Worried about what you or your family are picking up in restrooms or while you’re out shopping? Well, you should be: Viruses and bacteria run rampant on the surfaces you touch every day.
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 the cold and flu and other run-of-the-mill bugs crawling about public places year round, germaphobes have plenty to worry about.
Unfortunately, going anywhere people congregate can boost your chances of getting sick, says Philip Tierno, Ph.D., author of The Secret Life of Germs (Atria) and director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. That’s because viruses and bacteria live practically everywhere — shopping malls, grocery stores, playgrounds, petting zoos, restaurants. They can survive up to two hours on shopping carts, escalator handrails, even doorknobs before they find their next victim.
“We encounter about 60,000 types of germs every year, but if you’re healthy, there’s no need to fear going out in public,” Tierno says.
You can also give your defense system a boost by taking steps to prevent infection; in particular, knowing the top public places areas with the most germs:
The Grocery Store
Germiest items: Shopping cart handles, packaged meats, seat buckets
“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.
They’re also contaminated by children’s dirty hands. And by leaky meat packages that you toss into your cart. Poultry and beef can contain bacterial bombs such as salmonella, campylobacter and E. coli, which cause severe diarrhea, intestinal swelling, nausea and vomiting, she says.
“If meat packages leak onto the conveyor belt, it could contaminate the food on the conveyor as well as your hands,” Stamm says.
About 70%-80% of the shopping carts tested nationwide had E. coli, says Charles Gerba, Ph.D., a University of…