Germ (noun) – A microorganism causing disease. – Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Since their discovery in 1644, the world has been fighting a messy and sloppy battle with germs. Man has found the germ to be an even peskier foe than the mosquito. In germs’ defense, 99 percent are as harmless as a teddy bear (after all, microorganisms are vital to humans and the environment). But the one percent which causes health havoc around the world gives germs that bad name and reputation they have worldwide.
The bad pathogens and bacteria that float through the air, settle on common public surfaces like door knobs, elevator buttons drinking fountains and grocery carts, are often ghosts and invisible to their unsuspecting targets. They’re the most devious of health villains. Every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate, up to 20 percent of Americans will contract the influenza virus. Germ hunters at the University of Arizona researched for U.S. Cities in 2013 and found one out of every five public places they studied was contaminated. And we haven’t even gotten to the super scary diseases like tuberculosis and anthrax.
Going to the extreme lengths of quarantining oneself from germs, a la legendary movie star Howard Hughes, isn’t much fun or mentally healthy, so our best defense remains arming ourselves in heavy germ zones. Having hand sanitizers at the ready are a great ally when we venture daily into some of germs’ favorite vacation spots. Here are our Top 11 Public Germ Hot Spots, which include some shocking places where bad germs lie in wait:
11. The Hotel Remote Control
With one hand in a bag of potato chips or in a bowl of popcorn, and one hand on the remote to check out the game on ESPN2 or see if Juan Pablo will propose on “The Bachelor,” most American hotel television viewers keep their remote control at the ready, but not the disinfecting wipe (hey, it’s the maid’s job, right?). You never know which guest before you may have been coming down with a bad cold.
10. The Gas Pump Nozzle
By their nature, bad germs are lazy. They’re not opposed to traveling but love just settling on and hanging out on stationary objects. This is a common germ story: A guy battling a bad cold and running late for work stops for fuel at a gas station. He quickly picks up the handle without thinking to put on gloves or wipes his hands, fuels up and replaces the handle, leaving germs and bacteria for the next unsuspecting customer. If germs could laugh, this is where they would say, “MUHAHAHAHAH. Who’s next?”
9. Health Club Exercise Equipment
We burn calories by the gallon on the health club’s exercise bike or weight machine, but we can also pick up bacteria by the thousands. Toweling off the seat or bench before you start sweating up a storm is a must during cold and flu season.
8. Public Transportation (Taxi Cabs, Public Buses and Subway Trains)
Cab drivers hate them because they never pay fare. Meet the world’s most annoying carpoolers, fare skippers and hitchhikers during allergy and flu season. A taxi is the perfect vehicle for germs, offering more entry points than a stadium (the door, the window, the air vent, the sunroof, etc.). Air, which holds spores, often sets up shop on the dashboard while germs set up shop on door handles. On buses and subway trains, bacteria sets up shop on poles, hand rails and window sills and enjoy the cozy confines of a contained environment.
7. The Public Restroom Soap Dispenser
Oh, the bitter irony! The places where germs are supposed to go to die are often the place where they hang out in droves. One recent study suggests up to 25 percent of public restroom soap dispensers contain fecal bacteria. A good 15-20 scrub under hot water and a thorough hand-drying afterward are musts, especially in cold season.
6. The Office Meeting Room Chairs
When battling colds at work, we wash our hands and cover our mouths, how many of us bother to clean the arm rest of the chairs we sit in during those painfully long hour meetings? Germs don’t mind sitting around through boring meeting after boring meeting, which can be bad news for the next guy or girl who draws our seat.
5. The Office Floor Mat
The next time we scold our dogs and cats for bringing dirt into the house, we’d better take a look at our own feet before opening the door to work. Shoes are some of the worst transporters of pathogens, dragging in mud, dirt, rocks and even feces into the office, then wiping them here. A floor mat doubles as a germ camp and should be shook out and vacuumed daily by a company’s office staff, while we all should clean our shoes regularly. There may be more than just rocks caught in the tread. From here, pathogens can begin their sickly march through an office.
4. The ATM
The next time you make a withdrawal at a busy downtown Automated Teller Machine, you may be withdrawing more than cash. Germs love to take quick naps on ATM buttons until the next unsuspecting customer – or plane ride in germ logic – comes along. Some studies suggest as many as 1,200 bacteria on average live on each ATM button. Again, hand sanitizer is a great germ defender after a cash stop.
3. Restaurant Ketchup Bottles
Nobody loves food more than pathogens, which live in the kitchen, lunch room and cafeteria all day if we let them. Up to 3,500 bacteria per square inch can reside in the average lunch room. Some restaurants put a lot more care into their Royal Deluxe Cheeseburgers than they do keeping up the health standards of their ketchup bottles, some of which can live longer lives than dogs. Grimy, crusty ketchup bottles pour more than just tasty tomato paste on your burger. And the reality is most people don’t wash their hands before eating, meaning Sick Joe – who had the table right before you – might be leaving his germs for your fries. Using napkins and washing hands immediately after eating can help make sure your burger doesn’t give you bad heartburn down the road.
2. The Playground
A beloved place of fun is the world’s germ equator: Nowhere in the world are conditions more ideal for germs to fester and spread. Swings, slides, teeter-totters, ball rooms are germ transport centers and a major virus transfer center among young children. Disinfecting children after a trip to the neighborhood playground is a must in the war against germs.
1. The Office Desk
Most Americans’ command work center also doubles as bad germs’ paradise. The office desktop is Cancun for germs with as many as 10 million bacteria (think the population of New York City!) living here per square inch. An office desktop can make the average toilet seat’s cleanliness seem like Buckingham Palace. According to a study headed by Dr. Charles Gerba, a professor of Microbiology at the University of Arizona, the office desktop holds 400 times as much bacteria as the average toilet seat. And in a stale office environment where air doesn’t circulate, germs move in permanently, on keyboards, monitors and mouses. Coworkers who share work spaces are sharing much more than a desk and computer.