Germaphobes beware! The world around us is teeming with microbial life. From the dead-set obvious public toilet seat to the obscure bacteria-laden snowflake, the world is a reservoir of the microscopic, and we are merely passengers.
To put things in even grander perspective, feast on this juicy fact: There is an estimated five nonillion (5x10 to the power of 30) bacteria alive and thriving on the Earth today. Our microscopic friends actually make up much of the world's biomass, far superseding both humans and plants. In fact, there are approximately one million bacterial cells in a single milliliter of fresh water, and a whopping 40 million bacterial cells in a single gram of forest soil alone — and these numbers don't even include viruses.
SLIDESHOW: Germiest Jobs
Keeping in mind that most of us adult males don't muck around in the mud no more, AM has done a little homework to compile a short list of germ cesspools. Acknowledging these filthy microbial hangouts and following some of our suggested precautionary measures might just keep you a tad healthier and away from winter sicknesses.
1. Public Magazines
Grime factor: Hand sanitizer will do the trick
Cold and flu viruses can survive on dry surfaces for upward of 48 hours, while some bacteria, such as E. coli, can survive on dry surfaces for months on end.
Those alluring public magazines, especially those in doctor's offices, have the potential for carrying the cold and flu viruses (especially with all those sickies around). Bathroom reading materials, on the other hand, may carry fecal bacteria like E. coli, which can cause diarrhea.
Germs be gone: Always use the alcohol-based hand sanitizer when entering a doctor's office. If you do read a public magazine, just avoid touching your face and always wash your hands after.
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2. Office Keyboards
Grime factor: Hand sanitizer will do the trick
A study by UK consumer group Which? Computing tested 33 office keyboards for microbial contamination. The result: Several office keyboards were labeled “health hazardous,” while one particular keyboard was found to be carrying five times as many germs as the same office's public toilet seats. That's a germ cesspool if ever there was one.
Most of the bacteria found from the study were a reflection of bacteria found in the nose, mouth and gut, and thus do not pose too great a risk of infection. Shared keyboards, however, increase the risk of passing infectious microorganisms, particularly the cold and flu viruses.
Germs be gone: Clean your mouse and keyboard (there are plenty of resources online that describe just how to do so), wash your hands and try to avoid eating over your keyboard.
3. The Gym
Grime factor: Vigorous hand washing with soap and hot water needed after exposure.
A 2006 study in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine found the cold virus on 73% of weight-lifting equipment and on 51% of aerobic equipment. Thankfully, the same study found little to no trace of infectious bacteria.
There is a real risk of viral transmission from shared exercise equipment.
Germs be gone: Thoroughly wipe down all equipment after use (guys, we're looking in your direction), wear gloves if possible and avoid touching your face until you've washed your hands.
4. Shopping Carts
Grime factor: We'd suggest paint thinner if it didn't burn so much.
A 2006 study out of the University of Arizona found two-thirds of shopping cart handles to be contaminated with fecal bacteria, including E. coli and salmonella, more so than public toilet seats. The culprit: Diapered infants. Further research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that riding in a shopping cart next to raw meat or poultry puts infants at greater risk for acquiring salmonella infection.
Shopping cart handles are excellent transmitters of diarrhea and other potential illnesses, both to adults and to children.
Germs be gone: Grocery stores are beginning to offer complementary sanitary wipes and have begun to implement other cart disinfection systems. However, individuals can still take precautions such as wiping down handles with personal disinfectant wipes before use, washing all unpackaged food items thoroughly before consumption, skipping free samples and avoiding touching their faces while shopping.
5. Subway Poles
Grime factor: Burn your hands after touching.
Due to sheer commuter volume alone, subway poles are a prime source of disease transmission.
Riding the rails is an unavoidable health hazard.
Germs be gone: Public places are laden with all kinds of germs, and subway poles are perhaps the defining example of a germ cesspool. Despite the label, unless you have open cuts on your hand or frequently touch your face while riding the rails, the risk of infection is still very low. To ease commuter concerns, new protective measures are currently being explored — including the use of copper poles or other bacteria-resistant polymers on rails — but in the meantime, veteran rail-riders can try washing their hands after each trip.
Keep Germs at Bay
The world may be a scary place, but just remember that the majority of bacteria are friendly — they help recycle nutrients and keep ecosystems alive, they aid in the digestion of our food and some have even helped in creating vital medicines. While the same can't be said for certain viruses, it's important to understand that even in a perfect world, we can never be germ-free. So, germaphobes everywhere, take heed: Wash your hands more (with plain soap and water) and avoid touching your face. These two universal measures will go further than any other harebrained scheme.