From make-up bars to gadget stores, Professor Peter Collignon, director of the Infectious Diseases Unit and Microbiology at the Australian National University Medical School, reveals the surprising places where germs lurk and how to stay in the clear. By Pip Harry
ATM cash points
After testing 38 ATM keypads in the CBD of Taipei, Chinese researchers found that each key contained an average of 1200 germs, including the ones that make us sick like E.coli and cold and flu viruses. The worst culprit is the ‘Enter’ button because everyone has to touch it! “ATMs are
a known hotspot for picking up bugs and numerous studies have shown germs on keypads, including golden staph, which can cause a range of infections,” says Collignon.
“If you are at an ATM, use an alcohol solution afterwards and get rid of those bugs before
they have a chance to transfer.”
Heading to a make-up counter? You might pick up more than the latest shade of lipstick.
A US study found that 67 to 100 per cent of make-up counter testers were contaminated with bacteria, including E.coli, staph and strep. Bacteria levels peaked on Saturday, traditionally the busiest shopping day of the week.
“Avoid using public samples to apply cosmetics to your face,” says Collignon. “Ask for disposable applicators that you can use and throw away.” If you’re getting a makeover at a counter, check with the manager about the hygiene policy, such as whether they use disposable tools and testers or
disinfect brushes between uses.
Hot air dryers
Tossing up between using paper towels and a hot air dryer to dry your hands? University of Westminster research showed that hand dryers increased bacteria by 194 per cent on the finger pads and on the palms by 254 per cent. Paper towels, however, decreased the number of all types of bacteria on the finger pads by up to 76 per cent and on the palms by up to 77 per cent.
“Using a dry paper towel is less of a risk than an air dryer or hand towel,” says Collignon. “Dry environments are the least hospitable to bacteria. If you keep things dry, it decreases the chance of bugs surviving and multiplying.”
How often do you grip an escalator handrail and then moments later brush your face with your hand? Hands off! Escalator rails are a magnet for all kinds of bugs. Tests in the US have found E.coli, urine, faeces, mucus and even blood on public escalator hand rails.
If possible, try not to touch the handrails, and if you do, just rub alcohol solution on your hands afterwards. “We don’t want to be so obsessive-compulsive that every time we touch someone we go and wash our hands,” says Collignon. “So when you’re out in public, identify the bigger hotspots for germs. Just think to yourself – what do hundreds of people potentially touch that’s not cleaned and that I might touch? Then clean your hands accordingly.”
You’d think the toilet flush or the door handle would be the filthiest area of a public toilet, but
in fact the sink is a germ swamp. “Bacteria grows more than anywhere else in moist environments,” says Collignon. “If the hand soap is sitting in a pool of water, that can actually increase the number of germs.”
“You’re better off with soap that’s in a dispenser than using a cake of soap,” says Collignon. Avoid touching the soap dispenser nozzle, which is often handled by lots of grimy fingers. Use a paper towel to press the nozzle.
By testing out a new iPad or smartphone at a gadget store, you’re also exposing yourself to germs from hundreds of people who played before you. A 2011 study in the Journal of Applied Microbiology found that viruses easily transfer between glass surfaces (like phone or tablet faces) and fingertips.
“If you go to a busy gadget store and there’s no proper cleaning of the item between users, thenyou’re likely to pick up some bugs,” says Collignon. “The practical reality is that retailers are not going to disinfect items, so you’ve got to look out for yourself. Quickly wipe down the device with an antibacterial wipe before use, or rub your hands with an alcohol solution when you’re done.”
For more health tips pick up the July issue of Good Health magazine or subscribe at magshop.co.nz.