• Poop and germs are everywhere: Here’s how to avoid getting sick

    Everyone hates getting sick, but while most of us blame a sniffly colleague or that guy on the bus who didn’t cover his mouth when he coughed (gross!), the real culprit could be closer to home.

    “People think the toilet bowl and the floor are the dirtiest places around the house,” says microbiologist Professor Sally Bloomfield of the International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene.

    “While that might be true, hopefully we’re not touching these with our hands.

    “Instead, think about the places that harbour germs that we regularly come into contact with before we handle food or touch our mouth, eyes, nose and face.

    “The flu virus dies off within a minute of being outside a person, but norovirus can survive for hours, days and even weeks on a dry surface.”

    So other than donning a hazchem suit, how do you stop these bugs spreading? “The main thing is to practise regular hand-washing and to keep critical surfaces, such as door handles and mobile phones, as clean as possible,” says Sally. Here’s what else to watch out for…

    We’ve all done it – used our loo break to scroll through Insta. In fact, a study found that 90 per cent of us use our phone in the bathroom*.

    “Touching your phone between using the toilet and washing your hands is a very bad idea,” says Dr Paul Matewele, microbiologist at London Metropolitan University.

    “Toilet seats, handles, sinks and taps are covered in germs such as E. coli, which can cause urinary tract infections and intestinal illness, C. diff which can result in diarrhea, and Acinetobacter which can cause a contagious respiratory infection.”

    According to Paul, phones are particularly dangerous because we carry them everywhere, touch them constantly and have them out on the table while we eat. Yuck.

    Stop the spread: If you must take your phone into the ladies’, wash your hands thoroughly and give the phone a clean with an antibacterial wipe.

    Thought the grossest things in your handbag were all those leaky pens and manky make-up brushes? Not so.

    “Handbags, wallets, purses and tote bags often test positively for whole communities of germs, including norovirus, MRSA and E. coli,” says Paul.

    “Bags come into regular contact with our hands, money and credit cards (which are notoriously germ-laden), plus people keep food in their bags, which leaves microscopic nutrients that bacteria can feed off.”

    Stop the spread: Try to hang your handbag on a hook rather than placing it on the floor, especially in the toilet cubicle, and avoid placing it on surfaces you’ll be eating off.

    “Vacuum the inside of your bag and then wipe down the outside once a month, and machine wash cloth tote bags weekly,” says cleaning expert Vicky Silverthorn.

    It’s dropped on the floor, stuffed between sofa cushions and probably been in the dog’s mouth, so it’s no wonder a University of Virginia study of cold viruses on household surfaces showed the remote control was one of the most infested.

    “Anything that people touch regularly is likely to have lots of germs on it,” explains Sally. “That includes light switches, door knobs, salt and pepper shakers and yes, the TV remote.” Paul says many remotes he’s swabbed have showed E. coli.

    Stop the spread: “If you’re practising regular hand-washing then touching a germy TV remote shouldn’t make you ill. Hand-sanitiser is good if you’re travelling and have no access to soap and water, but it’s no replacement,” explains Sally. “To be safe, when you’re doing your regular home cleaning routine give your remote a wipe too,” she advises.

    If you’re not yet slipping off your shoes at the door, listen up! A University of Houston study found that 39.7 per cent of shoes they tested were carrying C. diff – that’s the faecal bacteria that can cause everything from diarrhoea to a fatal infection. “When people accidentally ingest C. diff they can get very sick,” explains Paul. “If you have young children crawling around on the floor it’s even more important to not wear outdoor shoes inside the home.” It’s also something to consider when packing shoes in your suitcase. “Try to place your shoes in cloth bags in your suitcase to prevent bacteria transferring on to your clothes,” says Vicky.

    Sponges are supposed to get rid of grime, but according to a study conducted by US health body NSF International, traces of coliform – bacteria that contain both salmonella and E. coli – were found in 75 per cent of the sponges they tested. Why so dirty?

    “Sponges are the ideal breeding grounds for microbes because we supply them with a nourishing, warm, moist environment, along with nutritive material from food waste,” explains Paul. “I regularly swab kitchen sponges and find that they are carrying salmonella, campylobacter, staphylococcus, E. coli and listeria, all of which can cause mild to severe gut and skin infections.

    But the biggest worry of all of these? Campylobacter bacteria, which comes from poultry, and can cause paralysis in those with weakened immune systems.” Replace sponges every month and wash them at a high temperature in the dishwasher once a week, advises Vicky.

    There’s no getting away from bug-inducing bacteria, even when you’re on holiday.

    Drink up?: A study of US hotels by ABC News found in 11 out of 15, drinking glasses hadn’t been changed or had just been rinsed and wiped with a dirty cloth. The main light switch and the switch on the bedside lamp are two of the germiest spots in a hotel room, a study by the University of Houston found. Hotel bedspreads had some of the highest germ counts in a Leeds Beckett University study. One, from a five-star hotel, was so high it was “unmeasurable”.

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