Where Germs Hide

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
January 29, 2017

Neckties and handbags carry more microbes than you might guess.

Calling all germaphobes: Having a strong immune system is your best protection against illness. Still we all should wash our hands with soap after using the bathroom, and many people don’t. We also should wash our hands before eating, especially if you’ve been in a hospital or on public transportation. One study found that washing your hands regularly can cut respiratory infections in healthy adults, excluding the elderly, by 16 percent. Older people should be more careful.


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Use soap, lather up thoroughly, and scrub vigorously for at least 20 seconds. Many people don’t spend that time, and others skip soap in public restrooms, just rinsing their hands, according to an annual survey. But those self-reported numbers probably underestimate the problem. In three studies that actually monitored bathrooms at a car show and state fair in Minnesota, data showed that men just aren’t following instructions: half to 70 percent of men didn’t wash their hands at all, and some 25 to 30 percent of women also dashed out.

Using an alcohol-based sanitizing gel is a back-up plan; these gels don’t remove important germs that soap and water can, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In addition, you can cut your chances of getting a cold, flu, or pneumonia if you follow a few other hygiene tips from Miryam Wahrman, a biologist at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey who specializes in hand hygiene, and the author of “The Hand Book: Surviving in a Germ-Filled World.”

  1. Wash your necktie. Many doctors have stopped wearing ties, after research found that they tended to be contaminated with Staph and K. penumoniae. Choose ties made of microfiber, a material that carries fewer germs than does silk, cotton, or polyester. A tie you can hand-wash will be cleaner, she says, than one that must be dry-cleaned, which doesn’t always kill germs.
  2. Wipe down the straps of handbags. Vinyl or leather will be easier to clean than cloth.
  3. Clean your cell phone. Use a product like “Wireless Wipes” or a microfiber cloth moistened with ethyl or isopropyl alcohol to wipe your phone every day. You can also invest in an ultraviolet cell phone sanitizer for under a $100.
  4. Remove your rings when you wash your hands. Also remove wristwatches or other jewelry you wear habitually. Swab their surfaces with alcohol.
  5. Don’t lick your fingers when counting bills! Paper money is dirty. After you use money or credit cards (touching the scanner and stylus), wash your hands before you eat or touch your face.
  6. Use a sanitizing alcohol wipe on steering wheels of rental cars.
  7. Be particularly careful to wash your hands before you eat when you travel. Airports and other public transportation hubs are germy.

Be more careful during flu season, and remember to sneeze into the crook of your arm.

If you’re traveling to a country where you might be at risk of getting diarrhea from food or water, the CDC recommends using anti-bacterial hand gel. In one small study, based on interviews at an international airport with 200 people returning home from abroad, 30 percent of those who didn’t use gels had experienced vomiting or diarrhea compared to 17 percent among travelers who took that precaution.


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January 29, 2017

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN