Flu season means germs are being spread everywhere you go — but it's not only colds and flus you risk catching in these eight places
Credit: Flickr / Arlington County

Flu season means germs are being spread everywhere you go — but it's not only colds and flus you risk catching in these eight places

If you’re a self-professed germaphobe, you have good reason. Disease-causing germs infiltrate your daily routine and are on nearly every surface you touch. Don’t just think Porta-Potties (although they are a petri dish of disease); viruses (responsible for giving you the flu) and bacteria lurk in common, everyday public places to which you may not give a second thought.

But before you make a B-line to the nearest drugstore, reduce your risk by knowing what to watch for. Wash your hands, keep the hand sanitizer handy and read on. At any given time, you’re apt to pick up more than your daily coffee —particularlyif you come in touch with these eight public places.

Contact HealthLink BC for trusted health and medically approved information. Call 8-1-1 from anywhere in BC to speak to a nurse 24/7.

The Shopping Mall
Credit: Flickr / Eric and Deanna Pesik

The Shopping Mall

Escalator handrails are a conveyer belt of microorganisms;they're acontinuous carrier for various contaminents leaving behind skin bacteria plus other invisible coatings of germs. Be mindful of food court tables, toy stores, and ATM keyboards, where you're apt to encounter communicable germs.

The pack leader? Restroom sinks and soap dispensers; the moist conditions fuel bacteria and hold it for extended periods.

Best Defence: Keep your hand sanitizer with you; use paper covers on toilet seats; wash your hands before and after a trip to the food court.

The Office
Credit: Flickr / Victor1558

The Office

Need to close a deal, meet or greet a colleague? If the fist bump isn't conducive to your corporate culture, you’re probably headed for the handshake. Of course, manners matter, but so does your health. The antidote? When possible, wash your hands or use your sanitizer after the shake.

Don't discount the airborne offenses by your colleagues, a.k.a. coughs and sneezes. Cellphones, landline phones, iPads, computers, keys, and pens can all harbour germs, which calls for increased office space hygiene. A comprehensive study by Kimberly-Clark Professional entitled The Healthy Workplace Project identifies workplace hot spots where germs can lurk.

Best Defence: Arm your workstation with sanitizing wipes, hand sanitizer, and clean up after yourself in the lunchroom with an antimicrobial sponge.

The Airplane
Credit: Flickr / Slices of Light

The Airplane

According to the folks at PURELL®, you’re 100 times likelier to catch a cold when you’re up in the air than on the ground.

Contagious diseases from the flu to measles and even SARS get transmitted during air travel. A survey conducted by TripAdvisor asked travellers if they would fly while they’re sick in order to avoid paying a $150 booking change fee. Almost 73% of passengers said they wouldn’t postpone a flight because of the flu.

Best Defence: Use your hand sanitizer after using the restroom, wipe down your armrests and tray table. Pass on the comp pillow and blankets, and instead, pack your own wrap, neck rest or inflatable pillow. Ensure your vaccinations are up to date and consult your health care provider, preferably six weeks before you travel.

The Restaurant
Credit: Flickr / Jason Pier

The Restaurant

You're less likely to contract food poisioning while dining out than you are to catch something from the myriad germs left behind by the rag used to wipe your table. Not to mention your menu, touched by everyone, and rarely cleaned effectively. Along with the daily special, fecal bacteria like E.coli can also be on the menu. High chairs and booster seats can harbour fecal bacteria too, because diaper-wearing infants have graced them.

Public health inspections and restaurant inspections are conducted regularly by Canada's federal, provincial or municipal agencies. Check out what Canadian restaurant health inspectors look for.

Best Defence: Swipe your sanitary wipes across the tabletop and high chair when you’re seated. Hold your menu by the edges instead of the bottom to minimize your exposure to bacteria, and of course, wash your hands before your meal arrives.

The Playground
Credit: Flickr / nico.cavallotto

The Playground

Sure, it's a jungle out there, and even more so for bacteria at the park; the jungle gym, swings, slides and other playground equipment are germ minefields. Kids touch everything they see and often put them in their mouths.

The biggest threat is fecal bacteria, courtesy of bird droppings on playground equipment and contact with diapers.

Best Defence: Wash your hands thoroughly or use your hand sanitizer after returning from the playground; use the bathroom for changing diapers, but sanitize the change table first.

The Gym
Credit: Flickr / DeSales University

The Gym

What happens when your routine trip to the gym to keep healthy has the reverse effect? Some of the biggest threats for germ transmission are on the cardio machines, mats, weight machines and free weights at your local fitness centre, which are a breeding ground for bacteria-loving warmth.

Germs thrive and multiply in warmth and dampness, so everyone's sweat is an offender. However, your skin is the primary target here, locker-room floors and shower stalls are havens for fungi so take the necessary precauctions.

Best Defence: Wear shower shoes/flip-flops; cover cuts, sores and abrasions with a bandage, wipe down equipment before and after every use, bring your own towel, yoga mat, water bottle (public water fountain handles are bacteria hotbeds), and avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and nose with your hands; use a hand sanitizer.

The Grocery Store
Credit: Flickr / Threthny

The Grocery Store

Shopping carts are a breeding ground for germs. Promoting health and hygiene in the public, University of Ottawa microbiologist Jason Tetro, a.k.a. the "Germ Guy," tested various shopping carts to find thousands and thousands of bacteria in a single swab. Findings revealed some were also contaminated with fecal bacteria. In fact, the bacterial count on the typical supermarket cart handle exceed that of the average public restroom. Don't discount the checkout line either: The touch-screen and stylus pen can easily be contaminated too. Follow Jason's Tweets on the latest hygiene tips.

Best Defence: Break out the hand sanitizer (use for 30 seconds), wipe the shopping cart handles with sanitizing wipes, and avoid snacking (food demos included) while shopping.

The Hotel Room
Credit: Flickr / Gord McKenna

The Hotel Room

"Good night. Sleep tight. Don't let the bed bugs bite." Sure, it used to be one of your biggest concerns when slippin' between the sheets of a borrowed bed, but there's another wrinkle — and not just on your Egyptian cotton 800 thread counts.

Your health and comfort are at risk according to a recent CBC Marketplace investigation, which uncovered high levels of contamination in six Canadian hotel chains from high-end to budget accommodations. While they may look tidy, pretty, and clean, the 54 rooms tested were well below an aceptable level of sanitation and pose a risk of microbe transfer from thousands of people.

Most alarming, the discovery of various antibiotic resistant bacteria (super bugs) that can jeopardize the health of people such as the elderly, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems — super bugs which can lead to serious illness and even death.

The dirtiest hot spots? Bed comforters, bathroom faucets and TV remotes. A close second: coffee makers, pillows, bed throws, bathroom sinks, toilet bases, and telephones.

Best Defense: Give hard surface hot spots a once-over with a sanitizing wipe. Pack your own pillowcase. Be mindful if you cozy-up with a comforter — best to fold it up to the foot of your bed rather than lie on it.

Avoid 8 Germ-infested Public Places