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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.
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Popular Opinion, Scientific Reality continued...

 

Of course, germs are everywhere -- and the key to removing them is with a regular cleaning (soap and clean water) and disinfecting. And because this one-two punch isn't done on many public surfaces, Gerba notes that some of the germiest places you'll likely encounter this summer include:

 

  • Picnic tables. "They are never cleaned or disinfected and birds like to roost on them, especially on picnic tables near a pond or in the shade," says Gerba, a professor of environmental microbiology who has collected thousands of germ concentration samples for dozens of studies. "You should never eat from a picnic table, or even touch the surface, unless you have your own tablecloth."
  • Playgrounds. "Some are even worse than picnic tables, and that's pretty bad -- and the monkey bars tend to be the very germiest place," he says. "That's because they're primarily used by small children who rarely wash their hands and run around with colds." Especially avoid tables and benches, where diaper changes are often done, he advises.
  • Airport bathrooms. The problem isn't that airport bathrooms aren't cleaned and disinfected -- they are. "It's that so many people use the bathrooms as soon as they leave the place that janitors just can't keep up with the influx of germs from around the world."

    What may surprise you, however, is which part of airport bathrooms are the worst: "The faucet area is the dirtiest and the place that some people worry about most -- the doorknobs -- typically are cleanest," he says.

    And the toilet seats? Because they lack the moisture than helps germs thrive, they have fewer germs than faucets. "My advice is to always use the end stalls, whether at the airport or any other public bathroom," says Gerba. "Most people use the middle stalls, so they tend to be the germiest." In his studies, the stall that is farthest left (as you face the stalls) has the fewest germs because it's used less than those on the right end.

  • Hotel rooms. As a general rule, the higher the price the cleaner the room. "I did a study about seven years that found if you paid more than $50 a night, there was a much greater chance that the room was regularly disinfected," he tells WebMD. "Rooms under $50 weren't." But no matter the price, the single place where you'll find the most surface germs: the TV remote. "It's never cleaned," he says.

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