With parts of the world beginning to reopen, one of the biggest questions people ask is: “How do I keep myself safe?” Ever since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been understandably more nervous about germs and getting sick.
Luckily, there are multiple things you can do to reduce contact with germs and your likelihood of sickness. The first step to keeping yourself protected from illness is knowing how germs spread and from where they are likely to spread.
Scientists have tested many places to measure the number of bacteria they hold. Bacteria-rich areas were in some surprising places, others not-so-surprising.
Public bathrooms are well known for being some of the most germ-filled areas. People often associate public restrooms with bad smells and messes that they want to get away from as quickly as possible. But even the cleanest-looking public bathroom has bacteria that it harbors, so where is the most dangerous spot?
The first thing most people think of is the toilets. After all, that is where most of the mess happens. However, people tend to clean up toilets or not use them if they find them dirty, meaning it is cleaner than one might think.
The floor and bathroom stalls, on the other hand, often get covered with extra bacteria from splashing water. Because stalls can be difficult to clean correctly and both areas are rather large, they tend to be cleaned less frequently than toilets. Making sure you don’t put any of your belongings on the floor or touch the stalls can help reduce the number of germs you encounter.
Another source of germs comes with washing your hands. This fact seems counterintuitive at first; after all, aren’t you washing your hands to get rid of germs? However sink handles, soap dispensers, and even hand dryers all harbor more than an average number of bacteria. When you turn on a sink, you leave germs from your hands only to re-pick them up after you finish cleaning when you turn off the sink.
Skipping washing your hands is not the solution to this problem. But there are things you can do to prevent it. Wash your hands thoroughly after touching handles, and after you finish washing, use paper towels to cover your hands when you turn handles or press buttons.
Handrails and Elevator Buttons
If your workspace is anywhere but the ground level you probably use stairs or elevators daily. Because almost everyone touches one of these to get to a higher floor, they can become a hotspot for bacteria.
Safety must come first. If you need to use the handrail to ascend or descend the stairs safely, you should absolutely do so. After all, picking up bacteria will most likely be less harmful than falling down the stairs.
However, simply hovering over the handrail, ready to grab it if necessary, maybe an opportunity to avoid bacteria, if you are able. In the elevator, using an elbow to press a button instead of your fingers may also be a good choice.
Why use an elbow; won’t germs still spread? Illness often spreads when people touch their mouth or nose with germ-covered hands. Unless you are a contortionist, your elbow is a lot less likely to reach these places than your hands. Keeping your hands away from germs is a great way to help protect yourself.
Everyone needs to get their food from somewhere, and many people pick it up from the grocery store. So it may be surprising that the grocery store has one of the biggest hotspots for germs right alongside the last thing we want to have germs – our food.
Grocery store carts have larger than average numbers of germs, particularly on their handles. The dirtiness of the handles is simple; people will use a grocery cart when they shop, and the handles are the most used spot.
We know that illness often spreads when we put our hands to our mouths. But most people don’t begin pushing a grocery cart and instantly rub their nose or lick their fingers.
However, people touch grocery carts and then handle the food they purchase. Most food comes in packages, but people often select fruits and vegetables individually and touch them directly. When shoppers place small children in the carts, they also touch the handles. Unlike adults, babies and toddlers often put their hands (or the handles) in their mouths.
The best way to prevent coming into contact with germs on grocery cart handles is to wipe down the handle before using it. Many grocery stores offer wipes for this very purpose, especially since COVID-19. Another way to prevent illness is washing down fruits and vegetables before eating them. If germs from the cart get onto them when people pick them up, they will be washed down the drain instead of getting into your mouth.
Knowing that touching your hands to your mouth can cause illness makes a restaurant a simple area to guess might hold the potential for getting sick. “Wash your hands before you eat” has been a long-held piece of advice, after all. But where are the most germs in a restaurant?
Two spots are known to hold germs and are not cleaned as frequently as others. Many people use the same pieces of silverware or plates, but employees wash them between uses. Tables are also cleaned before new groups sit down.
However, many people use the condiments without thinking twice, and they are not often a spot people think to clean. People will put ketchup on their burger and take a big bite without realizing they have transferred germs from the bottle to their burger to their mouths. Another hotspot is menus. Wiping down menus is not very common, and people do not realize that after handling a menu they may have germs on their hands.
Getting up to wash your hands multiple times during dinner may seem annoying and even excessive. So how can you prevent picking up bacteria and getting sick in a restaurant?
Just like with grocery store carts, a great thing to do is to wipe these areas down. Keeping a travel pack of wipes in a purse or bag may be helpful. But keeping wipes or putting in the effort to clean a whole table full of condiments may not be feasible. A portable hand sanitizer can be an excellent choice as well. One quick use after using a menu or condiment, and your hands are ready.
The truth is germs live everywhere, even on our skin. Not all of them make us sick, which is good because we could not hope to avoid all of them. But there are certain hotspots for germs that should make us pause before we come into contact with them and be sure to clean up afterward.
Whether it is a bathroom sink, elevator button, grocery store cart handle, or even a menu, we should all be prepared to take action to try to prevent the spread of germs. Nobody wants to be sick. By cleaning our hands and avoiding using them in certain areas, we can reduce the number of germs we leave behind and take with us.