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Sheryl Kraft

Sheryl Kraft, a freelance writer and breast cancer survivor, was born in Long Beach, New York. She currently lives in Connecticut with her husband Alan and dog Chloe, where her nest is empty of her two sons Jonathan. Sheryl writes articles and essays on breast cancer and contributes to a variety of publications and websites where she writes on general health and wellness issues. She earned her MFA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College in 2005.

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Surprising Places Germs Hide Out

Family & Caregiving

I don’t know why, but lately I am on a cleaning frenzy. Maybe it’s all from writing about bedbugs (you could have a perfectly clean house and they will invade. But they just conjure up the word “dirty,” don’t they?). Maybe it’s my way of procrastinating – instead of sitting at my computer to work, I find something in dire need of scrubbing. Or maybe it’s because when I’m at the gym and notice someone sweating all over a machine, then blithely walking away, it just seems so…WRONG.

But it is good to be aware, because winter’s coming and that’s when pesky viruses and infections seem to find their way to us. Remember last winter, when everyone panicked over H1N1 and many people refused to shake hands or touch anything without gloves on? (Interesting note: when I looked up “H1N1” on the CDC’s website the page was no longer being updated. Instead, it was labeled, “historical archive.”)

Although we may not have H1N1 to worry about this year, there are still the old standby germs that are always hanging around. And the critters have a way of hiding out in places you’d never expect. That’s good to know, since if you’re like me, at least you’ll have a legitimate reason for your own cleaning frenzy.

Telephones, TV remote controls, computer keyboards and copying machines. Bacteria and cold and flu viruses can survive up to several days on inanimate surfaces. So, you may be exposed to germs long after someone appears to be sick. Without thinking, you may then touch your hand to your eyes or nose and voila – you’ve spread those germs.

Paper money. Germs like money as much as the next person. A Swiss study found that some strains of flu virus can survive on paper money for as long as three days. But it gets worse – if the germs are mixed with mucus, they live on for up to 17 days. (Gross, I know, but place it in your “good to know” file.) Might be a good idea to use credit cards to cut down on handling money…

Doctor’s waiting rooms. Yes, this one is pretty obvious. The next time you’re tempted to pick up a magazine in the waiting room, or you fill out information using the pen supplied by the office, maybe you want to consider bringing along your own reading material and stashing your own pen in your handbag instead.

Bathroom sink handles, door knobs and light switches. Studies find that these are likely to harbor traces of cold virus.

Microwaves, countertops, salt and pepper shakers. You most likely know that things like sponges, kitchen faucet handles and cutting boards can harbor germs and should be regularly cleaned and disinfected. But don’t forget these other things that are touched frequently and likely to come into contact with raw food.

The gym. Face it, it’s great for some things, like getting in shape, but the sad truth is that it’s rife with germs. Sweat, abrasion and direct or indirect contact with lesions and secretions of others can make your skin vulnerable to diseases like MRSA, athlete’s foot, boils, impetigo, herpes and ringworm. (I wish more people realized that they should either lay a towel down and not sweat all over the equipment and/or use proper gym etiquette and wipe down the machine after they sweat all over it. Rant over).

Restaurant menus. It’s strange that I never see anything written about menus harboring germs. But I’m convinced that if paper money does, then menus, which are touched each day by many people (and I’m sure are never wiped off), must be contaminated too, no?

This Matters> Be conscious of what you touch and how you get rid of germs. For handwashing, use plain soap and wash for 20 seconds vigorously under running water. Don’t forget the backs of your hands, your wrists, between your fingers and under your fingernails. Singing “Happy Birthday” to yourself usually takes care of the amount of time you need to be washing.And if you use a towel to dry off, use it to turn off the faucet, too. If you can’t get to a sink, make sure you keep some hand sanitizer with you.

Wipe surfaces that might be contaminated with either a cleansing wipe that is registered with the Environmental Protection Agency, or squirt some alcohol-based hand sanitizer on a paper towel and wipe the surface. Personally, I use rubbing alcohol on a Q-tip to clean my computer keyboard and the remote controls. Works like a charm.

Interesting Bit > Scientists have found that bacterial colonies differ person to person, and each individual carries her own “personalized” assortment of microorganisms. The most popular places for bacteria to hang out, they found, are in the gut, the forearms, palms, index fingers and backs of knees and soles of feet.

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