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12 Places Germs Lurk

Public health experts tell WebMD about the 'dirty dozen' of places where germs love to hide.

Germy Place No. 4: Airplanes

The risk: When you have so many people in close quarters for hours at a time, germs thrive, says Archibald. He tells WebMD upper respiratory viruses and intestinal bacteria can spread easily during a flight. In addition to the obvious risk of a neighbor with a bad cough, the surfaces throughout the cabin and particularly in the lavatory can harbor germs.

Your defense: Moser and Archibald recommend disinfecting your seat when you board. Wipe the arms, tray, and window with alcohol-based antiseptic wipes. Use a hand sanitizer after visiting the lavatory, and if you need to change your baby's diaper, disinfect the changing tray first. Moser also suggests avoiding the lavatory on short flights, bringing your own magazines, and staying hydrated to help protect against respiratory illnesses.

Germy Place No. 5: Hotels and Motels

The risk: You may have heard that the bedspreads in hotels are never washed, but don't worry. Archibald says these are not likely to spread germs. Bigger concerns are bathrooms that have not been properly cleaned, contaminated surfaces such as doorknobs or phones, and bed bugs living in the mattress or headboard.

Linn Haramis, PhD, an entomologist with the Illinois Department of Public Health, tells WebMD that bed bugs are becoming an increasing problem in many areas of the country. He says they are not disease carriers, but "the bites can cause allergic reactions, and the 'ick factor' is not something most people are happy with."

Your defense: Ask the manager for a different room if the bathroom doesn't seem clean, or if there are brownish-black spots along the mattress seams or headboard -- bed bug excrement. Even if the room looks clean, Moser recommends using a disinfectant spray on the phone, nightstand, bathroom counters, and other surfaces you might touch with your hands.

Germy Place No. 6: Swimming Pools

The risk: The CDC has recorded an increase in recreational water illnesses over the past decade. The most common problem is infectious diarrhea, which can be caused by germs such as Giardia, Shigella, Norovirus, E. coli, and Crypto, short for Cryptosporidium. A pool is easily contaminated when someone with diarrhea goes swimming, and chlorine doesn't always kill the germs immediately. Crypto can survive for days even in a properly disinfected pool.

Your defense: The CDC offers these tips:

  • Avoid swallowing pool water or getting it in your mouth.
  • To protect others, don't swim when you have diarrhea.
  • Shower before swimming.
  • Wash your hands before returning to the pool after using the toilet or changing a diaper.
  • Don't let your child swim if he or she has diarrhea, and use rubber pants for young children who are not potty trained.

Germy Place No. 7: Movie Theaters

The risk: Similar to an airplane, movie theaters draw many people into close quarters for a couple of hours. Moser points out that viral infections can be contagious a day before symptoms appear, so people with colds or flu may go to the movies without knowing they are sick.

Your defense: Avoid touching your eyes or nose during the movie and wash your hands after leaving the theater. To protect others, watch movies at home when you are ill.

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