Where Do Germs Lurk? New Survey Shows Most Americans do not Know

AKRON, Ohio -- Now that the summer season is in full swing, a new survey shows that most people do not realize that germs are hiding on many common objects outdoors, including playground equipment, picnic tables and ATMs.

"This survey shows that people have a false sense of security when it comes to germs," said Dr. Charles Gerba -- a.k.a. "Dr. Germ" -- a professor at the University of Arizona and one of the nation's leading experts on environmental microbiology. "This lack of knowledge about where germs lurk is a real health problem, because people touch these objects and 80 percent of infections are spread through hand contact. The solution is to practice proper hand hygiene by washing with soap and water or by using an alcohol- based hand sanitizer such as PURELL(R)."

To find out where germs lurk, Dr. Gerba traveled around testing or "swabbing" many of the outdoor places you'll visit this summer -- picnic areas, playgrounds, public restrooms and petting zoos.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that hand hygiene is an important way to prevent the spread of germs that may make you and others sick, and recommends alcohol-based hand sanitizers as an alternative to hand washing.

The survey also demonstrated that although the need for proper hand hygiene is great, most Americans admit they do not clean their hands often enough. Seventy percent of respondents strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement, "I should clean my hands more often than I do," and 91 percent strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement, "Most people don't clean their hands as often as they should."

In addition to measuring awareness of germs outdoors, the survey showed that many people are unaware of where germs lurk in their homes and offices.

Key findings from the survey:

 

*Sixty-four percent of the public thought that a public restroom

doorknob has more germs than an ATM but -- surprise! -- ATMs   have more germs(1 and 2).

 

*Surprisingly, outdoor port-o-potties are actually cleaner than picnic tables, shopping cart handles, escalator handles and playground equipment. Playground equipment is the dirtiest of the bunch, presenting a health danger to children(2). Only nine percent of respondents identified playground equipment as the germiest of outdoor items.

 

*Most people are unaware that the kitchen sink is one of           the germiest places in the house; it is even more contaminated with bacteria than the toilet bowl and garbage can(3).

 

*Most people are not aware that their office desks, computer keyboards and elevator buttons in their office buildings are "germier" than the toilet seat at work(4).

 

It is a common misconception that most illnesses are spread through the air by coughs and sneezes rather than by hand contact. This misunderstanding could be why 51 percent of survey respondents said they clean their hands after sneezing or coughing, while only 17 percent said they clean their hands always or most of the time after shaking hands.

The telephone survey was conducted by Opinion Research Corporation's CARAVAN National Omnibus from May 6, 2004, through May 9, 2004. A representative sample of 1,000 adults aged 18 and older participated in the survey, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent. The survey was funded by GOJO Industries.

For the complete survey results, or for more news about the University of Arizona, go to our Web site at http://uanews.org/

(1) D. Kennedy, C. Enriquez and C. Gerba 1995. Enteric bacterial contamination of public restrooms. University of Arizona.

 

(2)Reynolds KA; Watt PM; Gerba CP 2004. Occurrence of bacteria and biochemical markers on public surfaces. University of Arizona.

 

(3)P. Rusin, P. Orosz-Coughlin and C. Gerba 1998. Reduction of fecal coliform, coliform and hetertrophic plate bacteria in the household kitchen and bathroom by disinfection with hypochlorite cleaners. Journal of Applied Microbiology 85:819-828

 
(4)  Clorox Disinfecting Wipes -- office study Web site

(http://www.cloroxdisinfectingwipes.com/germ_study.html)

Source: GOJO Industries

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