Germ Warfare: Common Cold & Flu Culprits
It's cold and flu season again, and the most innocent of objects could be your greatest health threat.
Spreading the flu isn't quite the same as spreading New Year's
cheer. The dastardly duo -- cold and flu -- are back, and they're hiding
everywhere, from the shopping mall to your doctor's tie to the telephone. For
some of us, these seasonal sicknesses are already nesting in our lungs and
sinuses and playing havoc with our immune systems. So what can you and your
family do to stay healthy? With some help from Charles Gerba, PhD, professor of
microbiology at the University of Arizona, WebMD investigates where cold and
flu germs live and hide so that you can take proper precautions or, better yet,
avoid them like the plague.
Cover Your Nose
Did you know the technical term for a sneeze is sternutation? When it
occurs, small particles are expelled from the nose at more than 100 mph --
almost 40 mph faster than a Cessna plane on takeoff, says Gerba. When you have
the flu, the virus makes itself at home in the lining of the nose, causing
irritation, swelling, and, yes, sternutation. So cover up when you achoo. Those
fast-moving particles can cover an almost 3-foot radius, and once airborne, can
easily be inhaled by the guy standing next to you. Guess what? Now he has the
Grocery Cart Attack
Grocery carts haul more than groceries. "The cart handles are bad in
terms of mucus and saliva, because half of American children put their mouths
on those things," Gerba says. That means you can pick up a lot more than a
great bargain on organically grown bananas. When leftover drool makes its way
to your hands, and your hands make their way to your mouth, the flu has found
itself a new home. The flu aside, whatever you do, don't put your fresh veggies
in the grocery cart seat: "Diaper-aged kids sit in them, and they're prone
to accidents. Next thing you know, their accidents are on your food." Ewww.
That's enough to make anyone sick.
Two stories or 110 stories, if you want to leave a building, you'll have to
press the first floor elevator button. It's exceptionally dirty, and a prime
place to catch a cold. "If you can, get someone else to push it so you
don't have to touch it," says Gerba frankly, if not exactly charitably. And
if you're alone? Use your elbow instead of a finger to press the button. Or
take the stairs.
"It's a bacteria cafeteria," says Gerba of that nasty specimen near
your sink -- the sponge. Next up, in order of being germiest around the house:
dishcloths, the kitchen sink, the bathroom sink, cutting boards, the kitchen
floor, the bathroom floor, the bathroom counter, and finally, in dead last, the
toilet seat. "These are the places where fecal bacteria hide, and when we
find fecal bacteria, we usually find the viruses that cause colds