Places where germs can live

All year long, we are exposed to germs. While people are conscientious about picking up germs after taking public transportation or using a computer keyboard, those aren’t the only spots where germs can linger. As it turns out, germs are everywhere.

This time of year, we must maintain a higher vigilance due to the return to school, weather changes and the annual “flu season.” Extra diligence will be required of everyone in personal and respiratory hygiene in the face of the double-whammy of the seasonal flu and the H1N1 flu varieties.

From checkout counters to make-up bags, there are places where germs can live and ways you can minimize your chances of becoming ill.

Carts, Buggies and Checkout Counters: At many checkout counters, there is a ledge for shoppers to write out a check and a key pad for people to swipe their debit or credit card and type in their PIN number. These are two areas where shoppers stand, cough or sneeze while waiting to be checked out. Avoid sneezing or coughing into your hands. Instead, sneeze into your sleeve. In addition, you should use your own pen to write checks or sign receipts. Use a hand sanitizer after handling common pens, carts and buggies.

Reusable Shopping Bags: Meat packages sometimes leak, leaving blood droplets from beef or chicken in the bottom of a bag. When it comes to whether or not a reusable shopping bag has germs, it depends on how often a person uses the bag. If the bag is completely dry and the person only goes to the store once a week, the bag probably is fine. Odds are, whatever germs ended up in the bag from the last visit will have dried up before the next trip to the store. However, if the person goes to the store every day, then there might be more of a concern. To get rid of any lingering germs, periodically put reusable bags in the washing machine.

Kitchens: In a kitchen, you can easily be exposed to germs, such as common types of food bacteria, like salmonella, because of the amount of contact that occurs between people, food and the surfaces on which people eat. Places to watch out for germs are the utensil drawers, towels, counters, sponges and your hands. You can best avoid contamination by making sure the utensil drawer always is closed when preparing food nearby, using a fresh towel or paper towel when wiping down counters and drying hands, and replacing sponges regularly.

Make-up Bags: Most women know to throw out their mascara after three to six months to avoid transferring bacteria to the eye, but it also is important to wash the actual bag itself. Women also should wash brushes and replace make-up sponges after being sick to avoid spreading germs.

Work Vehicles/Tools: Some workplaces, such as a police department or mail delivery service, require employees to share vehicles. Employees should be sure to wipe down the steering wheel or other commonly touched things in the vehicle before and after their shift.

Dr. Daniel Callan is a board-certified occupational medicine physician with Blount Memorial Business Health. Additional board certifications focus on environmental medicine, aerospace medicine and family medicine.

© 2009 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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