Ten Places Where Germs Lurk

Almost every medical or microbe expert in the world will cheerfully tell you the same thing: germs are everywhere, whether you like it or not.

Saunter across the room and you're swimming in a soup of airborne organisms.

Sit on a chair and you're bringing bacteria with you the next time you get up.

"There's very few surfaces that are truly clean," said Dr. Aaron Glatt, president and CEO of New Island Hospital in Bethpage, N.Y., and a spokesman for the Infectious Disease Society of America. "You're almost never going to culture something and not find some germs on it."

And humans are some of the worst germ offenders.

"Ninety percent of you is composed of germ cells," said Phillip Tierno, director of clinical microbiology and immunology at NYU and author of "The Secret Life of Germs."

Not that people should be overly concerned about becoming ill. According to Tierno, only about 1 to 2 percent of the 60,000 types of germs people come in contact with daily are potentially dangerous to people with normal immunity.

A few precautions -- using disinfectants, hand-washing, and keeping hands away from the face -- should be more than sufficient to avoid illnesses or viruses.

Still, the higher the density of microbes on a particular object, the higher the chances of coming in contact with them as well as coming in contact with potentially harmful ones.

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For those curious souls who want to go the extra mile in understanding just how massive the microorganism populations are in some places, here are a few germy surfaces your cleaning supplies will be happy to get to know.

Laundry Machines

The laundromat is hardly a bower of cleanliness, but even laundry done at home is rife with germs.

There is about 0.1 gram of fecal material in a piece of underwear, Gerba said. That amounts to approximately 100 million E. coli bacteria in an average undergarment load.

Unfortunately, only 5 percent of people use very hot water to wash their clothes and then dry them for a full 45 minutes, a process Gerba said would kill more bacteria. Skipping these steps means that transferring wet clothing into a dryer leaves a film of germs all over your hands.

To minimize exposure to harmful bacteria, Gerba recommends doing laundry that requires bleach as a first load to disinfect the machines and save undergarments for a final load. He also cautions against using the same sorting tables for clean and dirty laundry since the E. coli from the dirty clothes will transfer to the table and then back onto your freshly laundered clothes.

"Your clothes are a lot germier than they were 50 years ago," Gerba said. "Never kiss anyone who has just done laundry for you."

Gear Shift

By spending time behind the wheel, people may unknowingly be acting as chauffeurs to a menagerie of invisible passengers.

gear shift

In a recent British study done for insurance.co.uk, microbiologists randomly tested both the interiors and trunks of 25 cars. They found that the typical British automobile had, on average, 285 types of bacteria present in every square inch of the vehicle. They identified at least 10 major types of bacteria.

Anthony Hilton, a microbiologist from Ashton University who led the study, believed steering wheels would house the most germs, as might other frequently touched areas such as door handles and seat belts.

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