Navigating cold and flu season without getting sick can be a seemingly insurmountable feat, but it isn’t impossible. Incorporating a few simple germ-fighting precautions into your daily routine alone greatly decreases your odds of falling ill.
However, it’s no secret that more people do get sick this time of year, despite any number of preventative measures. It’s called cold and flu season for a reason, after all. With so many people in close contact on a more frequent basis thanks to colder temperatures, it stands to reason the number of people who contract a cold or the flu will spike during the mid-fall to late winter stretch.
Clearly, avoiding colds and the flu isn’t an exact science — but science does offer us some solid hints about which places harbor the heaviest concentration of cold and flu-causing germs. Here are seven top offenders to avoid as much as possible this cold season. Or, at the very least, make sure you bring some Clorox Disinfecting Wipes when you visit.
1. Airplanes and airports
With several holidays stuffed into cold and flu season, air travel is hopping this time of year. Unfortunately, so are the germs in airports and on airplanes. In fact, Travelmath.com recently enlisted the help of a microbiologist to determine just how germ-ridden air travel really is — and the results might floor you. From bathroom stall locks to tray tables (the worst of the bunch), pretty much every square inch of airports and airplanes is covered in germs. Should you travel this season, don’t forget to bring disinfectant.
With Chipotle having just shut down 43 restaurants following an outbreak of E. coli, most restaurant patrons are living in a heightened state of awareness about the food they are choosing to consume. But while we often worry about common food contaminants such as E. coli and salmonella, diners rarely stop to think about the germs they transmit or that other diners leave behind — particularly from buffet tables. “Diners may not wash their hands before handling food, or they may be harboring germs that can be transmitted from an errant cough onto a chafing dish,” Lauren Gelman, senior health editor at Prevention magazine, told WalletPop.
3. At the office
Considering we spend more than a third of our lives at our places of work, is it really any wonder the office finds a spot near the top of this list? Unless you have an isolated corner office that you disinfect with each passing hour, germs will undoubtedly creep into your cubicle at some point. Not to mention, technological devices in heavy rotation at the workplaces — think smartphones and keyboards — hoard 7,500 bacteria per swab. In case you were curious, that beats the average toilet seat, which comes in at 5,400 bacteria per swab.
4. Shopping venues
When it comes to heading out for some holiday shopping, it’s hard not to get off on the wrong foot — research has shown that ATM keypads, aka our insta-source of holiday funds, contain just as many illness-causing germs as public toilets. Unfortunately, the same study that yielded that info showed that among the most contaminant-laden surfaces were also parking meters and escalator rails, both of which shoppers at major retail establishments such as malls encounter regularly. Even the grocery store is a hotbed of germs — 70 to 80 percent of shopping carts sampled nationwide tested positive for fecal bacteria.
5. The doctor’s office
Granted, the doctor’s office is usually the place you go when you are trying to avoid getting sick or sicker. Unfortunately, many other people have the same idea, and we all cart our germs right along with us. Given that the average adult can touch up to 30 objects in a minute, well, you can imagine how many items in a doctor’s office are coated in the very germs people are there to get rid of: magazines, seats, tissue boxes, sign-in sheets, pens, registration desks, etc.
6. Your child’s day care or school
If you’re a parent of young children, you’ve likely experienced the endless parade of illnesses that enter your home once your child starts day care, preschool or beyond. From runny noses and low-grade fevers to pinkeye and the flu, there’s no shortage of germs to go around. One recent study even suggests that germs that cause common illnesses can linger on children’s surfaces hours after contamination. On that note, beware indoor playgrounds — they are germ nirvana.
Despite your most valiant efforts to avoid the many places outside of the home that harbor germs, the truth is many of those same germs are hiding in plain sight inside of your home. Sure, you cover your typical bases by disinfecting counters and scrubbing bathroom surfaces. But do you use a toothbrush shield? If not, your toothbrush might contain fecal spray. (Gross, right?) If you have carpet, it may host up to 200,000 bacteria per square inch — even with regular vacuuming. As for doorknobs, let’s just say you’re going to want to start sanitizing those daily.
This post was brought to you by Clorox. Use their new online tool, Cold and Flu Pulse, to see if cold and flu conversations are going viral so you can take steps to help prevent it in the real world.