Everywhere and the kitchen sink!
Germs are something you might first hear of as a child picking up something your mother doesn’t approve of, and again in grade school science class. But what are the tiny organisms, and where are they hiding?
“’Germ’ is a generic term for a class of microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa,” said Dr. Richard Martin, family medicine physician at Geisinger Mt. Pleasant. “Though there are some species that can be good for our bodies, germs are usually associated with the strains that make us sick.”
If you make contact with a surface covered in germs then put your hand into your mouth, or come into contact with an infected person, the germs will enter your bloodstream and multiply, challenging your immune system.
Germs can be transferred from surface to surface by humans and animals, similarly to the way bees pollinate flowers by moving between them. Once transferred to a hard surface, germs can survive on their own for long periods. In fact, cold and flu (influenza) germs can live outside the human body for between 24 hours and a full week depending on the environment.
Shared items or surfaces in high-traffic areas are a favorite of germs, as well as corners or hard-to-clean spaces where they can hide. Here are a few unexpected places germs may be lurking.
- Cell phones: These days it seems like we are rarely without our phones. Throughout the day you might put your phone down on the seat of the train, on the counter at the coffee shop or on the machine at the gym. Some might even bring them to the bathroom.
All of these contact points make our cell phones a hot spot for germs that should be regularly wiped down with antibacterial products.
- TSA trays: If you’re traveling this cold and flu season, remember to wash your hands after handling those TSA trays.
“Think again about all the germs on your cell phone, then amplify that by an entire airport worth of cell phones passing through the checkpoint,” said Dr. Martin. The bins may not be cleaned as much as we would like, and plastic is one of germs’ preferred surfaces.
- Hotel room remote controls: Given the hundreds of hands that have likely reached for that hotel room clicker, those little ridges and crevices can be a breeding ground for germs and bacteria.
If you pack disinfectant wipes in your suitcase, consider giving the remote a quick wipe down.
- The kitchen sink: You might think bathrooms are the most germ-laden area of the home, but that’s not always the case. Leftover food and other particles left in the kitchen sink can feed germs, and placing dishes in the sink or transferring them to the dishwasher gives germs the chance to get onto our hands.
Remember to wash the inside of your sink regularly and scrub your hands after handling dirty dishes.
Unfortunately, there is no way to avoid every place germs are hiding, but you can defend yourself with frequent hand washing, a healthy diet full of immune-boosting vitamins and nutrients and by keeping your hands away from your face.
Scrubbing your hands with warm water and antibacterial soap for 20 seconds at a time will remove any germs, and receiving your annual flu vaccine can provide additional protection from the virus.
How to avoid the flu
Aside from washing your hands often, using alcohol-based hand sanitizers and avoiding contact with others who have flu symptoms, one of the best ways to prevent the flu is to get your flu shot each year.
Need to get your flu shot? Learn more here.