Skip to main content

How germ expert stay healthy

They're less paranoid than average folk, but what they worry about (airplanes, laundry!) will surprise you. Here are the result of a survey of health experts in the US.

Germs plate

71% don't clean hands after touching public surfaces
I'm just careful to wash my hands before eating. I didn't get a respiratory infection because I touched a door handle after a sick person touched it; I got it because I then touched my hand to my eye or nose.
- Michael Pentella, PHD, 
  clinical associate professor,
  University of lowa College of Public Health

I press buttons with my knuckle especially the ground floor elevator button, because everyone touches that or I use my middle finger because I'm less likely to then touch my face with it.
- Charles Gerba, PHD,
  Professor of microbiology, University of Arizona

29% carry hand sanitizer
I prefer soup and water. If that's not available, I'll use sanitizer but I'm not religious about carrying it.
- Rima Khabbaz, MD,
  director for infectious diseases at the [US] center for disease control

86% don't disinfect shopping carts
You'll find germs on shopping cart handles, but you'll also find them on meat and other food as well. After I leave the grocery store, I use an alcoholic wipe or gel on my hands. Then I wash them after I unload the groceries at home.
- Philip Tierno, PHD,
  clinical professor of microbiology and pathology, Langone Medical Center, NYU

50% have special laundry hygiene habits
I do an underwear load last because an average pair contains about a hundred thousand fecal bacteria, and I don't want that transferring to other loads. About once a week, I put a half cup or a cup of bleach into the empty machine and run it with only water to kill any germs.
- Charles Gerba, PHD

I did a study on the ability to kill germs on fabric. I washed in hot water, washed on cold, and used standard detergents, and while the bacteria were decreased by washing, to get rid of them all, a hot dryer worked best. Dry your clothes well, and you'll kill germs. 
- Michael Pentella, PHD

86% protect themselves on planes
I cover the tray with a napkin so I don't set food directly on it. I avoid putting things in the set pocket, because it may contain items from prior passengers.
- Michael Pentella, PHD

I never use water from plane toilet's sink because those water tanks form biofilms, which are replete with germs. So I use an alcoholic gel or towelette (I don this before eating too). I don't use headrest covers or blankets that aren't sealed.
- Philip Tierno PHD

67% steer clear of sick people
I stay at least a metre away. Most germs are spread by droplets; talking and sneezing produce droplets that fall within a two metre range.
- Michael Pentella PHD

86% sneeze into their elbow
Don't sneeze into your hands and then touch somebody; that transfers those viral particles. Even worse is when I see people just sneeze right out into the air the spray can hit dozens of people.
- Philip Tierno, PHD