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Several Places Flu Germs May Be Lurking

flu : 3d virus in abstract backgroundThere is absolutely nothing fun about being bed-ridden with a bad case of influenza. This also just so happens to be the heart of flu season. So, how do you defend yourself against catching the flu this year? Well, avoiding contact with people who currently have the virus is always a good idea, as is quickly disinfecting areas and materials that have come into contact with an infected person. Carrying around a portable bottle of hand sanitizer, is also a very good idea. And of course, trying to avoid contact with objects which are known to be covered in germs, ie., subway poles and stairwell banisters. But what about those lesser known, somewhat hidden areas where flu germs may lurk? Luckily, Market Watch, has a list of 7 unexpected places flu germs may be hiding.


Don’t touch anything this holiday season

This flu season is expected to be a particularly nasty one due to the strain of virus that’s being reported, and as careful as we try to be, there are germs lurking in some surprising places.

Although reports of influenza are low compared with previous years, Americans should brace for a particularly bad strain, according to an official health advisory released this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “This season, influenza A (H3N2) viruses have been reported most frequently and have been detected in almost all states,” the advisory said. H3N2 is associated with higher hospitalization rates and more mortality has been observed, especially among older people, very young children, and persons with certain chronic medical conditions, the CDC reported.

If that wasn’t bad enough, microbes that cause norovirus — which in turn leads to vomiting and diarrhea — as well as other infections lurk right under most people’s noses.

Here are 7 odd places to watch out for hidden germs:


Airplane food trays and seat pockets

The bad news for planes with quick turnarounds: nasty bugs can last for days. The sinister sounding Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (more commonly known as MRSA) lasted longest (168 hours) on material from a seat-back pocket while the bacteria Escherichia coli O157:H7 (also known as E.coli, which can cause kidney problems) survived longest (96 hours) on the material from the armrest of planes, according to research presented to the American Society for Microbiology earlier this year. Restrooms in planes where space is cramped is also another hotspot for germs.

Subway turnstiles and bus ticket machines

Most people (at least during flu season) are careful about touching stainless steel poles on subways and buses, but don’t often think about subway turnstiles and bus ticket machines that are arguably touched by even more people, says Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona. “They don’t routinely disinfect these machines,” he says. Commuters are 6 times more likely to develop an acute respiratory infection if they traveled recently by bus or tram, according to a 2011 study by the University of Nottingham in the U.K. and published in “BMC Journal of Infectious Diseases.”

Office coffee stations and water coolers

Smart people keep their distance from sick colleagues, but then use the same coffee machine or water cooler. Germs like hard surfaces and can find their way to 40% to 60% of common surfaces in offices, hotels and health care facilities in just 2 to 4 hours, says Gerba, who recently conducted a study on how viruses spread in the workplace. He presented its results earlier this year at the 54th Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in Washington, D.C., an infectious disease meeting of the American Society for Microbiology. Obviously, avoid doorknobs and other people’s keyboards.

Liquid soap in washrooms

While it’s a good idea to open the door of a washroom with your sleeve, there’s one other piece of equipment that should be avoided like the plague: Soap dispensers. Liquid soap itself can become contaminated with bacteria and 1-in-4 dispenser machines in public restrooms are contaminated with bacteria, including fecal matter, according to a 2011 study published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. “Washing with soap from dispensers with sealed refills significantly reduced bacteria on hands,” the study found. Failing that, bring your own.

Aisle seats in planes, trains and theaters

When traveling by bus, train or plane this holiday season — or even when visiting a theater — think twice before choosing aisle seats. These are the seats that will be touched most often by other people as they’re trying to find their own, Gerba says. In 2008, members of a tour group experienced diarrhea and vomiting in an airplane flight from Boston to Los Angeles. Other passengers who suffered secondary infections were either sitting next to those infected — or unsuspecting passengers seated in aisle seats, according to a study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

Salt and pepper shakers

There’s often no point in washing your hands before a meal (thereby avoiding doorknobs and soap dispensers), and picking up clean cutlery — and then using condiment holders that have often not been washed. A 2008 study by researchers at the University of Virginia examined 30 people who were showing symptoms of the common cold and were asked to identify 10 surfaces they’d touched in their home over the previous 18 hours: more than 40% of the surfaces tested positive for rhinovirus, the most common virus to cause the common cold: All salt and pepper shakers cited by participants tested positive.

