever take the time to clean them. Use antibacterial wipes to clean gadget surfaces -- once a day, at least.
- Bathroom sink and counter: Germs are often spread in bathrooms when toothbrushes touch one another, or when people spit in the sink or share towels. If someone in your home is sick, designate one bathroom for this person to use exclusively. If separate bathrooms aren't possible, make an extra effort to stay on top of germs. Launder towels as often as possible to wash away germs. Keep all toothbrushes separate and regularly disinfect counters and sinks, especially faucets.
In public bathrooms, touch as little as possible with your bare hands: Open doors and turn faucets on and off with a paper towel between your fingers and the handle, and flush toilets with either your foot or a tissue.
- Light switches and door handles: Can you imagine how many times our hands touch light switches and door handles everywhere we go? Remember to clean these frequently touched surfaces -- in your home and in public places you visit.
- Games and toys: Follow a cue from nursery schools and clean commonly used toys with antibacterial wipes at the end of each day.
- Computer keyboards: Whether you're at work, school or home, computers are everywhere, and their keyboards are exposed to people of all ages -- sick or well. Before cleaning, be sure the computer is turned off (or the keyboard is disconnected). Use a miniature brush to release dust nestled under and in between keys, and then disinfectant surfaces to kill germs.
- ATM machines: When possible, use something other than your finger to punch the keys of an ATM machine. The eraser end of a pencil is a good option, for example. And remember, germs can live on money, so apply hand sanitizer after using an ATM and any time you handle bills.
- Elevator buttons: Pointy elbows sure come in handy during cold and flu season! Elbows are great for pushing elevator buttons, especially that first-floor button, which studies have shown harbors the most germs since it's the button touched the most.
- Shopping cart handles: Some grocery stores now provide disinfecting wipes to clean shopping cart handles. They can usually be found at the store entrance. Otherwise, if you have a young child who rides in the cart, consider purchasing a fabric cart cover that creates a barrier between the baby and cart.