Sunday, April 22, 2018
Health

Bacteria are all over, but a clean routine can lessen the ick

It's a dirty world we're living in, and often our germiest encounters are not where we expect them. Not all germs are harmful, and healthy bodies can resist many illnesses. But the more people are exposed, the greater their chance of becoming infected with or transmitting a dangerous bug, from respiratory viruses to a host of foodborne bacteria.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year 48 million Americans, or 1 in 6 people, get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die of food-borne diseases.

"You're always gambling with germs," said Dr. Charles Gerba, professor in the department of soil, water and environmental science at the University of Arizona. "The thing is to make the odds in your favor."

That means reducing exposure to germs, a feat best accomplished with regular hand-washing, using hand sanitizer and keeping your paws off your face, Gerba said.

It also means cleaning those grimy items you rarely think to clean.

If you have kids or pets, if you are immunocompromised or someone in your household is sick, you may need to clean more thoroughly and frequently, said Donna Duberg, assistant professor of clinical lab science at Saint Louis University in St. Louis.

Need motivation? Here are average total bacteria counts, per square inch, for some common germ-infested items we encounter in our daily lives, according to Gerba, who has tested hundreds of surfaces.

775,460,560

Dish sponge

The dirt: Easily the grossest cesspool in your household, the sponge is often a culprit in spreading germs around when you use a dirty one to "clean" other surfaces. It takes about a week for the germ count to get sky high.

To clean: Some people suggest running sponges through the dishwasher, but Duberg cautions that can contaminate your dishwasher and your dishes. Better to throw them away and buy a new pack at the dollar store, she said. You could also put it in the microwave for 30 seconds to kill germs, Gerba said. Do this weekly or after each time you wipe down surfaces that had raw meats or vegetables on them.

228,854

Kitchen faucet handle

The dirt: There's more fecal bacteria in the kitchen sink than in the toilet after we flush it, Gerba said, thanks to all the meat and produce remnants that collect there.

To clean: Clean off visible soil first, then wipe with sanitizing wipes. The surface must stay wet for 30 seconds to kill 99.9 percent of germs, Duberg said.

79,000

Keyboard/mouse

The dirt: Janitors rarely touch your personal space, so if you don't clean it, no one will.

To clean: Use sanitizing wipes to wipe every surface of the keyboard (use cotton swabs to get between the keys) and mouse and all around your workstation. Do it at least weekly, or more if you are sick or other people use the computer.

61,597

Cutting board

The dirt: Raw meat and chicken can make cutting boards a dangerous source of cross-contamination if they're not cleaned properly.

To clean: For wooden boards, scrub with hot soapy water to remove soil, then do it again to kill bacteria, Duberg suggests. Plastic boards can go in the dishwasher or be soaked in a 10 percent bleach (which must then be rinsed off with soapy water) or 10 percent vinegar solution.

17,000

Remote control

The dirt: Given that they pass between many hands, are used while snacking and rarely get cleaned, remote controls are often germ baths.

To clean: Wipe with sanitizing wipes a couple of times per week.

11,020

Cellphone

The dirt: Pressed against your face and mouth all day, cellphones can give germs easy access to enter your body — especially if you share your phone.

To clean: Wipe with a sanitizing wipe daily.

8,643

Doorknob

The dirt: Though they get a bad rap, things like doorknobs and light switches usually aren't so dirty, because people aren't touching them very often.

To clean: Wipe with a sanitizing wipe at least weekly, more often if you are ill.

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