Germs: They're Everywhere

ATMs, Playground Equipment, Keyboards May Have More Germs Than Toilet Seats

From the WebMD Archives

June 23, 2004 -- Disgusted by Port-A-Potties? Freaked out by fast-food restrooms? Believe it or not, picnic tables and ATMs may harbor more germs.

A new report puts our germ fears into perspective. In a nationwide telephone survey of 1,000 adults, each adult was asked to rate the surfaces they considered germy. Those answers were then compared with real studies of bacteria on various surfaces.

You guessed it: The bulk of germs are hiding where you least suspect -- playground equipment, the phone receiver, ATMs, and elevator buttons.

"This survey shows that people have a false sense of security when it comes to germs," says Charles Gerba, a.k.a. "Dr. Germ," a professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Arizona, in a news release.

It's a real health problem, because 80% of infections are spread by hand, Gerba says. The solution is proper hand hygiene with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer, he says.

Among his survey's findings:

  • 64% think public restroom doorknobs have more germs than a typical ATM but a typical ATM has been proven to have more germs because of the number of dirty hands that touch each of these items.
  • 75% think the toilet seats in fast food restaurants have the most germs -- but airplane toilet seats are worse.
  • 76% assumed that Port-A-Potties were off-the-chart germ wise -- but picnic tables actually have more germs.

The germ facts:

  • At home, the kitchen sink is one of the places with the most germs -- harboring more germs than the bathroom. The most contaminated sites are those that tend to remain moist. The dishcloth, toilet bowl, garbage can, refrigerator, and bathroom doorknob are also high on the list.
  • At work, phone receivers harbor more germs than any surface -- even more than the toilet seats. Desktops, keyboards, and elevator buttons are also on the workplace top germ-covered list.
  • In public places, playground equipment, escalator handrails, shopping cart handles, picnic tables, and Port-A-Potties are top germ carriers.

Also, only 17% of Americans wash their hands after shaking hands -- yet 51% wash them after sneezing or coughing. It's part of the misconception that germs are spread in the air rather than by hand contact.

SOURCE: The University of Arizona press release, survey results.