The most germ-infested places you encounter – and how to avoid getting sick

It’s 6 a.m. Your alarm shrieks and you hit the snooze button. You have just deposited germs on your alarm clock.

Most of us cringe when strangers cough or sneeze near us in public. But hands are the real germ carriers, and our own hands are culprits. As you go about your day, your hands pick up other people’s germs but also deposit germs of their own. What kinds? Mostly the ones that cause colds, flus and diarrhea, but also norovirus, staph, MRSA and more.

Let’s track where the worst microbes are in the course of a day. Our tour guide? Charles Gerba, often called “Dr. Germ,” a microbiologist at the University of Arizona. Gerba never imagined that microbiology would make him famous, but an Internet search of his name yields more than 10,000 results.

As for the nickname, “I just got stuck with that,” Gerba said. “If you stick your head in a toilet all day, you’ve got to laugh.” Here’s what Gerba has found in more than 40 years of looking for germs.

Your home

Here are the germs you can encounter as you dress for the day.

Your clothes:

You might be surprised to hear that your clothes can harbor salmonella, hepatitis and other viruses. Gerba found those germs and others can survive our laundry efforts because most Americans don’t wash clothes in hot water or use bleach anymore.

The solution: Use bleach or the hot cycle if you can. If not, run the dryer for more than 30 minutes, which can kill germs.

Your kitchen:

Time for breakfast, and Gerba says our kitchens harbor far more pathogens than our bathrooms because of our own germs and those on raw meat and produce. The worst hot spots are the kitchen sink, kitchen sponge and kitchen counters.

The solution: Clean your kitchen sink and counter frequently with disposable disinfectant wipes, especially after handling raw meat or produce. Use paper towels, instead of a sponge, to wipe your counters. Run your sponge through the dishwasher or microwave it for one to two minutes to kill germs.

Your commute:

Next, many of us head to work. If you commute via bus or subway you are six times more likely to get sick than if you walk or drive, simply because you are coming into contact with many more people and their germs, Gerba said.

The solution: Use hand sanitizer or wash your hands just after exiting public transit. And make that hand-washing thorough! When I asked Gerba the biggest mistake people make regarding germs, he instantly said: “Not washing their hands long enough or well enough. Our study showed only half the people who went to a sink used soap in a public restroom.”

Your belongings:

If you wash your hands thoroughly and then grab your purse or cellphone, you are probably defeating the purpose. Gerba has often swabbed the bottoms of women’s purses and said about a third of them are contaminated with fecal bacteria, probably from being placed on public restroom floors.

Gerba and his team have tested cellphones that contained 100,000 bacteria. And because they are our constant companions — at the table, on the toilet, etc.- they are uniquely positioned to spread germs. “Viruses are a bit more mobile today than ever before because you’ve got mobile phones,” Gerba said.

The solution: Hang your purse on the bathroom hook rather than placing it on the floor. And never put a purse on your kitchen counter. Wipe your smartphone frequently with an alcohol-free antiseptic wipe. (Alcohol is not good for the screen.)

Your workplace

Restrooms have their risks, but they are not the worst germ centers at your workplace.

The elevator: The ground-floor elevator button is like a petri dish of germs because everybody who uses the elevator ends up touching it. But there’s something even worse. Read on!

The break room: “The hot spot we found in office buildings is usually the break room,” Gerba said. “Usually on the coffee pot handle. I mean, you want to be the first one to get the coffee in the morning.” Once again, where there are many people, there are many germs. “We found that viruses were spreading between people who had never met,” he said. “We figured maybe the problem was the restroom, but it was really the break room.” When Gerba and his team deliberately placed a synthetic germ in an office break room, it spread to most every surface in the office within four hours.

The restroom: The toilet seat that we obsess over is actually pretty clean because people wipe it or use paper liners, Gerba said. To improve your chances even more, choose the center stall, which contains fewer germs because fewer people use it. The exit door handle, another source of angst, is also pretty clean, because most people have just washed their hands. The real cesspool in a public restroom is the floor.

The solution: Wash your hands as soon as you get to work after exiting the elevator. Encourage your company to have a professional cleaning service swab down the break room in addition to the restroom. Wash your hands thoroughly after visiting the break room.


Once again, the restaurant restroom is not the biggest problem, probably because it is frequently and professionally cleaned. So think about what everybody touches at a restaurant: the menu! Gerba and his assistants found an average of 185,000 bacteria on menus in one test of restaurants in three states. There are probably about a hundred times more bacteria on that menu than on a typical toilet seat, Gerba said. Another potential problem spot: restaurant seats, because staffers wipe down the tables but maybe not the chairs.

