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.
Hands off the Escalator
More than 40 million people visit the massive Mall of America in Minnesota
every year. Multiply that by two hands per person, and you have 80 million
opportunities to spread viruses that cause colds
and flu among shoppers. Your local mall isn't so
different. "Escalator handrails are pretty bad," Gerba tells WebMD.
"We find mucus, saliva, blood -- they tend to be pretty grody." That's
an understatement. Don't touch the handrail if you can manage without it.
Wash That Mug
Does your office coffee taste like slime? Maybe it's not the beans. Maybe
it's that your coffee pot and mug have been cleaned with a dripping-with-germs
sponge that's been used by every flu-ridden officemate from the first floor to
the fifth. Or maybe one of your sniffling-sneezing colleagues has borrowed your
mug because she misplaced her own. Hang onto your own mug -- and get thee to
the dishwasher when it's time to clean it. Make sure the water temp is at least
"The average desk area in an office has 400 times more bacteria on it
than the average toilet seat," says Gerba, which means your workplace is a
fine place for cold and flu germs to congregate. People sneeze, talk, eat, and
breathe all over their desks (and their neighbors' desks) all day long, and
cleaning at work is usually the last thing on someone's mind. When Bob from the
next cube over lets out a whopping sneeze, the flu has just flown the coop,
making a nice nest on your computer keyboard. "The office phone is the
germiest, then the desktop, and then the computer keyboard," Gerba adds.
The good news: After two days of being sanitized with disinfectant wipes, most
desks have about a 99.9% reduction in bacteria and virus levels, including
those that cause the cold and flu.
"People tend to go for middle stalls in a public bathroom," Gerba
tells WebMD. "Those stalls tend to be the germiest because they get the
most use." The more people who use a stall, the more they put their
not-so-clean-hands contaminated with flu and cold viruses on doors, knobs,
locks, flushers, and toilet paper rolls -- each an opportunity for you to pick
up the germs they've left behind. "If you ever want to make sure you're
going to have toilet paper in a public restroom, and maybe find a semiclean
spot," Gerba suggests, "go for the first stall, because fewer people
Keep Your Lunch to Yourself
Kids' sharing should be applauded, except when it comes to lunch: 84% of
kids say they swap drinks, snacks, and sandwiches, which means your daughter's
best friend's flu virus might migrate to her Sponge Bob lunch
box. Worse yet, since more than nine of 10 kids keep their lunches anywhere but
the fridge before their midday meal, they give the flu a perfect place to grow
and thrive -- a warm, dark environment. A tip: Pop your child's juice box or
water bottle into the freezer the night before. It'll act as a coolant the next
morning, and hold off not only food-borne illnesses but also prevent viruses
from multiplying in a lunch box before you have a chance to wash it.