By: Sheryl Kraft
The wisest of us know that there are no guarantees in life. Just look at any airline schedule: Chances are your departing flight is delayed and you are not landing on time.
If you’re traveling this holiday season -- or even if you aren’t -- one thing is guaranteed this busy time of year when more of us are out and about: exposure to more germs. Some estimates say that the average adult can touch as many as 30 germ-harboring objects within any one minute. That’s because germs -- those tiny, microscopic invaders -- are everywhere, and they can multiply in minutes.
Here are some germ hot spots to be aware of, and how you can be a germ-buster while you’re on the go:
Germ Hot Spot No. 1: Your hotel room.
Two of the dirtiest spots in hotel rooms are light switches and the TV remote controls, according to a University of Houston study. Other offenders: bathroom sinks and floors. Although telephone keypads are a bit cleaner, they are still contaminated with fecal bacteria and bugs known to make you sick, like streptococcus and staphylococcus. The solution: Swab these spots with a wipe. And wear flip flops or slippers when you’re in the room.
Germ Hot Spot No. 2: Restaurant menus.
It’s typical for many of us to go to the bathroom and wash up before we sit down to a meal, right? But maybe we should wait until after we’ve handled the menu, because what’s not typical is that the staff is wiping these menus down.
According to studies, cold and flu viruses can survive for up to 18 hours on hard surfaces. Make sure the (germy) menu doesn’t touch your silverware or plate, either, and make a beeline to the restroom after you’ve ordered your pasta primavera.
Germ Hot Spot No. 3: Lemon wedges.
A 2007 study found that almost 70 percent of the lemon wedges resting on restaurant glass rims were contaminated with disease-causing microbes, including E.coli. Next time, order your sparkling water sans the citrus adornment.
Germ Hot Spot No. 4: Soap dispensers.
Bathroom sinks and toilets may get wiped down, but what about the soap dispensers? Rarely do they get cleaned. If they did, they wouldn’t have been found to harbor harmful fecal bacteria in tests.
When you come out of the stall, it’s best to scrub your hands thoroughly in vigorously running water for at least 15 to 20 seconds. (Singing “Happy Birthday” to yourself should take care of the time requirement.) Don’t neglect the backs of your hands, your wrists, between your fingers and under your fingernails. If you use a towel to dry off, let it do double-duty and use it to turn off the faucet too.
Germ Hot Spot No. 5: Paper money.
It feels good to use hard cash and not run up those credit card bills, but keep in mind that germs like money too. A Swiss study found that some strains of the flu virus can survive on paper money for as long as three days. And -- ew! -- if the germs are mixed with mucus, they have extra staying power, living on for up to 17 days. That’s why it pays to carry around hand sanitizer everywhere you go!
Germ Hot Spot No. 6: The gym.
The gym might be filled with buff bodies, but it’s also filled with germs: sweat, abrasion and direct or indirect contact with other people’s lesions and secretions can open you up to diseases like MRSA, athlete’s foot, boils, impetigo, herpes and ringworm.
Guard against germs by washing your hands with soap before and after working out. Be sure to lay down your own towel or wipe down mats and exercise machines before and after you use them. Wear flip flops in -- and out of -- the shower. And the next time you wash your gym clothes, throw your gym bag in for good measure.Are you careful about germs?
Sheryl Kraft is Completely You’s “News You Can Use” blogger. She is a health, wellness and fitness writer whose articles have appeared in AARP, Prevention, Woman’s Day, iVillage, YahooShine! and more. Read more of Sheryl’s work on her blog, My So-called Midlife, and HealthyWomen.org’s Midlife Matters.
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