Boost Your Immune System: How Germ Experts Stay Healthy

They’re less paranoid than you might expect, but what they worry about (airplanes, laundry!) will surprise you.

By Kimberly Hiss from Reader's Digest Magazine | November 2012
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71% Don’t Clean Hands After Touching Public Surfaces

I’m [just] careful to wash my hands before eating. I didn’t get a respiratory infection because I touched a door handle after a sick person touched it; I got it because I then touched my hand to my eye or nose.
—Michael Pentella, PhD, clinical associate professor, University of Iowa College of Public Health

I press buttons with my knuckle—especially the ground-floor elevator button, because everyone touches that—or I use my middle finger because I’m less likely to then touch my face with it.
—Charles Gerba, PhD, professor of microbiology, University of Arizona


29% Carry Hand Sanitizer

I prefer soap and water. If that’s not available, I’ll use sanitizer—but I’m not religious about carrying it.
—Rima Khabbaz, MD, director for infectious diseases at the CDC



86% Don’t Disinfect Shopping Carts

You’ll find germs on shopping cart handles, but you’ll also find them on meat and other food as well. After I leave the grocery store, I use an alcoholic wipe or gel on my hands. Then I wash them after I unload the groceries at home.
Philip Tierno, PhD, clinical professor of micro-biology and pathology, Langone Medical Center, NYU

50% Have Special Laundry Hygiene Habits

I do an underwear load last because an average pair contains about a hundred thousand fecal bacteria, and I don’t want that transferring to other loads. About once a week, I put a half cup or a cup of bleach into the empty machine and run it with only water to kill any germs.
 —Charles Gerba, PhD

I did a study on the ability to kill germs on fabric. I washed in hot water, washed in cold, and used standard detergents, and while the bacteria were decreased by washing, to get rid of them all, a hot dryer worked best. Dry your clothes well, and you’ll kill germs.
 Michael Pentella, PhD

86% Protect Themselves on Planes

I cover the tray with a napkin so I don’t set food directly on it. I avoid putting things in the seat pocket, because it may contain items from prior passengers.
  —Michael Pentella, PhD

I never use water from the plane restroom’s sink because those water tanks form biofilms, which are replete with germs. So I use an alcoholic gel or towelette (I do this before eating too). I don’t use headrest covers or blankets that aren’t sealed.         —Philip Tierno, PhD

67% Steer Clear of Sick People

I stay at least three feet away. Most germs are spread by droplets; talking and sneezing produce droplets that fall within a six-foot range.
—Michael Pentella, PhD

86% Sneeze into Their Elbow

Don’t sneeze into your hands and then touch somebody; that transfers those viral particles. Even worse is when I see people just sneeze right out into the air—the spray can hit dozens of people.
—Philip Tierno, PhD

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