The Bacteria We’ve Got to Beat

Nasty germs lurk on cell phones, doorknobs, ketchup bottles — here's how to fight 'em this flu season

To stay healthy during this cold and flu season, start with your flu shot.

Flu activity is picking up across the nation; several flu-related deaths have been reported. Fortunately thus far, the viruses that are circulating seem to be covered by the vaccine, said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior associate professor and clinical assistant professor at the Center for Health Security at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

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Protecting yourself from other bugs, however, is tricky. The “germiest places” are worth knowing about: Research consistently shows that doorknobs, keyboards, grocery carts, cell phones, restaurant menus, airplane bathrooms, and kitchen towels (among many other places) harbor huge amounts of bacteria. We’re actually crawling with it much of the time anyway.

“Our own hands are literally teeming with bacteria, as is each and every surface we touch,” said Adalja. “To me, the worst place to touch is a hot stove top, because it will unequivocally do damage. It is important to wash one’s hands, but no surface is sterile.”

The best measures we can take to avoid colds and the flu during the respiratory virus season is to ensure friends, family, and co-workers are vaccinated against influenza. That, coupled with frequent hand washing, are the most important actions to take, said Adaljia.

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“Every germ is floating around out there. It is not something people should be overly concerned about, however. We live on a planet that has utterly been dominated by microbes for billions of years. The vast majority of microbes do no damage to humans, but in the right context, there are those that can.”

Related: Biggest Public Health Threat We Face

Germaphobes who really want to be sure they’re not hanging out where others are sick can check out apps such as Sickweather, which track social networks for indicators of illness. Users can report that they are sick; they can also find out how severe flu is in a given geographic area. They can possibly even send a sick loved one a get-well text along with a coupon for Clorox Disinfecting Wipes — using the app’s built-in “sympathy button.”

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