Saturday, October 15, 2011

9 Things You Shouldn't Share: Tips 1-4

When sharing leads to sneezing, itching, or infection. By Jean Weiss for MSN Health & Fitness

We all know we’re supposed to do it. In fact, sharing is an important social skill that may lead to a more successful life. And yet it turns out there are a few things we shouldn’t share.
Here’s a short list of germ-laden items you’d best keep to yourself.

1. Shopping Carts
Think about it: A child’s diapered bottom may have, moments before, been plastered against the very seat where you’ve just placed your broccoli. And mommies, do you want to set your child down on the same surface that previously held raw chicken? (Bing: How about a grocery cart cover?)

Grocery-store shopping carts are rife with germs, says Chuck Gerba, an environmental microbiologist at the University of Arizona who’s taken samples from shopping carts throughout the U.S. “We were surprised to find that 80 percent of the carts have E. coli on them in some parts of the country,” he says. E. coli is a fecal bacterium that can be transmitted by contaminated hands. Gerba’s team also found bacteria and viruses that could lead to colds, flu and diarrhea. What’s more, a recent study showed that placing children in shopping carts was related to their getting Salmonella infections.

Gerba found that shopping carts are more contaminated in regions where germs flourish because of moist air, cool temperatures or cloud cover, such as the Northeast, Northwest or muggy South. Germs are less likely to accumulate on shopping carts that sit outside in areas where there is dry heat and direct sun.

To avoid germs while grocery shopping, disinfect your shopping cart’s handle and child seat with a wipe, or sanitize your hands before and after you shop. Use products with the words “disinfect” or “sanitize” on them, because the Environmental Protection Agency has approved those terms, Gerba says. Gerba advises against placing your child in the shopping cart seat. If you do, he says to use a disposable barrier product that has a disinfectant on it rather than a cloth product that will only serve to smear the germs around.

2. ATM and Touch Screens
The next time you need to withdraw money or decide to use the self-checkout aisle at the grocery store, make sure you have travel-size hand sanitizer handy. (Bing: Do sanitizers work?) Touch-screens and keypads are covered with more contaminants than anything else he’s tested, Gerba says. “We were surprised to find that one-fourth of the grocery-store self-checkout touch-screens have E. coli on them,” he says. In addition to other more common bacteria and viruses, several of the touch-screens he tested contained strains of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a bacterium that is highly resistant to several antibiotics. MRSA can cause serious skin infections and sometimes lead to death.

Gerba recommends avoiding the self-checkout aisles when possible. Gerba conducted limited testing on ATM screens, finding that those sitting outside in hot, dry climates carried fewer germs than those that were in moist climates or indoors. Bring a disinfectant wipe to clean a screen before you use it or to clean your hands afterwards.

3. Toothbrushes
You’re about to spend the night at a friend’s house, but forgot your toothbrush. Especially if your friend is a romantic partner, you may be tempted to use his or hers—after all, you’ve been kissing already, so it’s probably OK, right? Wrong.

“You abrade your skin when you brush your teeth,” Gerba says. “I wouldn’t share a toothbrush, not even with someone you are kissing.” Blood-borne disease, such as hepatitis B and C, and HIV, can be transmitted through a toothbrush, whereas they are less likely to be transmitted through kissing. You can also pick up someone’s respiratory or other illnesses, such as a cold or the flu, by sharing a toothbrush.

If you are a mere night away from gum recession or otherwise can’t stand to go without brushing, there are ways to disinfect the brush. Gerba suggests boiling a toothbrush in hot water or using an ultraviolet light system or sanitizing solution made for this purpose.

4. Hairbrushes
You are at a movie with a friend and afterward step into the bathroom to freshen up before drinks. Should you share her brush while standing at the vanity mirror? Hairbrushes are out for sharing as well, Gerba says. “Germs get on your skin, and skin flakes into your brush,” he says. “This is another situation where you abrade your skin.” He says he’s found MRSA and other germs on hairbrushes.

And what about using brushes at your hair stylist’s salon? Make sure they disinfect their brushes at the end of each day to minimize germ transfer.

Come back tomorrow and read tips 5-9.


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