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They might be lurking in unexpected places.

Germs tend to congregate in certain places in your home and hang around, sometimes for days.

Now we know where to look for them.

The TV remote. Faucets. The refrigerator handle. If someone in your house is sick, these are the germ hot spots, according to a newly released study.

The flu season started about a month ago, and state and federal health officials reported sporadic outbreaks in 11 states, including Florida. So far there are only three documented cases in Florida, including one in Hillsborough County.

"It's pretty normal this time of year in Florida," said Kateesha McConnell, an epidemiologist with the state Department of Health.

Health officials could not predict if it would be a bad year for the flu and they don't track colds. But knowing where germs are typically found and getting rid of them can ward off both.

Doctors don't know how often people catch colds from touching germ-laden surfaces, said Dr. Birgit Winther, an ear, nose and throat specialist who helped conduct the study at the University of Virginia.

Two years ago, she and other doctors showed that germs survived in hotel rooms a day after guests left, waiting to be picked up by the next person to stay there.

For the new study, researchers tested the homes of 30 people with colds. Sixteen tested positive for Rhinovirus, which causes about half of all colds. They were asked to name 10 places in their homes they had touched in the preceding 18 hours.

"We found that commonly touched areas like refrigerator doors and handles were positive about 40 percent of the time" for cold germs, Winther said.

All three of the salt and pepper shakers they tested were contaminated. Other spots found with germs: 6 out of 18 doorknobs; 8 of 14 refrigerator handles; 3 of 13 light switches; 6 of 10 remote controls; 8 of 10 bathroom faucets; 4 of 7 phones, and 3 of 4 dishwasher handles.

The study was sponsored by Reckitt-Benckiser Inc., makers of Lysol, but no products were tested in the research. The study, designed by doctors with no ties to the company, was an effort to lay the groundwork for future research on germs and ways to get rid of them

Doctors recommend frequent hand-washing to avoid picking up germs. Wearing surgical masks and using hand sanitizers also help. Cleaning with soap and water removes dirt and germs, but using a disinfectant cleaner kills them.