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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. 8: Day Care Centers

The risk: During a diaper change, children may get fecal matter on their hands and then touch a toy. When another child plays with the same toy and then sucks his or her thumb, infection can occur. This is called fecal-oral transmission, and Archibald says it's a common source of diarrheal illness in children. Since young kids love to put things in their mouths, shared toys can also become contaminated with saliva.

Your defense: Ensure your children are immunized appropriately and avoid sending them to day care when they are sick, Moser advises. In addition, make sure your day care provider washes children's hands after a diaper change.

Germy Place No. 9: Schools

The risk: As Moser puts it, "Any gathering of children is a place of questionable hygiene." Even though school-aged children may have grown out of habits like thumb sucking or putting toys in their mouth, they may be less than diligent about washing their hands when they should.

Your defense: Set a good example by washing your hands often at home, Moser suggests. Teach kids why it's important to wash hands after using the bathroom or before eating meals, and show them how to do it properly.

Germy Place No. 10: Your Home

The risk: You don't have to leave home to have a close encounter with germs -- just travel as far as your kitchen or bathroom. According to Moser, raw foods frequently contaminate kitchen surfaces with bacteria, which aren't killed when you wipe off the counter with a wet cloth or sponge. As for the bathroom, intestinal pathogens can contaminate the toilet seat, flush handle, towels, doorknobs, sink, and other surfaces you might touch after using the toilet.

Your defense: Keep in mind that cleaning is not the same as disinfection, Moser says. His advice:

  • Clean kitchens and bathrooms regularly with bleach or a color-safe disinfectant spray.
  • After handling raw foods, wash cutting boards and knives with soap and hot water.
  • Microwave wet sponges for one minute to kill germs.
  • Change hand-drying towels often.
  • Close the lid before flushing the toilet to keep germs from contaminating nearby surfaces.

Germy Place No. 11: Your Doctor's Office

The risk: You may not think of your doctor's office as germy, but remember that you are sharing a small space with many people who may have infectious illnesses. Waiting room chairs, doorknobs, toys, and even your doctor's clothing can become contaminated. According to Archibald, those most at risk for picking up germs at the doctor's office are patients who have some type of medical procedure.

Your defense: Try to avoid touching doorknobs or other surfaces, or wash your hands afterward. When taking your child to the pediatrician, bring toys and books from home. Speak up if you don't see your health care provider wash his or her hands before your exam or procedure, Moser warns. "Say, 'I don't want to be disrespectful, but would you please wash your hands.'"

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