Here are seven summer germ hot spots and what you can do to prevent them from putting a damper on your fun.
1. Pools and water parks
Swimming pools and water parks might be treated with chlorine, but a specific parasite known as cryptosporidium is resistant to chlorine and responsible for up to 30 outbreaks a year. If you’re exposed, it can cause diarrhea that can last between 3 and 7 days.
No matter how well a person wipes after using the bathroom, about one-tenth of a gram of feces is left behind and brought into the pool, said Dr. Charles Gerba, professor of microbiology and environmental sciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Plus, preschoolers often have accidents, and swim diapers can’t contain everything.
“They release fecal material into the pool and it infects all of the people the rest of the day because the parasite is so resistant to chlorine,” Gerba, who is also a spokesperson for Children’s Advil, said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the best way to prevent exposure is to not swallow the water and change your child’s diaper frequently.
Seawater can be contaminated with waste, but sand can actually harbor more fecal bacteria and stick around longer than bacteria found in water, a study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology found.
There’s no reason to avoid the beach, but avoid getting sand in your food and always wash your hands or use hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available before you eat.
A recent study by TravelMath, an online trip-planning site, found that rooms in four- and five-star hotels had more germs than those in three-star hotels.
Since more people frequent hotels in the summer, travel between destinations or go on day trips, there are more germs to be exposed to, said Philip M. Tierno Jr., Ph.D., clinical professor in the department of pathology and microbiology at NYU School of Medicine and author of “The Secret Life of Germs.”
Bacteria can lurk on any surface but remote controls, doorknobs, light switches, clock radios, telephones and bathroom countertops are hot spots. In fact, Tierno said that water glasses in the bathroom are often cleaned with the same cloth used for the toilet.
When you check in to your hotel, use anti-bacterial wipes to clean surfaces. Only use the water glass if it is covered in plastic or bring your own. Wash your hands frequently, for twenty seconds at a time, and never touch your eyes, mouth or nose or scratch an open wound.
4. Farmer’s markets
There’s nothing better than heading to your local farmer’s market to pick up fresh, local and organic produce, but food can still be exposed to salmonella, E. coli and other pathogens as well as bacteria from the soil and water where it’s grown.
When you get home, wash all of your produce, and use a scrub brush for those with a rough skin like cantaloupe, since cutting into the fruit can transmit bacteria to the flesh, said Mindy Costello, a consumer information specialist for NSF International in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Store raw produce and produce that has been washed and cut up separately in the refrigerator and always clean the vegetable compartment, which is the most common place in the kitchen where bacteria lurk, a study by NSF International found.
5. Flip flops
Sandals and flip flops are summer staples but a study conducted by the University of Miami found they can harbor a whopping 18,000 germs included feces, bacteria and vomit.
To reduce your exposure, take your shoes off at the door, frequently give them a good scrub and wash your hands after handling them.
6. Picnic tables
Picnic tables are breeding grounds for bacteria since food waste is often left behind, birds use them as restrooms and they’re rarely cleaned.
“High temperatures incubate organisms and they prosper and grow pretty rapidly,” Tierno said.
When you head to the park, beach or pool, always bring a tablecloth and throw it in the wash on a hot water setting when you get home.
7. Hot tubs
Soaking in a hot tub at the spa is relaxing but a bacterium known as pseudomonas folliculitis can cause a “hot tub rash” infection. Since the water is warmer than in pools, chlorine and disinfectants that kill germs are less effective because they break down faster.
The CDC recommends removing and washing your swimsuit afterwards and taking a shower to avoid getting sick.
Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She's also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.