Germs Are Everywhere -- Really
As you hit the road for summer travel, get in touch with those unsuspected surfaces that are breeding grounds for illness.
Besides providing a healthy renewal of mind
and spirit, a summer vacation makes good antimicrobial sense, especially when
you consider that typical workplace desktop has more germs than a public toilet
But let's face it, when you hit the road
for your weeklong escape, those kids arguing in the backseat or giant rodents
posing for photos at theme parks aren't going to be your only travel
companions. There are zillions of germs living on the umpteen surfaces you
And they don't take a vacation, even when
That could explain why 80% of infections
are spread the same way: Someone touches a germ-ridden surface. Or someone
infected by germ particles from a sneeze, a cough, or a touch -- gets the
infectious bug onto their hands.
What's In a Touch?
"Whether germs are viral, bacterial, or
fungal, some can remain active on most surfaces for several days -- no matter
whether the surface is stainless steel, wood, plastic, or even the paper in a
magazine," says Elaine Jong, MD, co-director of the University of
Washington Travel Clinic in Seattle.
"When you touch that surface, it's
transmitted to your hands. Then if you touch your eyes or rub their nose or
lips, when you eat or in any way get your fingers in contact with a mucous
surface, voila ... you have infected yourself."
The best way to prevent problems, of
course, is to never touch these "problem" surfaces. But that's not so
"The funny thing is, what many people
consider to be the germiest surfaces may not be so bad, while some of the most
germ-ridden areas are not what most people expect," says University of
Arizona microbiologist Charles Gerba, PhD, a leading researcher better known in
the science world as "Dr. Germ."
Popular Opinion, Scientific Reality
For instance, Gerba recently completed a
survey of 1,000 people -- getting their opinions of where the germs collect in
full force, boosting their risk for infection, and compared those opinions to
the evidence he's collected in thousands of germ samples.
"Most people consider Port-a-Potties
and other public toilets to be the worst places in terms of surface germs. But
in reality, they don't even come close to what you'll find on ATM machines,
phone receivers, and elevator buttons," he tells WebMD. "That's because
those toilets are cleaned and disinfected regularly. But when was the last time
a typical phone or buttons on an ATM machine or elevators were?"