Things You’re Touching Every Day That Might Make You Sick
Grab some soap and brace yourself; here are the 10 germiest places you've probably already touched today.
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Take a moment to think back to all of the surfaces you touched today. It may not seem like much, but the average person touches about 140 objects per day, according to Paula Zuccotti, who traveled the world cataloguing the things that people touched daily. It’s safe to say at least some of those objects you touch may be crawling with germs. While most germs you come into contact with do not make you sick (and some that naturally reside in your gut and on your skin are actually beneficial), about 80 percent of infections are spread through hand contact with surfaces or other hands. Germs, including bacteria, “are everywhere, on your body, in your body, and all around you,” says David Cutler, MD, family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “But you are most likely to get infected from them in areas you might not expect.” Check out the germs that have taken up residence on your body.
The germs on common surfaces can live for days and even weeks, so prepare yourself. Keep in mind that our bodies have evolved over time to combat germs, so if you have a healthy immune system you don’t need to go overboard with disinfecting surfaces. (Overly sterile environments are thought to possibly increase the risk of allergies and asthma in children.) However, here are 10 of the germiest places you’ve already touched today.
Be honest: Have you ever checked your phone while sitting on the toilet? Our phones usually go everywhere with us, and they pick up germs along the way. “Among personal items, toothbrushes, wallets, cell phones, and keys have the largest colonies of bacteria,” says immunologist Lina Velikova, MD. In a 2017 study published in the journal Germs, researchers checked students’ cell phones and found a high level of bacterial contamination, including traces of staph and E. coli—two bugs that can make you sick. Every time you touch your phone with your hands or hold it close to your face, you’re potentially exposing yourself to germs.
Think of the places you touch every day without realizing it. “A higher concentration of bacteria can be found in places that we frequently touch,” explains Dr. Velikova. “These include doorknobs, light switches, cutting boards, coffee makers, refrigerator or microwave handles, shower tubs, faucets, drains, but also towels.” When we pick up germs from touching a doorknob, most of us usually end up touching our eyes, nose, or mouth; this is how problematic germs may lead to infection. Don’t miss the places where germs are hiding in your home.
Victor Lauer/ShutterstockCutting boards
If you love to cook, it’s important that you wash your hands before, after, and even during your time in the kitchen. “The kitchen is a particularly dangerous place because many foods come into your home covered in bacteria,” explains Dr. Cutler. “Chicken is the prime example.” If you cut raw chicken on a cutting board, that board, the knife, and your hands are now at risk of spreading Salmonella to you and your family. The best way to keep your kitchen safe is to start by keeping germs off your food, and following cooking and food storage instructions to keep harmful bacteria at bay.
While we’re in the kitchen, it’s a good idea to toss your dish towels in the laundry. Bacteria like to grow in wet, moist conditions. If you wipe your hands on dishtowels while cooking, the towels can end up absorbing the germs and provide a perfect environment for growth.
Dmitry Galaganov/ShutterstockKitchen sponges
Do you have a sponge or two sitting on your sink right now? If you do, they may be a potential breeding ground for bacteria. A landmark study by the National Science Foundation revealed that 86 percent of sponges have yeast or mold present. Will these germs make you sick? Most likely not. Whether or not you get sick depends on your immune system and the type and amount of germs present. That said, more than 75 percent of sponges did have coliform bacteria, a family of bacteria that includes E. coli and Salmonella. Therefore, it’s a good idea to run sponges through the dishwasher every now and then—or just replace them more often. Here are some more cleaning mistakes that leave your house germy.
Nik Waller Productions/ShutterstockMoney
Next time you’re walking down the street and see a $1 bill on the sidewalk, you may want to think twice before picking it up. An analysis published in PLOS One determined that money circulating in New York City did carry bacteria such as Propionibacterium acnes, Staphylococcus epidermidis, and Micrococcus luteus, which are normally found on people’s skin or in their mouths. While the researchers did detect DNA signatures of potentially disease-causing bacteria on the money, they couldn’t tell for sure if they were live pathogens or had the capability of causing infections.
Joop Snijder Photography/ShutterstockYour pet’s toys
If the slobber didn’t tip you off, those chew toys are teeming with germs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, your pets’ mouths and toys can carry the bacteria Capnocytophaga. In humans, these germs can cause respiratory and eye infections.
A 2018 study found that 96 percent of computer keyboards contained bacteria, including germs like Streptococcus and E. coli. The study also found that cleaning the keyboard with a disinfectant wipe reduced the number of germs by 37 to 100 percent. Consider wiping down your keyboard and avoiding having lunch while you work. Eating at your desk is just one of the germ-spreading habits you may want to give up now.
While most of us would assume that the bathroom is the germiest room in the house, that’s just one of the common myth about germs. Surprisingly, the bathroom is one of the cleanest rooms in your house. However, that NSF study found that 27 percent of toothbrush holders tested positive for coliform bacteria. Nonetheless, that’s still well below the amounts in your kitchen.
Monkey Business Images/ShutterstockSecurity trays at the airport
The next time you walk through the security line at your local airport, you may want to go to the nearest bathroom to wash your hands. A 2018 study found that over 50 percent of the security luggage trays tested positive for a respiratory virus like the flu or common cold. If you can, steer clear of airports and these other public places with the most germs.
- Lina Velikova, MD, immunologist, Medical Director at Synveo Bulgaria.
- David Cutler, MD, family medicine physician at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, CA.
- Germs: "High level bacterial contamination of secondary school students' mobile phones."
- Iowa State University: "Lesson 1e - What conditions encourage bacteria to grow?"
- National Science Foundation: "2011 NSF International Household Germ Study."
- PLOS One: "Filthy lucre: A metagenomic pilot study of microbes found on circulating currency in New York City."
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Pets and Capnocytophaga Germs."
- International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: "Degree of Bacterial Contamination of Mobile Phone and Computer Keyboard Surfaces and Efficacy of Disinfection with Chlorhexidine Digluconate and Triclosan to Its Reduction."
- BMC Infectious Diseases: "Deposition of respiratory virus pathogens on frequently touched surfaces at airports."