Touch a germ-infected surface, then rub your nose or mouth, and the next thing you know, microbes are dancing the mambo in your body.

With cold and flus and run-of-the-mill bugs crawling about public places year round, germaphobes have plenty to worry about.

You can also give your defense system a boost by taking steps to prevent infection. Read on for the top 8 germiest public places and ways to stay healthy:


1. Grocery store
Germiest items: Shopping cart handles and seat buckets

Watch out! Shopping cart handles are a breeding ground for infectious viruses and gut-wrenching bacteria.

“Customers may sneeze, wipe their noses, then touch the cart handles,” says Lola Stamm, M.S., Ph.D., a microbiologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Germ-free fix: Use disinfecting wipes on handlebars and seats - many stores now offer these at the entrance. And be sure to wash veggies and fruits before eating them.

2. Children’s playgrounds
Germiest items: The swings, jungle gym and other equipment

Playgrounds are germ minefields. Kids touch everything they see and often put them in their mouths.

The largest threat is from fecal bacteria from bird poop on playground equipment and diaper-wearing tots, Gerba says.

Germ-free fix: Wash hands thoroughly or use hand sanitizer after returning from playground, using the bathroom and changing diapers. (Rub hands together for 20 seconds under clean running water, the CDC advises.)

3. Public restrooms
Germiest item: Sink

Most women worry about public toilets. Well, you can sit a little easier now: The porcelain throne is not the biggest restroom offender.

Fast fact: About 48% of American women use covers or toilet paper to cover the seat.

It’s the sink.

Bacteria swarm on the sink tap or faucet handles, Gerba says, because we touch them right after using the toilet.

Also, “the sink tap is a wet, moist environment,” so bacteria can survive there longer, he says.

Watch out for soap dispensers, too, because they’re handled by many filthy hands, Stamm says.

Germ-free fix: Avoid touching moist surfaces and wash hands thoroughly after touching sink faucets and soap dispensers. And use a paper towel to turn the water off.

4. Offices
Germiest items: Telephones and desks

In a study of 113 work surfaces in offices in five of the nation’s big cities, Gerba found more than 25,000 bacteria hitching a ride on telephones. Desks and computer keyboards followed close behind.

In fact, your desk has 400 times more germs than a toilet seat, Gerba says. Why?

People don’t disinfect surfaces in offices, he says.

Another danger zone: Inside desk drawers, where workers stash food.

Germ-free fix: Once a day, wipe down your desk, phone and keyboard with anti-bacterial wipes or cleaners.

5. Restaurants
Germiest items: Table surface, high chairs

No, contaminated food isn’t the biggest threat at restaurants — it’s the rag used to wipe the table “clean."

When busboys wipe down a table or chairs, their dirty rags may be spreading a small film of E. coli, he says.

They should put disinfectant on the rag after each use, but Gerba’s studies show that the same cloth was used on more than a dozen tables before it was disinfected.

Germ-free fix: Carry sanitary wipes to swipe the tabletop and high chair when you’re seated.

6. Libraries
Germiest items: Countertops and surfaces

Libraries appear to be tidy, sterile places, but they crawl with as many germs as a fast-food restaurant.

Why so filthy? Lots of people shuffle through and peruse books, log on to computers and touch countertops, Gerba says.

Germ-free fix: Use hand sanitizer or wash your hands after thumbing through books or touching countertops.

7. Cruise ships
Germiest item: Handrails

Cruise ships are like floating cities, packed with thousands of people in a small space. That also makes them infection incubators.

Handrails pose the biggest infection risk because they’re among the first surfaces passengers touch when they board ship.

Germ-free fix: Wash hands frequently throughout the day and before touching your mouth or face, especially when smoking and eating.

8. Malls
Germiest item: Escalator handles

How often do you hang onto the escalator handrails while catching a ride at a shopping mall or airport?

Germ-free fix: Don’t touch them. But if you do, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer afterward.


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