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.
"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
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.