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Top 10 Germiest Places

Zuzana Bleha
August 18, 2015

We all know by now that proper hand washing is the best way to stop the spread of bacteria; in fact 80% of germs are spread by hands alone! We do our very best to properly wash our hands after using the restroom, before and after we eat and multiple times in between. We also assume that others are doing the same thing. However, studies show that  only 1 in 5 people wash their hands, and of those that do, only 30% use soap! 


When it comes down to it, we all want to look good, so 91% of us say we always wash our hands properly, when research shows that we may be telling quite a big fib.  


Let's look at some of the reasons WHY we should spend more time thinking about hand washing and WHERE in your daily lives you are most at risk of picking up nasty viruses like e.coli, norovirus, influenza and others.


Here are the Top 10 Germiest Places where you should give more thought to your hand washing habits (in no particular order).


#1. Public Restrooms

ThinkstockPhotos-466661513It's kind of obvious right? But you’d be surprised that the typical places you might think harbor the most bacteria, are usually the areas most often cleaned.


Surprisingly, the toilet seat has only 150 units of bacteria compared to the worst offender, the sink which has 50,000 units of bacteria! After washing your hands, you will likely want to dry them, this can also get tricky. If you have the option between the hot air dryer and paper towel – stick to one paper towel as studies show it is a far more superior at reducing bacteria from hands than any alternative. Other areas to avoid are the tap and the first and last thing we normally touch – the door handle. Make sure you use paper towel to open the door, or else your respectable hand washing effort will have gone to waste before you even leave the restroom.


#2. Grocery Stores

Grogery-storeGrocery stores contain produce, meat and dairy products which are known transmitters of bacteria such as salmonella, listeria and E. coli. if not stored properly or if cross-contaminated. Remember that hands are the number one way to spread bacteria, so it goes without saying that this place is one of the germiest.


There’s a 72% chance that your shopping cart has fecal bacteria on it (eww) and it’s also an easy way to pick up colds or the flu virus. It’s a good idea to carry anti-bacterial wipes to clean it off before shopping, especially if you have small children that tend to touch everything.


Conveyor belts are one of the worst surfaces for bacteria because of their porous surface and for the fact that everything leaving the store sits on it. That means dairy spills, meat juices and mold all make their way on this belt, and that bacteria is getting over all your packaging, and to your hands. Some stores spray the belts; however often it is not frequent or thorough enough.

While you cannot possibly avoid all bacteria, a simple rule is to avoid touching your mouth or eyes during your shopping trip – that means no sampling food – and sanitize your hands upon leaving the store, or wash them immediately when you get home.


#3 Public Transportation

ThinkstockPhotos-454141511This high traffic public area is one of the easiest and quickest ways viruses spread over great distances. Modes of transportation such as airplanes, buses, subways, trains and ships are one of the reasons there are great concerns should a highly infectious and deadly virus appear in the future. Even if we are just talking about influenza, the common cold and other common viruses, we should be conscious to practice good hand hygiene during our travels.


Most commonly, anything that is frequently touched like poles, handrails, buttons, handles, tables and seats are biggest culprits. In a study performed on New York subways, researchers found 637 known bacterial, viral, fungal and animal species – where almost half of them could not be identified and did not match any organisms known to man. Another thing to keep in mind is that your neighbor that is coughing or sneezing is sending hundreds of droplets of bacteria in the air, that can potentially infect several people with influenza and other viruses. The best way to prevent this is for people to cough into a napkin or in the crook of their arm.


Finally, another study found that MRSA and e.Coli bacteria can survive on air plane surfaces for up to a week! These included armrests, the back seat pocket, window shade and especially the tray table we eat from. It's a good idea to carry a personal size alcohol-based hand sanitizer when travelling.


#4 Fitness Centres

fitnessYou’re hitting the gym to try to get fit and healthy. But did you ever wonder why you are getting sick or where that mysterious rash on your arms and legs came from? You might not have to look much farther than your favourite work-out spot. The gym is lurking with bacteria. People are sweating, wiping equipment with dirty towels and touching everything. Keep sanitizer or sanitizer wipes very close by.

Here’s why –


Norovirus that causes stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea can stay on exercise equipment for up to a month! The fungus that causes foot infections grow and multiply in the shower and MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant bacteria, has even been found in locker rooms. Some bacteria hot spots to pay attention to include, free weights, exercise ball, work-out machines, according to Philip Tierno Jr., PhD, a clinical professor of microbiology and pathology at NYU Medical School and the author of The Secret Life of Germs.


The humidity of locker rooms is the perfect environment for germs to spread and thrive. Fecal bacteria comes in on shoes, so wear your flip-flops everywhere. Also mind the bench where others have sat before you. Avoid sharing exercise mats, or ensure you sanitize it properly so you don’t contract skin infections, athlete’s foot, flu or hepatitis A. If you use a towel, be careful that you don’t wipe the machines with it and also use it to wipe yourself.


And finally, the pool. Pools use chemicals to kill bacteria in the water, however sometimes the levels of chemicals are off. That chlorine smell is not a sign of a clean pool, it actually means the opposite – the more you smell it, the dirtier it is. That’s because of the way chlorine smells when reacting with microorganisms.


#5 Gas Pumps

gas-pumpsOf all germiest places, one of the worst are gas pumps. Consider how many people go through a gas station every day, and that they are never, ever cleaned. A study by Dr. Charles Gerba, a microbiologist known as “Dr. Germ” from the University of Arizona, found that 71% of all gas pump handles were “highly contaminated” with illness and disease causing bacteria. In addition, the gas pump pay station is also highly contaminated, with the “Enter” key being the worst.



#6 Offices

 officeA study by Dr. Gerba, reveals that an office desktop has almost 21, 000 germs per square inch, and phones had more than 25,000 germs per square inch! Desks, phones, computers, keyboards and your mouse are key germ transfer points because people touch them so often, Gerba says. To add to that, 90% of people come into work sick so any sneezing or coughing can leave behind additional bacteria on surfaces for up to three days.
Other areas of concern are the staff kitchen, including the coffee maker and pot, sink and sponges and surfaces. Sponges are often used to clean surfaces; however they are 200,000 times dirtier than your toilet seat! Ditch the sponge and use a paper towel instead. Office kitchens are usually not cleaned properly daily and most neglected are the coffee pots that harbor lots of nasty germs including fecal matter. Make sure your coffee pot is flushed with vinegar regularly and to let the pieces dry completely. Remember that only 1 in 5 people wash their hands properly, that includes your coworkers. Educating them on these ‘dirty’ areas of the workplace can help maintain a safer work environment for everyone.


#7 Restaurants

ThinkstockPhotos-468111082Research has found that even the squeakiest clean looking restaurants are ridden with all kinds of bacteria. The most common germ hot spots are those that are touched the most, and rarely cleaned. The menu is often the first thing you touch before you eat, and one of the least cleaned items. It can carry an average of 185,000 bacteria. Remember that the cold or flu virus can survive for 18 hours on hard surfaces, so it’s a good idea to sanitize or wash your hands after you’ve handed the menu back to the server. Other items to note are the condiments (ketchup, salt and pepper shakers) and lemon wedges that garnish your drinks or are put in your drinks.  


#8 Doctor’s Office

ThinkstockPhotos-146763362So you’re feeling ill and you go to your doctor’s office for help. The moment you touch the door knob, you have potentially contaminated your hand with the germs of all the previous patients from that office.
Everyone there is potentially sick, so you can be sure that the waiting room area is definitely harboring bacteria including influenza, colds, norovirus, streptococcal bacteria and others. Sneezing and coughing patients can quickly spread bacteria in the form of air droplets much farther than you think, so you may want to keep some distance from others.
If you can’t use the phone health service and must go into the office, avoid touching the reading material, arm rests and don’t let your kids play with the toys if possible. Bring a personal alcohol based hand sanitizer with you to clean your hands during and after your visit.


#9 Hotel Rooms

hotel-roomAlthough they are cleaned daily, hotel rooms are high-traffic spaces where the risk of the spread of infection to several rooms or areas of the hotel is increased.
A CBC Marketplace study visited over 54 hotel rooms from 6 national chains in 3 major cities and used black-light and swabs to get an idea of bacteria count in hotel rooms. Their findings revealed that the highest bacteria counts were found on the comforter, TV remote, bathroom counter, faucet and toilet seat. Of those, 19% were antibiotic resistant strains and 46% were MRSA. It is possible to acquire infections from hotel rooms, just as 10 years ago when a Chinese doctor visited a hotel in Hong Kong and consequently infected 16 other hotel guests with SARS.  


#10 Schools

Parents already know this all too well, their children get sick more often from picking up bugs at school. 
Firstly, it is important that parents teach their children how to wash their hands properly with soap for more than 20 seconds, and also WHY it’s important to wash them.
A study by ABC News uncovered the germiest things found in a typical school are the water fountain (2,335 bacteria), the basketball (13,987 bacteria), lunch tables, trays and computer lab keyboards (9,838). Especially during the winter months, the flu and common colds are easily transmitted from student to student and from student to family. One helpful tip to avoid your whole family getting sick is ensuring your child washes their hands immediately when returning from school.

Why it matters

You may question why you need to wash your hands so much; since you may say its overkill or that you rarely get sick. During the flu season, it’s easy to see how easy it is to catch the common cold or even the flu. Another example is norovirus, an extremely contagious virus with nasty side effects. So in the event that someone in your family or workplace has picked up one of these viruses, then chances are great that you will get it too. That’s why hand washing can help prevent you from getting it AND from spreading it to others. Of most concern, are those with compromised immune systems, the very young and the elderly. Consideration for others plays a huge part in why hand washing is stressed so often.

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