Respiratory droplets—the medical community’s polite term for what comes out of a person when they sneeze or cough—are filled with the germs that made the person sick. When we cough or sneeze they disperse widely, landing here and there, where they wait patiently for someone to touch them (research shows they can remain potent for several hours). Once on someone’s hands, they stand a good chance of infecting them, since it is human nature to frequently touch our faces. This is exactly how colds and flu happen: The vast majority of cases are passed from person to person. Think of things that are touched by many people in a day, and you’ll come up with the places where germs are shared. These can include:
2. Elevator buttons
3. Grocery cart handles
4. Restaurant menus
5. Money from a cash register
6. Light switches
7. Salt and pepper shakers in restaurants
8. Salad bars
9. ATM machines
10. Exercise equipment
11. Water fountain handles
Makes you nervous, doesn’t it? Relax. It takes just a little common sense and attention to protect yourself from public germs. Here are ways to keep germs at bay:
Handwashing. Always wash your hands before cooking, eating, or inserting your contact lenses. Wash your hands after cooking, using the toilet, petting an animal, handling garbage, blowing your nose, or coughing or sneezing into your hand. It doesn’t matter if you wash with regular or antibacterial soap as long as you do a thorough job.
Use hand sanitizer. Alcohol-based sanitizers that require no water are among the greatest health inventions of recent times. They’re efficient at killing germs, whenever and wherever you encounter them, without the need of water or towels.
Keep hands away from your face. No matter how many times you wash them, if you are in public, your hands will pick up germs. Germs will quickly enter your body if you rub your eyes or nose, stroke your chin, or touch your lips.
Avoid the communal candy bowl or cookie jar. Given that only 67 percent of people who say they wash their hands actually do, and that only a third of those people use soap, you can imagine what’s lurking in there.