Germs are everywhere, but luckily only a small percentage of the millions of bacteria and viruses you come into contact with every day are likely to cause illness. That small percentage of dangerous germs, however, poses a special threat for people who take medications such as prednisone or methotrexate because these drugs suppress the body’s natural defenses against infections – giving nasty bugs a wider window of opportunity to make you feel miserable. To protect yourself, it’s worth taking a few precautions. Read on to find out how to clean up your act.
The problem: Millions of bacteria love to hang out at the sink drain and form a slime called a biofilm which can’t be rinsed away with water. In fact, according to Philip Tierno, PhD, associate professor microbiology and pathology at New York University School of Medicine, kitchen sinks are often dirtier than most toilets. While most bacteria are harmless, the ones that collect in the kitchen, like E. coli and Salmonella, can make you sick.
The solution: Soak your dish sponge in a solution of 2 to 3 tablespoons of bleach (about the same amount as in a shot glass) mixed in a quart of water. And scrub the sink with a mixture of bleach and water at least twice a week. The friction is important to break up that biofilm and kill germs.
The problem: What’s crawling all over your so-called clean laundry could make you sick. A 2007 study by researchers at the University of Arizona in Tucson found that the cold-causing rotavirus, hepatitis A virus and adenovirus all survived the wash cycle; and these bugs can hitch a ride on your hands when you transfer your clothes from washer to dryer.
The solution: Underwear is the primary offender when it comes to germs in the laundry. Ideally, you should wash underwear in a separate load using hot water and bleach. That combo killed 99.99 percent of the viruses present in the University of Arizona study. If your undergarments are too delicate for that regimen, however, wash them separately in laundry detergent with antibacterial ingredients. Follow up by running an empty load with a cup of bleach to sterilize the machine.
Taking a Bath
The problem: Your favorite escape may look clean, but if you’ve only run water to rinse away surface dirt, you could be soaking in a cesspool. In one study, staph bacteria, which can cause skin infections, were present in 26 percent of tubs tested, as compared to just 6 percent of garbage cans swabbed. Tierno says bathtubs have also been found to harbor truly scary MRSA bacteria, which causes an infection that is often impervious to most antibiotics.
The solution: Elbow grease is the ticket if you want a clean bathtub. Scrubbing with a brush or scouring pad is important to break up the sticky slime where bugs love to set up shop. Finish up with a solution of bleach and water. While you’re at it hit the faucets, too. In a “real world” test, researchers at the University of Virginia swabbed the homes of people who were known to have colds to see where their germs would turn up. They found cold germs on eight out of 10 bathroom faucets.
Going to Bed
The problem: If you consider what’s in the average mattress, including pet dander, pollen, dust mites, mucus, food particles and fecal matter, you may feel safer on the couch tonight. Tierno says bedding is the main reason that the bedroom is the second dirtiest room in the house.
The solution: Wash your bedding at least once a week in chlorine bleach to kill germs. Consider sealing your mattress in a hypoallergenic, airtight covering, which can be found online or at home stores. Beware of reconditioned mattresses (by law, they must carry a tag saying they’ve been refurbished), as they aren’t usually sterilized. You could be bringing home the previous owner’s bugs.
Going Grocery Shopping
The problem: Moms with young children seat them (and their dirty diapers and their drooling mouths), right where you’re about to put your hands. Not to mention all the sniffling, coughing shoppers who have also used that innocent-looking basket. That’s why fecal matter, viruses and bacteria are just a few of the goodies that get left on the grocery cart handle.
The solution: Some grocery stores are actually giving their carts a 90-second sterilizing rinse through something that looks like an automatic car wash before they put them back into circulation. If this innovation hasn’t made its way to your area yet, look for the germicidal wipes that many stores now offer to customers at the front of the store. Take one swipe and toss. Why? Some disinfectants (like the kind in Clorox wipes) take several minutes to kill germs, so rubbing the cloth back and forth spreads them around and may not kill them.
Grabbing Your Purse
The problem: You probably carry more stuff outside your bag than inside. Researchers who swabbed the surfaces of handbags found germs like pseudomonas, which can cause eye infections, Salmonella and E. coli.
The solution: Carry a leather or vinyl bag, which can be cleaned more easily than cloth. Then keep your bag off the floors of public restrooms, and don’t drop it on the kitchen table.
Using the ATM
The problem: You can withdraw more than you bargained for at an automated teller machien (ATM). Researchers who tested the buttons on ATMs found that they were dirtier than the doorknobs of most public restrooms. In fact, nearly every surface that’s frequently touched, but seldom washed, i.e. the TV remote, the handle of the fridge, the buttons on the machines at the gym, winds up a microbial mess. “The 10 dirtiest places in your life are your fingers,” Tierno says.
The solution: Alcohol-based hand gels really do prevent infection. Using one after your trip to the automatic teller would be a great way to debug. If you don’t have hand gel, wash your hands with soap and water as soon as possible, lathering them for as long as it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song through twice, advises Tierno.