The solution: Order your food from the menu and then excuse yourself to the not-so-dirty restroom to wash your hands. Or carry hand sanitizer and use a quick squirt before eating.

Grocery stores

Gerba found E. coli bacteria on half of the shopping cart handles he tested. It could have come from shoppers’ hands, their babies’ diapers or raw meat they put in the cart. Fabric grocery bags may be a bigger risk because they provide germs a direct route from the grocery store to your home. Gerba found that about half of reusable grocery bags were also contaminated with E. coli, which is associated with the fecal matter of animals and humans.

The solution: Ask your grocery store what shopping cart sanitation measures it takes and reward stores that have a plan in place. Don’t eat while you shop. Wash or sanitize your hands after shopping. Place reusable grocery bags on the floor rather than the kitchen counter while unloading. Wash your fabric grocery bags with hot water, bleach or both.

Most people reading about the germs they encounter throughout the day will be disgusted, but a hardy few will scoff and say that being exposed to germs makes you stronger. To that, Gerba deadpanned, “Or it kills you.” After all, pathogens like E. coli and salmonella can be deadly. “Getting sick doesn’t necessarily protect you,” Gerba said. But the advice above will.

Rev. Father Seraphim Ramos talks about Greek Orthodox icons during an interview with the LVRJ
Rev. Father Seraphim Ramos talks about Greek Orthodox icons during an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Holiday poultry with Tim and Chemaine Jensen of Village Meat & Wine
Tim and Chemaine Jensen of Village Meat & Wine explain the different types of poultry available for the holidays. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Catholic Charities hosts early Christmas meal
Students from the Bishop Gorman High School football and cheerleader team helped to serve food at the Christmas meal sponsored by the Frank and Victoria Fertitta Foundation at Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada on Sunday. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Incarcerated Christmas
This is the fourth year HOPE for Prisoners has worked with the Nevada Department of Corrections to create a Christmas for prisoners to visit their families. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
2018 Homeless Vigil
Straight From The Streets holds its 23rd annual vigil to remember the 179 homeless individuals who died in Clark County this year.
Getting through the Holiday blues
Psychologist Whitney Owens offers advice on keeping your mental health in check during the Holiday season in Henderson, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Operation Homefront Holiday Meals for Military
Operation Homefront Holiday Meals for Military program gave meal kits to 200 families at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10047 in Las Vegas Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. It all started with a chance encounter in a supermarket in Utica, N.Y., near Fort Drum. A soldier, his wife and infant had a handful of grocery items they couldn't afford. A Beam Suntory employee picked up the $12 cost for the groceries. The program has grown from providing 500 meal kits to military families in 2009 to providing more than 7,000 nationally this holiday season.K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal @KMCannonPhoto
An elegant Tea Party for substance abuse and homeless women
An elegant Tea Party for substance abuse and homeless women at WestCare Women Children Campus in Las Vegas. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Former 51s manager Wally Backman chats about new job
Former Las Vegas 51s manager Wally Backman talks about his new job with the independent league Long Island Ducks during the Baseball Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Dec. 10, 2018. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Inside the kitchen at Springs Preserve
The staff of Divine Events do party preparation in the kitchen at Divine Cafe at Springs Preserve. With nine parties the following day, this is a particularly busy time for the crew. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pearl Harbor survivor Edward Hall talks about his memories of Dec. 7, 1941
U.S. Army Corps Edward Hall, a 95-year-old survivor of Pearl Harbor talks about his memories of that horrific day. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Roy Choi on cooking for Park MGM employees
As he prepares to open his new restaurant Best Friend later this month at Park MGM, celebrity chef Roy Choi took the time to cook for the resort’s employees Tuesday. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Best Friend Menu Reveal Wednesday
Chef Roy Choi tells us what to expect from Wednesday’s Facebook Live Menu Reveal for his new Park MGM restaurant Best Friend. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Great Santa Run
People participated in the 14th annual Las Vegas Great Santa Run which raises cubs for Opportunity Village.
World Holidays Exhibit At The Natural History Museum
Migratory Bird Day teaches adults and kids to celebrate birds
Different organizations offered activities for kids and adults to learn about birds and celebrate their migration journey at Sunset Park. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
"Jackson: The Red Rock Canyon Burro" is a children's book about Red Rock Canyon
"Jackson: The Red Rock Canyon Burro" is a children's book about Red Rock Canyon (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Interfaith Amigos speak in Las Vegas
Celebrity photographer dedicates dance book to Las Vegas shooting victims
Behind the scenes with local celebrity photographer Jerry Metellus as he talks about his Dance For Vegas coffee book dedicated to the 58 victims of the October 1 shooting. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
News Headlines
Local Spotlight
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like