Germs are literally everywhere. From your keyboard to your cellphone and from the bathroom to the kitchen, germs can exist on every surface.
Dr. Steven Tang of Novant Health UVA Health System Bristow Run Family Medicine in Gainesville, Virginia, said it’s important to be aware of places where germs thrive and to take action to protect yourself and your family.
“Sometimes we make presumptions about where we get germs,” Tang said. “We assume germs are spread from close family members, but the majority of the time they are spread through public places. Germs can live on surfaces for a couple of hours. Think about touching a shopping cart after the person who used it last sneezed on it. You should take advantage of the disinfectant wipes most grocery stores offer.”
Disinfectant wipes come in handy to kill bacteria and clean grimy surfaces. Use them on the TV remote control, light switches in your house and your office desk.
Where they’re hiding
A recent study by CBS Pittsburgh found the single-serve coffee maker their employees use contained 4.6 million colonies of bacteria and mold. Another CBS station in Dallas found bacteria such as E. coli and staphylococcus in their single-serve coffee maker.
“Damp areas promote the growth of germs,” Tang said.
Many single-serve coffee makers have water reservoirs where internal standing water can stay for days.
Another place germs can thrive is in the refrigerator, especially in leftover food.
“Depending on what the leftover food is, there is a limit on how long you should keep it,” Tang said. “We need to be diligent when it comes to food safety.”
Foodsafety.gov recommends discarding leftovers after three or four days to prevent them from spoiling or becoming dangerous to eat.
With summer drawing near, many people are traveling and spending time near the water. Tang said that a lot of people pick up germs on airplanes.
“Since planes are enclosed and there are so many people on board, it’s easy for germs to spread,” he said.
Tang suggested wearing a mask when traveling to areas where you haven’t been exposed to those germs. “We have this social taboo of wearing a mask, but in reality, a mask can prevent a lot of germs from being spread from one person to the next,” he said. “In other countries, especially countries in Asia, people are more accustomed to wearing a mask to prevent the spread of germs.”
Swimming pools also have the potential for the spread of germs, despite the use of chlorine.
“It’s hard to kill some specific viruses,” Tang said. “Common warts can be transferred fairly easily, as well as athlete’s foot, which can be picked up in common locker room areas.”
Ways to protect yourself
What’s your No. 1 protection against germs? Hand-washing. Using soap and water is the best way to keep your hands clean. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds, or the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
If you aren’t near a sink, hand sanitizer is a great alternative, Tang said.