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.
“Germs find plenty to snack on,” he says, like moldy fruit and opened bags of chips or crackers.
Surprisingly, when it comes to office germs, women are not the fairer sex. Bacterial levels in women’s offices were nearly three times higher than in men’s.
“Women seemed to have more stuff in their offices, from makeup bags to pictures of family and purses on their desks,” Gerba says.
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.
High chairs harbor fecal bacteria too, because they hold diaper-wearing tots.
Germ-free fix: Carry sanitary wipes to swipe the tabletop and high chair when you’re seated.
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.
Germiest item: Handrails
Cruise ships are like floating cities, packed with thousands of people in a small space. That also makes them incubators for viruses and bacteria. From 2001-2005, gastrointestinal illness on ships increased 25.6%, according to a CDC study: The culprit? Norovirus. Some of the largest outbreaks occurred in 2002-2006, when new strains of norovirus emerged,” says Capt. Jaret Ames, chief of the CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program.
Noroviruses, which cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain, are resistant to routine cleaning procedures and they’re easily transmitted in places people congregate, such as dining rooms, drinking fountains and shared restrooms. Trouble is, they’re hard to avoid on a cruise ship.
“As soon as you step out of the cabin you’re in public area,” Ames points out.
Handrails pose the biggest infection risk because they’re among the first surfaces passengers touch when they board ship, Ames says. The viruses are most often brought on board by embarking passengers and crew.
One study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases found that the cleanliness of a cruise ship’s public restrooms may predict subsequent norovirus outbreaks. Researchers found that only 37% of 273 randomly selected public restrooms on cruise ships were cleaned daily. One researcher noted that there was a substantial risk for washed hands to become contaminated when the passenger exits the restroom, as only 35% of restroom exit knobs or pulls were cleaned daily.
Germ-free fix: Wash hands frequently throughout the day and before touching your mouth or face, especially when smoking and eating.
Germiest item: Escalator handles
How often do you hang onto the escalator handrails while catching a ride at a shopping mall or airport? Regardless of your answer, you may want to opt for a hands-off strategy. They’re teeming with germs, according to a study published in a 2005 issue of the International Journal of Environmental Health Research. Scientists took samples from dozens of escalator handrails across the country and found 19% showed high bacterial contamination.
“The sheer volume of people who touch escalator handles makes it a bacteria hot spot,” Gerba says.
Germ-free fix: Don’t touch them. But if you do, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer afterward.