Exercise equipment at the gym

Bacteria loves moisture, especially sweat, but one study found that rhinoviruses still cling to exercise equipment — even after cleaning. A final thought for germ-phobic people who are afraid to travel this holiday season: Many colds and flu are spread around the home, says Elizabeth Scott, associated professor at the Department of Biology at Simmons College in Boston. But it’s always good to leave the house prepared. “When I am traveling, I always carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer and use it many times,” she adds.

The Flu Battle

When it comes to battling the flu virus, there are many steps you can take. Avoiding other people who may be sick, keeping your hands from rubbing your eyes, mouth or nose, keeping your hands clean, etc….. While these are all very important steps to avoiding the flu, perhaps the most important is identifying where flu germs hide in your home. This article from Enviro Maids, gives you some tips on where to find and fight the flu virus within your home.

Where Flu Germs Lurk

blog-fluThe telltale sounds of winter are in the air — coughing, sneezing, and sniffling. Trying to avoid catching the flu takes a lot of effort on your part — you constantly wash your hands, keep a safe distance from anyone who is sick, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and carry an arsenal of germ-killing hand sanitizer. While all these steps are important, one more step is necessary in the ongoing battle of the flu — getting rid of flu germs that lurk on surfaces throughout your house.

Battle Plan

While getting the flu vaccine every year is the first line of defense against catching the influenza virus, there are other preventive cleaning steps you can take to ensure you stay as healthy as possible this winter. The following cleaning list also is effective in preventing other viruses not covered by the flu vaccine, such as cold and stomach viruses. According to, influenza A and B viruses can live on a surface for hours to days. That means it pays to be extra vigilant when it comes to cleaning and disinfecting during flu season.

Here’s how to win the battle:

  • When it comes to zapping flu germs, you must disinfect surfaces, not just clean them. Cleaning physically removes dirt and germs, while disinfecting kills germs. recommends using a disinfectant that’s registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as being effective against killing flu germs. Visit their website for a full list.
  • It’s important to ramp up your disinfecting routine during the flu season even before someone in your home comes down with the flu. That’s because according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people may be able to spread flu germs to other people one day before coming down with any symptoms. The flu continues to be contagious five to seven days after becoming sick.
  • Clean surfaces first to remove excess dirt, crumbs, etc. Follow by disinfecting with an EPA-approved disinfectant.
  • When cleaning surfaces touched by a sick person, use disposable paper towels instead of sponges and dishcloths. If you do use a sponge, suggests disinfecting it each time by zapping it (while wet) in the microwave on high for 2 minutes. You can also run it through the dishwasher. Remember: unless you’re disinfecting rags and sponges between uses, you’re only re-contaminating surfaces.
  • Disinfect surfaces that are routinely touched — doorknobs, light switches, remote controls, cabinet pulls, and electronic devices.
  • Clean and disinfect bathroom surfaces daily. Don’t neglect forgotten areas such as the toilet handle and medicine cabinet door or handle.
  • Avoid storing toothbrushes together and don’t use the same toothpaste as someone who is sick. Use paper towels or assign each family member their own hand towel to use after washing their hands.
  • Launder bed linens and blankets often during the winter months, especially the sheets of those with the flu. Wash and dry on the hot setting. When removing soiled linens, avoid having them come in contact with your clothing. Hugging a heap of laundry close to your body gives you a higher risk for contamination. Don’t forget to wash your hands immediately after handling dirty laundry.
  • If a member of your household has the flu, try to contain them to one room as far away from the common living area as possible. The same goes for bathrooms; if possible, designate one bathroom to be used by the sick person. It’ll be easier to stay on top of the germs if they’re confined to one area.

Keeping your home flu-free takes extra work on your part, but it’s worth it. Just remember: spring arrives next month and that means we’re that much closer to the end of the flu season!