By: Anna Roufos
Startling reports about germs seem to spread faster than the little buggers themselves these days. Your desk is dirtier than a toilet bowl! Your bathroom is cleaner than your desk! But are the millions of germs we're exposed to daily dangerous -- or just disgusting?
So what do you need to worry about? We investigated the following germy claims to find out what you really need to do to stay clean and healthy.
Icky Spot #1: Unclean Office Objects
Claim: Your office desk is dirtier than a toiler bowl.True. The average desktop has 400 times more bacteria than a toilet bowl, simply because people usually don't clean their desks on a regular basis, says Chuck Gerba, PhD, a professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Most of these germs are harmless, but in a recent study Gerba and his colleagues found the parainfluenza virus, which causes colds and flu, on about one-third of office surfaces. The germiest object: the phone. Viruses such as the flu can survive for two or three days on desktops, phones, and computer keyboards. They're transmitted when you touch contaminated objects and then put your hands on your nose, mouth, and eyes, says Gerba. (By the way, the door handle on the microwave in the office kitchen is also a very germy place. So be sure to wash your hands after heating up your lunch.) Keep microbe levels on your desk down by regularly cleaning with a disinfecting wipe, particularly during flu season. Don't apply disinfectant directly to equipment, which can damage it. Spray first on a paper towel. If you share a phone, clean it every day. Wash your hands often (with warm water and soap or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer), and don't touch your face, says Gerba.
Icky Spot #2: Your Toothbrush
Claim: Every time you flush the toilet, your toothbrush gets sprayed with bacteria.
Gross, but true. Microorganisms are ejected when you flush the toilet and land all over the bathroom, even if you close the lid, according to research by Gerba. But you probably won't get sick from this. "When the toothbrush dries, most of the organisms will die anyway," says Gerba. Just keep your toothbrush as far away from the toilet as possible, or put it in the medicine cabinet, he says. If someone in the house is ill and using the same bathroom as you are, her germs could be spread this way.
Icky Spot #3: Makeup
Claim: Your makeup is breeding ground for bacteria.
True. "Any bacteria on your hands or face contaminates the makeup when they come in contact," says Elizabeth Brooks, a professor of biological sciences at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey. Two possible problems can result: pimples, which are caused by bacteria trapped inside pores; and pinkeye, a bacterial infection caused by staphylococcus. Avoid infection by washing your hands before applying makeup and cleaning your applicators weekly. Toss makeup after two months. For foundation, instead of touching the tube or bottle with your fingers, pour it on your hand or an applicator to apply. Another tip: Wipe brushes with alcohol when you don't have time to wash them. And never share makeup; you can easily transfer infections this way.
Icky Spot #4: Your Laundry
Claim: Letting wet clothes sit in the washer allows mildew to form.
True. But they'd usually have to sit for 24 hours, says Elaine Larson, PhD, a professor of pharmaceutical and therapeutic research at Columbia University School of Nursing. Apart from smelly clothing, this could trigger an allergy or asthma attack. If your clothes have a funky odor, you'll have to run the washing machine again. If they still smell, you may have mildew spores, which can multiply into fungus (mildew) growth in your machine. To clean it out, run an empty cycle with hot water and diluted bleach once a month, and always leave the lid open between loads to let the tub dry out completely. You can also end with a bleach load to clean the machine. Laundry is a significant source of organisms, says Gerba, who swabbed 100 washing machines and found that 44 percent of them contained fecal bacteria. Drying will kill e. coli, but salmonella and viruses can remain. The risk of getting sick is small if you're healthy, but if someone in your home is ill, you may want to wash their clothes separately and then do a bleach cycle. You could transfer a virus by touching the clothes and then rubbing your eyes or nose. It's also a good idea to wash your hands after handling dirty laundry.
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