Mother with stroller bundled up outside in the winter cold

The best way to treat a cold or the flu is not to get them in the first place. Prevention means knowing where these nasty germs are hiding and avoiding them like the plague. Germs are everywhere, actually, according to Dr. Philip Tierno, director of clinical microbiology and immunology at the Langone Medical Center at New York University. He’s also the author of a new book, “The Secret Life of Germs.”

Tierno says “we encounter about 60,000 types of germs every year” but only about 1 or 2 percent of them can cause harm to an individual with a healthy immune system. That sickening 2 percent likes to hang out here:

  1. Grocery Store Shopping Carts: The handles and the seat buckets are the danger zones. We sneeze, wipe our noses, then grab the handle all the time. Kids with dirty hands and diapers are all over the place. Meat packages leak and spread disease causing germs, including salmonella and E. coli.
  2. Playgrounds: Birds and toddlers in dirty diapers leave droppings all over playgrounds. Then other kids touch it and spread it to swings, slides, jungle gyms...everywhere. Sneezing and coughing kids spread still more germs. Petting zoos and other venues with live animals are often sources for E. coli contamination.
  3. Public Restrooms: Nope, it’s not the toilet. It’s the sink where most germs lurk. People leave the toilet and touch the faucet handles before they can wash their hands. The wet, damp environment in and around the sink is paradise for the kind of germs that cause illness in humans. Almost half of American women use disposable seat covers or toilet paper to line the seat before sitting down, making the toilet typically the cleanest part of the public loo.
  4. The Office: An office desk is home to about 400 times more germs than a public toilet, according to Charles Gerba. He’s a microbiologist at the University of Arizona who specializes in germs in public places. He says an office phone is home to more than 25,000 bacteria and keyboards are pretty well populated, too. The desk drawer where a person hides her food stash is the germiest. Women’s offices are three times more bacteria-blanketed than their male co-workers’ offices, thanks to cosmetics, purses, knick-knacks, and things like that.
  5. Restaurants: Table tops and high chairs are a much bigger threat than contaminated food. Tables and high chairs usually get wiped down by the same rag, which cleans the next table and the next one and the next one...
  6. Public Libraries: Lots of dirty busy hands in a library. People thumb through books, use computers, touch countertops. Gerba says libraries can have as many germs as fast-food restaurants.
  7. Cruise Ships: The Love Boat is no place for a germophobe. Each one is like a small, encapsulated city that works like an incubator for bacteria and viruses. On-board cases of gastrointestinal illness rose by 25.6 percent between 2001 and 2005, according to the CDC. Don’t touch the handrails or the hardware that opens bathroom doors.
  8. Shopping Malls: Don’t touch escalator handrails, either. Don’t touch escalator handrails in other places, too, such as airports and office buildings. And cruise ships.

Seems the trouble is a matter of touch. The healthful value of clean hands can’t be emphasized enough.

Source: McEwen, Nicole. "Avoid Getting Sick: Top 8 Germiest Public Places Exposed." Lifescript. 31 Oct 2013. Web. Retrieved 13 Nov 2013.