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7 Shocking Places Flu Germs Live

Close-up of a man's finger pushing an elevator buttonBy Charlotte Evans, BDO Staff Writer

It may not come as a surprise that coming  into contact with cold & flu culprits are amazingly easy. Why? Because there are many common surfaces that we all touch, but that very few really stop to think about.

For example, did you know that the warm, wet inside of a sponge is prime habitat for bacteria to grow?

The National Sanitation Foundation at the University of Michigan suggests microwaving your sponge for two minutes every day to kill germs growing inside, as well as replacing your sponges once every two weeks.

We know what you’re thinking…what other areas do you touch every single day without even suspecting of being potential germ factories?

Your Desk. Desktops have actually been found to have higher levels of bacteria than toilet seats! Which actually makes sense – people spend several hours a day touching, eating on, and even coughing/sneezing on and around their desks. In addition, many desks aren’t cleaned at night because they are considered private areas.

An easy fix? Clean your desk regularly with an antibacterial wipe.

Your Purse/Bag. When not on a shoulder, most purses are resting on the desks (see above) or floors of restaurants, restrooms, movie theaters, cars, buses and sidewalks. A joint ABC News and University of Arizona investigation of 50 women’s handbags found that the outside bottom of the purses were teeming with bacteria, including fecal germs and those that can cause skin infections. The researchers found 6.7 million bacteria on one purse alone.

An easy fix? Wipe purses down from time to time with antibacterial cloths.

Your Everyday Public Buttons. The Kimberly-Clark study found that 41 percent of ATMs, 40 percent of parking meters and 35 percent of vending machines contained dangerous levels of bacteria. Debit card touch screens, elevator buttons and grocery shopping carts also have alarmingly high germ counts.

An easy fix? Whenever possible, try to use a tissue, glove, etc. when touching a commonly-used surface. Ideally, use an antibacterial cloth to wipe down a surface, such as a grocery cart, before using it.

Your Toothbrush. Germs thrive in moist environments – such as your toothbrush. Add that to the fact that research in the 1970s discovered toilets spew fecal bacteria into the air every time they are flushed, so chances are, your toothbrush is teeming with microbes.

An easy fix? Replace your toothbrush every three to four months and close the toilet lid when flushing. If you want to be extra safe, the Philips Sonicare FlexCare electric toothbrush has a UV sanitizer that kills germs.

Your Pillow. Chances are, you wash your sheets and pillowcases frequently, but when was the last time you threw your actual pillow in the laundry machine? Pillows contain mold, bacteria and dust mites, which can cause allergies. And several studies have demonstrated that they are one of the biggest sources of infection in hospitals.

An easy fix? Wash your pillows. Often.

Your Jewelry. There is a reason that doctors and nurses are required to remove jewelry in the operating room. A 1997 study found that health care professionals wearing rings carry significantly more germs even after hand washing than those who don’t. Those nooks and crannies in our favorite pieces can harbor germs.

An easy fix? Clean your jewelry as often as possible. Also, consider that silver is antimicrobial, so smooth jewelry made from this metal stays relatively germ-free.

Your Gas Pump. A 2011 study by Gerba and Kimberly-Clark Professional, the makers of products such as Kleenex and Scott, found that 71 percent of gas pump handles hosted bacteria in high enough concentrations to cause illness.

An easy fix? After pumping gas, wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer.

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