Win the War on Germs

You may scrub your toilet and countertops until they shine, but these scary new bacteria breeding grounds require just as much attention.

Germs (the catchall name for bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms) are everywhere -- at home, in the office, even in your car. Luckily, about 99 percent of them can't harm us. But the other 1 percent can be annoying, uncomfortable, or downright scary: Most of these pathogens are either viral or bacterial and can cause everything from a runny nose to a potentially life-threatening infection.

You may think you know the obvious places that germs propagate -- the doctor's office, the soles of your shoes -- but many more germ-friendly locales are completely unexpected yet no less dangerous.



For more health tips, check out the latest issue of Prevention, on shelves now!

We uncovered a host of surprising new spots where germs like to lurk, and offer easy solutions to keep you and your family safe and healthy.

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More from Prevention:

Speed Clean the Healthy Way!

Houseplants that Boost Your Health

How to Sleep More and Improve Your Health

The Truth Behind Health Rumors

1. Kitchen Faucet

That metal aeration screen at the end of the faucet is a total germ magnet.

Running water keeps the screen moist, an ideal condition for bacteria growth. Because tap water is far from sterile, if you accidentally touch the screen with dirty fingers or food, bacteria can grow on the faucet, explains microbiologist Kelly Reynolds, PhD, an associate professor of community environment and policy at the University of Arizona College of Public Health. Over time, bacteria build up and form a wall of pathogens called biofilm that sticks to the screen. "Eventually, that biofilm may even be big enough to break off and get onto your food or dishes," she notes.

Keep It Clean: Once a week, remove the screen and soak it in a diluted bleach solution -- follow the directions on the label. Replace the screen, and let the water run a few minutes before using.

2. Garbage Disposal

Bacteria from last night's dinner could end up on today's food and utensils if you're not careful.

That raw chicken or spinach you're rinsing for dinner is often loaded with harmful bacteria, which can make the young, the elderly, or anyone with a compromised immune system seriously ill. In fact, there are often more than 500,000 bacteria in the kitchen sink -- about 1,000 times more than the average toilet has. Although the metal part of the disposal produces ions that can help kill germs, they still love to grow on the crevices in and around the slimy rubber stopper. That means your disposal can become party central for bacteria, contaminating whatever touches it -- dishes, utensils, even your hands.

Keep It Clean: At least once a week, clean the disposal's rubber stopper with a diluted bleach solution -- soap and water aren't enough.

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More from Prevention:

Speed Clean the Healthy Way!

Houseplants that Boost Your Health

How to Sleep More and Improve Your Health

The Truth Behind Health Rumors

3. Welcome Mat

It serves to greet not only your guests but also all the bugs on the bottoms of their shoes.

In fact, one study found that nearly 96 percent of shoe soles had traces of coliform, which includes fecal bacteria. "The area near your front door is one of the dirtiest in the house," says Reynolds. Once bacteria plant their stakes in your mat, anytime you walk on it, you give them a free ride into your home.



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